Friday, July 09, 2021

Protecting Nature

  Africa’s Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA) includes land in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is one of Africa’s last wildernesses.

Wildlife and environmental campaigners have called for international action as concerns grow over a project to create a massive oilfield. ReconAfrica, a Canadian oil and gas company, has licensed drilling areas in over 34,000sq km of land in parts of northern Namibia and Botswana. ReconAfrica says there is the potential to extract 120 billion barrels of oil from this field. 

A large part of the exploration areas in both Botswana and Namibia falls within the Okavango River Basin which flows into the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which supports the world’s largest remaining population of endangered savanna elephants, as well as dozens of other endangered or vulnerable species such as rhinos, wild dogs, and pangolins. It is also home to 200,000 people.

Campaigners fear the project could do untold damage to the delta’s ecosystem, threatening already endangered wildlife, the environment, and the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of people who live on the land. The project will also impact local communities and farmers, and there are concerns that these groups have not been engaged properly in consultations over the project.

Criticism of the project has grown sharply over the last 18 months as details of it have emerged, especially suggestions in company promotions to investors that fracking, which involves blasting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to extract oil and gas, could be used. Fracking is banned in some countries and has been blamed for serious water pollution, among others, and threats to the regional water supply are among environmentalists’ biggest concerns.

Ina-Maria Shikongo, an activist from Fridays for Future – Windhoek, has led a public campaign against the project, “The big problem is our water. We have a very fragile ecosystem, we rely on the water that is underground. If that water gets poisoned, what is going to happen? Wildlife, local people, they all rely completely on our water, and if it is poisoned then you could destroy the local food system.”

Rosemary Alles, the co-founder of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos conservation campaign group, told IPS: “ReconAfrica has continued to deny that fracking is in the works; however, there is no inevitability that the company will not frack, despite its rhetoric du jour. The concern is legitimate. If fracking takes place, the immediate potential impacts in the context of waterways and air pollution will be devastating.”

One expert at a conservation group in the area told IPS: “If this company is allowed to start drilling for oil in the Delta it will be a major environmental crime with inevitably devastating impacts on the natural world. In terms of what it will mean for elephants: until we know the scale of the operation it’s hard to estimate exactly, but history shows that oil extraction always means environmental disaster and this is right in the middle of the last wilderness in the elephants’ last stronghold: the KAZA.”

UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has pointed out that there are hundreds of working farms within ReconAfrica’s drilling area. But in a recent press release, the group said that it was “far from transparent how, or indeed if, these communities are being consulted”.

It pointed out that the public consultations on the oilfield project have been either online or in person, and the vast majority of those living in ReconAfrica’s license area have limited or no access to the internet and the COVID-19 pandemic has severely restricted travel and public meetings. The meetings are also regularly conducted in English, which is not the first language for many locals.

“It is unclear whether their voices are being heard,” EIA said.

Critics have questioned the validity and integrity of the Environmental Impact Assessments conducted for the project, but the company has rejected this criticism and any suggestions it is not meeting full legal requirements for the project. And it has claimed that its public consultations have been well-attended and welcomed by locals – although this is strongly disputed by many who went to them.  The thinking behind such a project given that only weeks ago the International Energy Agency said no new oil and gas fields must be exploited from this year on to ensure global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were brought down to net-zero by 2050 and keep global heating within safe limits.

“We need to stamp out this neo-colonialist system – Africa cannot continue to be treated simply as a resource for the global north. The global south and global north need to work together on this, because it affects us all. We’re all humans,”  Shikongo said.

Calls to Halt Construction of Massive Oilfield in One of Africa’s last Wildernesses | Inter Press Service (

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