Often called the 'Cradle of Life' for its role in the origin of the human species, the Okavango in Botswana is the largest inland delta on Earth. Renowned for its diverse wildlife, which includes zebras, antelope, elephants, and Cape buffalo, the Delta is a unique ecosystem, drawing water from thousands of miles away through the desert sands to a veritable oasis. During the dry season, animals migrate from the nearby Kalahari Desert, causing the wildlife population supported by the delta to climb some tenfold.
But while the Okavango is carefully managed as a national park and low impact tourist destination, competing interests have proposed plans that would siphon off water from the Delta for agricultural irrigation of one million hectares, provide drinking water to the northern city of Maun, and increase supplies to the Orapa diamond mine. For the moment, the diversion project has been shelved by the government, in part because of opposition from local people, herders, and fishers, whose livelihoods depend on the integrity of the Delta. Many of these people believe the river has a life of its own, and that it is not for man to kill it.
But the question remains how do we allocate increasingly scarce water resources to increasingly thirsty interests? In the end, if there is not enough water to go around, how do we assign priority to the various stakeholders? The Okavango offers a rich illustration of ways to approach this complex set of issues, both in Botswana and in similar regions around the world.