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First sub-Saharan sea water desalination plant

The arid Namibian coastal port of Walvis Bay is set to become the first location in sub-Saharan Africa to have a large-scale plant providing desalinated sea water for domestic consumption.

Officials of the US water company, Ionics, which won the tender for construction of the plant, and its South African partner, Keyplan, told IRIN on Tuesday the initial capacity of the plant would be for 13,000 megalitres of drinking water per day for people living in Walvis Bay and other nearby Namib Desert towns situated in one of the driest areas of the African continent.

“For the past 100 years, people out there have been pumping ground water from a large underground aquifer. They want to keep as much of that water as they can and this plant will be set to produce the same output of clean drinking water from the sea,” said Keyplan director, Adrian Viljoen. He said most of the investment in the project with Namibia’s national water utility, NamWater, would come mainly from Ionics. Keyplan, which operates widely in the region, would handle the engineering and construction of the plant.

The independent daily, ‘The Namibian’ reported on Tuesday that the new project would in fact constitute the largest capital investment in water supply infrastructure yet undertaken in Namibia since the country’s independence from South Africa a decade ago. Ionics was granted a tender of US $27.4 million.

At the opening of financial bids for the desalination project in London on Monday, which was witnessed by Namibia’s Agriculture, Water and Rural Development Minister Helmut Angula and NamWater officials, it said the Ionics’ price for the project emerged as the lowest. NamWater said desalinated sea water would be sold at a bulk price of US 0.56 cents per cubic metre which was equivalent to the price of fresh water in the capital, Windhoek.

Speaking in London on Monday, Angula said apart from meeting consumer needs, desalinated water would also be available to sustain the future development of Walvis Bay as one of “the best export harbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).”

“Furthermore the availability of water will give new impetus to future mining development, tourism and in particular the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) created at Walvis Bay,” Angula said.

NamWater has calculated that at current consumption levels, the coastal areas could face a severe water shortage next year if additional water sources were not found. It also said average consumption of water at the coast was found to be much higher than inland areas.

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