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What makes the water in Keetmanshoop disappear?

In the water supply network of the municipality of Keetmanshoop in Namibia, over 35% more water is supplied than what is invoiced based on the water meters. This emerging town cannot afford to lose any water. Where does the water go?

Keetmanshoop is a fairly large town by Namibian standards, inhabiting approx. 20,000 residents. The water to the town comes from a massive reservoir, cleaned and distributed by the state-owned water wholesale company NamWater. NamWater is about to reach its maximum capacity, however. In order to secure water supply for the emerging town, the reason behind the 35% loss in the supply must be worked out and corrective measures taken.

Since 2013, Project Manager Pekka Pietilä from the Department of Civil Engineering at Tampere University of Technology has led a project for solving the mystery of the vanishing water.

“Our aim is to work in cooperation with the Namibia University of Science and Technology and the involved municipalities and prepare a proper plan for developing and running the operations of the water supply network in Keetmanshoop,” Pietilä says.

FACTS: Development of Water Services in Keetmanshoop, Namibia

  • Duration: 2012–2016, application pending for an additional year
  • Funding: 75% of the project is funded by the EU, the rest by the municipality of Keetmanshoop.
  • Involved parties: Tampere University of Technology, Namibia University of Science and Technology and the municipalities of Keetmanshoop, Kangasala and Lempäälä
  • Objective: Developing the operations and management of the water supply system in the municipality of Keetmanshoop
  • Each year, 1–2 tech students engage in fieldwork in Namibia for two months

Looking at the big picture

Before reaching the planning phase, it has been necessary to conduct broad-based research and find out what the current situation actually is. In addition to Pietilä and a hydro engineer from the municipality of Kangasala who has visited Keetmanshoop several times, technology students from Tampere have also been involved in the fieldwork together with local students. The team has gradually worked out what must have happened to the lost water.

“The municipal water supply network is old and requires continuous repairs. We have also observed that the pressure level in the network is excessively high, which makes the breakage and seepage problem worse. There has been no long-term plan for the pipe system repairs; instead, the pipes have been repaired here and there as needed,” Pietilä says.

In addition to the pipe system, the researches have examined archives and invoicing data and thereby revealed many kinds of problems with the readings and functionality of the water meters.

“None of the involved parties in the municipality  have been able to see the big picture. They have each only managed their own part in the overall chain. For example, the water meters of certain high-consumption customers have been dysfunctional for a long time without anyone noticing. By repairing such flaws and making the overall management more effective, it is possible to reduce the share of uninvoiced water.

“Our key goals in reducing the town’s water loss is making the process systematic and training the relevant people. Once the water meters and their invoicing have been updated and the technical problems in the water supply network solved, we can cater for more people with the existing reserves,” Pietilä points out.

Tech students gain international experience

The project has also opened the doors to developing bilateral cooperation between the involved universities. In Namibia, the project is headed by Professor Damas Mashauri, who has earned his doctorate at TUT.  For TUT students, this Namibian project has offered an excellent way to find topics for master’s theses and gain valuable international work experience. Cooperation with the local students has been interesting and educational, and it has also been a necessity for the practical implementation. English is fairly widely spoken in Namibia, but in fieldwork, people often revert to Afrikaans. The topics for master’s theses have included such concepts as the use of prepaid water meters.

“The tech students who have participated in the fieldwork in Namibia have been very pleased with their experiences. Working abroad opens up your world view – also in other respects besides studies,” Pietilä notes.

News submitted by: Tiina Leivo
Keywords: education and studies, science and research, services and collaboration, the life of teekkari student