Cape Verde: the ocean as a solution for the water crisis

Cape Verde is a country vulnerable to natural phenomena, especially droughts. The anthropic activities have had consequences on altering microclimates, desertification, and torrential rains, just like any other part of the world. It is an island country, and for that reason, it displays volcanic aspects. It is dominated by mountain ecosystems, and also there is an active volcano, furthermore increasing its vulnerability. The country has invested in solutions to deal with these difficult situations and combat hunger related to these factors.

Photo: Praia, Cape Verde (FAO)

“My country and some others in our Macaronesia ecoregion are involved in the process to attenuate the effects of drought. In the past, we have faced hunger and death in Cape Verde due to droughts and extremely dry seasons. But, we have learned to live and coexist with drought in symbiotic harmony making it possible for us to find solutions to hunger in Cape Verde; in spite of the episodic influence from the hydric dry season. We have overcome the dry season, and we stand”, emphasizes the country’s president, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, during the 8th World Water Forum that took place in Brasilia, in March last year.

The government and university joint forces against water shortage

The joint efforts between the academic professionals and the government have brought relatively simple measures that have achieved excellent results for the Country. “Those measures include soil and water conservation, construction of dams, and harvesting underground water. The introduction of the “rega gota-a-gota” (drip-by-drip watering) has contributed to more sustainable water consumption,” states Erik Sequeira, coordinator of the Disciplinary Group of Agrarian Sciences at the University of Cape Verde, in an interview with ATLANTICO. 

The “rega gota a gota” (drip-by-drip watering) system is nowadays one of the most utilized in the country. The system optimizes water consumption by not moistening the entire surface. As a result, water losses through evaporation, profound leaching, and run-off are reduced to a minimum or eliminated. This system was introduced in the country in the 1990s, and nowadays it reaches 27% of the archipelago.

The research studies have focused on water management at the University of Cape Verde, and technology is providing great support for resolving these problems. One of the studies performed there, for example, utilizes sensors to evaluate the ideal quality and quantity of water for consumption.

As Cape Verde is located in the middle of the ocean, desalinization of salt water is an excellent alternative for supplying the country’s insufficient water supply, as well as bio-saline agriculture.

Photo: Coast of Cape Verde (FAO)

The desalinization in Cape Verde began in 1968 and, currently, it is responsible for supplying 80% of the population, including the main urban centers, such as the Sal, Mindelo, Boa Vista, and Praia regions.

Electra, the Public Electricity and Water Utility Company, produces and distributes desalinized water to the islands of São Vicente, Sal, and Cidade da Praia. Electra also supplies half of the population of the country; just in the capital city, at least 60% of the inhabitants are supplied desalinized water from that company.

The system still faces challenges that need to be overcome. About 55% of the entire production is wasted during the water-pumping process to the distribution tanks. The wastage is caused by water leaks from piping and old and bad-repaired reservoirs to where it is stored before arriving at the consumer. Another problem is the price of the water, as it is still quite expensive for the population, around 0.20 euros for each 30-liter jerry can.

The population as the key element

“For me, the population is the key element for overcoming the crisis, as it plays a key role in executing practices that help to overcome the water crisis. And for that reason, it is important they are aware, prepared, and involved in all projects”, emphasizes professor Erik Sequeira.

The International Forum on Water Scarcity in Agriculture in Praia, the capital of the country in March declared the intention of the government to expand that number to 100%. It focused on Cape Verde, in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and the countries of Western Africa, the forum discussed how to approach the problem and transform it into an opportunity for sustainable development and provide food and nutritional security.

Foto: Praia, Cabo Verde (FAO)

“In spite of the arid climate of the country, by adopting such innovative technologies as desalinization, solar energy, recycling wastewater for agriculture and even for harvesting freshwater from clouds, 90% of the population has access to drinkable water. That is a highly commendable situation”, declared Maria Helena Semedo, the general vice-director of the Food and Agriculture Organization, during the event.

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