Industrial Corridors as a Backbone of Namibia's Development (by Detlof von Oertzen and Justine Braby)

Progress Namibia - Industrial Corridors as a Backbone of Namibia's Development (by Detlof von Oertzen and Justine Braby)
04 July 2019

After my last weekly, one of my readers emailed me and asked me to give a concrete example of how development in Namibia could be equitable, and socially and environmentally sustainable. I was going to elaborate on a network of distributed renewable energy, or the transport sector, as examples. But then I thought in the spirit of systems thinking, and attempting to address multiple challenges and needs (water, energy and food, to name the most important), I decided to hone in on an idea of Dr Detlof von Oertzen, and co-write with him a sharing of his thoughts on “Industrial Corridors” catalysing sustainable development in Namibia. Let us explain.

President Geingob relatively recently announced a State of Emergency because of our drought. In the last years, Windhoek has repeatedly been in water crisis. This year, once again, dams are rapidly drying up. Despite this, and the increasing risk due to climate change (it will get worse unless the global community acts quickly), we are still entirely rainfall dependent. There will be no development without water.

Another important thing to note is that the Namibian economy remains very centralised and dependent on Windhoek where most of the action takes place. It is therefore of strategic importance that viable alternatives are found to de-link Windhoek’s water requirements from rainfall and adverse climatic conditions, while at the same time, creating options for long-term national development. The concept of “industrial corridors” offers a perspective on a way forward.

Namibia’s water scarcity can be addressed. Access to water need not limit our development prospects. We can successively decouple our water supplies from rain-fed sources through the creation of a west-to-east water-power-food-producing corridor, along which decentralised industrialisation is incentivised through the systematic provision of water, electricity, road and rail infrastructure. Such an industrial corridor could invigorate local decentralised development while at the same time create a safeguard for Windhoek’s water supplies.

The concept of industrial corridors rests on the premise that the provision of water, electricity and transport infrastructure will create new and additional investment and development initiatives. In such zones, decentralised industrialisation can take place and create a multitude of opportunities for long-term economic development, based on the availability of water, electricity and the proximity of logistics infrastructure.

In principle, several such development corridors can be created across Namibia. Of greatest strategic importance would be the Coast-to-Capital Corridor: it would unlock the unlimited supplies of the Atlantic Ocean as a source of potable water, using seawater desalination powered in part by solar and other renewable energy sources. Once available, this water would be piped via Usakos, Karibib and Okahandja to the Von Bach Dam, and thus complement Windhoek’s other water supplies.

An industrial corridor from the coast to Windhoek would, for the first time in Namibia’s history, supplement the capital city’s water supplies with a water source that is and will remain independent of the prevailing rainfalls. Such a lifeline ensures that development is successively de-linked from our highly variable climatic conditions, while benefitting from the almost limitless natural assets that the country is endowed with, including the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, a world-class solar radiation resource, and along the pipeline, tracts of sparsely populated land offering mostly untapped development potentials.

Other industrial corridors, similar to the Coast-to-Capital Corridor, may be possible too. But let us focus on this one for this weekly. Piping water for hundreds of kilometres is costly, but unavoidable as our cities and towns cannot provide for their own needs. Investments in large-scale infrastructure projects, as will be necessary to realise one or several industrial corridors, will create numerous local jobs, and invigorate the local and regional economy. In addition, such investments would likely draw in additional peripheral investments, creating further local economic growth, including in places that have not benefitted from past economic growth.

The Coast-to-Capital Corridor has the Atlantic Ocean as its permanent water source. It is envisaged that sea water desalination, as is already applied at Wlotzkasbaken north of Swakopmund, is used to produce potable water. Such technology requires considerable amounts of electricity, which is to be provided by a mix of grid electricity augmented with solar electricity. Today, electricity from solar power plants is cost competitive, reliable and environmentally friendly, and offers uncapped potentials to power the country’s development. It is Namibia’s blessing that we can rely on such inexhaustible resources to power our development. A decentralised renewable energy system could be championed in Namibia as part of such a development corridor.

As already mentioned, many of the substantial development activities taking place in Namibia are centred in and around Windhoek, the coastal towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, as well as at Oshakati and Ondangwa. This focus leads to frequent supply bottlenecks, as witnessed for water, power and serviced land, while leaving large areas of the country under-developed. Industrial corridors on the other hand, by design, are to decentralise national development, by creating the physical infrastructure needed for industrialisation, including for water, electricity and access to the country’s transport and logistics hubs.
The role of the Coast-to-Capital Corridor introduced here is special. It would serve a dual purpose, in that it would create zones of new economic activities along the corridor, by establishing the necessary infrastructure needed for growth and development, while creating a water supply alternative for Windhoek that is independent of rainfall. It is a development initiative as well as an insurance against the impacts of the next drought. The Coast-to-Capital Corridor’s benefits are what makes it the most promising of the industrial corridors that could be created in Namibia, despite its cost.

With access to water, particularly large-scale food production could be enhanced, focusing on high-value crops and select high-nutrition vegetables for the local market. Other innovative ideas could come into play here too, including micro-drip irrigation (the Innovation Lab at NUST has been working on some interesting innovations here), conservation agriculture, the use of tunnels, and possibly even circular processes such as aquaponics. This will not only enhance food security, water and energy independence, but also provide localised jobs and value chains of production in rural Namibia.
This idea is of course at concept phase, and while initial costings have been made, it is essential that in-detail assessments are undertaken.

Namibia needs a development vision that is underpinned by its natural endowments. The provision of water and energy remain central to all development efforts. This realisation inspires a vision in which the country’s industrialisation is centred around the deliberate value addition to locally abundant resources. In this way, industrial corridors promote decentralised economic development that benefit from our clean, sustainable and locally abundant resources to power our national development ambitions into the future.
For anyone who wishes to further champion and support this concept (or suggest additional ideas for improvements), feel free to contact us.