Water regulations circumvented

MAWLR considers banning exploration in protected areas

20 October 2021 | Environment

Windhoek • [email protected]

The Standing Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources issued a summons to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform (MAWLR), which reached the media earlier this week. By Tuesday, the MAWLR, represented by Maria Amakali (deputy executive director responsible for water affairs, exercised cautious yet clear criticism of the drilling project of Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) in the Kavango region.
Observers were left stunned when committee chairperson Tjekero Tweya, angrily adjourned the hearing because Amakali could not tell him exactly on which day in June 2021 she first heard about ReconAfrica's application to be allowed to drill for water.
ReconAfrica had presented him with correspondence that went back to the beginning of June, Tweya exclaimed, after Amakali was only able to confirm that ReconAfrica had received its permits on 28 June.
The media was aware of the fact that Minister Calle Schlettwein had in the past indicated that there were no permits as early as February.
The fact that the exact application date was irrelevant in relation to the date of issue of the permit, when measured against the fact that ReconAfrica had already begun drilling at Kawe since January (and had even completed that exercise by June and turned to the second site at Mbambi) seemed to escape Tweya.
Instead, he reprimanded the MAWLR’s executive director, Penda Ithindi, accusing the MAWLR team of appearing before the committee unprepared. "I will postpone the hearing for 15 minutes. I expect you back here with all applications and permits," Tweya instructed.
In the meantime, the MAWLR had not condemned the drilling project in principle, but had admitted that ReconAfrica "tried to comply with most of the conditions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)". How the original environmental impact certificate came about under these circumstances remains a mystery.
The ministry expressly pointed out that ReconAfrica had drilled for water without legal permits and had thus completed six boreholes for drinking water – two for their own use at Kawe and Mbambi and four for the local population. Adding to the fact that the well at Mutwewambe has still not been approved, ReconAfrica is also using Rent-a-Drum to remove wastewater from the area. This is disposed of in Rundu, but there is no permit for such disposal either.
Whether this transport includes removing drilling slag, which seemed to seep and evaporate surprisingly quickly, remained unanswered since Tweya had once again forbidden media inquiries during the hearing.

‘High-risk area’
Not only did ReconAfrica complete the boreholes without the required permits, it also did not properly cover and finish off the surface areas with requisite cement slabs, which increases the risk of water pollution, according to Amakali.
She extended the reproach to the exploration wells and pointed out that such drilling projects should in future only be allowed and carried out, if the relevant water authority is allowed to exercise the necessary controls.
On 24 February the water affairs department wanted to inspect Kawe, but they were refused entry. “We were told that it was a technical high-risk area and that they could afford to take the risk. We finally got access on 4 June.”
She admitted that the Kawe test drilling had already been completed by then.
In closing, the MAWLR suggested that the Ministry of Mines and Energy as well as the Ministry for Environment, Forestry and Tourisms and the MAWLR would need to find a common strategy that would allow for safe exploration in a controlled environment.
She stressed that the quality of drinking is at risk as far as drilling for- and pumping out groundwater is concerned. Furthermore, the groundwater level is at risk because the pump tests alone swallowed 7 cubic meters per hour.
The MAWLR is currently considering a permanent exploration ban in all areas where water is actively controlled and in protected area in in Namibia.

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