Climate change and environmental degradation pose existential threats to Botswana’s tourism and its competitiveness, a World Bank report has said.
The report says the acceleration of desertification caused by Climate change is putting pressure on key wildlife habitats, particularly through water scarcity.
Botswana’s wildlife tourism is concentrated in the northern part of the country, driven primarily by water sources such as the Okavango Delta and Chobe River.
The World Bank says Climate change and water scarcity, along with geopolitical implications in upstream Angola, may threaten the competitiveness of Botswana’s wildlife safari offering, which is dependent on ample water inflow into the Okavango Delta.
“Early indications are that changes in water levels, flow, and seasonality are already affecting biodiversity, as well as the spread and migration patterns of iconic wildlife species across the delta and Chobe. Botswana’s growing elephant population has also led to increased instances of damaged crops and infrastructure (leading to conflict with local communities) as well as natural resource degradation through reduced tree cover that is used by other wildlife for shelter and food.”
Botswana’s dependence on the Okavango Delta received a lifeline in 2021 when the Angolan government became party to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention). The decision laid to rest fears by Botswana about the Angolans engaging in activities that were likely to threaten the survival of the Okavango Delta ecosystem. It has always been 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 (such as agricultural activities) that threaten the existence of the Delta.
The World Bank report (Creating Markets in Botswana- A Diamond in the Rough: Toward a New Strategy for Diversification and Private Sector Growth) says water scarcity is high and climate risks remain pronounced despite significant adaptation efforts.
“Apart from agriculture, tourism is also overwhelmingly dependent on nature-based and biodiversity-driven activities, making it particularly vulnerable to climactic impacts. Botswana’s vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated because of its dependence not only on agriculture, but also on other sectors vulnerable to climate change (that is, the water, tourism, and energy sectors). With regard to water supply, temperature increases and decreases in rainfall will add to the existing water stress, with the main impact expected in water quality and availability.”
The report says projected increases in the frequency of droughts, evaporation, and evapotranspiration along with potential changes in rainfall patterns and runoff may further reduce the availability of water in water-scarce regions (northern, eastern, and central).
“The Okavango Delta, in which a significant portion of Botswana’s profitable low-volume high-cost tourism is concentrated, depends heavily on water-based wildlife. This key tourist attraction is vulnerable to variable rainfall, with a projected decrease by 20 percent of stream flows for the Okavango catchment,” The UN report says.
Botswana is one of the most highly vulnerable countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country is expected to record an average temperature increase of 2.9 to 3.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Botswana ranked 94th out of 181 countries in the 2020 Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Index.
The UN report says limited water availability has also led to increased tensions between humans and wildlife. “As water demand is projected to rise, Botswana could become ‘highly water stressed by 2040’ under a business-as-usual scenario.”