The times they are a changing in Namibia

“Livestock are dying from drought in the north, while it is flooding elsewhere in the country”. So spoke one of the participants at a recent workshop on climate change in Windhoek. Namibians have managed very well over the centuries with their highly variable climate. But current changes are wreaking havoc with local livelihood strategies, and raising questions about their ability to cope with the emerging climate.

Take Lake Liambezi in the Caprivi region, which has been called Namibia’s largest ‘permanent’ wetland. At the moment. But the lake only arose in the 1950s, apparently as a result of flooding of the Zambezi. In 1984 the lake dried out – possibly due to reduced hippo activity, stayed that way for several decades, and then was once again restored to its former glory after flooding in 2004.  Which may be due to increased rainfall in the Angolan highlands – which is linked to climate change. When dry, the lake was used to grow crops and graze livestock, but now this is impossible, placing increased pressure on higher ground. Can we attribute some of these significant observed changes in the lake to climate change? That question may not be answerable at the moment. But the question that does have to be asked is how communities in the area, especially vulnerable people, cope with and adapt to changes. The lake is now prime for fishing. Which is good news for some, but not that easy if you are used to growing crops and rearing livestock, and lose your land to the rising waters.

Unpredictable flooding has caused the extinction of certain water-based species and organisms in Namibia too. Which may negatively affect the productivity of inland waters. Across the country, climate change will have a huge impact on the natural resources and resource-based livelihoods of the majority of people who live in rural areas.

So what’s to be done? Namibia has one of the best developed policy frameworks for climate change in Africa, including the 2012 National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. But stakeholders feel that the plans and strategies are yet to be translated into social and behavioural change. What does developing adaptive capacity mean in Namibia? The 2011 National Climate Risk Management Capacity Development Plan says that capacity must be developed cross-sectorally, and that much wider enabling competencies and support are needed, over and above specific knowledge. So, apart from more specific and accurate information on climate risks, skills for integrative thinking must be developed. And local communities need more support for their autonomous adaptation strategies. To fish, or not to fish? To plough, or not to plough? In these uncertain times, the ability to cope even better with change, and to know that the government has your back, will be a big part of enhancing adaptive capacity in Namibia.

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