The Enhanced Water Security and Community Resilience in the Adjacent Cuvelai and Kunene Transboundary River Basins (CUVKUN) project aims to improve the management of water resources of the transboundary Kunene and Cuvelai basins shared by Angola and Namibia. There is increasing water scarcity and hydrological variability, exacerbated by climate change within the region, even though both basins are stark in contrast. The need for the comprehensive monitoring of climate and water resources and the sharing of information has never been greater, as also the need to improve systems that can provide early warning of climate-related disasters.
Basin management requires measures and interventions such as rainfall and flood water harvesting, and more and better-planned groundwater abstraction to fill the increasing gap between water demands and water availability. All these interventions require a coordinated, integrated and sustainable approach to planning and implementation at a transboundary basin scale. Although there is transboundary cooperation already in place, without strengthening, the management of the basin’s water and natural resources will not be adequately catchment-based. The water quality of the Kunene River from source to mouth is relatively unpolluted and is considered to be good. There are areas of the Cuvelai Basin where water quality is naturally poor as a result of salinity and fluoride. Measurements are lacking, so it is not possible to say whether either of these is deteriorating. Without a fully integrated basin-wide approach, management will be inefficient, and development limited.
The Cuvelai basin is the most densely populated part of Namibia, and during wet years in the Cuvelai basin fisheries are important. The ephemeral Cuvelai River basin is very dry and prone to both floods and droughts. Tens of thousands of fish belonging to about 45 species are to be found in the various channels in years of high rainfall (Mendelsohn, Fish in the Cuvelai Basin, 2018). By contrast, fish are effectively absent during dry years. The basin supports a large rural population whose livelihoods are, in most cases, directly dependent on agriculture and the availability of water. A high proportion of the fish biomass is harvested by people in the Cuvelai, thus providing food to several. This means that the basin population is particularly vulnerable to the highly variable nature of the hydrological patterns of the Basin in addition to other negative impacts as a result of climate change.
Hydropower is generated along the course of the Kunene River, with a current total installed capacity along the river of around 350 MW, and a potential capacity of over 2 300 MW. All of the major hydraulic structures in the basin are in Angola, with the exception of the Ruacana Plant, which straddles the border with Namibia. Many sites for large hydropower schemes have been identified and studied both in Angola and especially along the joint border where the river slope is at its steepest. During the CUVKUN project implementation phase, the focus will be on an assessment of groundwater potential, flood management through food risk mapping and the development of flood early warning systems, and water harvesting for the basin. This will include a pilot demonstration project, with a detailed Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) which will be developed and used to update the existing preliminary Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Plan.
Transboundary cooperation in the Kunene, through the Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) has been in existence for several decades and has contributed to the development of large-scale infrastructure on the Kunene River. However, there is a need to extend the scope of this cooperation beyond the development of water transfers and hydropower schemes. For the Kunene River Basin, groundwork is required for the sustainable development of the Kunene River which has significant potential for hydropower and irrigation development. This will be achieved through a basin-wide e-flows assessment, the modelling of water resources development and management, as with the Cuvelai, a detailed TDA and a long-term IWRM Plan. The IWRM plan will be informed by preliminary results from pilot demonstration projects. Additionally, five-year investment programmes for both basins will be drawn up.
The San, the Himba and their related groups constitute the indigenous peoples of Angola. In Namibia, the indigenous peoples of include the San, the Ovatue and Ovatjimba. The Ovatjimba and Ovatue (Ovatwa) are largely pastoral people, formerly also relying on hunting and gathering, residing in the semi-arid and mountainous north-west (Kunene Region) and across the border in southern Angola. These communities have strong links with the land, water resources and other surrounding natural resources. The engagement process in the implementation project phase will have to take into consideration the rights of Indigenous People and the disadvantages faced by them, linked to vulnerabilities, such as limited access to education, low literacy levels, negative stereotyping and inadequate understanding of national or project-specific processes.
Land degradation has led to reduced ecosystem productivity, contributing to widespread poverty, poor health and the increase of the highly vulnerable population in many parts of the two basins. It is important to stress the very strong dependence of the population on the available natural resources. When these resources become degraded as a result of over-exploitation, there is a tendency to try and exploit the resources even further beyond the limits of sustainability, supporting a vicious cycle that becomes increasingly challenging to break out of.
The proposed project will also undertake a suite of other activities designed to strengthen joint management and planning capacity and practices at the transboundary basin level. These activities include strengthening of the Cuvelai Watercourse Commission (CUVECOM) and the Kunene PJTC, and eventual joint basin Secretariat to support IWRM implementation at the basin level; addressing critical information gaps that prevent effective IWRM implementation; developing information management tools to consolidate information and present it to policy makers and other audiences to raise awareness of issues critical to the sustainable management of the two basins.