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Mining is often associated with positive impacts especially revenue generation for the nation, improvement the local and national economy. Similarly, mining is associated with negative environmental impacts such as deforestation, erosion, contamination and alteration of soil profiles, contamination of local streams and wetlands, and an increase in noise level, dust, and many other impacts.
Therefore, the main environmental impacts of mining are on wildlife and fishery habitats, the water balance, local climates and pattern of rainfall, sedimentation, the depletion of forests and the disruption of the ecology.
In the last 10 years, several prospecting and exploration licences have been given to mining companies in and around the Okavango Delta. Already, mines have either started operating or are just about to operate in areas such as Toteng, Shakawe and Kuke.
While this is the case, international attention was recently drawn to activities of Reconnaissance Energy Africa Ltd in Namibia and Botswana and how such activities can affect the sustainability of the Okavango Delta.
Reconnaissance Energy Africa Ltd, operating as ReconAfrica, is a Canadian oil and gas exploration company that operates in the Kavango in Namibia and Botswana. ReconAfrica is engaged in the exploration of oil and gas in Namibia and Botswana.
Because of the international attention given to ReconAfrica, several media houses both local and international visited the Okavango Research Institute (ORI) to get a scientific position on this matter and how the Okavango Delta will be affected. We note that ORI as a key stakeholder with scientific information about the CORB is positioned to provide scientific advice and guidance to decision-makers on the potential impacts of both exploration and development and operation activities. ORI therefore produced a position paper whose key points are noted below as follows:
1. That the Okavango Delta is a World Heritage Site listed in 2014 by UNESCO and one of the binding requirements of the listing is the non-permissible commercial mining of any mineral, gas or oil within the World Heritage Site. In addition, the Okavango Delta is also a RAMSAR site in which mining is not allowed.
2. Should the exploration for minerals, oil and gas be allowed, there is a high chance that a mineral, oil or gas may be found given that the Delta is sitting on karoo sediments and shale rocks which in other parts of the world have been found to be sources of oil and gas deposits. Should oil or gas be discovered, there will be a strong socio-economic pressure to mine oil or gas and create jobs for the masses.
3. If fracking operations proceed, the extraction process poses a significant risk of GHGs escaping into the atmosphere. A major fraction of the gasses released contains methane which is a more potent GHG than carbon dioxide.
4. The Okavango Delta is a vulnerable part of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin (CORB) because of its location downstream and significant dependency on flood water from Angola and Namibia. Any drilling done within the CORB or along the fossil rivers whose drainage leans towards the Kavango River will have a huge impact on the underground water, vegetation, and wildlife.
While ORI notes the above, we also note the following:
1. Given the distance of the proposed well sites from the Kavango and Okavango Rivers, the likelihood of negative impacts from drilling exploration wells on the surface water systems is likely to be negligible.
2. While the impacts might be minimal at the exploration stage, environmental impacts during the development and extraction process are significant. As a result, detailed Environmental Impact Assessment Studies will need to be carried out to inform any decision-making process regarding mining operations around the Okavango Delta.