Lying in Southern Africa, the Okavango Delta is the continent’s largest inland delta, protecting an space of over two million hectares that straddles three international locations –Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. The delta is dwelling to greater than 480 chook species, a lot of that are of conservation concern, together with six species of Vultures, the Southern Ground-Hornbill, Slaty Egret, and the Wattled Crane. Furthermore, the delta is dwelling to a powerful 130 mammal species along with quite a few reptiles, fish, and plant species. Given that Botswana helps the world’s largest elephant inhabitants, numbering round 130,000, the delta is a core space for the survival of this iconic species.
The Botswana part of the Okavango is thus well-deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage standing, having been inscribed in 2014. It has additionally been designated as a Wetland of International Importance underneath the Ramsar Convention. It follows that this space will not be solely of nationwide, but additionally regional and worldwide significance. It is important for conserving organic variety and, as a key watershed, is crucial to the survival of communities residing within the delta.
Wattled Crane, copyright Philip Precey, from the surfbirds galleries
However, regardless of its wealthy variety and significance to native communities, in January 2021 the Canadian oil and fuel agency Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) started drilling take a look at wells for oil after buying a license to discover 35,000km2 within the Kavango Basin in Northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana which ReconAfrica claims may maintain as much as as much as 31 billion barrels of crude oil.
Since the drilling began in Namibia in January 2021, ReconAfrica has not discovered any commercially exploitable oil reserves. However, issues have been raised with respect to the standard of the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) carried out earlier than enterprise the exploration efforts, with the corporate additionally attracting heavy criticism for its failure to implement applicable affect mitigation measures. Effective participation of stakeholders, notably Indigenous and native communities, has additionally been insufficient. It is pertinent to notice that the drilling is happening in environmentally delicate areas and that it’s probably step one in the direction of extractive actions that will pose vital dangers to World Heritage Sites in Botswana – together with the interconnected water system of the Okavango Delta. In mild of the local weather change disaster, oil exploration at a website so essential for nature is mindless.
“Tourism is the second largest revenue-generator for Botswana after diamond mining. Allowing oil drilling in the Delta, which could lead to oil extraction and its attendant pollution is akin to cutting off a nation’s hand”, mentioned Motshereganyi Virat Kootsositse, CEO of BirdLife Botswana.
The World Heritage Committee has additionally made a number of pronouncements that oil and fuel exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage standing, calling upon Parties to make each effort to make sure that extractive firms positioned of their territory trigger no harm to World Heritage properties. The Committee has expressed concern in regards to the potential destructive affect of ReconAfrica’s actions on the Okavango Delta in case of spills or air pollution and has urged that this venture’s subsequent steps be topic to rigorous and demanding prior assessment.
In 2021, BirdLife Partners in Southern Africa revealed a joint media assertion forward of the forty fourth session of the World Heritage Committee, voicing their issues over the threats dealing with key World Heritage Sites within the area. This included the doubtless vital detrimental impacts of the extractive business on the Okavango Delta. Following this, in November 2022, all 26 BirdLife Africa Partners signed a Joint Statement on the event threats affecting World Heritage Sites, together with the Okavango. This was shared with the World Heritage Centre, World Heritage Committee and related companies on the fiftieth Anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention’s adoption.
“African BirdLife Partners reiterate the concerns expressed in their Joint Statement to members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and representatives of the World Heritage Centre on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the World Heritage Convention in November 2022. We emphasize the need for ESIA/EIA processes to be transparent and participatory and for stakeholders` inputs to be meaningfully considered and addressed,” mentioned Julia Pierini, CEO BirdLife Zimbabwe, and Chair of the BirdLife International Council for the African Partnership (CAP).
“In the matter of the Okavango Delta, there are serious concerns about the transparency of the process, the adequacy of the EIA and the potential to impact the Delta’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). On the eve of Africa World Heritage Day on 5th May 2023, we implore Party States to value and do their utmost to protect and conserve our region`s unique natural heritage”, she additional added.
African World Heritage Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015 and has since been celebrated yearly to extend international consciousness of African pure and cultural heritage. It gives an necessary alternative to replicate on the advantages of defending Africa’s irreplaceable heritage, the threats this heritage faces, and the steps that must be taken to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of African World Heritage Sites for each present and future generations.
ReconAfrica has been more and more accused of flagrant environmental violations and flouting legal guidelines. Namibia is dwelling to greater than 80 group conservancies which cowl roughly 20% of the nation’s space, the place native communities are empowered to handle pure sources. In 2021, National Geographic reported that ReconAfrica had bulldozed a forest space and blatantly proceeded to illegally drill contained in the Kapinga Kamwalye Community Conservancy, which was established to guard elephants, hippos, and Grey Crowned Cranes amongst different species. This drilling was carried out with out consulting the area people land board as stipulated by legislation.
Last yr, the Namibian authorities prolonged the corporate’s exploratory drilling licences to 2025, a transfer met with an enormous outcry from conservation teams. Consequently, 4 forestry associations and group committees launched an attraction to the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, calling for the choice to be reviewed or rescinded. With no response to this attraction, the group filed an pressing courtroom motion, which was unsuccessful. More not too long ago, nevertheless, the Minister lastly agreed to listen to the attraction, together with an attraction by the Economic and Social Justice Trust. These appeals have been heard on 24 April 2023, with the Minister anticipated to quickly ship his findings.
“Oil exploration in an ecosystem as important as the iconic Okavango Delta is extremely worrying, particularly at a time when commitment to new exploration should stop in search of more sustainable sources of energy. While the world grapples with both the biodiversity and climate crises, it’s crucial that we protect these sites and look for more creative ways to produce energy. This needs to be done not only thinking about nature and climate, but involving local communities closely so they too are too part of the decision making and the solution”, mentioned Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International.
An worldwide marketing campaign, launched in 2021, has known as for a full moratorium on oil and fuel growth within the Okavango River Basin. International organizations together with Re:wild and BirdLife, along with environmental activists, have additionally known as for the upholding of group rights as native communities proceed to pursue authorized redress from the specter of the oil exploration within the Okavango. In addition to the Minister’s determination on their attraction, communities are at the moment awaiting a call from the Namibian High Court relating to whether or not they need to foot the invoice for presidency’s authorized charges after their unsuccessful courtroom motion in 2022. A brand new ruling date for the latter has been set for May 2023.
As the battle for the soul of the Okavango continues, native communities and civil society organisations demand that the actions of ReconAfrica be instantly stopped, and due course of adopted. We additionally attraction that the Government of Namibia does the correct factor in order that the Okavango continues to offer important ecosystem providers for this and future generations.