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NAMIBIA: Environment Plan Slow to Take Off

Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK, Jan 26 2007 (IPS) - The Namibian government has adopted all the right policies to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal Seven on sustainable environmental practices, but its good intentions have floundered at the implementation stage.

According to the director of environment at the ministry of environment and tourism (MET), Theofilus Nghitila, the country ‘‘has been doing a lot to set up the appropriate policies and regulations conducive to sustainable environmental development. It has the right policies and continues to reform policies to stay abreast in a changing world’’.

In its attempt to stem environmental degradation and ensure sustainable usage of land and other natural resources, the Namibian government has spent in the region two billion Namibian dollars (about 280,000 US dollars) on policy reformulation in the environmental sector alone since political independence in 1990, says Nghitila.

At independence the government found many environmental laws and subsidiary regulations ‘‘outdated and inappropriate’’. The lack of a coherent and comprehensive environmental law framework was indicated as a key constraint in terms of environmental management.

A donor-supported programme was thus embarked upon with the aim of revising the raft of environmental legislation previously enacted.

According to Nghitila, these reforms have encouraged innovative partnerships between government ministries with environmental interests, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs) and donor agencies.

International conventions and protocols which Namibia has ratified or acceded to, as well as policies and legal instruments have facilitated a ‘‘radical realignment’’ of Namibia’s laws, Nghitila pointed out.

With the Namibian constitution’s article 95 as the policy foundation for the protection of the environment, a number of sector policies have direct relevance to sustainable environmental management. These include the Green Plan, agricultural and drought policies, the national land policy and the communal land reform act.

Equally, the government’s indicative 30-year planning framework, Vision 2030, aims to provide a sound agenda for sustainable development planning, creating a long-term perspective within projected five-year national plans.

‘‘While these policies are focused on their sector of concern, they recognise that sectors cannot work in isolation, that they need to promote sustainable practices, they need diversified land-use options and that partnerships are essential,’’ continues Nghitila.

However, an area of concern is the lack of promotion of appropriate urban environmental programmes. This is despite the fact that the country experiences a major urbanisation shift.

Available statistics indicate that by 1982 only 11 percent of the population lived in urban centres. By 2002 this had risen to 40 percent, which is expected to increase to 70 percent by 2030.

With the government’s decentralisation drive introduced in 1997, local authorities are responsible for urban settlements. Environmental management functions form part of the decentralisation plan.

Functions likely to be devolved include rural water supply development and water management, management of communal lands, conservation, forest development and rural electrification.

Namibia is identified as a country with one of the highest levels of inequality in the world. The poorest people live outside the more serviced urban centres, placing more pressure on natural resources. This results in unsustainable use and concomitant degradation of the natural resource base.

According to the Namibia census indicators for 1991 and 2001, households using wood and charcoal for domestic purposes decreased from 74 to 64 percent. The 2004 common country assessment report showed that in 2001 87 percent of households had access to safe water.

The picture for sanitation looks bleaker: 44 percent of the population used safe sanitation in 2001 while a mere 20 percent had access to safe sanitation in the rural areas.

Like other countries the world over, Namibia has committed itself to the principles of sustainable environmental development in accordance with the MDGs, but this has not resulted in significant progress to reverse the loss of natural resources and biodiversity.

‘‘There is a saturation of [environmental] policies,’’ says an informed source who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity. ‘‘What is missing is the implementation of these, which results in a perception that government’s policies are wrong.”

For example, the government’s introduction of the community-based natural resource management programme (CBNRM) has yielded a profit of N$1 billion (about 140,000 US dollars) since its inception in 1996.

The CBNRM programme, run by an estimated 50 CBOs, is generally viewed as a major vehicle for rural development and land reform through the proclamation of conservancies managed by local communities.

The aim of the conservancies is to involve local communities in the economic development and sustainable management of rural natural resources, including wildlife. These are thus viewed as prime tourist attractions.

According to future projections, an estimated 70 percent of communal areas—covering about 20 million hectares—will fall within conservancy areas by 2030.

To date, says the source, these conservancies have failed to capture the lucrative European tourist market due to a lack of sufficient investment in lodging and other essential services.

‘‘Successful implementation requires appropriate institutions. There is currently a mismatch of these elements. There are no fully-capacitated institutions that can transform government’s lofty ideals into action,’’ said the source.

According to another anonymous source, which had been visiting conservancies while doing field research, ‘‘the picture seems bleaker than before. Why? With such a small population size, why can we not transform our environment more quickly?’’

Chris Brown of the Namibia Wildlife Society concurs. ‘‘Namibia has made some remarkable achievements but the frustration is at the slow progress, given that much of the changes needed are virtually cost-free policy and mind-set changes.’’

Namibia is a large country with a small population size of 1.8 million. But the country’s renewable resources are characterised by low productivity and high variability due to water scarcity and degradable soil.

This arid country is wedged between two deserts – the Kalahari in the east and the Namib along the west coast. It experiences recurrent droughts and floods, mostly in the north-eastern region, with the majority of the population dependent on the land in some way or another.

Its marine resources are greatly influenced by the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean, which poses a huge challenge to resource management. Desertification threatens sustainable economic development, and affects food production and security. The country is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming and climate change.

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