COP 11

26 September 2013

One cannot overemphasise the importance of the United Nations conference on desertification currently underway in our country’s capital Windhoek, and ends on Friday. Sadly, however, the subject matter of the conference seems to have passed over most people’s heads, and it somehow seems not to have engaged the attention of the average Namibian citizen.

The fact that the conference carries the long-winded moniker “The eleventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 11) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)” has not helped matters much.

Although the average person does not seem to understand, what the conference is really about, or even care that much, that does not diminish its importance.

Most of this country is still in the grip of a devastating drought and if nothing else that should have made us sit up and pay attention to COP 11.

Diplomatic as ever, Secretary of the UNCCD Luc Gnacadja highlighted that people often cite Namibia as a model of a country able to adapt to an eco-system that is prone to drought.

To a degree there is some truth in that, but given our status as the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa we do not do nearly enough.

As citizens of this country, we cannot escape responsibility for our own contribution to making the effects of the drought much worse than they might otherwise have been.

We would not have depleted our grazing lands as badly, nor as much livestock died or as many people suffered hunger if we had truly adapted to our precarious existence in this desert.

We still don’t seem to have woken up to the fact that in a desert country like Namibia drought is never a temporary phenomenon, but a more or less permanent existential reality.

Right on the doorstep of COP 11, we continue our extremely damaging land management practises that do untold harm to the environment and threaten our very existence.

We continue the abysmal land management and overgrazing that has turned our communal areas into wastelands and we misuse precious natural resources like water and our forests.

The over-exploitation of wildlife, flora, fauna and marine life so essential to healthy biodiversity also seems to go unchecked.

On a brighter note, many of the more progressive commercial farmers have become acutely conscious of the dangers of land degradation and have actively taken measures to counter it and educate others.

We in the media have probably also failed in our duty to bring home the message of COP 11 to the public.

For once, kudos to our national broadcaster the NBC, that has valiantly at least tried to engage public interest in COP 11.

As one would expect of a high-level conference, delegates to COP 11 couched much of their discussion in scientific and slightly esoteric language that one would not expect the average person in the street to understand.

However, that only serves to highlight that the crucial issues of land degradation and desertification should not only become topics of discussion when a U.N. conference takes place in the country.

Government and civil society organisations need to raise these issues on a daily basis and redouble their efforts to raise public awareness about the consequences of land degradation.

The Desert Research Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has admirably organised some side events to COP 11 that ordinary people might find more approachable and comprehensible.

It is unfortunate that DFRN’s efforts are unlikely to reach a large enough audience to make a real impact.

Land degradation has reached the proportions of a national crisis in Namibia and the time has come for the Government and all of us as citizens to start treating it as such.

As a country, we urgently need to devise strategies to combat the ever-growing spread of desertification, particularly in communal areas, and the clear and present danger posed by bush encroachment.

Wedged as we are on almost every side by either the Kalahari or Namib deserts we must learn to embrace drought, respect it, not aggravate it and learn to survive in spite of it.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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