Effects of Long-Term Variability on Water Resources Management Along the Boteti River in Botswana

Effects of Long-Term Variability on Water Resources Management Along the Boteti River in Botswana

Dominic Mazvimavi (University of the Western Cape, South Africa) and Moseki R. Motsholapheko (University of Botswana, Botswana)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0163-4.ch002


This chapter examines how the availability and non-availability of river flows has affected benefits realized by communities residing along the Boteti River in Botswana. The Boteti River, which is about 350 km long, derives all its flows from outflows of the Okavango Delta and then discharges into the Makgadikgadi Pans. Peak outflows from the delta occur during the dry season, June to October, and during wet years such as from 1974 to 1982, water flows along the whole river from the delta to the Makgadikgadi Pans. Since 1991, outflows from the delta have only covered about 50 km, with the rest of the river being dry. There has been lack of flows on the downstream section in some years (e.g., 1929-39, 1941-47). Communities residing along the 50 km stretch that is annually flooded benefit from the river through livestock watering, flood recession crop cultivation, fishing, and harvesting of aquatic plants for food and construction. These benefits were not realized by those residing along the rest of the 300 km stretch that was not receiving flows from the delta during the 1991-2008 period.
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1. Introduction

The high variability of river flows presents a challenge to all users of water in as far as securing a reliable supply is concerned. This is particularly true in southern Africa where most rivers run dry during the dry season (June – October), and ephemeral rivers located in the arid parts flow a few times over several years. For small-scale rural water users with not many resources at their disposal, the challenge is considerable in their quest to secure a reliable water supply for domestic use, crop production, and livestock watering. In such circumstances, conflicts over real or perceived inequitable access and use of the water frequently develop especially during the dry season or drought years between and among the small-scale users themselves and other users. When there are several water users attempting to access the same source of water for different uses, this worsens the problem (Mazvimavi and Mmopelwa, 2006). The proverbial upstream-downstream syndrome also adds to the weight of the problem. Upstream water users are often accused of abstracting an unfair proportion of the water, which results in downstream shortages. This can be aggravated in countries where water laws accord prior right of use to certain categories of water users. A river basin approach to managing water resources provides a means of resolving such problems.

There are few cases in southern Africa where an attempt was made to explore the feasibility of implementing a river basin management approach on ephemeral river basins. Most of the successes of implementing a river basin management approach are from relatively well watered regions. An attempt was made on the Kuiseb River in Namibia which has large scale commercial farmers in the upper reaches as well as communal farmers along some sections of the river, and the town of Walvis Bay is located at the mouth of this river (Botes, et al., 2003). The various groups of stakeholders were reported to have welcomed the proposal to adopt a river basin management approach. They proceeded to form a forum with the aim of eventually transforming it into a basin management committee. Even then, individual interests were evident. For example, commercial farmers and the town of Walvis Bay, with major commercial interests in improving management of the river, could justify the costs associated with the process, i.e. funding the participation of their representatives. The same however could not be said about communal farmers since the benefits that would accrue to were of a long-term nature. Besides it is doubtful whether they could fund the participation of their representatives on the forum without external support.

Manning and Seely (2005) are of the opinion that the implementation of a river basin management is possible on the Kuiseb River if the forum for integrated resources management (FIRM) approach is adopted. FIRM aims to achieve an integrated management of natural resources through the participation of resources users and other stakeholders in formulation and implementation of appropriate management systems. All the same examples from other southern African countries suggest that small-scale users face almost insurmountable problems when it comes to assuming their rightful place in such fora. For example, lack of clear and demonstrable benefits, against a backdrop of widespread poverty hindered effective participation of individual and communal small rural water users in Zimbabwe (Manzungu, 2004; Manzungu and Kujinga, 2002). This observation raises an interesting question about the feasibility of implementing a successful river basin management approach on an ephemeral river basin largely utilized by rural communal farmers. This chapter examines how variability in both space and time wields influence on use and perceptions of water resources along the intermittent-perennial Boteti River in Botswana, which is perennial on the upper part and ephemeral on the downstream part.


2. Methods

In this study a multi-method approach was used. Secondary data were obtained from desktop searches and review of published and unpublished sources including journal articles, as well as policy documents. Some primary data were obtained from the Okavango Research Institute database, field surveillance and ground-truthing as well as interviews with key informants from the Department of Water Affairs.

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