This is the time (winter season) that residents of Ngamiland and the tourism industry look forward to the flooding of the Okavango River. The Okavango River, like the Nile in Egypt, sustains life in an otherwise inhospitable environment. It sustains human life, plant life, wildlife, birds, insects, and the various living organisms found in the Okavango River Basin. The Okavango River owes its origin from the Cubango River in the Central Angolan Highlands.
The two rivers of Cubango and the Cuito become one river at the boundary between Namibia and Angola. The river is called the Kavango in Namibia. The Kavango becomes Okavango once it flows into Botswana at Mohembo in the North-western part of the country. It is in north-western Botswana that the Okavango River finally forms an alluvial fan commonly referred to as the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango River Delta plays a significant role to tourism development in Botswana in terms of contribution to GDP, employment opportunities and conservation of biodiversity. The tourism industry is the second largest economic sector after mining (especially diamonds). The Okavango Delta or Botswana as a whole, like other Southern African countries, is vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
The Okavango Delta, which is the central focus of most of Botswana’s tourists, is vulnerable to climate change; hence, climate change is expected to have severe impacts on Botswana’s tourism industry. For example, climate change is said to be the reason for the shrinking of the Okavango delta. As a result of this shrinking process, some parts of the Okavango Delta have become dry, rendering these areas unsuitable for wildlife to survive and therefore also for tourism.
For example, Lake Ngami has received little floods in recent years resulting in the lake becoming seasonal such that it dries up in some months of the year. In addition, the Thamalakane River that flows through Maun has been receiving low floods and often dries up as it the current case. This drying up or low water levels in the river has resulted in the suspension of boat activities and associated recreation and leisure activities in the river. It is for these reasons that climate change will be detrimental to tourism in Botswana.
Climate change in the Okavango River does not only affect tourism development, it also affects rural livelihoods. For example, waterlily (tswii) which is harvested in river channels like the Thamalakane when there are floods become scare so is water for watering livestock or for molapo farming (flood recession crop production).
The tourism operators in northern Botswana are reported to be aware of the general impacts of climate change. These operators observed changes in the physical environment, livelihoods and weather patterns and linked these changes to climate change. In this regard, these tourism operators rendered nature-based outdoor activities vulnerable to climate change, as it could lead to a loss of quality of attractions and consequently to a decline in tourist numbers.
Policy makers in the Okavango note challenges when dealing with climate change and these include uncertainties surrounding climate change, information gaps, inadequate data and poor public awareness, challenges posed by poor coordination and indeed data capturing and harmonization by concerned institutions. It is from this perspective that Botswana should come up with adaptation and mitigating measures towards climate change to address threats to the tourism industry and livelihoods in the country.