Exclude heritage sites from exploration

Oil and gas extraction in the Kavango Region may cause irreparable damage to world heritage sites, a new report warns.

11 June 2021 | Environment

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

The proposed oil and gas development in the Kavango Region over an estimated 25-year period may have irreparable and detrimental impacts on world heritage sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) should therefore urge Namibia that all world heritage sites and those on its tentative list be excluded from any prospecting and exploration for fossil fuels.

This is according to the 2021 World Heritage Watch Report, which says that ReconAfrica’s oil and gas exploration project is in the midst of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), threatening a unique ecosystem, world heritage sites and the livelihoods of indigenous people.

KAZA is the world’s largest trans-boundary conservation area. It extends over 520 000 square kilometres across the five countries of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to the report ReconAfrica, a Canadian company whose Vancouver office can no longer be found on their website, was granted licences in Namibia and Botswana of approximately 35 000 square kilometres to explore for oil and gas in the so-called Kavango Basin.

“The company has started first exploratory drilling in Namibia and plans to do more seismic surveys for additional drilling.”

Exclusive rights

It says the petroleum agreement gives ReconAfrica the exclusive right to obtain a 25-year production licence, with a 10-year renewal option.

The state-owned company Namcor has a 10% stake in the licence. In Botswana, ReconAfrica holds the right to enter into a 25-year production licence with a 20-year renewal period.

“ReconAfrica’s permit area in north-eastern Namibia and north-western Botswana falls wholly within the boundaries of the KAZA,” the report states.

In Namibia, the concession includes areas on Namibia’s Unesco tentative list for future world heritage sites – including the Okavango River and two cultural sites sacred to San indigenous communities.

Meanwhile, the eastern boundary of ReconAfrica’s permit area in north-western Botswana runs along the Okavango Delta Unesco world heritage site, Ramsar wetland and Key Biodiversity Area.

“The fact that the proposed oil and gas development – over an envisaged lifetime of at least 25 years – risks having a huge and irreparable detrimental impact on inscribed and future world heritage sites requires Unesco’s further engagement with all relevant governments on the issue.”

Precious water

The report says that with growing public opposition, the company has denounced the idea that fracking will play a role in the extraction of the targeted fossil fuels.

“Even without fracking, however, it is clear that a step-by-step industrialisation of an almost untouched landscape will be the consequence of oil and gas exploitation in the licensed areas. This process will require a huge amount of fresh water in a vast water-deficient region.”

The report further notes that the only sources of water upon which communities can depend in the area are groundwater and the Kavango/Okavango River and its tributaries.

The Okavango River is the sole inflow into the Okavango Delta with its delicate ecological balance of inflow of water, evaporation and biodiversity.

“This unique hydrological regime is a key reason for its World Heritage designation and Outstanding Universal Value. A deterioration of the quantity and quality of water flowing into the Delta will have severe negative impacts, and will violate Namibia’s and Botswana’s obligation to the world community under the World Heritage Convention.”

It adds that one of the tributaries of the Kavango/ Okavango River is the Omatako River, which flows through ReconAfrica’s licence area before joining the Kavango/Okavango River and eventually empties in the Okavango Delta World Heritage.

“Hence, any pollution of the Omatako River from ReconAfrica’s activities will have a direct negative impact on the flora and fauna of the Okavango Delta,” the report warns.

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