The world’s largest inland delta, the Cubango-Okavango river basin is recognised as a site of global ecological importance. But a growing population, poor infrastructural development and climate change are threatening the ecological integrity of this near-pristine Ramsar wetland and World Heritage Site.
The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) provides technical advice to the three riparian states that share the Okavango – Angola, Botswana and Namibia. In September and November 2019, as part of an agreement with the Commission’s Secretariat (OKASEC), the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Facility (CRIDF) together with the Resilient Waters Program organised community consultations in each of the three countries to discuss the most pressing challenges faced by those who live in the Okavango Delta.
Understanding issues at ground level
A first, fundamental step in carrying out CRIDF’s livelihood vulnerability hotspot mapping approach is to clarify what people actually mean when they speak of livelihoods, hazards, vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities in relation to their particular geographical and socioeconomic contexts. Defining these key terms in each of the three workshops provided a launching pad for understanding the most important issues affecting communities today, over and beyond the hard data collected over many years. ‘It was important for us to check whether we are still relevant and to confirm whether the issues that were experienced 25 years ago when the Commission was first set up are still relevant today,’ observed Portia Segomelo, OKASEC EU Programme Manager. The consultations provided an opportunity for participants to engage with these issues and ‘ground truth’ them. As CRIDF’s Gender and Livelihoods Coordinator Caroline Solik explained, ‘We’ve learned a lot from these stakeholder engagements, it demonstrates the real value in coming out here … the biggest takeaway has been around the social dynamics and social issues that don’t come through in data and analyses.’
Mapping hazards and vulnerabilities
The second step of CRIDF’s approach involved a process of interactive mapping. Workshop participants formed groups to work on detailed maps of the river basin, pinpointing zones where specific factors were affecting different aspects of their livelihoods. Geographical areas where hazards and vulnerabilities intersected were labelled livelihoods ‘hotspots’. Zeroing in on these hotspots allowed participants to discuss strategies for sustainable livelihoods that best responded to the specific causes of vulnerability in these areas.
Communities as resource managers
At each of the community consultations, there was an appreciation among those present that they had to be involved in discussions about the future of the Okavango Delta. Joseph Mbamba, representing the Mayana community in northern Namibia, put it succinctly: ‘Every user of the basin has to be a manager of the basin.’ Marcus Kamburu, also from Mayana, echoed this sentiment and expressed satisfaction with the support that CRIDF has provided his community over several years towards the design and implementation of a climate resilient irrigation scheme. Through engagement and collaborative discussions at workshops like these, he believes other communities in the basin can also benefit from basin-wide efforts that can ‘change the future and preserve the livelihoods of people in our society.’
The consultations also considered how smaller interventions at the community level could be replicated or scaled up, and integrated into bigger infrastructural and water resource management approaches, through partnerships between government, international partners and civil society. Going forward, it is hoped that the fruitful discussions that took place in the Okavango can provide a model for similarly ‘ground-truthed’ consultations in the Zambezi River Basin.