The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area, to give the KAZA TFCA its full name, is as large as France and covers parts of Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with Namibia’s Zambezi Region at its centre. The world’s largest TFCA is home to half of Africa’s elephants. Conservation in KAZA will be driven by sustainable tourism: that’s the goal. So it was a pleasure to hear arrivals at Victoria Falls Airport telling each other: “We have to ask for a KAZA visa.”
Vic Falls is a brand new airport, and with its sister airport in Livingstone, Zambia, can accommodate 737 planes and a large number of tourists. That’s a double-edged sword. Tourism brings revenue that can finance conservation, but airports, roads, hotels and other infrastructure threaten to disrupt the connected landscape of national parks, game management areas and conservancies.
That contradiction was examined at the annual WWF KAZA meeting in Livingstone, from 8 – 11 April. WWF supports conservation across the KAZA landscape, focussing on projects in the three WWF countries: Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. But Angola was very much in the discussion, which had as one focus the freshwater systems, fed in part by rivers from Angola. Botswana is a recipient of water from Angola and Zambia, and elephants range out of Botswana northwards.
Wildlife, freshwater, and forests were intensively discussed, with input from ‘WWF Practices’ which are international in nature and focus on these thematic areas, as well as Food and Climate Change. KAZA is supported by its member countries, international donors; and by WWF in the US, Germany and Switzerland which took part in the meeting.
What emerged from discussions was that although the KAZA area has a highly intact environment: it is under threat. Only 18% of the freshwater systems – the rivers of life – are still healthy. Namibians will have read of the plundering of timber. For Namibia read Zambia – it’s the same story. Climate change is causing increased periods of drought with erratic rainfall that can often result in flash flooding. The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique was a case study in point.
It is not only WWF that is involved in KAZA. Conservation NGOs such as IRDNC are working together with organizations in Botswana and Zambia, doing joint anti-poaching patrols. Common efforts to protect fisheries are an important next step.
Setting up KAZA 11 years ago was a large step for the five partner countries, but they will have to keep in step and raise significant funding to protect the freshwater and forest resources that feed wildlife and people. It was clear from the meeting that conservation has to look at the bigger picture. Infrastructure and urban planning for towns like Livingstone, Victoria Falls, Kasane and Katima Mulilo are also issues for conservation NGOs to grapple with.
The KAZA visa, by the way, allows for friction-free travel between Zambia and Zimbabwe. With goodwill, it should soon be extended to Botswana and Namibia, allowing tourists to enjoy the wonders of nature centred around Namibia’s Zambezi Region – provided we can protect our rivers, forests and wildlife.