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Piet Heyns has long been a force to be reckoned with in the Namibian environmental sector. Over the past twenty years he has been a regular contributor to discussions concerning sustainable development. Today, after his recent retirement as Under Secretary and Head of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, he is actively working as a consultant while sharing his knowledge, skills and experience with Namibian professionals, young and old, with no ‘real’ or ‘second’ retirement in sight.
To enhance his networking and consulting opportunities, he joined the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia as an Associate and hasn’t had a quiet day since. The DRFN and Piet are taking advantage of his vast experience in international transboundary water management, integrated water-resource management, resource investigations, institutional restructuring, water legislation, policy and regulation, national, regional and international water issues, the development of water-supply infrastructure and project management.
Throughout his career, Piet has been a member of various national and international bodies on water and the environment, and he is a well-known professional in Southern Africa. He was a Commissioner in five Water Commissions on the internationally shared border rivers: the Kunene, the Okavango, the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe tributary of the Zambezi and two on the Orange. Cabinet appointed all the Commissioners of these important water commissions between Namibia and its neighbouring states. As his responsibilities grew and he interacted with water managers, environmentalists, and others, his recognition of the importance of Integrated Water Resources Management – or simply Integrated Resources Management, as he prefers to call it – grew.
Piet has not only been involved in the actual operation of bulk water-supply schemes, but also in the development of water-supply infrastructure from first principles. He is furthermore familiar with the socioeconomic, environmental and financial aspects of bulk and rural water-supply development, including the investment of capital, the operation and maintenance costs of water schemes and water cost-recovery aspects. Consequently he knows the importance of Natural Resource Accounting used widely in the environmental sector.
He says, “My environmental eyes were opened when ‘the environment’ was discovered in Namibia in 1989.” The then local branch of the SA Institute of Civil Engineers organised a workshop in Swakopmund about environmental assessments, presented by the University of Cape Town. This event brought national and international scientists, hydrologists, ecologists, engineers, and other stakeholders together to discuss the practical application of environmental assessments when large infrastructure development projects are planned and executed. At that time, Piet was the Director of Investigations and Research at the Department of Water Affairs and the workshop prompted him and his staff to execute an environmental assessment before the Omaruru Dam was built to artificially recharge the Omdel Aquifer in the lower Omaruru. This was the first Government project with an environmental assessment and in June 1996 the project received the Shell Environmental Award.
Piet was not only instrumental in conceptualising and initiating the unique, experimental Omdel Artificial Recharge Scheme, but also key to developing the principles of the ‘conjunctive use of water’ in the central area of Namibia, which entails the integrated use of groundwater, surface water and recycled water to increase resource efficiency for enhanced water security and reliability while reducing potential environmental risks. He has presented projects and provided advice at Cabinet level in Namibia, but also interacted with the farming community, the mining and industrial sector, the local authorities and the public at large on water and water-environment issues.
With his wonderfully ironic approach to presentations on subjects related to water and the environment, Piet is a key environmentalist worth listening to as he expostulates, directly from experience, on topics as wide ranging as flooding in Mariental and water-resource management in the Karst Groundwater Aquifer to the appropriateness of dry versus water-borne sanitation or the search for water under the dunes of the Namib Desert.
This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.