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von Durckheim, K. 2010. Overview Report pertaining to the Okavango Basin and the Upper Zambezi Basin


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Demands for water and land for cultivation is increasing in Africa, with concomitant degradation of river and other aquatic ecosystems. Management of scarce water sources, especially in developing countries with data-poor arid regions, poses significant challenges. The Kavango, Cuito, Cuando (Kwando) and Zambezi Rivers arise in the Angolan highlands or in northern Zambia, and display a variety of spectacular ecosystems such as floodplains, dambos, swamps and forests. The Okavango River is one of the most pristine systems in southern Africa, while the Upper Zambezi River remains relatively free from dam construction. Biggest future threats come from hydropower initiatives in the upper reaches of the Okavango and Zambezi Rivers in the Angolan, Namibian and Zambian head streams due to predicted future water shortages in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. Altered flow could result in localised species extinctions coupled with changed community function and consequent bush encroachment, as well as reduced food security for communities depending on food provisioning services of the rivers and their tributaries. More research is needed for the two rivers and their tributaries. Scant information exists regarding the Upper Zambezi (and its tributaries), the Cuito and the Cuando Rivers in terms of hydrology, biodiversity, ecosystem health, and socio-economic circumstances of people dependent on them. Cuando-Cubango Province in Angola has been excluded from recent economic development largely due to landmines and the remoteness of the region. This resulted in the area being largely inaccessible for not only research purposes, but for irrigation and hydropower schemes. The potential for conflict is great, with increasing pressure on riparian governments to develop the relatively pristine rivers in order to address socio-economic needs in the basin. Angola – with four times as much rainfall as Botswana – has few challenges in terms of water supply but many in terms of reerecting a decimated infrastructure for a disenfranchised population. Angola’s focus is thus on economic development, especially in the agricultural sector. Namibia on the other hand is the driest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has great need of the water that flows in the Okavango and Zambezi Rivers. Botswana derives the most economic benefit from Angolan waters, however its mining and agricultural sectors are heavily dependent on water and the country is facing water shortages in future. Water abstraction in the upper reaches of the Okavango as well as in the Upper Zambezi, would have significant impacts on the fauna, flora and rural communities that depend on the rivers’ resources for survival. It is encouraging to note that riparian States are working together with research institutions and NGOs in designing and implementing Integrated Management Plans for their shared water resources.

Year: 2010

Type: Report

Download: OkavangoUppZambeziOverviewVonDurckheimJuly2010.pdf (1.35 mb)

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