Saving the Okavango Delta – an African treasure
Last year, news that a Canadian oil and gas exploration company, ReconAfrica, planned the go-ahead with fracking in some of Africa’s most sensitive environmental areas sent shockwaves all over the world. The gas giant indicated that it planned to begin oil exploration in the Namibian headwaters of the Okavango Delta and the Tsodilo Hills, a World Heritage Site in Botswana.
Youth climate activists in the Namibian capital, along with several other environmental and human rights groups, reacted with international calls from all fronts to prevent the impending environmental catastrophe that not only impacts the Okavango Delta’s biodiversity – which includes a number of endangered species – but also communities who depend on the Kavango Basin to sustain their livelihoods.
1. The Okavango Delta is the only source of water in the region
The Okavango Delta situated in north-west Botswana comprises permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains. It is one of the very few major interior delta systems that do not flow into a sea or ocean, with a wetland system that is almost intact. One of the unique characteristics of the site is that the annual flooding from the River Okavango occurs during the dry season, with the result that the native plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods.
2. Local communities’ livelihoods rely on the Okavango Delta
Being the only source of water in one of the driest parts of Africa, the Okavango Delta is the main source of water to local communities, which include the first people of Southern Africa: the San. Because its wetland system is practically intact, there is no contamination of its water which is essential to their food supply – and the food supply of both countries surrounding it. The Okavango Delta is also a major tourist attraction and is an important source of income and employment for citizens of either country.
3. The Okavango Delta is home to Southern Africa’s first people
The Okavango Delta has been inhabited for centuries by small numbers of indigenous people, with different groups adapting their cultural identity and lifestyle to the exploitation of particular resources, such as fishing or hunting. This form of low-level subsistence use has no significant impact on the ecological integrity of the area. Today, mixed settlements of indigenous peoples and later immigrants to the area are located around the fringes of the basin.
4. The Okavango Delta is a major biodiversity hotspot
Due to its unique climate, the Okavango Delta is home to some of the world’s most endangered species of large mammal, such as the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog and lion. It is also home to huge populations of elephants and hippos.
5. Oil Drilling in the Okavango Delta will exacerbate the climate crisis
Fridays For Future Windhoek revealed that the oil and gas ‘play’ of Canadian ReconAfrica in the Kavango region of Namibia and Botswana risks destroying global attempts of meeting a two-thirds chance of limiting global heating to 1.5°C as part of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Based on ReconAfrica’s own projections of 120 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the ‘carbon gigabomb’ comes in at up to 51.6 Gigatonnes of CO2, the equivalent of one sixth of the world’s remaining carbon budget. This, among other issues, raises ocean temperatures and disrupts ocean ecosystems. Recently, over 7,000 seal corpses were discovered along the Namibian coastline. Scientists concluded that the seal pups and mothers died of starvation because the seal moms were so thin.
Sources: UNESCO, Fridays For Future, CGTN Africa