Climate change threatens Botswana’s main tourist attraction

Hambira says climate change could significantly change the ecological makeup of the delta Copyright: Flickr/lwh50

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[GABORONE] Botswana urgently needs policies to facilitate climate change adaptation to protect the Okavango Delta, the country’s most lucrative tourist attraction, according to a new study.  

Recent statistics from the Bank of Botswana show that tourism is the country’s second largest source of income, contributing US$753 million to GDP in 2011. The Delta is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the country.

Wame L. Hambira, from the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Botswana in Gaborone, warned that unless government policies take account of current and forecasted climate shifts, the tourism sector could be badly damaged, with serious implications for the wider economy.

Hambira’s findings appeared in a study published in the International Journal of Tourism Policy [1].

The Okavango Delta is home to many plant and animal species. Tourism activities conducted there include safaris, bird-watching, traditional canoeing, photography tours and camping expeditions.

The delta is also used by local communities for water, fishing,  agriculture, and the production of cultural artefacts such as baskets and beads, Hambira told SciDev.Net.

But the distribution of water channels and flooding patterns are shifting, she said.  

Such shifts, and threats posed by climate change — including a predicted drop in total annual rainfall, especially in the north where the delta is located — are not adequately addressed by Botswana’s current tourism and environmental policies, Hambira told SciDev.Net.  

"The declining precipitation and increasing temperatures have implications for the amount of inflow into the delta," she said. Reduced inflow could result in swamps drying out and forests being replaced by grasslands. As a result, local animal species would either become extinct or move away, with catastrophic implications for tourism.  

Hambira’s findings were based on climate change vulnerability indicators developed in 2008 [2]. She said her findings point to the need for a comprehensive adaptation mechanism for Botswana.

Steve Monna, a former director of environmental affairs at Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, told SciDev.Net that Botswana needed to incorporate simulations of possible climate change scenarios into development planning.

"If the climate is changing and the animals are dwindling, [we need to know] what adaptation measures to implement," he said.

Botswana is in the process of formulating a new policy on climate change, but no date has been set for its introduction.

"We needed it yesterday," Monna said. He added that while the policy’s introduction had been subject to delays, once introduced it would better inform the government on appropriate adaptation strategies for the country’s various sectors, including tourism.

Link to abstract in International Journal of Tourism Policy


[1] International Journal of Tourism Policy 10.1504/IJTP.2011.046709 (2011)
[2] Climate Change and Adaptation, N Leary, J Adejuwon, V Barros, I Burton, J Kulkarni and R Lasco (eds), Earthscan (2008)