Okavango Delta: A Kalahari Oasis Under Threat

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While the Okavango River Delta sustains life of both human, flora and fauna, the wetland is continuously faced with enormous environmental threats. Essentially an oasis in what would otherwise be a desert; the Okavango Delta is a habitat for diverse species of plants, arachnids, large herbivores, and birds.

Like the Nile in Egypt, the Okavango River and its Delta sustain life in an otherwise inhospitable environment. The wetland is home to a human population of about 150,000 who live within and around it and who directly or indirectly depend on the extraction of the natural resources found in it.

As a result of its rich wildlife diversity, permanent water resources, grasslands and forests, the Okavango Delta has in recent decades attracted many land users with divergent land use activities such as international tourism, wildlife management, crop and livestock farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering of veld products and of late mining activities.

In recent years, because of the impact of natural factors such climate change and the human activities, this Kalahari oasis has been undergoing tremendous environmental stress, raising concerns about its future sustainability. As the threats are currently escalating, it is important that the sustainability of the Okavango Delta be made a high priority agenda item by all stakeholders with an interest in this wetland.

This requires that the current Okavango Development Management Plan (ODMP) be given urgent priority and expeditiously implemented to stem this surging tide of degradation and ensure the Delta’s long-term sustainability and continued provision of benefits for the present and future generations.

The Okavango Delta has a history of not quite coordinated developments, with investments in infrastructure or facilities running sometimes out of sync with spatial development requirements and conflicts in land use continuing to escalate. Although attempts have been made in the past at integrated land use plans for Ngamiland such as the 1991 Land Use and Development Plan, these efforts have not resolved the inherent land use problems in the Delta.

The conservation and wise use of the Okavango Delta presently lies with the implementation of the ODMP. The overall objective of the ODMP is “to integrate resource management for the Okavango Delta that will ensure its long-term conservation and that it will provide benefits for the present and future well-being of the people, through sustainable use of its natural resources”.

The Plan provides a comprehensive, integrated management strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of the Okavango Delta and surrounding areas. It aims at addressing, among other things, the following issues: conflicting and contradictory policies, human wildlife conflicts, insufficient and inappropriate stakeholder communication and consultative mechanisms, inappropriate or unsustainable settlement development, land use practices, veterinary fences, veld fires, unsustainable harvesting of veld products, proximity of livestock to wildlife and possible overfishing. The ODMP should thus provide insights into how the proposed oil and gas exploration project by Recon Botswana might or may not affect the existence of the Okavango Delta. The conservation of the Okavango Delta is thus the responsibility of all the stakeholders including communities who live in and around it.

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