The KAZA Park: A Regional Response to Climate Change
This is a land of wilderness where a million vulnerable people farm on marginal land, exposed to the climactic variability that is a hallmark of Climate Change. It is also elephant territory. An estimated 140,000 elephants, more than a third of Africa’s remaining population, call this area home.
Chobe National Park in Botswana is expected to be one of the "seed" parks for a grand plan of conservation and social upliftment that will help southern Africa deal with the effects of climate change through regional water management and a single management plan based on natural systems.
Assisted by the South African Peace Parks Foundation, the five African countries of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, agreed in August 2011 to create the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. This not only allows the elephants to roam free across borders, but creates a framework to protect and share their precious water resources. The Kaza, it is called, is 29 million hectares, an area about the size of Italy.
Werner Myburgh is the chief executive director of the Peace Parks Foundation, sitting at their offices far away in Stellenbosch South Africa, he explains of this ambitious project.
“One of the big objectives of the Peace Parks Foundation is to facilitate the process where you look at the management of integrated ecosystems across international boundaries.”
The Foundation is a facilitator for a dialogue between all of the stakeholders in the region.
“So we help governments in each of those countries initiate the process where you bring together private sector, communities and government around one table and say, well what do you think is the future of this area?”
This integrated approach to conservation is vital for semi arid countries facing the combined challenges of food and water security in a time of a changing climate. It is also vital for protecting the migration routes of the wildlife, and both of these elements are essential for creating sustainable livelihoods in the area.
One of the pillars of the KAZA project is the official protection of two rivers, the Zambezi and the Kavango. Dr. Anthony Turton is a South African Hydrologist specializing in water resource management in the Kaza area. “The former colonial powers used rivers as borders, whereas the previous, precolonial dispensation used rivers as a means of transport, as a means of connecting people.”
Africa inherited the borders that were created during the colonial area, but the Kaza will see the precolonial values of rivers restored, and will help secure these two great watersheds from the ravages of climate change, deforestation and overconsumption. Water is the key not only to life, but prosperity as well, and the Kaza plan and researchers like Dr. Turton are helping shape the future of this precious resource.
Turton literally wrote the book on the Okavango Delta's water system. He sees water, ecosystems, development and economies inextricably linked together. “If our national economy is a wholey owned subsidiary of our national hydrology, then our global economy is a wholey owned subsidiary of our global ecosystem. So ecosystems matter because actually this is the life support system provider for planet earth.”
This is the area of Southern Africa that will most likely see the largest effects of climate change, according to climate modeler Francois Engelbrecht of South Africa’s Center for Industrial and Scientific Research. “So both of these river catchments are unfortunately located right in the subtropics. That is specifially the area of Southern Africa that is projected to dry the most. It is also the region of southern Africa that is projected to warm very rapidly and these are absolutely drastic rises in the surface temperature. “
The area is already experiencing climactic changes that are making farming more difficult. Matshelu "Max" Thokabotshabelo sits under a jackleberry tree deep in the Okavango, keeping out of the burning noon sunshine. "Before, people here could rely on farming, but now they can’t because the rainfall here is more variable”. He is a community game guide from the Etsa community in the north west of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Here many young Botswanans are turning to tourism as farming becomes more difficult.
He knows about the Kaza Park plan and he wants it to help protect the waters that flow from Angola, through Namibia and into the the unique waters system of the Okavango. “It’s very important that we implement the Kaza plan, so that we can try and manage our water resource here, thereby sustaining the Okavango Delta.”
Community conservation systems like the Jakotsha Trust where Max works as a guide are being used to guide the creation the Kaza. The Kaza plan is not just about widllife and conservation, it seeks to include communities and rural farmers in the overall land use plan.
The area has low land fertility, poor soils, and increasingly variable rainfall. With Climate Change making farming a losing proposition, everyone involved hopes that the creation of the Kaza will bring more visitors. The tourism industry is already the biggest employer in the area, and in this way it’s possible to bring jobs, training and a new future to the nearly 1 million people who live in and around the boundaries of this vast park.
The success of the tourism industry is dependent upon the conservation of the wild herds that roam this area. By creating financially beneficial alternatives to farming, the Kaza plan creates an appropriate whole system approach to sustainable land use.
Victoria Falls is the park’s centerpiece. Here the Zambezi River flows into the Batoka Gorge, along the border with Zimbabwe and Zambia, through Mozambique and into the Indian Ocean. The falling waters will take months to get there, and on their way they will sustain millions of people. As this region warms up and dries out, the very lives of the many people who rely on these two great rivers is in the balance, but Turton believes the Kaza Plan will help secure a better future for the people here.
“One of the important things that the Kaza type thinking will bring about is a reinforcing of the human rights of those very marginalized groups by the emergence of a transboundary management of natural resources such as water, such as landscapes.”
These forward thinking ideas in transboundary management are being accepted and understood on a regional level here in Southern Africa as it starts to face the reality of a changing climate. As the plan evolves to take advantage of the realities on the ground, the elephants have already started to expand their range into the new areas of the park, taking advantage of new water sources in Angola when rains are plantiful, or keeping close to the riverine highways in Botswana when rains are scarce, a living example of how to take advantage of a variable climate.