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International water issues

Namibia shares the following perennial rivers with five riparian states:

  • The Orange River with Botswana, Lesotho and, South Africa in the south of the country with a mean annual runoff (MAR) of 11 km3 at Noordoewr. The existing agreed abstraction is 70 million m3/yr, and estimated actual abstraction was 36.2 million m3 in 1996 and 48.8 million m3 in 1999.
  • The Kunene River with Angola in the north to northwest of the country, with a MAR of 5 km3 at Ruacana. The existing agreed abstraction is 185 million m3/yr. Estimated actual abstraction was 51 million m3 in 1996 and 23 million m3 in 1999.
  • The Okavango River with Angola and Botswana, with a MAR of 5.5 km3 at Rundu and 10 km3 at Mukwe. The estimated abstraction at Rundu, without an agreement in place at present, was 27 million m3 in 1996 and 21.5 million m3 in 1999.
  • The Kwando River with Angola with a MAR of 1.3 km3 at Kongola. Estimated actual abstraction in 1996 was minimal.
  • The Zambezi River with Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia with a MAR of 40 km3 at Katima Mulilo. Estimated abstraction, without an agreement in place at present, was 2.3 million m3 in 1996 and 6.4 million m3 in 1999.

A number of ephemeral rivers, such as the Auob and Nossob cross into Botswana and South Africa, but their flows are so irregular that their importance as shared surface water sources is not significant. Groundwater flow in eastern Namibia is generally in an eastern direction, but no attempt has been made to quantify this flow and it has not been raised as an issue of shared resources.

Namibia is highly dependent on its neighbouring countries for securing its water supply, particularly South Africa and Angola due to the large portion of the country’s population living near or along the banks of the rivers shared with these countries. It is estimated that shared rivers currently provide around one third of the water consumed in Namibia. Total abstraction from the shared perennial rivers in 1999 was estimated at almost 100 million m3. To ensure good cooperation with its neighbours, Namibia has developed a regulatory framework, facilitates the establishment of a Basin Management Committees and is reviewing all agreements signed during pre-colonial and post-colonial times. The process of setting up a structure for dealing with shared water issues is in an advanced stage.

Some of the existing agreements and commissions between Namibia and its neighbours as related to internationally shared water resources are:

  • The Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) between Angola and Namibia on the Kunene River Basin was established in 1990. Its current major priority is the development of a hydroelectric power scheme on the lower Kunene River.
  • The Joint Operating Authority between Angola and Namibia was reinstated in 1990. It deals specifically with the operation of the regulating dam on the Kunene River at Gove (Angola), and with the infrastructure for the Ruacana hydropower station on the same river in Namibia. The power station itself is in Namibia, but part of the infrastructure (diversion weir, intakes) are situated in Angola.
  • The Joint Permanent Water Commission (JPWTC) between Botswana and Namibia concerning the development and utilization of water resources of common interest was established in 1990, after the countries had cooperated on a technical level since the early 1980s. It has jurisdiction over activities in the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe System in the Zambezi River Basin and had jurisdiction over the Okavango River before OKACOM was formed.
  • The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) between Angola, Botswana and Namibia was established in 1994 and oversees developments in the Okavango basin.
  • The Permanent Water Commission (PWC) between Namibia and South Africa was established in 1992 to deal with water matters of mutual concern. Since the re-integration of Walvis Bay into Namibia in 1994, the Commission has concentrated its activities on the Orange River Basin.
  • The Treaty of the Vioolsdrift and Noordoewer Joint Irrigation Scheme between Namibia and South Africa was also signed in 1992, establishing a parastatal authority to operate the irrigation project located on both sides of the Orange River at Vioolsdrift and Noordoewer.

Namibia has either signed or ratified numerous international protocols and conventions concerning water, notably those designed to protect the environment, including: i) the Zambezi River System Action Plan (ZACPLAN); ii) the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigable Uses of International Watercourses; iii) the International Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar); iv) the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses. Another multinational agreement with a bearing on water matters is the Southern African Regional Commission for the Conservation and Utilization of the Soil (SARCCUS) established in 1948 with Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland as members. One of its components was the Standing Committee for Hydrology.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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