Thursday, September 24, 2020

Angola commits to ensuring sustainability of Okavango Delta

The appointment of Adjany Costa as the Minister of Tourism and Environment in Angola may just be what the doctor ordered for the future of Botswana’s continued dependence on the flow of the Okavango Delta. Costa (a marine biologist) assumed her ministerial duties in April this year just a couple of years after completing the National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project expedition (led by conservationist Steve Boyes) traversing the Angolan highlands around the source lakes of the Okavango River Basin, which spans parts of Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The objective of Okavango Wilderness Project is to protect the delta by ensuring that the world understands the importance of the ecological services provided by the Okavango wetland ecosystem. The Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) has been at the centre of creating a sustainable plan for the future of the river that includes preserving the biological diversity of the Okavango Delta. 

It remains in the best interest of Botswana that the Angolans recognize the value of tourism as a crucial component of economic diversification, therefore abandoning any plans that threaten the very existence of the Delta.Sunday Standard spoke to the new Tourism authority in Angola to establish the government’s future plans for their side of the Okavango.“The Angola region of Okavango is the less developed part of the entire Okavango. We need to explore the natural resources in our side in a sustainable way to diversify our economy through tourism and other cross cutting sectors and bring prosperity for the community living there,” says Rui Jorge Da Silva Lisboa, CEO of Angola’s National Agency for Management of Okavango Region. “We expect to enjoy the support and the understanding of all countries, considering that Okavango must derive benefits for all the countries involved.” The CEO says his agency was created by the Angolan government specifically to ensure the resources at Okavango in Angola side will be sustainably used. The Angolan side of the Okavango was one of the biggest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa before the war.

Conflict, together with rampant poaching drove herds of elephants to Botswana, leading to the country’s highest population of elephants in the world. It is this overpopulation of elephants and the human, wildlife conflict that formed the basis for Botswana’s 2019 decision to cull the giants, lifting a long standing ban on trophy hunting.If the Angolans can manage to provide a conducive environment for wildlife along their side of the Okavango Delta, a migration of elephants may relief Botswana of the current burden, consequently saving the elephant species from further trophy hunting activities. “We are just working to recover wildlife population and create a tourism destination to be part of the major Okavango Zambezi tourism destination,” Angola tells Sunday Standard. The CEO says they are aware of the migratory movement of the Elephants especially in the Cuando Wildlife Dispersal area that connects national parks of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. He says the four countries must cooperate to protect the transboundary movement of wildlife. The SADC Protocol on Wildlife and Law Enforcement which Angola has yet to ratify, provides a framework for this kind of cooperation between the countries but the CEO would not commit to timeframes citing the COVID-19 crisis.

He said however that he expects Angola to present its position on the Protocol in the near future. “At institutional level the National Agency of Okavango Region ‘ANAGERO’ was created to coordinate on the ground all the activities for protection and sustainable development. Institutional project for infrastructure and demining has been implemented in the area.  We are already working with some international organizations like National Geographic, Space for Giants, Peace Park, Panthera, and the World Wildlife Fund,” Da Silva Lisboa says. He says Angola also expects support from the United States, following the signing of the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act by US President Donald Trump.The DELTA Act, passed by the US Senate in 2018, aims to defend economic livelihoods and threatened animals in the greater Okavango River Basin by supporting conservation activities in the Kavango Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA).

The Act is expected to significantly improve the protection of the Okavango River Delta, Africa’s last-remaining wetland wilderness. “Basically if we all protect the Angola Okavango Region it means that all entire Okavango will be safe,” the Angolan CEO tells Sunday Standard. “I also take this opportunity to invite all tourism companies in the region to invest in Angolan region of Okavango. The agency is available to present the business opportunities and provide institutional support to help all the companies to implement private investment in the region.”  The Okavango Delta formed part of a serious debate in the Botswana Parliament early 2020 with some MPs expressing concerns about tension between Botswana and Angola over the Okavango waters.Former International Relations Minister Unity Dow explained to Parliament that while Botswana does not want Angola to take any action that may affect the flow of water into the country, the government recognized the Angolans do have needs and requirements that may not always align with Botswana’s plans.“There is always going to be tension with us trying to convince them not to dam the water because we want it down here and need it for the delta,” she said.

The Okavango Delta is the mainstay of Botswana’s tourism industry which accounted for more than USD 2.8 billion (P31.6 billion) in 2018 representing 13,4% of all economic impact in Botswana or one in every seven dollars in the country’s economy, according to the World Travel & tourism Council (WTTC) report. The industry supported at least 84 000 jobs and 8.9% of Botswana’s total employment. The industry is driven by leisure travelers and tourists who account for 96% of the spending while business travelers account for the balance of 4%. Most of these are international leisure travelers, 73% who visit the delta, while domestic travelers account for only 27%. The 10,000-square-mile Okavango wetland basin sprawls across the borders of Botswana, Namibia and Angola and is home to the largest remaining population of elephants. It was partly through conservationist Steve Boyes’ research and advocacy that UNESCO declared the Okavango Delta a World Heritage Site, consequently protecting the delta from possible agricultural and any other activities that may interfere with the natural habitat.

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