“A Canadian company is drilling exploratory wells in Namibia for what could be a major oil and gas find. Local residents and conservationists fear the project could use up scarce water supplies and cause widespread ecological disruption downstream in the world-renowned Okavango Delta.” (2). Environmentalists are concerned that the oil development will affect aquifers and water balances in a biologically sensitive region near the Okavango Delta, one of the most famous wildlife conservancies in Africa They also fear that the development could damage traditional sites of the San, the Indigenous people in Namibia and Botswana.
This ia a sequel to so many other fossil fuels projects in Africa, from the Karoo desert gas fracking, to the Cabo Delgado (Mozambique) LNG drama. In 2021 alarms have been risen because of imminent oil and gas drilling in the Okavango river delta, or rather in Namibia Kavango region and in the part of Botswana adjacent and upstream to the Okavango Delta. (Map 1, source (2) and ReconAfrica).
ReconAfrica’s plans are located in the regions of Kavango East and Kavango West which are home to 200,000 people — including the indigenous San — making a living from farming, fishing, and tourism. A network of rigs, pipelines, and roads would sprawl across an environmentally sensitive, semi-arid region that is home to Africa’s largest remaining population of savanna elephants as well as numerous threatened or endangered wildlife species. In addition, the drilling — which may involve hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — also would encompass or border national parks and wildlife conservancies, and could threaten waterways that local communities rely on and that eventually flow into the renowned Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.(2). UNESCO has raised the alarm.
Many Namibians, including environmentalists and some in government, were surprised when ReconAfrica shipped an exploratory drilling rig to Namibia in late 2020. Though some local traditional leaders say they were consulted, that information often did not filter down to other community leaders or into many Kavango communities. (2).
The Kavango Basin, which spans northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana, is part of the Kalahari Desert. In an otherwise dry environment, the Okavango River (known in Namibia as the Kavango) is a lifeline, flowing from the highlands of Angola, through northern Namibia, and emptying out into the Okavango Delta, in northwest Botswana. ReconAfrica’s license area is home to the Kavango five tribal groups who mostly make their living fishing, cattle herding, and farming pearl millet, maize, and sorghum. Alongside agriculture, tourism — including hunting — is one of the main industries, and locals are worried that extensive oil drilling could drive away wildlife — and visitors.
The Okavango Delta is an internal delta in the Kalahari Desert. The river flows from the Angola’s highlands crossing the Namibia’s Caprivi strip, then it fans south into a patchwork of islands, lagoons, and grassy floodplains in Botswana’s northwest corner. But underneath there is oil. (1)
The public wants to know what the likely consequences would be of an oil find and the impacts to the Kavango regions and to the Okavango Basin. ReconAfrica refuses to discuss this.(2). There are also global climate change concerns of extracting, exporting and eventually burning the oil. A key concern is the impact on the region’s water supplies. A major question is whether ReconAfrica plans to frack for oil and gas, a technology with a history of contaminating water and causing health issues. Given that water from the region flows into the Okavango delta, “any pollution would be harmful” to the Okavango Basin ecosystem as well as Kavango communities.
"Namibia is a water-scarce country, and when news of the company’s project became widespread, communities expressed concern that contaminants from drilling would seep into shallow aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation for crops. Conservationists also worry that contamination from the test drilling could affect wildlife in the vicinity—elephants, Temminck’s ground pangolins, African wild dogs, martial eagles—and in the UNESCO-recognized Okavango Delta some 160 miles downstream" (3) (Map 2).
ReconAfrica has compared the geological conditions in the Kavango to the Karoo Basin in South Africa — an area where fracking has begun for natural gas — and the company seems confident it has found a very major petroleum reserves, into the tens ofbillions of barrels of oil. ReconAfrica has a 90 percent stake in the Kavango development, the first of its kind in Namibia, while the Namibian government holds 10 percent.(2).
Environmentalists and community leaders want to see the area preserved. They have teamed up to raise awareness about the matter. A campaign called #SavetheOkavangoDelta was started by Fridays for Future Windhoek and Frack Free Namibia and Botswana, two local environmentalist groups.(5). A protest was organised in Windhoek, the capital, the week before the drill rig arrived in December 2020. Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, most other efforts have been organised online. An online petition appealing to the governments of Namibia and Botswana has garnered more than 150,000 signatures.(5).“Who gave the government the right to determine the destiny of Indigenous communities? This is just another case of environmental racism,” Ina-Maria Shikongo, the founder of Fridays for Future Windhoek, told Al Jazeera. “My worst fear is that it could turn into a new Niger Delta,” Shikongo added. (5)