By Reagan Chunga, Integrated Environmental Consultants Namibia
Flip on a light switch, turn a tap, or start your car. For many urban dwellers, these actions may be their closest connection to the interrelated nature man shares with the environment. But for seventy per cent of Namibia’s population, the reality is radically different. Well over a million people in our country are directly dependent on the environment for their daily livelihoods. This is especially true for the rural Namibians whose nutritional, material, ceremonial, recreational, aesthetic and spiritual requirements are often met through use of the country’s natural resources.
Fortunately, the Namibian Government understands this symbiotic relationship. Since independence, Government has ta-ken a pro-active approach towards environmental conservation. Through legislation, actions and attitudes, Namibians have put conservation high on the national agenda and are making positive contributions towards environmental issues of international concern.
Namibia is one of the few countries in the world that recognises the environment as a vital part in the development of the country. Its strong policy framework is grounded in the Constitution, which stipulates in Article 95 (i): “…maintenance of the ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and the utilisation of living na-tural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.” With environmental protection enshrined in the constitution, sustainable development is a cornerstone of Vision 2030.
The recent enactment of the Environmental Management Act (EMA) is amongst the landmark pieces of legislation designed to promote environmentally sustainable development in Namibia. By making Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) routine, this act sets environmental standards for any developments.
Namibia recently concluded the development of the Third National Development Plan (NDP3). Similar to the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), NDP3 translates the goals of Vision 2030 into tangible, achievable goals within a five-year period, and places a strong emphasis on environmental conservation.
Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the lead agency responsible for environmental conservation, also recently concluded the development of its Strategic Plan (SP). The MET SP was developed in alignment to NDP3, and both initiatives give a high priority to continued investments in conservation that will help maintain and improve the environment and the benefits that can be obtained from it.
Contributions to poverty reduction
The NDP3 and the MET SP emphasise the links between the environment and livelihoods. Fields related to the environment, conservation and agriculture constitute the largest employment sectors in the country. With so many lives dependent upon it, environmental conservation is at the core of sustainable development in Namibia.
Namibia has gained a worldwide reputation for its innovative approaches linking conservation to poverty alleviation through its communal area conservancy programme and pro-poor tourism initiatives. This reputation was founded on dynamic policy adjustments that have devolved rights of wildlife and tourism to many of Namibia’s most marginalised and poor communities. These policies gave communities unprecedented incentives to manage and conserve their areas and wildlife, resulting in mass recoveries of wildlife populations outside national parks and reduced poaching throughout Namibia. Over the past years the Community Based Natural Resource Monitor (CBNRM) programme has become an important vehicle for addressing environmental and development issues in Namibia’s rural areas.
Namibia’s part in the global arena
The Government of the Republic of Namibia is signatory to various conventions, treaties and agreements that bind and commit it to preservation of biodiversity, combating of land degradation and desertification, eradication of poverty and addressing climate change. Namibia is signatory to the following conventions: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), ratified in 1997; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified in 1995; United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), ratified in 1995; and the Wetland Convention and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000.
As a developing country located in an arid region where drought and high climatic variability are endemic and where great demands are placed upon the natural resources, Namibia is considered particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Marine fisheries are greatly influenced by the Benguela Current, which poses a real challenge to resource management. Desertification threatens sustainable economic development because it reduces productivity, including water supply, limits opportunities for other forms of land use, alters natural habitats and threatens biodiversity.
Impacts of desertification in Namibia include deforestation, soil erosion, bush encroachment, reduced soil moisture-retention, loss of biodiversity, and soil salination. This results in economic losses and escalating poverty for the majority of the population through declining agricultural production and reduced food security. These in turn lead to greater vulnerability towards the accelerating HIV/Aids epidemic, human migration, rapid urbanisation and an increased dependence on government support and importation of food. Over the next five years, programmes embedded in NDP3 will seek to address these and other environmental issues of international concern.
The NDP3 looks at adaptive measures to climate change with the goal of improving response measures and mitigating the extent of future costs of climate change. Measures that will be tackled immediately are drought proofing, risk proofing of infrastructure, and measures of relevant policy development for vulnerabilities. Namibia has already established its first pilot response actions through the National Climate Change Programme at the MET. This programme aims to test adaptation to climate change through improved cultivation of indigenous crops and raising of livestock.
Although Namibia is a relatively low emitter of Green House Gases, mitigation measures are proposed in the NDP3 to help aid the fight against global warming. Cleaner production strategies and cleaner industries will support the need to comply with international standards to remain competitive in an increasingly green global market. The two planning documents also deal with the issues of land degradation and desertification through programmes on sustainable land management.
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed upon by all the countries of the world and world-development institutions, set seventeen challenging targets to be achieved by 2015. These goals range from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger to achieving universal primary education, combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases to developing a global partnership for development. The MET SP and NDP3 address environmental sustainability and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger through programmes like CBNRM.
So whether we feed ourselves from the crops we cultivate or drive to the nearest restaurant for takeaways, our actions have an impact on the environment, its future and our own.
This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.