Engineers Solving World Problems – Providing Clean Drinking Water

Water gives life to people, cities, and nature. While at times a plentiful resource, there are many places on earth where it is extremely scarce, or heavily polluted. As a result, millions of people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water. 

Lithon has some smart engineers tackling this challenge. We weighed in with two of our civil engineers, to get their perspectives on the problem, and learn how they would apply their engineering minds to solving it. 


Expert Insights from Willie Knouwds

Civil engineer, Willie Knouwds specialises in urban engineering, and transportation, specifically roads. Willie identities the top three challenges hindering access to clean drinking water as:


  • Economic Barriers

Often pockets aren’t deep enough to fund adequate water infrastructure, leaving marginalised communities to suffer the most. Access to clean water then becomes a privilege rather than a basic right, which shouldn’t be the case. As an example, the three long-term solutions for Windhoek’s water scarcity are all very expensive.

  • Resource Scarcity

Water scarcity is created by droughts, which are exacerbated by climate change, but also by over-extraction. This makes access to clean water difficult.  Namibia is mostly semi-desert – particularly in the areas where most people live – and this is the real challenge!

  • Infrastructure Gaps

Many regions in Namibia lack the necessary water treatment facilities and distribution systems. In some cases the water infrastructure is very old, undermaintained, and has collapsed. The sad part is that these inadequacies prevent clean drinking water from reaching remote, under-served, and often less-affluent communities.


Willie’s Approach

“As a civil engineer, the first step I would take is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of existing water sources, infrastructure, and community needs. This assessment would serve as the foundation for designing sustainable water supply systems tailored to the specific challenges and requirements of each region, ensuring efficient and equitable access to clean drinking water for everyone. Understanding the specific challenges in Namibia’s context would help develop a tailored strategy for sustainable water management, incorporating modern technologies, and community engagement.”


Pro Perspectives from Frikkie Holtzhausen

Frikkie Holtzhausen is also a civil engineer who specialises in project management, civil and municipal engineering projects, feasibility studies, spatial integrated development framework plans, engineering infrastructure master plans, and structure plans.  Frikkie had some further insights to add to the challenges preventing access to clean drinking water in Namibia:


  • Economic & Social Barriers

Poverty and unemployment play a huge role in lack of access to clean drinking water. Frikkie cites Pillars 2 and 3 of Namibia’s Harambee Prosperity Plan II, which aim to tackle economic and social disparities in the country. The main hindrance, he believes, lies in the execution of these well-intended plans.

  • Sustainable Development

Namibia’s Vision 2023 plan defines sustainable development as meeting current needs without jeopardising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Namibia has a five-year development plan which is targeting access to safe drinking water as a key challenge. Again, the problem lies not as much with the planning, but rather with the execution.

  • Population Spread

Namibia’s is an arid landscape with variable rainfall, and a low population density. Since such a large part of the country is too dry for human settlement, the population is spread unevenly across the country. Most rural people live in the north and north east, and some 40% of the population lives in urban areas. Social issues like poverty, unemployment and uncontrolled development, lead to a chronic lack of proper municipal services in the rural and informal areas. These areas are often further away from the large cities where infrastructure is available, and they are not usually a priority for development funding. 


Frikkie’s Approach

“As a Civil Engineer, I propose that we form a technical task team of highly experienced engineers and technicians in the field of water resources and infrastructure planning. There is a lot of intellectual capacity with vast experience in this field – either retired or not actively involved in this sector anymore – which I know will be most willing to become involved and share their knowledge and expertise. Such a team should work closely with the government and assist water service providers, regional councils, and local authorities to assess the status quo of available water resources and supply infrastructure, develop a plan for development and expansion, maintenance, and operations to ensure that every Namibian has access to safe and potable water. Of course, this cannot be done without the government’s support and funding, and this is probably one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. The engineering part is the easiest!”


Helping Businesses Thrive in Spite of the Water Crisis

With challenges come opportunities. At Lithon, our engineers are ready and waiting to tackle your most pressing water supply and infrastructure needs. For expert solutions designed to help you thrive despite water scarcity, get in touch with our team at