Strengthening the Protected Area Network: Start of a new era for national parks

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By Midori Paxton, Project Co-ordinator, SPAN Project

Great things (and great changes) are happening in Namibia’s national parks this year. Two of the oldest and most visited ones – Etosha National Park and Namib-Naukluft Park – are celebrating their centenaries. New national parks are scheduled for proclamation and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), with its Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) Project, is planning to change the ‘face’ of Namibian parks completely.

SPAN-sponsored studies have confirmed what many conservationists have known for years, namely that parks not only play a pivotal role in biodiversity and landscape conservation but are also a mainstay of the tourism industry and the nation’s economy. It is now time to strengthen the parks’ conservation role through radically improved financial and human resources, through partnerships with people who live in and around the parks and other stakeholders, and through ensuring a pro-active linkage between parks and improvements in the quality of people’s lives.

New parks! New approach!

Although the implementation phase of the SPAN project started only in April 2006, the MET has made a great deal of progress in its mission to sort out Namibia’s parks. Groundwork for the proclamation of the Bwabwata National Park in the Kavango and Caprivi regions has progressed notably, with additional financial and technical assistance from SPAN and the Bwabwata-Mudumu-Mamili Programme funded by the KfW.

The Sperrgebiet National Park in the Karas Region is also due to be proclaimed in 2007, covering over 90% of the Succulent Karoo biome in Namibia with over 700 species of plants, of which around 10% are estimated as endemic. This magnificent 26 000-square-kilometre wilderness area will be managed by a multi-sectoral advisory body and will present exciting opportunities to demonstrate how mining and biodiversity conservation principles can co-produce a high-value park by complementing each other’s efforts.

Furthermore, it is likely that Namibia will see the first ‘contractual parks’ in the near future. A contractual park will be based on agreements between the MET and other parties, which specify rights and responsibilities for each party for the establishment and management of a park. The MET is working with local communities, traditional authorities and regional councils for the proclamation of the Mangetti Game Camp in the Kavango Region and the proclamation of the three government tourism concession areas, namely Hobatere, Etendeka and Palmwag in the Kunene Region between the Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast Park.

Strengthening park management

This is a key focus of SPAN. What does it mean? The 20 national protected areas (PAs) in Namibia cover 13.8% of the total land area. Managing such a vast area and ensuring that it retains its natural integrity and conservation value while at the same time ensuring that it makes a positive contribution to people’s lives and the local and national economy is a tremendous challenge.

Simply stated, park management traditionally entails the provision and maintenance of essential management and tourism infrastructure, law enforcement, patrolling, research and monitoring, water provision and fire management. Increasingly, however, a new set of management activities are becoming important, such as building co-operative and mutually beneficial park/neighbour relationships, concession development and the management and control of problem animals. Strengthening the effectiveness of these management activities is not straightforward and requires a very comprehensive and complex set of interventions. Here are just some of the areas SPAN has been targeting to give its support.

Improving institutional and individual capacity

With SPAN’s support, the MET is looking at how to improve organisational efficiency and effectiveness. In 2006, the MET embarked on the formulation of a five-year strategic plan, rationalising and reorienting its focus and directions, and articulating them. The process is almost complete and will result in a much-needed restructuring of the Minis-try. A more regionally oriented approach is envisaged, integrating parks and wildlife management, with greatly increased levels of accountability at field level.

The new structure should cater for the new types of expertise that will be required, which may not traditionally have been part of park management, for example the appointment of social scientists, information officers and IT managers. The posts in new staff establishment must be at appropriate levels of job categories in the civil ser-vice to be able to attract and retain capable and motivated staff. The institutionalisation of training and performance monitoring and evaluation activities also have to be part of the reorganisation process.

The financial management and procurement system of the MET is being closely examined to devise the best solution for increasing efficiency. The currently fractured and unwieldy communication system between the MET Headquarters and field offices is another area that will be targeted in 2007.

Improving financing for parks

The MET currently receives approximately N$50 million in operational budget from the Treasury. The park economic analysis study commissioned through SPAN by the MET in 2004 indicates that the MET will need at least double the annual budget for it to be able to manage existing parks adequately, in addition to a substantial amount of initial investment to catch up with the infrastructure backlog. Naturally, the budget needs submitted from each park can never be fully met under current conditions. SPAN continues to support further park economic analysis, in an effort to prove the worth of parks and their tremendous contribution numerically to both the local and the national economy.

Work is also underway to establish a cost basis for different park management activities to find out exactly what it takes to manage a park, using Etosha as a pilot. According to the preliminary report, in order to manage Etosha effectively, an annual operational budget of N$26.4 million is required, as opposed to the current operational budget of approximately N$14.3 million. With the new information, we can draw up realistic work and business plans for parks, look at how much can be done and what cannot be done, and how we can increase cost effectiveness and increase the work coverage within the constraints of financial and human resources.


The SPAN project publishes a quarterly park newsletter of the MET, with many interesting updates and features about the project and park management in general. Please keep yourself updated about our developments and be a partner in our efforts!

The Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) Project is a six-year programme aimed at improving management of nationally owned protected areas. It is managed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF). For further information, visit


This article appeared in the 2007/8 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.



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