CHAMWE KAIRA

Namibia is in the international headlines because of the test drilling for oil and gas by a Canadian company, Reconnaissance Energy Africa in the two Kavango regions.

“Test drilling for oil and gas begins in Namibia’s Okavango region,” read a headline in the National Geographic’s article saying the drilling rig is placed in an elephant habitat some 160 miles from the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta.

The Mail & Guardian ran with the headline; “Okavango Delta under threat from oil, gas exploration,” with the gist of the story saying San leaders were decrying Canadian climate-wrecking oil and gas project in Namibia and Botswana.

“We can’t sacrifice Africa’s Okavango Delta for oil,” said thehill.com, reporting that environmental activists warn that plans to drill in Namibia and Botswana pose significant ecological risks.

International environmental groups and personalities including American actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, have added voices to warn against the drilling.

Preserving the environment should not be compromised and the benefits of mining must be weighed against the dangers of damaging the environment like the case with the Niger Delta.

Namibia relatively has a good record when it comes to mining and protecting the environment. The country has successfully mined uranium for many years, and successfully mines diamonds from the seabed with innovative technology.

On the other extreme, environmentalists who earn a living by opposing everything under the sun without any scientific knowledge, must be treated with caution.

By omission or commission, some local media has gone along to distort some facts about the project. For example, the drilling is not taking place in the actual Okavango Delta as some media reports said. The delta is situated in Botswana,that should be common knowledge.

The other distortion in some media reports is that Reconnaissance Energy Africa is carrying out fracking activities in the Okavango Delta, but the fact is that the company is drilling for hydrocarbons and the project is not along the banks of the Kavango river.

Botswana has also denied drilling or fracking activities are taking place in its protected areas of Tsodilo Hills and the Okavango Delta. Botswana is unlikely to allow the destruction of the delta. Tourism to the Okavango Delta makes up most of the tourism component of Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with about 100 000 visitors per year. Botswana has some of the best conservation measures in Africa, the reason why it has the world largest elephant population in the world of 130 000 elephants.

Genuine concerns about the impact of the drilling must not be mixed up with sensationalism and grandstanding. Amid the hullabaloo and sometimes sensational media reports, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued one of the few scientifically sound arguments I have come across over the Kavango drilling. The WWF said a comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will avoid the situation where the Namibian government gets progressively drawn into a situation that will be increasingly difficult to reverse adverse impacts in time.

The WWF said there is already a precedent for the SEA in similar circumstances, as one was carried out for the uranium province in the central Namib, which resulted in the Strategic Management Plan (SEMP), which outlined mitigation measures and led to the formation of a multidisciplinary coordination committee overseeing the implementation of the SEMP.

The Kavango drilling aside, environmentalists in Namibia will be fighting the ‘green’ war on many fronts this year. The controversial plan to mine phosphate offshore Walvis Bay is getting a big lift from the Chamber of Mines of Namibia, and the Namibian Chamber of Environment.

In a series of interviews featuring the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Namibian Chamber of Environment, and a well-respected Namibian environmental scientist, Dr Chris Brown, the Chamber of Mines is supporting the phosphate project, a subject of a court case involving the fishing industry and the Namibian Marine Phosphate, the company that plans to mine phosphate in the ocean. The fishing industry is opposed to phosphate mining near fishing grounds.

Brown argues that the phosphate industry will create local value addition of raw materials before they are exported. Namibia has one of the largest undeveloped phosphate resources in the world.

Brown adds that the size of the resource can support sustainable mining and related industries for more than 100 years and associated industries, to produce a suite of fertiliser products for domestic consumption in Namibia and for export to the global market.

Furthermore, figures provided by Brown show that Namibia imports the bulk of its fertiliser from South African manufacturers, which amounted to N$515 million in 2018. Brown estimates that a marine phosphate industry in Namibia is projected to create over 51 600 jobs in mining, processing, fertiliser production, agriculture, and transport sectors. The environmental fights are only starting.

*Chamwe Chowa Kaira is a freelance journalist and can be contacted on chamwe@gmail.com