The Jewel of the Kalahari
The Okavango is unique. The river's waters slowly trickle through a system of lakes and canals, to finally either sink into the soil or evaporate into the air. On the way, it provides life to many unique species and habitats that together make up a landscape of stunning beauty.
The people in the Delta use a wide range of livelihood strategies. They include floodplain farming, dryland agriculture, cattle rearing, wage labour, and craft and tourism related activities. Of late, an increasing number of people are benefiting from a community-based project which allows them to administer and allocate natural resources. The diversity of livelihood strategies is closely interwoven with the diversity of the natural resource base of the Delta.
Draining the delta dry?
Increasingly the Delta's diversity is under pressure. While the Okavango's goods and environmental services have been used for centuries by the local communities, the unmanaged and uncontrolled expansion of human activities and unclear ownership of resources are threatening the livelihoods of the Delta's inhabitants.
The Delta is further threatened by the use of the basin's resources for other development purposes, including large-scale irrigated agriculture, mining and domestic use, both upstream and around the Delta. The lack of a comprehensive natural resources management plan which accommodates local participation and sustainable resource use currently hinders a healthy and wise development of the wealthy Delta.
Choosing the future
Rather than letting developments get out of hand, several parties have come together to make a deliberate choice for the future of the Delta. The goal is a management plan for the Okavango Delta that sets out the best way to manage its natural wealth. Two ingredients are vital to bake this dish: one is a sound knowledge of the link between the Delta's ecology and the livelihoods its supports, and the other is the participation of the various stakeholders.
However, the future of the Delta is not limited to Botswana alone. The actions of Angola and Namibia upstream will also have an impact on the water that finally feeds the Delta. It is therefore important to also involve those stakeholders and create a regional system of collaboration.
Taking small steps
One of the first steps to develop an integrated approach is for different government agencies and institutions to work together. They have done just that. A specific committee with representatives of ten agencies is now responsible to lead the process.
The Okavango management project will bring together economic, social and environmental information to analyse resource use and abstraction. It will then use extensive participation to define strategic development options in a Master Plan and assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of these options. Ultimately, it will propose the best options to the Government and people of Botswana.
Government of Botswana, OKACOM, tour operators and tourism associations, community groups
Duration and cost
5 years at US$ 7 million