Poverty may be widespread in Namibia but the sustainable use of natural resources is an area of expanding economic development in the country. Namibia is a leader amongst African nations for its protection of nature and the environment. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. To help with this endeavor the government of Namibia has given local communities the opportunity to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies.
Before Namibia became an independent state the country’s wildlife populations were significantly declining as a result of prolonged military occupation, extensive poaching and a severe drought. This changed in the mid 1980s, the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) introduced an innovative program to inspire community stewardship of wildlife. Following Namibia’s independence in 1990, IRDNC’s efforts were transformed with WWF’s support into Namibia’s communal conservancy program.
Initiatives such as WWF’s LIFE (Living in a Finite Environment) program have empowered indigenous groups to create ecotourism ventures that bring them financial stability and protect wildlife and their habitats at the same time.
Women make handicraft goods to sell in the craft center. Sale proceeds are a valuable source of income for the villages of the conservancies. Namibia communities now see wildlife as a valued livelihood asset, and are setting aside vast tracts of land as wildlife management areas. As a result:
- Poaching is no longer socially acceptable.
- There are now restored populations of lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, zebras and other native species.
- Human welfare is improving, thanks to nearly $4.5 million in annual income the conservancies generate for the communities.
- WWF supporters have played a vital role supporting Namibia’s communal conservancy movement.
Although there have been many improvements in Namibia, these conservation achievements cannot be maintained nor expanded unless today’s serious obstacles are overcome. Widespread unemployment, vast economic inequities and wealth of mineral deposits translate into mounting competition between those who would build on successful conservation efforts and those seeking to extract resources in an unsustainable way.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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