Botswana celebrated last year when the Okavango Delta, which covers 1 percent of the African continent, became the 1 000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, this achievement may come with a side effect that it is not being talked about enough.
“Increased visitor numbers will, however, also bring increased environmental pressures,” says the African Natural Resources Centre (ANRC) in a report titled “Maximising Benefits from Water for Tourism in Africa”.
The other human population that could pose similar threat is that of local people. The report doesn’t quote the most recent figures but only states that in 2001, they were over 1600 people employed in tourism in the Delta and that today tourism is the area’s main employer. According to the report, the rise in population around the Delta is placing a strain on water supply.
“In addition reduced rainfall due to climate change is set to have a significant impact environmentally and economically as it is having a detrimental effect on wildlife. There is continuing strong pressure to withdraw more potable water from the area for public water supply in a country where potable water is scarce,” says the ANRC report whose cover page features a picture of what looks like Okavango Delta polers transporting tourists in mekoro ÔÇô dugout canoes.
In one section that will certainly not be appreciated by cattle farmers, the report says that the Delta’s UNESCO designation will require monitoring and management of wildlife and the natural environment.
“Fewer subsidies for livestock in areas where water is needed for wildlife and water pricing that reflects economic costs also help,” ANRC says.
A non-lending entity of the African Development Bank, the ANRC was established in November 2013 to bring additional expertise and services to the Bank and its regional member countries (RMCs) – like Botswana. Its current director is Sheila Khama, the former Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Botswana, who supervised the editorial team that put the report together. The former CEO of the Botswana Tourism Organisation, Myra Sekgororoane, was one of the three peer reviewers.
In the foreword, Khama notes that ANRC works to assist RMCs to increase economic deliverables from natural resources.
“It offers strategic guidance on investment choices and technical assistance on regulatory matters. It also seeks to develop Bank expertise on policy. It is in these contexts that the Centre is examining the potential of adding economic value to water through tourism, and the sustainability issues which arise through this basic and innovative combination,” she says.