|Narrow channel leading to the village of Seronga.|
"If we don't look out for our rivers and we keep taking them for granted, then we can be absolutely sure that they will not continue to meet our needs indefinitely," says Pete Ashton, head of the limnology team who recently participated in the Second World Water Forum in The Hague, Netherlands.
While AquaRAP scientists survey the Okavango Delta's non-human life, people in this area use water systems to provide nutrient cycling, shade, food, medicinal plants, construction materials (just try building one of our concrete office buildings without water!), as well as grazing land and conduits for waste. Often, there are domestic and international conflicts about where the water is coming from, where the water is going, and who needs it more: the people or the ecosystems. Nambia, for instance, has for years planned to withdraw some water from the Okavango River as an additional source of water to meet the growing demands for water in that country's economic heartland around the capital city of Windhoek.
Jane Nengu of the Maun Department of Water Affairs points out that the Botswana government "puts water in the same ministry as gold, diamonds, and nickel. (Namibia, for contrast, places water affairs in the Department of Agriculture.) A man with water is a rich man because people always need water." Even the Botswanan currency, the pula, means "rain" in Setswana, reflecting how precious water is in this arid land.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about freshwater needs and conservation.
This water is under constant pressure from human needs. Over 90 percent of the water that flows in the Okavango River comes from Angola, then passes through Namibia's northern boundary into Botswana. Yet, in Botswana alone, permits for water are given in fixed quantities as opposed to percentage of flow. Put simply, this means that someone might have permission to take 10,000 liters of water out of the Okavango River in Maun per day. But in the dry season, there is often no flow in the Thamalakane River at Maun. (The Thamalakane River is the main outflow from the base of the Okavango Delta.) And as the floods come through the water first enters the town as a tiny trickle. If someone is taking all that water for weeks until the flow exceeds their permits, it may prevent many of the plants and animals downstream from starting or even living out their full life cycles.
So what's the solution? "Identify where incidents are likely to arise and what are the contributing factors that make the situation arise. Then let everyone sit down who is likely to be involved or affected, and talk about it. Don't let it fester until we are looking at each other over AK-47's across the border," says Peter Ashton. In the context of Botswanan culture, this seems like the perfect solution.
Mark Nordin, AquaRAP Coordinator says, "There is no concept of aggression [in Botswana] at all. If you have a problem the whole village gets together and talks about it." However, this is not Botswana's issue alone. Southern Africa is full of small, ephemeral (seasonal) rivers and creeks, but almost no perennial rivers except shared country borders. Water is therefore a common cause of severe tension as each country tries to exert its right to ownership of the water. As yet, there is no perfect solution.
— Jensen Reitz Montambault
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