Okavango River Basin ‘will be protected’

21 July 2021 | Environment

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Member states of the Okavango River Basin Water Commission (Okacom) have agreed that should ReconAfrica’s oil exploration pose a significant threat to the integrity of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin at any stage, it will be suspended.

The Okacom Council of Commissioners representing Angola, Botswana and Namibia recently convened to discuss the oil and gas exploration activities of the Canadian-based company ReconAfrica in the basin, which is shared by the three countries.

Mandated by the three member states to advise on the conservation, development and sustainable utilisation of water resources in the basin, Okacom organised the council meeting specifically to discuss the oil and gas exploration in north-eastern Namibia and north-western Botswana.

ReconAfrica’s activities not only sparked national and regional concern, but has also attracted international attention, with fears of adverse environmental impact on the basin in the short and long term, says a statement issued by the Okacom Secretariat.

The Commission said it recognised the legitimacy of the petroleum exploration licences issued to ReconAfrica by the relevant authorities in Namibia and Botswana.

Promises

It added that both governments, through the ministries responsible for mining and energy, have issued official statements that the explorative activities are well within environmentally safe boundaries and do not pose any harm to the basin.

“In advising member states on issues affecting the environmental integrity of the basin, the Commission has to ensure that this status is sustained by member states individually and jointly through adhering to agreed key principles with regards to any major developments in the basin including these exploration activities,” the Okacom Secretariat added.

It said member states further reported that a key objective is to ensure that ongoing and proposed prospecting activities are done outside of the core and buffer zones of the delineated protected conservation areas as provided for in their respective environmental legislations, and ReconAfrica will need to comply as indicated in its project plans.

This is to be enforced through the respective ministries responsible for water and environment, said the Okacom Secretariat.

The member states will furthermore make an effort to ensure that their respective environmental impact assessment legislations and approaches are harmonised and synchronised to ensure comparability of results.

“The Council agreed that an approved EIA report should precede any subsequent stages of the exploration work and if found at any stage that there is a significant threat to the integrity of the basin and the local communities, the process should be duly suspended.”

The Commission also agreed that stakeholder consultation, involvement and subsequent agreement should be a prerequisite for any further work in relation to oil and gas exploration in the basin.

All member states will ensure that this is fully implemented at all stages of the process through the relevant ministries.

“The Commission commits that it will ensure the gains that have been achieved by the basin over the more than 25 years of the tripartite existence are not reversed by activities that may negatively affect the wellbeing of the basin and its communities.”

The river basin is internationally renowned for its significantly high biological productivity and iconic biodiversity, making it one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas in the world. Hence, its status as a Wetland of International Importance (a Ramsar site) and a World Heritage Site.

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