The permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (Okacom) is a River Basin Organisation (RBO), which was established by the governments of Angola, Botswana and Namibia in 1994.
Through its secretariat (Okasec) based in Gaborone, Botswana, Okacom promotes integrated transboundary management of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin (CORB). Phera Ramoeli is the executive secretary of Okasec and he offers an overview of what Okacom works entail in support of the three member states.
What is unique about the CORB?
The transboundary CORB comprises of a network of river systems traversing through the three countries of Angola, Botswana and Namibia. It covers an area of 700 000 km² system which derives its principal flow from the Angolan highlands, stretches for approximately 1 100 km, and is drained by its largest the Cuito and the Cubango, which becomes the Kavango River in Namibia and the Okavango River in Botswana. As you can imagine this vast basin covers three different countries, with diverse developmental needs and characteristics. The CORB is internationally renowned for its significantly high biological productivity and iconic biodiversity. It remains one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas in the world.
Most significantly, the Okavango Delta in the Botswana part of the basin was recognised as Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) and was declared the 1000th World Heritage site under the UNESCO convention in 2014.
Which communities inhabit the basin and what sustains their livelihoods?
The CORB is home to approximately 921 890 people and it is projected to increase to more than 1.28 million people and is made up of predominately rural communities who live adjacent to the river or alongside the main roads in the basin. According to the Okacom Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis, carried out in 2011, 62% of the total population was living in Angola, 16% in Botswana and 22% in Namibia. This means that there is high ethnic diversity, which transcends across the physical borders of the three countries.
Agriculture is the commonly practised activity to sustain livelihoods, with many cattle farmers present within the basin. Natural resources play a major role in the various communities’ livelihoods, with fishing being one of the main activities. The harvesting of reeds to weave baskets, grass, firewood, honey, and wild fruits is also commonplace and forms part of the rich natural heritage of the people inhabiting the basin.
How was the commission establishedand why?
Okacom was established by the governments of Angola, Botswana and Namibia under the 1994 Agreement, with the mandate to advise the three member states on conservation, development and sustainable utilisation of water resources in the CORB. The basin is transboundary or shared natural resources because it crosses or abuts the political boundaries of two or more states. So essentially, Okacom exists to promote and support the opening of pathways to improved livelihoods while conserving the natural resources in the CORB through revealing opportunities offered by joint transboundary management and development. The Okacom shared vision is “…to achieve an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally healthy development of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin”.
Okacom works to advise member states and key stakeholders in the spirit of agreed national, regional and international conventions based on current scientific data and evidence-based policy formulation and decision making approaches. The existence of Okacom as a platform for cooperation has been key to realise past and current benefits.
This work also offers potential to contribute to economic development of the three riparian states and through its secretariat, Okacom promotes integrated transboundary water management of the CORB. The secretariat also provides a forum for the commissioners to communicate, network, share concerns and prepare advice and recommendations to address transboundary CORB overarching issues. According to Article 4 of the 1994 Founding Agreement, Okacom was established by the contracting parties to advise the member states on:
• The long-term safe yield of water available from the basin.
• Reasonable demand scenarios from all consumers in the basin.
• Conservation, equitable allocation, sustainable utilisation of water resources of the basin.
• Planning, separately and jointly, for development of water resources, including the construction, operation and maintenance of water infrastructure in the basin.
• Prevention of pollution, prevention and control of aquatic weeds in the basin and measures for the alleviation of short-term difficulties, such as droughts and floods.
What are some of the key focus areas for Okacom?
This is encompassed in the Okacom Strategic Action Programme (SAP), which is a basin-wide policy framework document for the CORB that lays down the principles for the development of the basin and improvements of the livelihoods of its people through the cooperative management of the basin and its shared natural resources. The SAP has four thematic areas, livelihoods and socio-economic development, water resources management, land management and lastly environment and biodiversity. The implementation of the SAP is the responsibility of Okacom and the governments of the riparian states, with the support of international cooperating partners (ICPs).
What are some of the projects which Okacom is implementing in Namibia?
Okacom in partnership with line ministries is implementing several projects with support and funding from UNDP, GEF and the European Union through the respective projects initiated. In Namibia, two such projects are being implemented under the UNDP supported and GEF funded Livelihoods Demonstration Projects identified by member states. With the aim to advocate for uplifting of livelihoods of basin communities by improving socio-economic status through harnessing natural resources in a manner that will have minimal adverse impacts to and enhanced protection of the basin ecosystem.
One such project is the UNDP funded and GEF financed Conservation Tourism through Strengthened Partnerships Project. This entails demonstrating community-based conservation tourism by supporting development of a community managed Sikerete Tourism Campsite in Khaudum National Park with the concessionaires. In partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, the construction of a campsite accommodation facility is at an advanced stage, as well as the development of the business plan for this community-based tourism facility through a joint management partnership.
Another one which is currently under way is the Improving Conservation and Sustainable Use of Shared Fish Resources Through Co-Management and Establishment of Fish Protected Areas. Okacom and national stakeholders are working with targeted communities along the Okavango River to implement measures aimed at countering unsustainable fishing through the establishment of Fisheries Protection Areas, among others, fisheries management committees and fisheries management plans will be established with community participation and communities will be empowered through the provision of tools and equipment to conduct patrols and enforce their regulations.
Other projects with direct benefit to Namibia with funding from the European Commission include the following:
• Installation of hydrometeorological stations in Nkurenkuru and Rundu for water resource monitoring
• Supply of monitoring equipment such as Sediment corer, water quality parameters and biological monitoring kits
• ICT equipment and related hardware for use in Rundu office where the mini -DSS node will be established for Namibia.
• Boats for monitoring (given to the department of water) and boats for conservancies (fisheries demonstration in Joseph Mbangandu)
Training of personnel on acquired equipment such as the Sediment corer, ACDP, biological monitoring equipment, training on ecological monitoring
What is the role of partnerships in the management of such resources?
In order to advance the sustainable management of the CORB, Okacom engages in a number of broad and diverse relationships with the relevant cooperating partners. Firstly, Okacom works closely with the relevant ministries responsible for water and sustainable development issues in each member state. In Namibia, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform is our first contact in this regard. The interest and scope of activities on the basin continue to increase and Okacom expects an increase in demand for partnerships for the implementation of activities. For more than 25 years, Okacom has worked with partners such as government institutions, private sector, development partners, research partners and funding partners. Going forward, Okacom will continue under the principles of transboundary cooperation in the CORB as this has already generated a range of economic, social and environmental benefits. Through a cooperative platform such as Okacom, there are opportunities to deliver more and better distributed benefits.