Etosha's troubled fence

Ministry confirms it needs N$500m per year

14 June 2018 | Environment

The environment ministry has confirmed it will need N$500 million each year over the next five financial years to complete the elephant- and predator-proof fence around Etosha National Park.

This is for the materials and construction associated with the mammoth project and follows previous ministry statements, which said it would need N$419 million to complete the fence over a ten-year period.

While outlining several challenges - including limited financing over the years and contractor delays - the ministry's director of planning and technical services, Boas Erkki, also retracted a recent statement that only 112km of the fence had been completed over the past six years.

He said it was likely that 145km of the 842km boundary fence would be completed by the end of this year.

With regard to the N$419 million figure previously released by the ministry, he said that was only for a section of the fence.

The boundary consists of various types of fencing at various stages. The predominant fence is a 1.8m-high, game-proof fence, and the rest is approximately 80km of stock-proof fence that is 1.2m high.

The fence was erected in the early 1960s and has badly deteriorated in some areas.

To improve the status of Etosha's boundary fence, the ministry has since 2010 started with the construction and electrification of an elephant- and predator-proof fence which consists of mesh and steel wire, cabling and electrification.

According to Erkki, a total of 118km of the 370km northern boundary fence has already been upgraded, of which 70km has been electrified.

With regard to the Karos fence in the south-western part of Etosha, he said 27km of the fence would be completed this year in two sections. At what is known as section K1, 12km of the fence is 70% complete. At K2 60% of the 15km is completed.

However, challenges remain. According to Erkki, certain sections of the upgraded 118km fence must already be redone because of a lack of regular maintenance. Figures indicate that maintenance of the fence alone will cost N$10 million.





Capacity issues

He added there was also a lack of manpower to maintain the fence, adding there were only 30 ministry staff working in Etosha.

“There is a lack of a proper dedicated fencing team to look after the fence.”

He explained that even if a fence was repaired in the morning, migrating elephants could destroy it the very next day.

Erkki said upgrading the Etosha fence had experienced many challenges, with delays having been caused by the government's Targeted Intervention Programme for Employment and Economic Growth (Tipeeg).

For instance, a company was only appointed in 2016 after the Tipeeg tender had closed in 2014.

This resulted in contractors abandoning the project, because the amount they had tendered for had escalated when they were finally appointed.

Erkki said other problems were caused by the migration of elephants causing damage to the Karos fence that is nearing completion.

Because the fence has not yet been handed over to government, the contractor must repair it at its own cost.

Contributing factors resulting in slow progress at the Karos fence also included inadequate equipment, hard rock evacuation, as well as late payments by the government.

Another challenge was a lack of adequate skills and finances, he said.

He pointed out that for the past few years the ministry had focused resources on anti-poaching measures and that also contributed to the deteriorating condition of the fence.

The budget allocation for the construction of the Etosha boundary over the financial years has been as follows: N$35 million in 2012/13, N$40 million in 2013/14, N$40 million in N$2014/15 and N$20 million in 2015/16.

In the 2016/17 financial year an amount of N$29 million was allocated, while 12 million was allocated in 2017/18.

This totals N$176 million that was allocated for construction and fencing materials for the Etosha fence, Erkki said.

This financial year, N$23.8 million has been allocated. According to Erkki this will be for electrification, maintenance and the completion of sections K1 and K2 of the Karos fence.

According to Erkki the ministry is looking into reducing the cost of the fence by investigating options at neighbouring farms and even at the Kruger National Park in South Africa.



200km per year

The ministry needed about N$500 million per financial year in order to complete the fence in five years or less, he said. According to him it would then be able to cover 200km per year.

“There should be political and financial commitment from government and sufficient budgetary support for the construction and maintenance of the fence.”

According to Erkki the fence is a priority, but not enough money is allocated to it.

“It also depends on the performance of the contractors. Most contractors on the northern boundary have been performing well, although it must be added that part is sandy, where it is easy to dig, compared to the hard rock at Karos.”

He also mentioned that since 2014, fuel prices had steadily increased and contractors were struggling to hire, while the government paid on performance.

“Whatever a contractor earns from a previous job, he has to put it into hiring for his next job.”

He added the ministry had budgeted N$100 million to mitigate wildlife conflict during the current financial year. This will be used to construct kraals, fencing and water points.





ELLANIE SMIT