The Namibian (Windhoek)

10 January 2013

Namibia: Okavango River Fights for Survival

THE daily scene of Angolans from the town of Calai and other nearby villages bathing and washing clothes in the Okavango River is likely to change the water quality of the river but it can only be stopped if the people are provided with potable water and sanitation.

These are the views of the head of the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Programme (Sarep) in Namibia, Dorothy Wamunyima. The Okavango River is a flow of a life-line, but its resources should be used sustainably to ensure it equitably benefits the current and future generations.

Wamunyima said due to lack of potable water and sanitation in the area, people are forced to use the Okavango River for bathing, washing clothes and drawing water for cooking their food, risking their health.

Shared water courses such as the Okavango River - which is shared by Namibia, Angola and Botswana, mean shared responsibilities. Each country has an obligation to look after its section of the river and its wetlands resource to make sure that no harm is done to downstream wetlands. The riparian countries need to work together to make sure that the conservation and management of these shared rivers and their resources is sound and wise.

Wamunyima said the practice can only stop if the Angolan Government provides water and sanitation to the people. Mark Paxton of Shamvura Camp (located on the bank of the river) said over-fishing and poaching were two other challenges facing the river.

He said while Namibian officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Fisheries, were fighting these activities - they said they cannot do anything when something is happening on the Angolan side of the river.

Paxton said poaching of crocodiles and hippos is a serious problem in the Shamvura area, while deforestation (along the river) has also been observed. He said some Namibians are now crossing the river to Angola to go and engage themselves in illegal activities, because they know that no action will be taken against them on that side.

An association called Kavango Open Africa Route (KOAR) has been formed, aimed at protecting five flagship species of the Okavango River.

The 40 member association have a programme that monitors the Hippo, Nembwe fish, African Skimmer, Greyheaded Parrot and the Kiat tree.

"We also do an annual wetland bird count," said Paxton, who is the chairman of the organisation.

In 1994, the governments of Namibia, Angola and Botswana, established the Permanent Okavango River Commission (Okacom).

With headquarters in Maun (Botswana), Okacom is aimed at advising the three-basin countries on the appropriate and sustainable ways of managing the water resources of the Okavango River and that foster co-operation and co-ordination.

The Okavango River provides people who lives along its banks with fish, water, reeds, thatch and timber. A few years ago, the three-basin countries had a partnership project called "Every River Has Its People", aimed at the sustainable use of the water of the Okavango river and its basin.

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