Wetlands are the rarest type of ecosystem in Namibia. These culturally, economically and environmentally important areas extend over a mere 4% of the country’s surface. Due to Namibia’s primarly arid climatic conditions, many of these wetlands are ephemeral, consisting of small semi-permanent waterholes, pools and seeps forming vital oases in otherwise dry areas.
Wetland habitats are the perennial rivers on Namibia’s northern and southern borders – the Kunene, Okavango, Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi river systems in the north and the Orange River in the south; the intermittently-flowing rivers of the Kalahari and Namib deserts with their linear oases; the periodically flooded Cuvelai drainage system of Omusati, Oshana and Etosha; the ephemeral wetlands of the eastern Otjozondjupa Region (the former Bushmanland), Grootfontein and the Omuramba Owambo system near Tsumeb, the widely distributed pan system of the southern Kalahari; and the wetlands of the Namibian coast, including the Kunene River mouth. The main concentration of perennial wetlands is the higher rainfall regions in the north-east, especially the Caprivi Region.
Ramsar Wetlands Convention
Namibia became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in December 1995, initially listing four sites to the List of Wetlands of International Importance. These were:
• Etosha Pan
• Walvis Bay Lagoon
• Sandwich Harbour
• The Orange River Mouth (in partnership with South Africa)
Part of the obligations of Contracting Parties was the preparation of management plans for the Ramsar sites and other wetlands. At the time none of the Namibian sites had a management plan, the preparation of which was perceived as a priority.
The Namibian Nature Foundation is currently managing a project to prepare executable management plans for Namibia’s Ramsar sites. Other expected results are signposting the sites and developing public information material and publications (both scientific and popular).
The Southern African Development Community recognised that there was widespread deterioration of the Zambezi wetlands. As wetland systems are known to have important socioeconomic attributes, and their deterioration and subsequent loss of their resource base is of great concern, the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to look into this situation “to conserve the critical wetlands of the Zambezi River Basin”. While all the wetlands in the Zambezi system are of concern, four specific wetlands have been chosen for the project. These are the:
• Barotse Flood Plain in western Zambia;
• Chobe-Caprivi area in Namibia and Botswana;
• Lower Shire wetlands in Malawi and Mozambique; and
• Zambezi Delta in Mozambique;
One of the project’s major objectives is to clarify the true value and importance of the goods and services provided
by wetlands at local, national and regional levels. These goods and services are quantifiable, hence the need for an economic valuation component to the project.
Three main problem areas requiring the application of resources economics were identified:
• A lack of basic information regarding the economic value of the goods and services provided by wetlands. The economic importance of the wetlands is not known at local, national and regional levels and the root causes of environmental degradation and over-exploitation are not understood.
• Individuals who are decision-makers or who influence resource utilisation, do not understand the role of wetland ecosystems, their ecological and economic value to the local and distant communities and the limits to sustainable use.
• A lack of institutional capacity to carry out comprehensive assessments of wetland values and to prepare policies which are based on these assessments is of particular concern.
The project is being run by the Directorate of Environmental Affairs, which has subcontracted the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute (University of Cape Town) for its assistance. The NNF has been charged with financial control, financial administration and financial reporting to the DEA and the donor.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.