Monday, October 17, 2005

Desert Delta Blues 

Last night Sixty Minutes reported a proposed hydroelectric power station that threatens the Okavango Delta in Botswana ('Pride of Africa' by Peter Overton, Sixty Minutes, 16 October 2005).

The Okavango River floods into the Kalahari Desert at the delta each winter, attracting millions of animals. Across the border, the Namibian government's power company, NamPower, is planning to dam the river for a hydroelectric power station, which will affect the flow of sediment to the delta. Without the sediment flow, the freshwater wetlands are likely to become salty.

Sixty Minutes concentrated on the beauty of the delta and the wildlife, with Overton duckdiving to see the marine life and interviewing a woman who survived a hippopotamus attack. A male tour operator is seen at peace in his boat, hands folded serenely in front of him as he glides over the water. Does he have such a spiritual connection with the wetlands that his canoe takes him, magic carpet-like, to where he wants to go? No, of course not. He has another man stand at the back of his boat and steer. If you'd like that kind of safari experience, Mike Penman's Wild LifeStyles could be for you.

Professor Fred Ellery, a wetlands ecologist from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, is also interviewed about the how the delta ecosystem works and how the development in Namibia threatens to destroy it. Later he answered viewers questions in a moderated chat at ninemsn. The
transcript of the chat with Fred Ellery gives more background on the reasons Namibia needs power stations and the concerns of locals. Ellery suggests that people interested in learning more or volunteering should contact Conservation International. He also provides his own e-mail address for people wanting information about the impact of the hydroelectric development.

I visited John Bock's Okavango Delta Peoples to find out more about the people who live in the delta (which is 15 000km2) and found it a good starting place for information about the delta and Botswana.

Fact 1: So many elephants visit the delta that Botswana has an over-concentration of elephants (according to Conservation International).

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