From the rainy highlands of Angola to the arid plains of Botswana, the Cubango-Okavango River Basin provides water for more than 1 million people and supports diverse plants and wildlife. The basin, one of the world’s largest inland aquatic systems, is a critical economic, social, and ecological resource for Angola, Botswana, and Namibia. Conserving it calls for a community-driven approach that educates basin populations on its proper management, provides opportunities for secure livelihoods, and fosters a sense of shared responsibility for its protection.
Based on the idea that “every water user is a water manager” and “all users are downstream,” the Integrated Water Quality Management (IWQM) model educates communities about the impact their daily activities have on the basin. Recognizing how the condition of the water system downstream is linked to its treatment upstream creates a trans-boundary mindset for basin communities and encourages them to take better care of this critical resource.
The Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program (SAREP) piloted the IWQM model in 14 communities in the Kavango Region of Namibia. The project helps the communities to set quotas for water use, adopt improved waste disposal practices, and develop water management plans suited to local needs. These communities responded by launching riverbank clean-up campaigns and developing their own standards for managing the nearby water system.
Basin communities are not the only parties demonstrating a commitment to sustainably managing the river basin. “We have seen behavior change in lodges, governments, and communities from this simple, simple practice,” said Robyn Tompkins, SAREP’s water supply and sanitation coordinator. Now, communities are beginning to share their experiences with other communities, encouraging independent replication of the model.
By pairing project geographic information system (GIS) data with maps of the basin area, SAREP has identified environmental hot spots and focused on communities that pose the greatest environmental risks. “When you print the GIS-layered plan, you can instantly obtain a picture of the health of the basin,” said Chief of Party Steve Johnson. “What’s been done by combining the two — the IWQM model and the GIS — is truly innovative.”
With the combined approach, SAREP is picking communities who are largely impacted and ensuring these communities are the drivers of this conservation effort, allowing the basin to remain a thriving ecological and economic resource for communities upstream and downstream.