A CHIEF from the Kaliyangire area in the Zambezi region, Bona Bojano, says it would be fair for government to pay N$25 million for every person killed in a human-wildlife conflict incident.
Bojano was one of the traditional leaders who attended consultation meetings by the National Council standing committee on habitat at Bukalo, Chinchimani, Sangwali and Kongola between Monday and yesterday.
The meetings came after the National Council tasked the standing committee on 24 May this year to consult communities on human-wildlife conflict; compensation or lack thereof at the loss of human life; damage to property by wild animals; and the role of the environment ministry in mitigating and managing conflicts.
Farmers, traditional authorities, conservancies and officials from the environment ministry attended the meetings.
In an oral submission, Bojano said he did not understand why the environment ministry placed more value on an animal's life than on human life.
"When an animal such as an elephant is killed, the penalty is N$25 million. But if that same animal kills a human, the compensation is a paltry N$5 000," he said, adding that this was very troubling.
Bojano pointed out that government should balance the scales by considering human life as valuable, and the compensation should be similar.
Apart from his suggestions, others said they would be comfortable if government paid anything between N$8 000 and N$10 000 for every head of cattle, depending on the breed, killed by predators.
The communities also said government should pay N$25 000 per hectare as compensation for crops destroyed by wild animals.
Currently, government pays N$1 500 for every cow or bull killed by wild animals in a kraal, and N$200 for a sheep or goat. For pigs and donkeys, government gives N$250 compensation, while the owner of a horse receives N$500.
The Zambezi region is one of the areas most affected by human-wildlife conflict in the country.
The most recent incidents were reported in August when a man (26) and his son (2) died when a hippopotamus overturned the canoe which the family was using to cross the Mutwalwizi channel of the Zambezi River.
In March, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta said human-wildlife conflict incidents had killed 60 people between 2013 and March this year.
He told those gathered at the World Wildlife Day commemoration that seven people died in human-wildlife conflict incidents in the country in the first three months of this year.
The minister said 1 697 cattle, 1 082 goats, 245 sheep, 51 donkeys and eight horses had also been killed, and 1 524 hectares of crops destroyed by wild animals.
Romeo Muyunda, the environment ministry's spokesperson, could not give updated figures yesterday, apart from saying that there had been two deaths caused by human-wildlife conflicts since March.
Shifeta also told people who attended the World Wildlife Day commemorations that there were strong sentiments in favour of increasing compensation amounts.
One of those who attended the meetings, George Lubinda from the Shuckmansburg area, said it was unfair for farmers to receive little compensation while they suffer a lot of damage because of wild animals.
"I am not satisfied with the compensation of N$1 500 per head of cattle. The cattle cost us a lot of money. We need to be compensated accordingly. We are unable to buy any cattle with the money they give us," he stressed.
Nel Malambo from the Ngoma area said in the recent past, they had lost four community members - two men and a pregnant woman - to wild animals.
"We are losing our loved ones because of these wild animals. This hurts the surviving community members," he said, adding that N$5 000 compensation for a lost human life was too little.
Desmond Luchala from the Katima Mulilo area added his voice, stating that they have problems making a living from their fields because of elephants.
"We are poor farmers already. We cannot afford to have our fields destroyed by elephants every day. These elephants are destroying 10 hectares, and that is a great loss to us poor farmers. Therefore, we need better compensation for our destroyed crops," he noted.
The Bukalo Village Council chairperson, Charles Siyauya, suggested that compensation should be converted into a monthly grant for a certain period.
He said doing so would assist families to pay their everyday expenses.
"The other thing is the need for the counselling of family members left behind as the loss of their loved one is not only sudden, but may be gruesome. Therefore, counselling the affected families would help them get over the shock, and help them accept fate and carry on with their lives," Siyauya proposed.
Muyunda told The Namibian yesterday that the National Human-Wildlife Conflict Management Policy did not provide for compensation for damages caused by wildlife.
He, however, said the policy provided for the offsetting of losses under the self-reliance scheme.
Muyunda said the ministry was reviewing the national human-wildlife conflict policy, specifically looking at the amount offered for damages in order to determine reasonable amounts for the affected communities.
He said government did not value wildlife more than human life, but instead protects wildlife for the benefit of local communities.
"No, we do not value wildlife more than people. On the contrary, the ministry protects wildlife for the benefit of the local communities, regarding job opportunities, income-generation and development opportunities, among others. If the ministry does not protect the wildlife and the country, we will be failing in our mandate, and also failing the people of this country," he added.