Four Zambezi River Nations Make Joint Conservation Plans

Four Zambezi River Nations Make Joint Conservation Plans

The following story was written by Singy Hanyona for the Environmental News Service (ENS)

LUSAKA, Zambia, July 18, 2001 (ENS) - The African Wildlife Foundation has launched a new regional conservation project known as the "four corners natural resource management project."

The transboundary four corners project refers to the Caprivi Strip, the only place in the world where four African countries - Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe - meet. They share the Zambezi River, one of the longest rivers in Africa.

Based in Washington, DC and Nairobi, Kenya, the African Wildlife Foundation together with the people of Africa, "works to ensure the wildlife and wild lands of Africa will endure forever," the organization says.

African Wildlife Foundation [Zambezi Heartland Coordinator] Henry Mwima says a time will come when, like elephants, human beings will travel the Southern African region without passports and using the same currency.

The Zambezi River runs through eight Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, affecting many of their economic activities. "The activities in those countries also affects the sustainability of the river basin," says Mwima.

The Caprivi Strip is a long panhandle enclosed by permanent water and stretching eastwards from the Kavango River to and along the Zambezi ending at the border junction of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Zambezi River Basin is home to over 40 million people who utilize the region's natural capital - large expanses of water, land and soils, forests and wildlife resources.

Mozambican President Joachim Chisano, acknowledged the importance of this natural capital in his foreword to the "Zambezi River Basin 2000 Report." "All of us in the basin states depend on the natural environment for energy supplies, water, food, shelter, tourism rural development and jobs," he wrote.

The African Wildlife Foundation says the river is already facing competing demands for water, agriculture, power generation, industrial and domestic use as well as wildlife habitat and tourism. These potentially conflicting demands can easily kill the river unless careful and considerate planning takes place, the foundation warns. The Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia reports that hunting of elephants is allowed on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River, while on the Zambian side, it is deemed illegal.

Elephants criss-cross the Zambezi river between Musi-O-Tunya National Park in Zambia and the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe. Other elephants move between the Sioma Ngwezi National Park in Zambia and the Caprivi National Park in Namibia. Historically they have moved through what is now war-torn Angola. There are fears among conservationists that the elephants are now avoiding this route because of the Angolan civil war. As part of the regional conservation plan, there has been a suggestion to study and consider restoration of a historical wildlife corridor linking the Kafue National Park in Zambia, Chobe National Park in Botswana and Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe. Planners of all four countries hope that extending their habitat conservation projects across political boundaries will encourage economic growth in the region as tourists from around the world are attracted by the opportunities for wildlife viewing. Planners on any one side of these borders must also talk to planners on the other sides to preserve and enhance the fisheries. According to the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECZ), it is quite common in the region that when a country on one side of a political border imposes a fishing ban, during the fish breeding season, for instance, the country on the other side does not. "So people fish on one side and go across the river to sell fish on the other side where law does not allow them to fish," says WECZ Director Mwape Sichilongo.

"African leaders must therefore be anxious about the whole idea of transboundary natural resource management because of what it would take to harmonize planning and development," he says. Sichilongo, who is a board member of the Zambia Wildlife authority, says if you consider that political boundaries are artificial demarcations based on imaginary lines on pieces of paper, then a strong case can be made for more integrated planning.

Stakeholders and scientists from the four corners countries met in Zambia's tourist capital of Livingstone from June 20 to 28, in an attemtp to pinpoint the environmental importance of the four corners project area. The conservation experts say at the end of the day, the success of any economic development in Africa is measured by how much it contributes to the conservation of natural resources. At the same time, the success of conservation is judged by the extent to which it is implemented as economically relevant through community empowerment and poverty reduction. Most wildlife based tourism in the Zambezi Basin is developed in national parks and game reserves, where big mammals including lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos are major attractions. There is a growing interest in other forms of wildlife such as birds and plants. Hunting, walking safaris, game-drives and bird watching attract tourists from all parts of the world to the Zambezi Basin.

Environment News Service (ENS) 2001. All Rights Reserved