There is no doubt that the Okavango Delta is one of the world’s most famous wetlands. It was declared a Ramsar site in 1996 and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. The Okavango Delta is renowned for its incredible wildlife resources which includes some of the most sought-after species in the tourist sector such as elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, and many species of antelope.
In addition, the Okavango is known as a birdwatcher’s paradise. The number of identified species in the Okavango Delta include 1,300 for plants, 71 for fish, 33 for amphibians, 64 for reptiles, 444 for birds, and 122 for mammals. As a result of the rich biodiversity, the Okavango Delta has become one of the most popular destinations for safari enthusiasts.
The wildlife-based tourism industry in the Okavango Delta significantly contributes to the tourism component of Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Approximately 100 000 tourists visit the 60 or so camps and lodges in the Okavango Delta contributing significantly to the economy of Ngamiland and Botswana. Tourism is the main economic sector in the Okavango Delta.
Ironically, the Okavango Delta is also characterised by high poverty rates. Botswana has developed a national Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which is the basis on which the profiling of poverty is done. The profiling exercise show that the Okavango sub-district is disproportionately poverty-stricken, with monetary poverty level of 37.7% and multidimensional poverty level of 34.6% against the national levels of 16.3% and 17.2% respectively.
The unemployment level is also very high, with 8,142 households heads unemployed out of a total of 10,373 captured in the sub-district’s data system. Further, the level of education attainment is extremely low with only 10.5% of the households heads having attained at least a BGCSE certificate. Access to sanitation services and the level of use of electricity are also very low, with 66% of the households having no toilet facilities and only 27% of the households using electricity as a source of lighting.
On average, the households own very few assets, hence, coupled with the high level of unemployment, the sub-district’s sources of livelihood are highly limited. For instance, the average number of domestic animals owned by households are 8 for cattle and goats, 4 for donkeys and pigs, 10 for chickens and 2 for horses. These figures of ownership of domestic animals are far below the thresholds for a household to be considered not poor.
Poverty results in the Okavango Delta indicate that communities residing in and around the delta have seen their livelihoods deteriorate over the years. This scenario is referred to as the “paradox of plenty”.
The paradox of plenty refers to the observation that many societies with abundant natural resources have worse economic outcomes than those that lack natural resources. That is, a ‘paradox of plenty’ is whereby rich areas/districts/provinces/states with natural resources experience poor economic growth and an increased dissatisfaction by residents of the prevailing scenario. Research conducted around the world has shown that in countries where the “Paradox of Plenty,” occurs, such countries with abundant natural resources paradoxically suffer from extreme poverty, inequality, corruption, political instability, environmental degradation, and neglect of human capital, among other effects. Researchers and institutions have studied the Paradox of Plenty and generally agree that the root cause of the paradox of plenty is the absence of a transparent natural resources governance system with clear accountability for individuals and institutions in charge of managing the benefits during the life cycle from resources to assets. Next week, I will describe how poverty and the Paradox of Plenty affect biodiversity conservation.