The Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM)
Namibia and Botswana are two of the driest countries in southern Africa, and the Okavango River plays an important role not only in the lives of local populations residing along the river, but also at national level. Water-based tourism is the second largest foreign currency earner for Botswana, and most tourism activities are centered on the delta system, which forms part of the larger Okavango River system. The river sustains over half a million people who use the plant and animal resources found in the river to support livelihoods. For Namibia, the "Kavango River" as it is known in that region, drains along the city/town of Rundu and provides support to riparian communities' livelihoods through a diverse set of ecosystem goods and services. The Okavango Delta has rich biological diversity and is internationally recognized as a site of ecological importance. It has, as a result, been declared a RAMSAR Site (a wetland of international importance).
Guided by the spirit of managing the Okavango River Basin as a single entity, the three sovereign states of Angola, Botswana and Namibia agreed to sign the OKACOM Agreement in 1994, in Windhoek, Namibia.
The OKACOM Agreement established the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), also referred to as the "Commission", whose objective is "to act as technical advisor to the Contracting Parties (the Governments of the three states) on matters relating to the conservation, development and utilisation of the resources of common interest to the Contracting Parties (basin member states) and shall perform such other functions pertaining to the development and utilisation of such resources as the Contracting Parties may from time to time agree to assign to the "Commission". The role of OKACOM is to anticipate and reduce those unintended, unacceptable and often unnecessary impacts that occur due to uncoordinated resources development. To do so it has developed a coherent approach to managing the river basin. That approach is based on equitable allocation, sustainable utilisation, sound environmental management and the sharing of benefits. The 1994 OKACOM Agreement gives it legal responsibility to:
- Determine the long term safe yield of the river basin
- Estimate reasonable demand from the consumers
- Prepare criteria for conservation, equitable allocation and sustainable utilisation of water
- Conduct investigations related to water infrastructure
- Recommend pollution prevention measures
- Develop measures for the alleviation of short term difficulties, such as temporary droughts
- Address other matters determined by the Commission.
In early 2007, OKACOM reviewed its organizational structure to bring it in line with the Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, and gave the Okavango Basin Steering Committee (OBSC) formal status, recognizing it as a permanent and formal internal body of OKACOM with defined functions, roles, responsibilities as well as operational procedures.
In 2004, the Commission had recognized the need to establish a Secretariat to implement decisions of the Commission and started the process of putting this in place. In April 2007, the three contracting parties signed a new agreement for the organizational structure for the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission, establishing the Secretariat as an internal organ of OKACOM, along with the Commission and the OBSC. The Secretariat is responsible for providing administrative, financial and general secretarial services to OKACOM as well as leading information sharing and communication on behalf of the Commission. It was agreed that Botswana would be the first host for the Secretariat, which now has fully functional offices in Maun, headed by an Executive Secretary and inaugurated on 2 February 2008 in an official ceremony coinciding with World Wetlands Day.
Read more about the history of OKACOM.