In the months of June-July, residents of Maun and surroundings villages wait patiently for the arrival of floods in the Okavango River. This is because the Okavango River Basin and its floods sustain thousands of human lives together with their livestock and livelihoods in general.
Almost two decades ago, there was a project termed “Every River Has Its People”. This was a unique initiative project on shared Okavango River Basin management approach implemented in the Okavango River Basin. The projected transcended three countries of Angola, Botswana and Namibia and was funded by the Swedish International Development Agency.
The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission facilitated the project. The project focused on introducing the project to communities, exchanging information, and establishing links with relevant bodies, and promoting understanding between Okavango riparian communities and project staff.
The overall stage one goal was to “Promote the sustainable management of natural resources in the Okavango River Basin for the benefit of basin residents and states by promoting and facilitating the effective participation of stakeholders in natural resource decision-making and management, particularly related to water resources”.
The project was implemented by the Association for Environmental Conservation and Rural Development, Kalahari Conservation Society and Namibia Nature Foundation, in Angola, Botswana and Namibia respectively. This project was simply trying to bring to our attention the fact that the Okavango River Basin sustains and supports life in in Angola, Botswana, and Namibia.
About 600 000 people live in the Okavango Basin, 58% living in the basin area in Angola, 27% in Kavango in Namibia and 15% in Ngamiland in Botswana. In the Angolan part of the basin, there are two large towns and 55 smaller towns. The large towns are Menongue with about 30 000 people and Cuito Cuanavale with about 20 000 people.
In Namibia, the town of Rundu has a population of about 42 000 while Maun in Botswana has about 85 000 people. Some of these town dwellers are not entirely dependent on natural resources especially in Namibia and Botswana. People in the smaller settlements along the river are almost all basin inhabitants indirectly dependent on water from the Okavango River.
In Botswana, the Okavango River Basin has an ethnically mixed population with groups such as the Basarwa, Bayei, Bakgalagadi, Bambukushu, Basubiya, Batawana, Baherero and many others. The Okavango River Delta and its immediate environs, otherwise known as Ngamiland or North West District has a human population of about 249,602 people. Over 95% of the people who live in the Okavango River Delta directly or indirectly rely on the natural resources found in the wetland to sustain their livelihoods.
The oldest inhabitants of the Okavango Basin in Botswana are the Basarwa, a collective name used for several groups of Khoisan-speaking peoples. Evidence based on Early and Middle Stone Age implements found at sites on or near the delta margins seem to indicate that man has inhabited the southern periphery of the delta for about 10,000 years or more. The rich Okavango ecosystem and its natural resource diversity will therefore continue to sustain livelihoods and of late the tourism industry for centuries to come. It is from this background that all should ensure the conservation of the Okavango River Basin.