Cubango-Okavango Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis
The Cubango-Okavango river system, which flows 1000 km from Angola to Botswana, is one of the few relatively undeveloped river systems in the world, and a natural wonder in a dry region. Its value as a ecotourism resource is internationally recognized. At the same time, Angolans, Batswana and Namibians living in the river basin are among the poorest in the region, and demand for water to support growing populations in the three riparian countries is steadily increasing.
The question for the countries is how to balance use of the river’s resources to get the best shared return on investment on any economic development. Since 1994, OKACOM has been discussing and analyzing this issue. in 2011 OKACOM completed an analysis of available knowledge about how the river system functions: the Cubango-Okavango Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis. The analysis used water-use scenarios to estimate the ecological, social and macro-economic outcomes of possible developments. The analysis has been used to develop a framework for livelihood strategies and conservation interventions – a Strategic Action Programme -- that will inform and support the countries’ planners in dealing with transboundary issues, and facilitate joint investment in the basin.
The TDA Process
Political will, in the form of the 1994 tripartite OKACOM Agreement, drove the process of acquiring financial support to carry out the work, negotiated with the UN Global Environment Fund, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and FAO. The resulting Environmental Protection and Sustainable Management of the Okavango River Basin (EPSMO) Project drove the process over several years. Other international cooperating partner projects were also leveraged to provide additional support through pilot technical projects and administrative assistance. Researchers from the region’s institutions of learning were contracted to carry out more than 70 background studies that range in topic from bird populations to irrigated agriculture. State of the art methodology – integrated flows analysis – was applied to the data. This has laid the foundation for ongoing regional science work that directly supports policy.
The analysis identified four areas of concern: flow, sediments, water quality, and biodiversity. The implication of these were captured in the following:
- The upper catchment consists of two hydrological sub-systems -- the Cubango River with its flash floods and the spongy wetlands of the Cuito River -- that offset one another. The Cuito wetlands are vital for flood and drought control throughout the basin.
- Small run of river hydropower development in the upper catchment is feasible, but more understanding is needed as to how to best avoid impacts on life-giving sediments.
- Land cover change near the river is already a threat and requires management to reduce erosion.
- Point source pollution near growing settlements is increasing but can be caught early through effective water and sanitation programmes.
- Improved water supply to settlements is unlikely to have a significant negative impact on river system’s hydrology and ecology and should be given priority by member states.
- Large abstractions and water transfers will change the flow regime and need careful study.
- Biodiversity is dependent on the flow regime: any change to the regime will change the nature of the basin’s vegetation and wildlife.
- Large scale irrigated agriculture is likely to have the greatest impact on river’s natural systems of all possible developments. Its economic value needs to be carefully analysed.
- Leaving the river system relatively undisturbed is a comparative advantage as ecotourism is proving a significant source of income. The experience of Namibia and Botswana in tourism should be shared with Angola.