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Every River Has Its People

The Every River Has Its People Project (ERP) is a unique initiative on shared river basin management approach implemented in the Okavango River Basin, which transcends three countries (Angola, Botswana & Namibia) funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The project facilitates community participation in the Permanent Okavango Commission (OKACOM), a tripartite agreement between Angola, Botswana and Namibia and has been running since 1999, with the second Phase having started in August 2004 and ended in February 2007. The cooperating partners have developed a five-years to end in 2012.The Association for Environmental Conservation and Rural Development (ACADIR), Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS) and Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) are respectively implementing the project with KCS undertaking overall project management.

The project has been a success and received considerable regional and international acclaim to most parts of the world. Most importantly a significant progress was made towards achieving objectives of the project, basin wide level to sustain the activities of the project and ensuring long term sustainability of the programme. Communities have been capacitated to manage their resources sustainably as well as to take part effectively in decision making on matters related to the development of the Okavango River Basin needs. Other basins have shown interest in replicating the project into the management of their basins. Therefore the Every River has presented itself as a unique model in trans-boundary natural resources management. It has demonstrated at least within the region that it is practical to implement trans-boundary natural resources agreements with involvement of communities as custodians of the resources.

It has also been demonstrated through the Every River case that critical for this process of community involvement is the issue of devolution of natural resources management responsibilities, collective action and definition of property rights. The CBNRM programme is a process by which communities group themselves and acquires rights to conserve and manage natural resources through what is called conservancies/ Trusts. In managing these natural resources, the community utilise same as an incentive for sustainable management. The following are some of the experiences the project has depicted and or achieved since 2000:

  • River basins as a resource base do not follow administrative boundaries and so should its management, if sustainable management and utilisation of natural resources is to be achieved.

  • Institutional structures for river basin commissions can be strengthened through participation of stakeholders especially the basin communities. These can enable development of commission objectives, policies and programmes that are responsive of the situation on the ground. This requires involvement of stakeholders at all stages including implementation and monitoring and evaluation.

  • Dual flow of information and transparency further strengthens cooperation since informed stakeholders can understand each other’s specific opportunities, challenges, roles and responsibilities within the basin, implying relevant and timely contribution at all times by all stakeholders.

  • Opened ended and flexible approaches are best in accommodating communities in the basin. This is because feelings of mistrust arising from misinformation and outright ignorance can be dispelled. In that way a politically sound approach to management of ecosystems of such diverse biology can be achieved.

  • Ultimately, mutual benefit sharing mechanisms will naturally form between riparian states and their communities if there is common understanding

The ERP is now well placed to capitalise on years of relationship and reputation building. It is highly acclaimed because of its achievements and innovative approach in many areas but specifically, community participation in decision-making and the establishment of the Basin-wide Forum (BWF). All this combined will assist ERP achieve it development targets which fall broadly under the following categories:

  • Economic well-being

  • Social and human development

  • Education and training

  • Sustainable ecosystem and natural resource management


Some of ERP’s major achievements since its inception

  • Built the capacity of communities to participate effectively in the Okavango Basin Management and established an appropriate institutional mechanism in the form of the Basin Forum

  • Developed a range of education materials, tools and programs

  • Increased stakeholder understanding of the river basin leading to quality, informed decision making and planning

  • Built and strengthened relationships with partner organisations

  • Created mechanisms for community participation and community led action in natural resource decision-making and management

  • Developed an enterprise and economic empowerment approach to natural resource management through craft, wildlife, community-based tourism, conservation (minimum tillage) farming and forest products;

  • Integrated HIV/Aids and other health management issues into the ERP

  • Produced good quality and highly accessible information on biophysical and socio-economic aspects of the basin, in various formats (books, posters, database, newsletters, radio programmes, pamphlets and brochures) including a website.

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