act:now calls for oil drilling moratorium

15 October 2021 | Environment

Re:wild, Prince Harry, Djimon Hounsou, Leonardo DiCaprio and Forest Whitaker joined local indigenous and civil society leaders and conservationists in Namibia and Botswana in calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin, including by Canadian oil and gas company Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica).
Since securing licenses to explore for oil and gas, ReconAfrica has started drilling in the irreplaceable Okavango River Basin, which includes a famous UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its wildlife and two Ramsar wetland sites of international importance. Scientists, environmentalists, and local communities fear that the critical ecosystems, which are the lifeblood for hundreds of thousands of people, will suffer irreversible damage from the drilling activity.
In an op-ed published today in the Washington Post, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and Namibian activist Reinhold Mangundu called on the world to stand in solidarity with the communities in Namibia and Botswana, which are requesting a full moratorium on all oil and gas development in the Okavango River Basin.
The Duke of Sussex and Mangundu stand with a number of other leading environmentalists and environmental activists as the initial signatories on an open letter, and are encouraging individuals around the world to sign their names in support of protecting what is among the world’s most important natural ecosystems. This includes demanding a more transparent, inclusive process where sustainable, alternative energies are prioritized for the benefit of local communities.
“We are proud to support the heroic efforts of the individuals and organizations in Namibia and Botswana who refuse to define progress as the destruction of the wild for a quick profit,” said Wes Sechrest, Re:wild chief scientist and CEO. “Our partners in Namibia, Botswana and across Africa are instead visionaries in defining progress as leveraging opportunities to protect our irreplaceable wild places, which are critical to solving the climate, extinction and health crises, and can help address poverty and social inequality.”

Since the end of 2020, when it was reported that ReconAfrica obtained a license for exploratory drilling across a 33 000 km² area that covers part of the Okavango River Basin, local leaders and activists have publicly expressed their concerns that the company did not adequately consult local communities, that it may not be implementing sufficient environmental safeguards to prevent the pollution of the region’s sole source of water, and that it may be putting endangered wildlife at greater risk. Okavango River Basin communities include the Indigenous San peoples, who belong to the oldest known cultures in the world.
“If you look at river basins around the world, they’ve all developed in the same way--first with little villages, then towns, and then industry,” said Chris Brown, an ecologist, environmentalist and CEO of the Namibian Chamber of Environment. “There’s hardly a developed basin that isn’t just a shadow of its former self. We believe that a basin such as the Okavango could have an entirely different development pathway that’s built on sustainability and the values of the people in the basin, not the values of industrialization.”
Civil society organizations and activists have expressed concern that the wastewater from these sites risk leaking into groundwater and ephemeral rivers that connect to the Okavango River and Delta in Botswana and provides drinking water for nearly 1 million people in a region especially prone to drought and the effects of the climate crisis.
“We are particularly concerned about the lack of genuine consultation with indigenous San communities, including women, who will be affected by toxic damage to their lands, their waters, plants, animals and the people themselves through the exploration and extraction of gas and oil in the region,” said Nadia April, San Indigenous Women program officer for the Women’s Leadership Centre in Windhoek, Namibia, at a recent WLC press conference. “If ReconAfrica is allowed to continue, this will severely disrupt the way of life of Indigenous people through dispossession of their ancestral land, and poisoning of water and land that they depend on for survival.”

Critical habitat
Most recently, ReconAfrica has begun 2D seismic testing, which has reportedly resulted in the clearing of land through critical wildlife habitat. In addition, the development of roads and other infrastructure to support oil and natural gas projects in wildlife habitat can increase poaching and human-wildlife conflict.
Max Muyemburuko, chair of the Kavango East and West Regional Conservancy and Community Forestry Association, says that all activities in a conservancy must follow Namibia’s Nature Conservation Ordinance of 1975 and amendments. This legislation gives local communities the rights and responsibilities to manage and protect their natural resources in their long-term interest.
“The environment is very, very important, of paramount importance, to our communities,” Muyemburuko said. “We depend on the environment for the oxygen we breathe. Our households are made of trees, grass and mud. We rely on remedies from trees, shrubs and other grass species. All this you can only get if your environment is safe, healthy and sustainably conserved.”