SOUTHERN AFRICA: Sharing the Okavango
GABORONE, Apr 23, 2010 (IPS) - Each January, a giant pulse of water from heavy summer rains over the south of Angola enters the Okavango River system and begins a five-month journey through Namibia to a richly biodiverse swamp in Botswana's Kalahari desert. The river is a rarity, scarcely disturbed by human development along its 1,100 kilometre length: shaping its future is the delicate task of the Okavango River Basin Commission.
The Okavango Delta, which expands to three times its permanent size when the water arrives between June and August, is home to a tremendous concentration of wildlife.
There are just under 600,000 people living in the basin's 323,000 square kilometre area, relying on its waters for small-scale agriculture and livestock, fishing, and household use. But aside from evaporation, a few sips drawn off to supply the Namibian town of Rundu and 1100 hectares of irrigation nearby, the water that falls in Angola at the turn of the year arrives in Botswana in mid-winter to recharge the Delta.
"Water usage in Angola and Namibia is minimal, 99.2 percent of the Okavango river water still reaches the delta in Botswana where it is used for tourism," says Chaminda Rajapakse, of the Environmental Protection and Sustainable Management of the Okavango River Basin (GEF-EPSMO) project.
"[It has been] agreed any country that wants to develop their part of the basin have to go through consultation and studies be done to find out if the development will have any effect on the river flow or the ecosystem."
But there is continuous, even growing, pressure on the river. When Namibia faced severe drought in the late 1990s, it considered drawing water off the Okavango to supply its capital, Windhoek, hundreds of kilometres away. Namibia also has a long-standing desire to build a hydroelectric dam on the river at Popa Falls, 50 kilometres upstream of the border with Botswana.
But Botswana opposes any additional use of the water, arguing that it will disturb the fragile ecology of the Delta, leading to lost biodiversity and revenue from tourism.
Rajapakse's project is to analyse the potential harmful impacts to the health of the river and draw up a strategic programme for joint management of the river basin's water that will protect its diversity. He works closely with the Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), which was set up in 1994 to, in its own words, "anticipate and reduce those unintended, unacceptable and often unnecessary impacts that occur due to uncoordinated resources development." MORE
WATER: Working together on River Management
WINDHOEK, Mar 11, 2011 (IPS) - Postwar Angola is keen to expand irrigation for much-needed development, Namibia is prioritising clean drinking water and sanitation, while Botswana wants to preserve the integrity of the world-renowned Okavango Delta for tourism.
All three depend on an equitable share of quality water from the Okavango River, the fourth largest in Africa, running 1,600 kilometres from Angola to its inland delta in Botswana.
In other parts of the world, conflicting interests like these, against a backdrop of uncertainty due to climate change, have led several observers to predict water wars might lead to water wars. But the three countries are putting in place a cross-border plan to manage the river.
A trans-boundary diagnostic analysis of the basin led to a strategic action plan which encompasses national priorities. To this end National Action Plans (NAPs) are currently being formulated in the three countries.
"The realisation has dawned that issues in the basin are much larger than just the river that runs through it," says Steve Johnson head of the USAID funded Southern African Regional Program (SAREP) that facilitates the NAPs.
"The topics range from trans-boundary management to biodiversity aspects, to water supply and sanitation, livelihoods, flood preparedness and HIV/AIDS," he said. MORE
Its so awesome when things go right in the world:)