Namibia’s protected areas: Transforming a patchwork into a network.

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by Midori Paxton, Project Co-ordinator for the SPAN Project

Namibia’s state-managed system of 20 Protected Areas (PAs) is unquestionably an enviable achievement and an eloquent testimony to the nation’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

Covering an area of some 114 000 km2, or 13.8% of the country, the PAs are not only a globally significant repository of species-rich biodiversity and the cornerstone of the country’s conservation programme, they also serve as a powerhouse for the country’s tourism industry, a mainstay of the national economy. Moreover, they have the as-yet largely untapped potential to alleviate poverty significantly and encourage community development in rural areas.

While the PA system is impressive, there is still room for improvement. Vision 2030 calls for an ‘extended and well-managed protected areas network to include biodiversity hotspots and transboundary areas’. The National Biodiversity and Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) also emphasises that the identification and filling of specific gaps in the PA network is one of the priorities. To achieve this requires a holistic approach to Namibia’s conservation strategy by grouping priority areas into integrated regions that show consistency in terms of habitats, ecological processes, wildlife movements and future compatible land-use opportunities.

New initiatives have been pursued to achieve this. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) started by identifying barriers in PA management and conceptualising a project to assist in making Vision 2030 more of a practical reality than merely a vision. The barriers identified include a fragmented policy framework, weak institutional and human capacities for PA operations, incomplete bio-geographic coverage of biodiversity hotspots in the PA system, insufficient monitoring and research, sub-optimal (and sometimes deteriorating) park infrastructure, cumbersome administrative and decision-making procedures which delay work implementation and the undervaluation of the PA system, resulting in insufficient budget allocation and investment by Government.

There is a consensus of opinion that intervention is needed to get rid of these barriers and improve management effectiveness of the PA system as a whole. This is necessary to ensure that Namibia’s PAs achieve their full potential in terms of safeguarding the integrity of these unique and invaluable natural habitats and unlocking their economic potential for the Namibian people.

The MET has risen to the challenge. In collaboration with, and co-funded by, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), KfW and other agencies, the Ministry has created the Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) project.

The SPAN project will work on three levels to:

• improve national policy and planning for conservation by supporting new laws, establishing sustainable PA financing mechanisms and designing a practical plan for integrated PA management;

• restructure the MET to empower its field staff and slim down cumbersome centralised bureaucracy, improve training, morale and motivation of MET staff, work on building better partnerships between stakeholders and tackle the debilitating influence of the HIV-AIDS pandemic; and

• improve site-level management of four demonstration PA sites drastically, namely the Bwabwata-Mamili-Mudumu (BMM) complex in Caprivi, the Etosha-Skeleton Coast link, the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Park and the Sperrgebiet. The new Sperr-gebiet National Park is to be proclaimed imminently.

By concentrating SPAN’s efforts on these critically important areas, it is hoped that concrete examples of best practice will be developed and subsequently demonstrated. Like every ambitious shake-up of an established system, the process will inevitably involve plenty of trials, and probably the occasional error.

The success stories, however, can then be duplicated elsewhere in Namibia and in the SADC region. With proper communication, other PAs will be able to leapfrog over the errors.

So what is actually happening? SPAN is at the end of its preparatory phase. During this phase (2004–2005), the MET has been conducting capacity, economic and conservation needs assessments and laid the groundwork to secure the funding of US$8.2 million from the GEF. Progress has been swift and the funding was formally approved in September. MET officials confidently anticipate that Phase One of the project will begin in 2006 and extend through to 2011.

There are enormous tasks ahead for the MET, with financial and technical support rendered by the SPAN project. The MET needs to formally proclaim the Sperrgebiet National Park and the concession areas in the Kunene Region, and finalise the Parks and Wildlife Management Bill, which should provide a better enabling environment for partnerships and harmonisation of management with adjacent land units, among other things. It will also provide a solid basis for new park classifications to ensure that appropriate conservation measures are taken in each area and to strengthen conservation activities in non-state lands.

The MET has also embarked on an internal restructuring process and will review levels of authority granted to various staff ranks and approval procedures to streamline the administrative programme. In the four demonstration sites, PA management operations are expected to improve tangibly. In addition, park consultative committees (PCC) for each demonstration site will provide for stakeholder participation in park management, by among others neighbouring communities, conservancies, tourism establishments, local government officials, traditional authorities and NGOs.

Should SPAN Phase One achieve its goals, a second phase is planned for 2112 through to 2016. This will build on Phase One’s successes and focus on investments in the consolidation and, excitingly, on the expansion of the PA system to fill the conservation gaps that currently exist.

Namibia has the potential to become a world leader in conservation by providing a working model of integrated conservation and economic development in action. With the slogan Unlocking the Potential of the Parks for Namibia, the MET is determined to succeed in its endeavour to improve the PA system and management, using SPAN as the propeller to achieve change.

What are Namibia’s parks worth?

• Since Independence, foreign tourists have increased six-fold.

• Over 70% of them come to Namibia for nature-based tourism, accounting for 65–75% of all holiday expenditures.

• The direct contribution of park-related tourism to Namibia’s GDP is 1.7–3.4%.

• If the indirect contribution is added – such as employment at lodges close to parks and agricultural and other products that lodges buy – the figure would increase to 3.1–6.3% of the GDP.

• Nearly 30% of the total income generated by tourism in protected areas (PAs) is distributed to people who work at the related establishment and who produce agricultural products, crafts, et cetera.

• If park management were improved drastically, the PA tourism contribution to the GDP could sky rocket.

• The MET currently budgets about N$40 million for park management as opposed to an ideal budget of N$106 million.

• More government investment is necessary to unlock the economic potential of Namibia’s parks.

Source: Economic Analysis commissioned by the MET in 2004.

This article appeared in the 2005/6 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.



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