Country Profiles

Namibia - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Namibia is the most arid African country located south of the Sahara Desert, and the most vulnerable to land degradation. In spite of its very dry climate, Namibia holds a remarkable variety of habitats and ecosystems ranging from deserts (with less than 10 mm of rainfall per year) to subtropical wetlands and savannas (with over 600 mm of rainfall per year). Namibia has the lowest population densities in the world. Thus the human impact on the environment is relatively low and the country is characterized to a large extent by open pristine landscapes, which are treasured by tourists and Namibians alike. Namibia’s two global biodiversity hotspots also happen to be home to vast amounts of mineral reserves. The most significant in Namibia is the Sperrgebiet, which is the restricted diamond mining area that has been mined for over a century in the Succulent Karoo floral kingdom. It constitutes a refuge for an exceptional level of succulent plant diversity, shaped by the winter rainfall and fog of the southern Namib Desert. A large portion of its plants is endemic. There has recently been a uranium rush in the Central Namib area and prospecting along the western escarpment in the Kunene region is ongoing. Copper mining is also a major industry in the ecologically-sensitive area around Tsumeb. Another significant site is the rugged Namib Escarpment; its northern Kaoko section, in particular, is home to a vast array of endemic plants, animals and other organisms. The northeastern areas of the country are rich in mammals. Notably, Namibia is home to the world’s largest cheetah population and to many impressive environmental features, including the oldest desert in the world and Africa’s largest river canyon.

Several information sources reveal increasing wildlife populations in many areas of the country, particularly areas within the protected area network. This includes threatened and flagship species (e.g. black rhino and elephant). Population numbers for Namibian plains game species (e.g. oryx, springbok, kudu), as well as rare and endemic species (e.g. Hartmann’s zebra, black-faced impala), have also increased rapidly in population size over the past 30 years. There are semi-natural ecosystems, which are currently under sustainable use, in areas outside of formally protected areas. Namibia’s coastline is 1500 km long with nutrient-rich waters that support some of the greatest populations of marine life found anywhere in the world.

Namibia’s biodiversity is shaped by its diversity of climate, topography, geology and human influences. As the most arid country south of the Sahara, limited rainfall and a high level of variability are perhaps the key influences on biodiversity. Namibia is characterized by a steep south-west to north-east rainfall gradient. The maintenance of healthy ecosystems is of crucial importance to Namibia, given the high reliance of a large portion of the population on natural resource-based livelihoods. Agriculture, fisheries, nature-based tourism, and indigenous natural plant products are all important contributors to Namibia’s economy that rely directly on healthy ecosystems for their sustainability.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Key challenges to biodiversity conservation relate to the impacts of continued population growth, consumption and production patterns, as well as environmental threats, climate change and land degradation. In addition, Namibia is confronted by pressing development issues, such as the debilitating effects of poverty, unemployment and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Also, uncontrolled mining (particularly uranium and off-shore diamond mining) and prospecting, unsustainable land management practices, some poorly directed tourism and recreation activities, as well as human-wildlife conflict are amongst key threats to biodiversity. Tourism and recreation raise special concern in the country since these activities are concentrated in some of Namibia’s most ecologically-sensitive areas. Several project and policy interventions are underway in Namibia to address these threats.

Moreover, land degradation and desertification are major threats to the communal areas, while bush encroachment continues to have a major impact on commercial farming areas. While communities have come to appreciate the benefits that are to be gained from the sustainable use of wildlife, human-wildlife conflict is emerging as a potentially serious problem, particularly in areas adjacent to protected areas. Damage to crops and essential infrastructure, such as water points and power lines by elephants, as well as livestock mortalities caused by the increasing abundance of predators, can understandably arouse the anger of local communities.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Implementation of the NBSAP1:

The first Namibian NBSAP (2001-2010) constituted a ten-year strategic plan of action for sustainable development through biodiversity conservation. The NBSAP was very comprehensive and comprised of fifteen fundamental principles concerning issues such as: conservation and sustainable use; biodiversity valuation; sound ecosystem management; international cooperation; representative network of protected areas; wise resource management in arid landscapes. Although no formal monitoring and evaluation for tracking implementation progress ever took place on Namibia’s NBSAP, a review indicates that a good deal of strategic aims and associated targets have been met, and that the majority (over 80%) of planned activities were addressed in original or revised form. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and other government ministries have implemented the elements of the NBSAP through a number of activities and a suite of internationally-supported programmes.

The review of the NBSAP1 in 2012 reveals that the first NBSAP was well designed and comprehensive in scope. A large number of NBSAP activities were indeed implemented but it is difficult to ascertain whether this was because of the NBSAP or whether these activities were part of the existing plans and strategies of relevant institutions. The coordination structure of the NBSAP 1 referred to as the National Biodiversity Task Force, which facilitated the preparation of the NBSAP and its early stages of implementation, was not maintained after the termination of the National Biodiversity Programme in 2005. This resulted in a loss of momentum in the implementation phase (particularly after 2005) and the demise of many of the working groups.

Although the NBSAP1 made provision for monitoring and evaluation, this was never undertaken during the lifespan of the NBSAP. This was largely due to the weak coordination structure that was in place. Overall, awareness levels of the NBSAP were low, including among key implementing partners and the general public.

The NBSAP was an important instrument for channeling resources into priority biodiversity areas. A number of donor-funded projects targeted specific areas of the NBSAP, however in some cases there has been limited follow-up on activities after the termination of donor funding.

NBSAP2 Development: Working towards achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets:

In 2012, Namibia set about the process of developing its second generation National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP2) to directly tackle these threats, and to meet its international commitments in line with Article 6 (a) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Aichi Biodiversity Target 17. Namibia’s NBSAP2 also seeks to capitalize on Namibia’s existing areas of comparative advantage in the areas of natural resource management, nature-based tourism and environmental protection.

The vision of NBSAP2 is for Namibia’s biodiversity to be healthy and resilient to threats, and for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity to be key drivers of poverty alleviation and equitable economic growth, particularly in rural areas. NBSAP2 will contribute directly to Namibia’s National Development Goals as set out in NDP4, and is closely aligned to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and Aichi Targets (2011-2020) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

Based on national and regional prioritization exercises, the framework of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity was maintained with the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets refined to better reflect Namibia’s priorities and circumstances.

A National NBSAP2 Steering Committee has been established and convened for the first time in May 2012. The Committee was originally established to oversee the formulation of NBSAP2 but its mandate will be extended so that it also coordinates the implementation of NBSAP2, including its monitoring and evaluation.

A key difference between NBSAP1 and NBSAP2 has been the engagement of regional stakeholders in the formulation process. A regional consultation process was undertaken to raise awareness of NBSAPs in general at local level, to establish the status quo of existing biodiversity initiatives in the regions and to determine regional priorities and possible interventions in the development and implementation of the NBSAP2.

Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use for Poverty Alleviation in Namibia

Biodiversity and the natural environment are of critical importance to Namibia. Natural resource-based sectors including mining, fisheries, agriculture and tourism are the basis of the Namibian economy, and around 70% of Namibia’s population is directly dependent on the natural resource base for income; food; medicinal and health needs; fuel and shelter. This situation demands that biodiversity, and the ecosystem services it provides, are maintained and enhanced as far as possible for sustainable development.

The tourism industry, of which National Parks are considered the bedrock, is recognized as the fastest growing sector of the Namibian economy. Tourism is a key industry in Namibia linking economic development with poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, with national parks promoted as engines of growth in the rural areas. This is facilitated by engaging local communities in the management of parks and the sustainable use of natural resources through the granting of tourism and hunting concessions to local communities, usually in partnership with private sector investors.

Conservation has emerged as an increasingly viable land use in Namibia, particularly since rights to the conditional use of wildlife were devolved to local communities through communal conservancies in 1996. It was estimated in 2012 that communal conservancies employed around 900 people permanently and 3,500 on a temporary basis, with over N$50 million being generated by communal conservancies in 2011 (MET 2012b), mainly through trophy hunting, accommodation establishments, and the harvesting and sale of natural resource products and crafts.

The Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Programme is the only example in Namibia in which the linkages between biodiversity and poverty alleviation are systematically measured, by collecting periodic data on returns and employment through tourism establishments and activities, trophy hunting, wildlife meat harvesting, medicinal plant collection, and non-timber forest products (NTFPs), amongst others. Although CBNRM covers only some 18% of Namibia’s landmass, it gives a clear indication of the role biodiversity can play in poverty alleviation in the rural areas.

The CBNRM Programme has also highlighted the linkages between biodiversity management and gender. Women have been included in biodiversity governance structures and, as the main day-to-day managers of biodiversity, women thus play a pivotal role in the biodiversity and poverty alleviation nexus. The NBSAP is a key instrument for raising issues of gender equality, women empowerment and HIV/AIDS issues in Namibia, as women are responsible for the management of biodiversity resources, thus are more involved in all efforts to conserve biodiversity.

Namibia’s large number of private game reserves as well the investment by many private companies in low-impact, high-quality eco-tourism, also represent key elements of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in Namibia. Lindsay (2011) estimated that almost 4% of Namibia’s landmass (32,000 km2) was used as private game parks and nature reserves.

Overall, 42% of Namibia’s landmass was under some form of conservation management in 2012, including through private game parks and nature reserves, tourism concessions, communal conservancies, community forests and freehold conservancies. One of the main objectives for NBSAP2 is to ensure that the different conservation land uses are drivers of poverty alleviation and enhanced ecosystems in rural areas.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The proclamation of the Sperrgebiet paved the way for the consolidation of the entire coastal zone into one new national park. This monumental step forward was completed with the upgrading of the National West Coast Recreation Area to national park status in 2010. This conservation area is now known as the Dorob National Park. Namibia is now the only continental country in the world to have the entirety of its unique coastline protected as a national park, which serves as the sixth largest terrestrial protected area in the world and the largest in Africa.

Water is the most constraining resource in Namibia and its sustainable management is key to ensuring the sustainable development and ecological integrity of the country; the basin management approach has begun to be implemented in Namibia to best achieve this, based largely on the promulgation of the Water Resources Management Act (2004). This approach promotes the management of water resources on hydrological boundaries and seeks to take into account all of the factors (physical, climatic, ecological and human) that affect the quantity and quality of the resource. From this, three basin management committees have been established so far in Namibia, and activities towards the establishment of three more are currently ongoing. Each management committee is comprised of a diverse range of stakeholders. Experience from the Orange and Fish River Basin Management approach has shown the linkages between inappropriate water management and threats to biodiversity. The committee has already identified a number of key problems.

Biodiversity and the natural environment are of special significance to Namibia, so much so that it is one of the few countries in the world that includes a clause for its maintenance in its constitution. From the list of policies and legislation present in Namibia, it is clear that environmental sustainability and, by extension, biodiversity, are quite well considered in the formulation of policies by different sectors. However, it is difficult to measure the extent to which this is realized in the on-the-ground translation of these policies into action. In general, thorough implementation of Namibia’s excellent policy framework is lacking, owing to shortages in human and financial resources as well as to the lack of a properly functioning decentralized system. Each region in Namibia faces very different threats in terms of environmental management for which flexible approaches and responses are required. The empowerment of environmentally knowledgeable regional councils, with support from regional offices of the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism (MET), would be the ideal solution to this scenario. However, attempts to instigate such an approach at the coast, through the Namibian Coast Conservation and Management (NACOMA) project, show serious capacity constraints at both levels as well as the need for concerted funding and empowering legislation.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

As focal point to the CBD, the MET (Multi-Lateral Environmental Agreements Division) will oversee the monitoring and evaluation of NBSAP2 with the active and structured support of the NBSAP2 steering committee. It is envisaged that the different key institutions represented on the NBSAP2 steering committee will report back to the committee and high-level stakeholders on an annual basis, in terms of their progress and challenges with regard to achieving the targets and strategic goals of NBSAP2.

Independent mid-term evaluation of NBSAP2 will be undertaken in 2016, in time for presentation to COP-13 to the CBD. In addition, in July 2012, the National Planning Commission published Namibia’s Fourth National Development Plan (NDP4) covering the period 2012/13 to 2016/17. NDP4 focuses on just three carefully selected and sequenced goals (and associated target values) which are high and sustained economic growth; increased income equality; and employment creation. The mid-term review will further assist Namibia in establishing the contribution of NBSAP2 towards the set NDP4 national goals. A final evaluation of NBSAP2 will be undertaken in 2020, by which time it will be possible to assess Namibia’s contribution towards the achievement of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the Aichi Targets. The final evaluation will also provide valuable insights, lessons and direction for the development of a third NBSAP for Namibia.