Friday, September 16, 2005

Landcover Change - Okavango Catchment

This is a new project underway currently based at HOORC in conjunction with the University of Linkoping, Sweden. It is designed to look at landuse/cover change (LULC) from 1994-2004 over the Okavango river catchment mainly in Angola and Namibia. For further information please contact Jafet Andersson or Sue Ringrose at

Land Cover Change in the Okavango River Basin

The environment is in constant motion. Many a time this is due to natural causes, but increasingly so also due to anthropogenic causes such as population growth, agriculture, economic growth, industrialisation, globalisation, migration and urbanisation (McNeill, 2000). It is generally recognised that several of these are necessary for the very existence of mankind (agriculture) and others are intrinsic in a society guided by modernistic principles (economic growth) despite that they often degrade the aquatic and other environments. Degraded environmental resources further particularly affect poor people in several ways e.g. reducing health, resource security and productive capacity. There is a pressing need for sustainable development - for balancing necessary, often environmentally degrading, human activities with environmental needs and buffering capacities in the sustainable use of water resources. Achieving sustainable development in semi-arid areas will moreover aid particularly in poverty and hunger reduction since most of the poorest people of the world live in dry areas.

The proposed research addresses a prerequisite to sustainable development in the mostly semi-arid Okavango River Basin (ORB) in southern Africa. A thorough grasp of the environmental history of an area is essential for effective sustainable development, since decisions made in the absence of such information run the risk of being little more than theoretical conjectures (McNeill, 2000). Although significant improvements have been made recently, in many respects knowledge is still insufficient or elementary in the ORB. Significant gaps include lack of systematic knowledge regarding historical land cover (LC) change in response to known migration and population patterns, e.g. reforestation and increased irrigated agriculture, and the effect of increased irrigated agriculture on water quality (WQ) (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004; Vanderpost et al., 2005). These are of primary concern in the ORB due to the recent end of the civil war in Angola, which is anticipated to have led and lead to the remigration of refugees into the area probably affecting the natural resources; and due to increasing demand recently for food security and self sufficiency in Namibia likely affecting the WQ.

The explicit expected outcome of the proposed research is the development and systematic application of a combination set of existing methods, tailored to the specific conditions of the ORB, for revealing the LC changes that the basin has experienced since the 1970s (covering the Angolan civil war), and their links to potential causes such as migration, population growth and agricultural expansion. In addition, the impact of one such LC change – expanding agriculture in northern Namibia – on the river WQ in the vicinity of the agricultural fields will have been investigated, thereby clarifying potential degradative effects of its expansion. In this way, together with research institutions in the area (Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre, HOORC), the project results should provide baseline information critical to basin-wide management on which to base more holistic sustainable decisions in the future for the benefit of the people of the basin and the Okavango River Basin Commission (OKACOM) charged with managing the river.

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