- Conservation efforts in the Zambezi River Basin were stepped up yesterday, to improve the living conditions along Southern Africa's largest water body while safeguarding the environment. The occasion was given unexpected relevance by the rising water tables in the upper part of the river, where villages in Namibia and Zambia are preparing to evacuate.
On the occasion of this year's World Water Day, the Southern Africa office of the global conservation union IUCN stepped up its efforts to conserve the Zambezi River basin. The group launched a project set to address the many challenges the Zambezi is facing, including natural disasters.
According to IUCN, the problems of river basin are many and grave. "Climate variability, intermittent flood, inherent low soil fertility, salty water intrusion, poverty, inappropriate resource tenure and land-use practices, gender inequalities, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and poor economic opportunities all threaten the future of the Zambezi basin, shared by eight countries with a total population of 102.9 million people of whom 30.8 percent live in the basin itself," Caroline Gwature of IUCN states.
The Zambezi is well endowed with wetlands of varying types, ranging from the smallest systems such as dambos to very large flood plains and deltaic marshes such as the Barotse flood plain and the River delta.
The basin's wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in southern Africa, supporting some of the largest contiguous wildlife populations and habitats on the African continent and providing freshwater for human consumption and economic development, pasture for livestock and wildlife, fertile soils for agriculture, and significant yields of fish.
Since 1995, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and IUCN have been working together towards the conservation and sustainable utilisation of the wetland resources of the Zambezi basin.
- Phase II of the project, launched yesterday, seeks to contribute to the sustainable use of the Zambezi basin wetland ecosystems, says Ms Gwature, "while improving the well-being of local communities, and to influence the development of relevant national policies and regional protocols."
James Murombedzi, Director of IUCN's Southern Africa Regional Office, adds that the basin's problems are highlighted by current event. "The implementation of Phase II of the Zambezi basin project could not have come at a better time than now, when the world has its attention on water and disasters, which is the major focus of this five-year project," he says.
The project launch coincides with an upcoming flooding of the upper Zambezi River Basin that has started in western Zambia and Namibia's eastern Caprivi region. From Caprivi, 'The Namibian' is reporting preparations to evacuate villagers from areas surrounded by floodwaters river rapidly rises.
At the Namibian border town Katima Mulilo, where the Zambezi enters from Zambia, flood levels yesterday were measured to have reached 6.42 metres. This, according to 'The Namibian', "is now just four centimetres off last year's peak," when floods caused great damages to local crops and property and displaced around 12,000 people only in Namibia.
Experiences from other regions have taught environmentalists that river basins become more prone to disastrous flooding the more they are regulated. In particular the maintenance of natural flood plains - often areas with high agricultural potentials - is important to avoid large disasters.
In Europe, river basins such as the Rhine and the Danube are now in the process of being restored to their natural form. In particular the flood plains are restored to dam up for the disastrous floods that have hit central Europe during the last decades. Environmentalists are eager to prevent equal mistakes in less developed river basins such as the Zambezi.
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