Okavango facts

The length of the Okavango from its source in the Angola highlands to the mouth at the outer margin of the Delta in Botswana is 1,100 kilometres.

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The Botswana Basin

The Botswana Basin

In Botswana, the panhandle and delta form a vast floodplain area. The north, west, and south-eastern parts are occupied by rural communities, while the central and north-eastern parts are reserved for tourism concessions based on wildlife and the natural environment. Households around the delta derive nearly half (45 percent) their income from this large floodplain area, illustrating the great dependence on the river/wetland resources. Fish, reeds, wetland grass, floodplain crops (molapo farming), and floodplain grazing all tend to be more significant than they are in the upper parts of the basin.

National Planning

Vision 2016 is the country’s overarching development vision, the aim of which is to achieve sustainable economic growth and development of the country by 2016, highlighting the importance of the Okavango Delta in achieving development objectives of the country and the need to manage it sustainably and jointly with the other riparian states.

The National Development Plan 10 (2009–2016) is a more detailed national development plan, which calls for the appropriate use of natural resources and the consideration of environmental costs when planning for the development of the country. It is complemented by a wide range of sector policies, strategies and at district level, Ngamiland District Development Plan 7 (2009–2016).

The Economy

Botswana, like Angola, is heavily reliant on extractive industries for its economic well-being. Diamond mining brings in 40 percent of GDP. Manufacturing is limited to just 3.7 percent of GDP. Given the climate, agriculture is limited, making only a 1.6 percent contribution to GDP, the lowest of the three countries. As a consequence, services – government, banking, trade, transport, tourism, utilities and social services – make up a large portion of the remainder.

Tourism plays a modest role in the country’s economy providing almost US$200 million (2.16 percent), a large share of which comes from the Cubango-Okavango. Water and electricity are also responsible for US$200 million (2.16 percent) in value added. The higher level of development in the country compared to its neighbours is revealed by the higher level of spending on these basic services, at US$100/annum per capita.

The number of visitors coming to Botswana has risen from a total of 620,000 in 1994 to nearly 1.9 million in 2005, a growth rate of about 3 percent per annum, with about 40,000 visiting the core Moremi Game Reserve in 2006. To cater for the increasing numbers of tourists in the delta there are now over 80 hotels, lodges and camps within the Ramsar Site, providing 1,635 beds. The major goal of the Botswana Government, as expressed by various policy documents and plans, is to expand tourism revenue in the Okavango Delta. This means tourist numbers, tourist activities and tourism infrastructure such as lodges and hotels are bound to increase. The increase of tourism development in the Okavango Delta is bound to have sociocultural, economic and environmental impacts in the wetland. Increasing numbers of visitors in the delta could put added pressure on the ecosystem and natural resources of the river.


Botswana has no separately administered provinces or states; it has national and local government levels only. Local government is single-tiered, comprising both urban (two city councils, five town councils, one township authority) and rural councils (10 district councils). Local government in Botswana works with participative structures such as the kgotla (village assembly) and village development committees as institutions for two-way communication between the government and the community. As in Angola, traditional authorities play an important role in local-level decision making, particularly concerning issues of land allocation.

Botswana has, through a consultative process, developed a comprehensive Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP). The ODMP is an inter-sectoral management plan governing the management of the delta’s natural resources in an integrated way.

Botswana is in the process of reforming its domestic water legislation and institutional structure for water resources management, parallel to the development of a national IWRM plan. This restructuring process is a result of recommendations by the Botswana National Water Master Plan Review (2006). The institutional structure reform will allow the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources to focus on formulating, directing and coordinating overall national policies on water resources, energy and minerals. The Department of Water Affairs will be responsible for assessment, national planning, developing and managing water resources for short, medium and long-term purposes, while the Water Utilities Corporation takes on the responsibility of a water supply authority (including waste water operations) for all cities, townships and villages. The proposed Water Regulator will ensure financial sustainability across the water sector, and reduce wastage by facilitating the streamlining of operations and determining revenue requirements to inform regular tariff adjustments.

A process of extensive consultation on the Draft Botswana National Water Conservation Policy (2004) has been initiated. The policy provides a national framework that facilitates access to water of suitable quality and standards for the citizenry and provides a foundation for sustainable development of water resources in support of economic growth, diversification and poverty reduction. A draft Water Bill, 2006, has also been produced and will, once promulgated as an Act, replace the currently applicable 1968 Water Act. The proposed new Act brings the country’s legislation in line with IWRM principles. The forthcoming Act also establishes a new Water Resources Council with key decision making functions in water resources management, allocation and development of policies related to water resources. Notably, the Water Resources Council shows strong elements of interministerial cooperation, as a wide range of relevant line-ministries need to be represented on the council. Large industrial water users and civil society will also be represented as interested and knowledgeable water sector stakeholders.

Botswana has, through a consultative process, developed a comprehensive Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP). The ODMP is an inter-sectoral management plan governing the management of the delta’s natural resources in an integrated way. The development of the draft Wetlands Policy, 2002, led to the establishment of the Okavango Wetlands Management Committee (OWMC) to coordinate district-level wetlands management initiatives.

Botswana has a multitude of policies and laws that have direct impact on land-use management. These include the country’s National Strategy and Action Plan to Combat Desertification under the UNCCD. The Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP) aims to align sustainable land use with other natural resources use. In Botswana, eight ministries are involved in land-use management as well as several multi-departmental entities which are also highly relevant, including the land boards and tribunals. Traditional authorities play a key role in the allocation of land.

Botswana’s primary policy on biodiversity is the National Policy on Natural Resources Conservation and Development (1990), which entrenches sustainable development and environmental protection within the national planning process. This policy is supported by the Botswana National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) under the UNCBD, which provides for a series of activities and projects related to biodiversity conservation. Botswana recognizes biodiversity conservation as a major economic development opportunity (through inter alia eco-tourism). This aspect is further strengthened by relevant legislation such as the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act (1992) which, along with various other tourism related acts, provides for preservation of wildlife resources inside parks and reserves, and for the controlled use of wildlife resources elsewhere, in order to strengthen the country’s eco-tourism sector. Four ministries are presently responsible for the protection of the country’s biodiversity.

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