The Zambezi River Basin represents the best of what southern Africa has in terms of natural capital, SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax has said. In her foreword to the Zambezi Environment Outlook (ZEO) report which was published and launched during the 7thSouthern African Development Community (SADC) Multi-Stakeholder Water Dialogue held
in Windhoek, Namibia recently Dr Tax said the natural resources ranging from water, land, soils, forests, wildlife and the minerals that are plentiful under the soil, are critical to regional socio-economic development and poverty eradication.
“Since most of these are shared, achieving sustainable natural resource management requires regional cooperation, an integrated ecosystems approach, and a common understanding of the natural resource base,” she says.
She says as the most shared resource in the SADC region, the Zambezi River Basin provides an indicator in terms of meeting one of the objectives of the SADC Treaty – Article 5 which commits all among other objectives, to “achieve sustainable utilisation of natural resources and effective protection of the environment”.
And in the preface to the publication, the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) Executive Secretary, Professor Zebediah Phiri says he welcomed the ZEO as a report that raises the base of knowledge on the benefits of cooperation on shared resources, contributing to sound policy formulation and encouraging the Riparian States to sustainably utilise the natural resources.
The report provides an outlook on the current state of the natural resources endowment and trends in the Zambezi River Basin. It focuses on how the complex nature of natural resources can be effectively managed in the Basin in the context of the changing climate,” he says.
He says this should be balanced with another of the objectives articulated in the SADC Treaty which is to “achieve development and economic growth,
alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.”
With the running theme “Towards strengthening basin-wide cooperation and regional integration”, the Outlook highlights the state and trends of key environmental resources, including land, freshwater, marine and coastal resources, forests and woodlands, and wildlife of a single ecosystem of the Zambezi River Basin.
The report shows that there has been changes to the state of the environment in the Zambezi Basin during past 15 years. The last comprehensive assessment of the basin was published in 2000.
Among other changes, the ZEO 2015 notes that the basin has been characterised by declining water quality, depletion of groundwater and a surge in aquatic invasive species. It notes that there will be more changes in rainfall patterns in the basin and reveals that a decrease by 10-15 percent in rainfall is expected by 2050.
Land andagriculture challenges noted in the Outlook include declining per capita land availability as a result of growing population, soil erosion and fertility decline, land degradation and soil salinisation, as well as outbreaks of new strains of diseases. The Outlook also details issues and challenges in the other sectors such as tourism, energy and industrialisation.
Other notable changes highlighted in the report include expansion of urban areas, depletion of wetlands, reduction of forest cover and loss of key species. Most of these changes have largely been attributed to unsustainable human activities.
The report takes a retrospective and forward-looking analysis of issues, covering cross-sectoral elements relating to human settlements, energy and atmospheric dynamics. It therefore, brings these changes into focus, presenting policy options for addressing them.
The SADC Secretariat Chief observes that the ZEO is therefore an important milestone for socio-economic development in the basin and the rest of southern Africa as it provides a monitoring tool for basin-wide and regional targets under the ZAMCOM Agreement; the Revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP); the third Regional Strategic Action Plan for Integrated Water Resources Development and Management (RSAP III); the Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses; and the Protocol on Environmental Management for Sustainable Development, approved at the 34th SADC Summit in 2014.
“An effective regional integration approach is one that is rooted in participation
of well-informed stakeholders. As the Executive Secretary of SADC, I believe that advancing scientific research of this nature can help Member States to unpack information and share it widely with citizens to broaden the benefits of regional integration,” Dr Tax says adding “all of us in southern Africa depend on the natural environment for energy supplies, water, food, shelter, tourism and jobs. As a region we need to maintain the Zambezi River Basin’s healthy productive ecosystems to meet the challenges of both intra and intergenerational equity.”
Professor Phiri says the ZEO is in line with the principal objective of the ZAMCOM Agreement which seeks to “promote the equitable and reasonable utilisation of the water resources of the Zambezi Watercourse as well as the efficient management and sustainable development thereof.”
He says ZAMCOM takes this report as a useful tool that will act as a reference document in future ZAMCOM work adding that the co-operation which this report envisages is a necessary step towards extending and consolidating the work of Zambezi Riparian States in the joint management of natural resources.
He observes that the report emphasises the important role the basin plays in the integration of the SADC region.
“I believe that the Zambezi Environment Outlook findings will inform the process of developing the Zambezi Strategic Plan. The plan will be used as a reliable and accepted basis for decision making on investments in the Basin,” the ZAMCOM Executive Secretary says.
He says by fostering greater awareness on equitable utilisation of resources, the ZEO 2015 assists the ZAMCOM Secretariat to operationalise some of the key provisions of the ZAMCOM Agreement. Among these are the rules of notification and prior consultation on planned measures/projects, and the collection and dissemination of information and data in support of improved planning and decision-making for the sustainable management and development of the Basin.
“Information from the report supports our efforts at providing integrated information for the decision-making and planning processes in the Basin. These efforts include the improvement of the Zambezi Water Resources Information System (ZAMWIS),” Prof. Phiri says.
He says the ZEO, in fulfilling the principle of inclusivity in the ZAMCOM Agreement, mainstreams gender and youth issues, highlighting the unique roles of men and women in sustainable management of natural resources as it explains how the work of men and women is impacted differently by climate change and highlights the need to consider such differences in formulating resilience policies and strategies.
The ZEO report was produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) through its I. Musokotwane Environment Resource Centre for Southern Africa (IMERCSA) for ZAMCOM.
It is an update of the State of the Environment Zambezi Basin 2000 report. The Outlook is therefore, an important milestone for socio-economic development in the Zambezi river basin and the rest of southern Africa as it provides a monitoring tool for basin-wide and regional agreements, protocols and targets, which include the ZAMCOM Agreement, the Revised SADC RISDP, the RSAP III,the Revised SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses,and theProtocol on Environmental Management for Sustainable Development.
The Revised RISDP, in particular, calls for regular environmental assessment, monitoring and reporting for the purpose of analysing regional trends. The report is expected to strengthen collaboration between policymakers and the public in a collective effort to effectively manage the Zambezi River Basin’s shared resources.
Production of the ZEO is a long-term process, which is expected to continue in the future. Production of the 2015 Outlook was made possible with support from cooperating partners led by the Government of Germany in delegated cooperation with the Governments of UK (UKAid) and Australia (AusAid) managed by the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ).