What happens upstream affects everything downstream…
The need for careful basin-wide planning for the Zambezi Basin is most clearly demonstrated in the little-known, but species-rich Zambezi Delta (where the Zambezi river meets the Indian Ocean). Without careful planning, ecosystem disturbance upstream can have disastrous effects on the river downstream. The most visible example of this is the impact of Kariba and Cabora Bassa dams. The dams have restricted the Zambezi River’s normal flow patterns so that only limited amounts of water are released from the hydro-electric turbines each day. During the rains, only if levels in the two impoundments become too high are the dam floodgates opened and the water released downstream. All of this causes major interference to the natural annual flooding regime of the river and to eco-systems downstream.
Zambezi Society research (Biodiversity of the Zambezi Basin Wetlands – 1998 & 2000) shows that as a result, the wetland eco-systems of the delta have dried out considerably during the last few decades with major consequences on wetland species such as the Wattled Crane, the African Skimmer and the coastal mangrove and on traditional local industries such as shrimp-farming in the mouth of the Delta.
Planning cross-boundary for different Land-Uses
The Zambezi river basin is shared between eight southern and central-African developing countries with a variety of land-uses – tourism, mining, fishing, hunting and agriculture being the most significant. The impacts of developments and activities on the river’s water, wildlife and wilderness values need to be carefully weighed through a rigorous trans-boundary planning process, in order to ensure that the lure of attractive short-term gains does not encourage governments to ignore long-term sustainability.
Trans-frontier conservation areas
There has been some progress with trans-boundary planning procedures in parts of the Zambezi basin, with the establishment of Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) notably in the KAZA (Okavango/Kalahari/VicFalls) area; in the Mana Pools/Lower Zambezi area and in the ZIMOZA (Kanyemba/Zumbo/Cabora Bassa) area. However inter-governmental negotiations for these areas tend to be protracted and the process can be painfully slow in the face of increasing threats and pressures for development.
The designation by UNESCO of the transboundary World Heritage Site at Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya has encouraged increased co-operation between the relevant authorities of Zambia and Zimbabwe in planning for the area. However, in the case of the Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore World Heritage Site (declared in 1984) and the Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve (declared in 2010), the Zambian side of the Zambezi River was not included in the UNESCO designations. UNESCO’s recognition of the global importance of these areas goes some way towards encouraging holistic planning for large sections of the Zambezi Valley, but without a trans-boundary element to these designations, co-operative planning is avoided and efforts to protect the whole of the Zambezi’s wild environment are hindered, leaving the river basin vulnerable to unsustainable exploitation.
The Zambezi Society’s role: Independent enabler and watchdog
As a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, The Zambezi Society sees its role as an independent enabler and watchdog, constantly reminding decision-makers throughout the Zambezi basin about their responsibility to choose long-term planning for the whole Zambezi River over short-term gain and encouraging sustainable development decisions based on sound ecological principles.
Zambezi Society planning activities
Below is a summary of The Zambezi Society’s basin-wide planning activities over the years:
- Zambezi Basin Convention (1995-present)
The Zambezi Society has consistently argued for a coordinated, regional approach to the planning of the whole Zambezi Basin area through the political mechanism of a Zambezi Basin Convention. This has been partly achieved through the establishment of ZAMCOM (the Zambezi Watercourse Commission). However this inter-governmental organisation focuses its attention largely on the utilisation of water resources rather than on wider land-use and biodiversity issues affecting the river basin. The Society continues to lobby for ecological principles to be at the core of all basin planning.
- The UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve (2010 – present)
In June 2010, the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Committee (of which the Zambezi Society is a member) was successful in the creation of the Zimbabwe section of the Middle Zambezi Valley as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – with two important National Parks (Matusdona and Mana Pools) as its Core Areas. This international designation is an important step in encouraging a wider planning focus for the Zambezi Valley and will hopefully provide further international recognition of the need to protect valuable wildlife and wilderness resources. However, the Biosphere Reserve does not include the Zambian side of the Zambezi River. This is an unfortunate situation and steps need to be taken urgently by Zambia to include the Lower Zambezi National Park and its surrounding community Game Management Areas. The Zambezi Society holds a seat on the Biosphere Reserve Committee tasked with promoting the Reserve and developing a Management Plan for it.
- Identifying Zambezi conservation priorities (2003-2004)
In partnership with The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)‘s , “Living Waters Programme”, The Zambezi Society undertook a “needs analysis” aimed at identifying conservation priorities for the future conservation and management of the Zambezi River Basin and its associated wetland areas.
- Zambezi Basin Initiative (1998-2000)
The Zambezi Society, having established a working partnership with a well-known British-based conservation organisation, Flora and Fauna International (FFI) embarked on a basin-wide conservation programme entitled the Zambezi Basin Initiative together with FFI and the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa. The pilot phase of this study was directed at the Zambezi Valley trans-border area near Lake Cabora Bassa, where the borders of Zimbabwe Zambia and Mozambique meet.
- Zambezi Wetlands planning (1997-2000)
The Zambezi Society working in partnership with the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa (BFA), contributed to future planning and management of the Zambezi Basin’s wetland areas, by undertaking an evaluation of the biodiversity value of four wetland areas along the Zambezi River – the Barotseland Floodplains in Zambia, the Chobe/Linyanti area of Botswana/Namibia, the Lower Shire in Malawi and the Zambezi Delta in Mozambique. This activity was part of the World Conservation Union (IUCN)’s wider Zambezi Basin Wetlands Conservation and Resource Utilisation Programme.
- “Four Corners” planning (2003-2004)
The Society, with its Biodiversity Foundation for Africa partners undertook a biodiversity evaluation and information dissemination exercise for the African Wildlife Foundation’s “Four Corners” transboundary project. Centred on Victoria Falls and Livingstone towns, the Four Corners area encompasses four countries and includes the Okavango Delta, Chobe, Victoria Falls, Hwange and South Kafue National Parks. Biodiversity data was gathered, interpreted and packaged in user-friendly formats for planners, policy-makers, NGOs, academics and media in the region with the aim of influencing development decision-making to take biodiversity values into account.
- Victoria Falls planning (1994-2002)
In the mid 1990s The Society began a sustained media campaign lobbying for better tourism planning at the Victoria Falls. The Society supported the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in calling for a moratorium on tourism development at Victoria Falls until a Master Plan for the area is in place. Although this did not happen, the process for developing a Master Plan was initiated with funding from the Canadian government and the Society informed this process notably with its research findings on the importance of wilderness values to tourism. In 2002, The Canadian government suspended all progress on the development of a Master Plan for Victoria Falls. The Plan was never completed and the Victoria Falls biodiversity and wilderness values continue to suffer from lack of co-ordinated planning. In 2008, when UNESCO required Zimbabwe’s National Parks department to produce a Victoria Falls Management Plan, the Zambezi Society made inputs into that.
- Mana Pools Planning (2008-present)
The Society, as a major stakeholder, was invited by Zimbabwe’s Parks & Wildlife Management Authority to participate in developing a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools National Park and World Heritage Site. The Society played an active role in the process and continues to lobby for the completed Management Plan to be formally implemented, and to object to proposed tourism and other developments that are against the recommendations of the plan.
- Mana/Sapi/Chewore World Heritage Site planning (2010-present)
The Zambezi Society lobbies strongly against tourism proposals in Zambia and Zimbabwe that it considers will impact negatively on the World Heritage Site status granted by UNESCO for Mana Pools and its adjacent Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas in the Zambezi valley – these currently include a hotel conference development on the Zambian bank of the Zambezi River and several lodge sites along the Zimbabwean bank of the River proposed in direct contradiction to the recommendations of the Mana Pools Management Plan, which suggests that new developments should only take place at inland sites.
- Cahora Bassa planning (1999-2005)
The Zambezi Society and the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa completed a biodiversity and wilderness evaluation of the land around Lake Cabora Bassa in Tete Province of Mozambique. This work, undertaken at the request of the government of Mozambique and the Ford Foundation, assisted the Mozambican authorities in making long-term development and planning decisions for the area. In 2006,
The Zambezi Society assisted in the formation of an environmental conservation organisation in Tete, Mozambique, called (in translation) “The Organisation for Environmental Services of the Zambezi”. The Society is represented on the equivalent of a Trustee Board for this organisation and is a partner through a Memorandum of Understanding. This gives the Zambezi Society permanent representation in Mozambique, the opportunity to share expertise and experience and to provide assistance where necessary in issues affecting the lower Zambezi basin.
- Northern Zimbabwe/Mozambique settled areas planning (1995-2001)
The Zambezi Society, together with partners, including the Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, undertook various research projects in the settled areas of northern Zimbabwe (Muzarabani/Guruve) and in the Magoe District of Mozambique with the aim of assisting local authorities to make planning decisions to reduce conflict between elephants and people in settled, agricultural areas and help communities conserve valuable Zambezi Valley forest patches identified by the Society and its partners as being of important botanical interest. At a trans-boundary workshop hosted by the Society in Kanyemba in 2001, the findings of this research on elephant and habitat conservation were presented to 50 high-level political and community representatives from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The meeting provided the Society with a mandate to pursue collaborative cross-border wildlife and habitat management and planning initiatives, including the establishment of an elephant movement corridor between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Funding to further this project is still awaited.