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Strategic Environmental Assessment in Namibia - To ensure well-balanced participation - Travel News Namibia

Strategic Environmental Assessment in Namibia – To ensure well-balanced participation

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by Teo Nghitila, Director: Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism; and Konrad Uebelhör and Daniel Kehrer, MET-GTZ –Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management Project

Like other countries, Namibia has to make various strategic decisions that impact the economy and the environment as the country plans and co-ordinates its further development. 

Today, the mining sector and extensive development schemes in the agricultural sector are being promoted, and the establishment of new infrastructure is recognised as an important basis for economic growth. Especially sensitive ecosystems and land uses in protected areas or communal conservancies can be affected by the development objectives of other sectors.

Namibia has started a number of planning processes and has made strategic decisions in these sectors. Development strategies and co-ordinated land management, especially in poor and rural areas, will only achieve long-lasting results if they adequately reflect environmental concerns and the sustainable use of natural resources.

SEAs in Namibia

Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) offer a well-developed methodology for improving strategic decision-making and integrating environmental issues into policies, plans and programmes. An SEA is a systematic, comprehensive process of evaluating the environmental effects of a proposed policy, plan or programme and its alternatives. It is a holistic, cross-sectoral approach to the implementation of sustainable development which includes social and economic effects that ensure participative and well-balanced decision-making.

Namibia is in the process of establishing a regulatory and institutional framework for conducting SEAs. The country’s Environmental Management Act (EMA) of 2007 stipulates mandatory environmental assessments for a number of policies, plans and programmes. The corresponding regulations, which will specify the exact requirements, are currently being finalised. Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) is responsible for developing the institutional framework for the effective implementation of the Act. A new Environmental Commissioner’s office will be established within the MET. Internal procedures intended to provide detailed guidance to the Commissioner are also being developed. The MET is supported through local experts and the German Technical Co-operation (GTZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) to provide inputs into training, technical advice, the raising of public awareness, networking, pilot applications and institutional development support.

Pilot SEA applications

Over the past few years, the first pilot SEAs were performed on a voluntary basis, since the legal requirement had not yet entered into force. Other pilot assessments are underway.

For the communal conservancies the following pilot SEAs are of special interest, as they may potentially impact on biodiversity and related ecosystem services.

Bio-fuel production in the Caprivi and Kavango regions. In 2006 Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) through the Namibian Agronomic Board spearheaded the development of a National Bio-Oil Energy Roadmap and associated Action Plan to assess sources of renewable energy that may potentially enhance economic development. The perennial, oil-nut-bearing shrub/tree, Jatropha curcas, was considered the most feasible plant for dry-land cultivation for the extraction of bio-oil. It grows in the less frost-prone areas of Caprivi and Kavango, and in the so-called maize triangle.

Foreign investors have shown an increasing interest in the large-scale cultivation of oil crops, mainly Jatropha curcas, for bio-diesel production in the north-eastern communal areas of Namibia. For the development of a bio-oil energy industry in Namibia to be sustainable, detailed assessments of land uses and land rights, environmental clearance certificates, and the impacts of different enterprise models with regard to food security and social conditions must be considered by traditional authorities, line ministries and the MET.

In South Africa, Jatropha species have been singled out as potentially invasive, especially in riverine areas. Before large-scale bio-fuel production begins, it is critical for Namibia to conduct an SEA so that decision-makers understand the environmental pros and cons of this type of land use. The MET and its Directorate of Environmental Affairs (DEA) have been tasked by Cabinet to facilitate this SEA to assess the cumulative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of different options. Communal conservancy members are– important stakeholders who will have the opportunity to participate in develop-ing recommendations and the environmental management plan.

Another pilot SEA in progress is the one on uranium mining development in the Erongo Region. Led by the Minis-try of Mines and Energy (MME), with support from the mining industry and concerned citizens, this SEA focuses on the so-called Central Namib Uranium Rush, which began in response to the rising market prices for uranium and Namibia’s considerable, unexploited resource base. With several new mines in operation and others in development, a balance between other development activities such as tourism, urban expansion, water management and land-use planning must be sought through strategic planning.

Mining and other sector developments often take place in the absence of an overall planning framework, although the Chamber of Mines and the affected municipalities of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay provide some elements of conceptual planning. This means that achieving the elusive goal of sustainable development may be more due to luck than design – unless a more strategic approach towards planning is applied. The SEA on uranium mining development will support a strategic approach and help Namibia to develop all aspects of its resource base, while at the same time avoiding choices that present significant opportunity costs, especially to areas of high tourism potential, a national park with high endemism, National Heritage Sites and communal conservancies.

SEA and land-use planning. The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement (MLR) is currently developing two new integrated regional land-use plans for the Karas and Hardap regions. The plans are designed to help solve the problem of competing land usages. The SEA will be integrated into the land-use planning process as a standard tool to accommodate natural-resource requirements, promote sustainable land use, and inform communal conservancies on environmental constraints. It is therefore important for the conservancies to be part of the process that will shape their future.

A foundation for development

A well-functioning SEA framework needs institution building, capacity development and a systems approach that considers the inter-linkages and synergies of various issues, institutions and interventions. The MET will play a crucial role in developing and implementing this framework.

Before mandatory SEAs are fully operational, the SEA pilot applications stress the importance of co-ordination between all relevant administrations and stakeholders, and provide the relevant players with practical experience.

Strategic Environmental Assessment is a state-of-the-art instrument, but to ensure the harmonisation of economic, social and environmental concerns for a sustainable development, it must be well adapted to the Namibian context. To meet these ambitious aims, the exe-cuting side and people on the ground are challenged in equal measure.

by Teo Nghitila, Director: Directorate of Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Environment and Tourism; and Konrad Uebelhör and Daniel Kehrer, MET-GTZ –Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management Project

This article appeared in the 2010/11 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

 

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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