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Devil on the Delta: Re:wild launches in-depth blog series on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin

Devil on the Delta: Re:wild launches in-depth blog series on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin

By Lindsay Renick Mayer on October 10th, 2021   duration

© Oliver Trebus
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One conversation with Namibian environmental activist, conservation scientist and poet Reinhold Mangundu, and you will fall in love. With his words and his infectious enthusiasm, yes, but also with his fight to save one of the most special places on the planet, a veritable wildlife paradise: the Okavango River Basin, home to African Wild Dogs, African Buffalo, Black and White Rhinos, hippos, kudu, antelope, zebra, baboon, the world’s largest population of Endangered Savanna Elephants, and birds galore. The list goes on and on.

Hippos in the Okavango River. (Photo by Re:wild)

“The wild overflows my cup of consciousness,” Mangundu told us during our first Zoom call in July. “Being in the wild reminds me that we are nature and nature is us. There is so much more beauty in the world than what is in the eyes of the perpetrators who have learned to exploit nature and the communities that peacefully coexist with it. The wild reminds me that nature is truly beautiful, that we only have one planet, and that we can only be happy as long as nature continues to thrive."

Reinhold Mangundu is a Namibian environmental activist, conservation scientist and poet.

These are some of the convictions that drive Mangundu’s most recent undertaking: helping to lead the fight against Canadian oil and gas company ReconAfrica, which has obtained a license for exploratory drilling in an area of the Okavango River Basin roughly the size of Maryland. So far the company has drilled two exploratory wells, both in Namibia’s Kavango regions, which is home to communities of subsistence farmers not unlike those of Mangundu’s own family.

Photo: © Oliver Trebus

The drilling license also covers nearly 160 miles of Okavango River bank in Namibia, which brings precious water during the long dry season to the famed Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Key Biodiversity Area, which is a site of critical importance to the persistence of biodiversity on our planet. Scientists, environmentalists, and local communities fear that this vital river, whose waters are the lifeblood for hundreds of thousands of people, will suffer irreversible damage from the drilling operations already taking placeMost recently Mangundu co-authored a Washington Post op-ed with Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, voicing their concerns about the fate of the Okavango River Basin at the hands of ReconAfrica and calling for an immediate moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango. In the op-ed, Mangundu and The Duke of Sussex ask a question that came up again and again in our reporting: how should humanity define progress in the midst of the interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and human health?

Botswana's Okavango Delta (Photo by Peter Moore)

We have spoken to dozens of activists and civil society leaders primarily in Namibia who have varied responses to how we should define progress. They agree entirely, however, that defining progress as the leveling of a critical ecosystem by a dying industry for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of many is not progress.

The people we have interviewed are fighting the good fight in courageous and powerful ways, from helping to educate women in the Kavango regions about the unique impacts that oil and gas drilling may have on them, to using intimate knowledge of the oil and gas industry to question Recon’s statements, to organizing public and virtual protests, to expressing their concerns to ReconAfrica despite fears of intimidation and chastisement. Every conversation we have had for our campaign has revealed a new twist and turn in the story.

Veruschka Dumeni is a Namibian biology student and activist with Fridays for Future Windhoek.

In our Devil on the Delta blog series, we explore some of the most prominent themes that came out of our discussions with these environmental and environmental justice heroes, whose hard work and passion paved the way for the international community to effectively join this fight--one that is critical to the health of our planet and all life on Earth.

We will look at what makes the Okavango River Basin’s wildlife so unique, the relationship between the San Indigenous people--who belong to the oldest known cultures in the world--and the wild, a cautionary tale about what the Okavango River Basin’s future could look like without a moratorium on oil and natural gas, and the opportunities for Namibia to build a green economy in ways that benefit and are driven by local communities (and more than 300 days of sunshine a year).

A woman weaves in the village of Cwa (which means tortoise). The women here make baskets from grasses dyed with traditional dye sources from the wild in the Muduva Nyangana wildlife Conservancy in Kavango East. They hope to sell them for extra income, but COVID has stopped tourists from coming to the region.

As you read these stories, we hope you will decide to help #SaveTheOkavango. Join Mangundu, The Duke of Sussex, and individuals from more than 126 countries in signing an open letter calling for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Okavango River Basin. Ask your friends, family and colleagues to do the same using our social media toolkit. And follow along on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for updates as the international community keeps its eye on the unfolding events in this region of the world. You can also learn about what is unfolding through National Geographic’s ongoing reporting on ReconAfrica’s operations in the Okavango River Basin.

Part I: The Okavango River Basin is an inland oasis that attracts one of the most incredible gatherings of species on the planet

About the author

Lindsay Renick Mayer

Lindsay is the Director of Media Relations for Re:wild and has a particular interest in leveraging communications to inspire conservation action. Lindsay is passionate about species-based conservation and finding compelling ways to tell stories that demonstrate the value of all of the planet’s critters, big and microscopic.

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