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Hydropolitics in the Basin  

As the Kunene River is an international river, the authorities governing the territories of Namibia and Angola have over the years made international agreements and cooperated on the sharing and joint management of the river. The hydropolitics of the Kunene River basin over the last century has concentrated on issues of water usage and on reaching consensus for the installation of large-scale water supply and electricity generation projects for both riparian countries (Meissner 2003, ERM 2009, IWRM Plan Joint Venture Namibia 2010).

Angolan and Namibian river basin managers at Calueque dam.
Source: Vogel 2009
( click to enlarge )

1926: The Union of South Africa and the Republic of Portugal (the former colonial powers of Namibia and Angola) signed a First Agreement to regulate the use of the Kunene waters for the purpose of power generation, flood control, and irrigation. Although no infrastructure was built as a direct result of this agreement, it prepared the ground for future cooperation.

1964: A Second Agreement was signed between South Africa and Portugal regarding rivers of mutual interest and involving the Kunene River scheme.

1969: A Third Agreement regarding the Kunene River. It included the outline of the Kunene River Scheme, with plans to build a dam at Gove to regulate the flow river flow, a dam at Calueque for further flow regulation, a scheme at Calueque for pumping water to South West Africa (today Namibia), as well as a hydroelectric power station at Ruacana for power supply mainly to South West Africa. The Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) was established as an advisory body to consult the respective governments on the development of the Kunene River and to oversee the implementation of the planned and upcoming joint infrastructure projects. The foundation was laid for further cooperation directed by the PJTC.

1970s: The agreement of 1969 resulted in the construction of the Kunene River Scheme:

  • A dam at Gove in Angola to regulate the flow of the river;
  • The Ruacana hydropower scheme located in Namibia; and
  • The (uncompleted) Calueque water scheme with a dam for regulation as well as a pumping station and canal for supplying water to northern Namibia as well as to irrigation projects in Angola.

1975-2002: The outbreak of civil war in newly independent Angola in 1975, the subsequent US/South African and Soviet/Cuban involvement and the war of independence in Namibia paralysed any further bilateral cooperation with regard to further development of water resources of the Kunene River. However, the end of the cold war in 1989 led to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Angola and introduced a period of sporadic Angolan ceasefires during which cooperation in the Kunene River basin could be reinforced. Angola and newly independent Namibia signed an agreement in 1990 to reactivate the previous agreements and to renew the mandate of PJTC.

In the late 1980s / early 90s Namibia began to consider the construction of a new hydroelectric scheme downstream of Ruacana to meet the country's increasing energy needs and the Fourth and Fifth Water Use Agreements were signed between the two nations. During the feasibility study conducted between 1995 and 1998 all possible hydropower development sites were investigated, with the Baynes and Epupa sites selected as the most technically viable. The study concluded that the Epupa site would be technically preferable because of its greater storage capacity. The Baynes site, however, would result in less ecological and social impacts to the local Himba as a result of a smaller inundated area. Opposition to the plans of a dam at the Epupa site by local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the Himba saw the project being shelved.

2002 was the year which finally saw the end of the Angolan civil war. This opened the way for a new period of reinforced co-operation in the Kunene River basin. The various sections within the Water Infrastructure chapter provide detailed information about recent plans and projects between Angola and Namibia.

One example is the second assessment of a future hydroelectric scheme downstream of Ruacana, with investigations focussing on the Baynes. The new Baynes feasibility study is currently underway and is planned to be completed in 2011. Another project under consideration by the PJTC is the Kunene Transboundary Water Supply Project (KTWSP) under SADC's Regional Strategic Water Infrastructure Development Programme (RSWIDP). The project covers areas in southern Angola and northern Namibia and entails the development and rehabilitation of water supply and sanitation infrastructure for communities and towns along the border (see also Future Development of the Kunene Basin).




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View a historical timeline of the Kunene basin countries, including water agreements & infrastructure

Video scenes about the limited access to water of the San in Kunene Province