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Okavango Delta under threat...

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I've emailed this to some of you already but thought others may be interested, if not already aware.

Namibia is planning a dam which may cause devastation in the Delta.

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    When my wife and I were in Botswana in May, one of the managers was speaking on a similar topic. I don't remember him referring to Namibia. If I recollect, he said that Angola was proposing a weir to harness some of the water flowing into the Delta. According to the Angolans, a prominent scientist and environmentalist claims there will be a negligible effect on the Okavango Delta. This manager however seemed to think that any tampering with the waterways could lead to irreparable harm.

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    Here are some small excerpts... I don't want to post whole article as Fodors monitors would probably delete it for copyright (fair enough).

    Namibia's power battle

    The proposed building of a massive dam to supply electricity for Namibia has met with fierce resistance from both environmental groups and local tribes.

    The proposed Epupa dam project - to be built on the Kunene river in the north-west of the country - would dramatically alter the environment by flooding a vast expanse of the region.

    Although this would require long-settled tribes to be moved and destroy the beautiful Epupa valley, government officials in the country's capital Windhoek defend the dam almost as a matter of national pride.

    "The government has got a responsibility to develop this country," Pete Haines, the director of resource management at Namibia's ministry of agriculture, water and rural development ...

    The project is necessary, contends John Langford of NamPower - which generates and supplies the country's energy - because the surplus from South Africa on which the country currently depends will shortly run out.

    If the dam goes ahead, it will be massive - the reservoir will have a capacity of seven and a half thousand million cubic metres, will be 80 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide at its broadest strip.

    "For tourism, you would have created something like 13 islands, and you could have established quite a good fishing industry in this reservoir as well," Mr Langford stresses.

    But he adds a consequence will be the destruction of 80 kilometres of river and forest - which are the livelihood of the local Himba people.

    "They're nomads farming with cattle and they utilise the river and forest next to the river to see them through the dry period," Mr Langford says.

    It is this widespread destruction - near Namibia's boarder with Angola - that is proving so controversial.

    "It's such beautiful scenery and it's our heritage, so what do we tell our children?" asks Bertchen Kohrs, chairperson of pressure group Earthlife Namibia.

    "Our main concern is development and environment. It is said that round about 6,000 palm trees grow there, very specific palm trees and the nuts which are called the Omuranga nuts are used by the Himbas as an important source of nutrition, especially in times of drought.

    "And then of course 380 square kilometres of grazing land would be lost, meaning that the area surrounding will be over-grazed in a short time.

    "That leads to erosion and definitely to desertification, which is irreversible."

    Although the Himba are officially classed as nomadic, many of the villagers and the rest of the tribe and their animals have been close to the same spot for decades.

    Most of them are aware of the prospects of the dam and are opposed to it.

    "God created the Himba to stay near to the Kunene River so that they can graze their cattle there, and so that they can take the water out of the river of Kunene," he says. "The dam at Epupa will not be built while I am still alive, while I am still speaking."

    But Peter Haines argues that it is wrong to say people's livelihoods would be destroyed.

    "The guy who now lives 10 metres from the river in his hut - if the dam is built he can still live 10 metres from the edge of the water, but just at another place," he says.

    "The government provides schools for those people; they provide clinics. They want to supply them with electricity; they want to give those people access to communication and they want to see them as fully integrated citizens of this country.

    <<Paragraphs here about lower incidence of AIDS amongst Himba and worries that influx of workers would massively change that.>>

    Meanwhile, the Earthlife Namibia has proposed alternatives to the Kunene river dam, claiming they would cost a quarter of the price of the government's big scheme.

    "We feel that the alternative of the Ecuudo gas plant should have been studied in detail," Mr Kohrs says.

    And he believes research into solar power could have proved particularly important.

    "Obviously in a country like this, we have 360 days of sun per year and that has not been done at all."


    Oddly enough, this article doesn't mention the Delta at all but the extended report I watched on BBC a few days back went into more detail on that aspect.

    Environmentalists explained how this project would lead to huge changes in the Delta. The response of the dam builders was that sand from upriver of the dam could be pumped through with the water that was permitted to flow through into the Delta but environmentalists said it would be almost inpossible to predict whether this would be sufficient.

    Given the unique nature of the Delta area the risk of destroying the habitat seems too high.

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    I'm sure the BBC article I watched was referring to Namibia's dam but it's certainly possible they started off talking about Namibia's Epupa project above and then moved on to talking about Angola's project and I may have missed the switch!

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    Yes, there do seem to be different projects though it's odd, I am sure the BBC programme was talking about impacts on Himba people and on Delta in same article!

    "The proposed Popa Falls hydro power plant has been rejected by Botswana participants at a consultation meeting convened by high ranking Namibian officials at Sedia Hotel on Tuesday.

    The opponents of the project who are mainly proprietors of Safari companies expressed fears that the plant would destroy the Okavango Delta."

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