Return of the Flood
Return of the Flood
US- and Maun-based researchers led by the University of Texas and joined by Pennsylvania State University have recently completed the first of three field seasons for their project “Environmental Uncertainties and Livelihood Thresholds in the Okavango Delta, Botswana”. Their goals are to understand environmental variability (flooding, fire, and local precipitation) and livelihoods strategies as well as their interactions, and how those vary by culture, floodplain position and access to markets. The 15-person team was based out of Etsha 6. Over 80 semi-structured interviews were conducted in Etsha 1, Etsha 6, and Etsha 13. Meanwhile, vegetation transects assessing plant-based natural resources were conducted, measuring over 11 km in length and spaced every 10 km throughout the greater Etsha region. The work was complemented by multi-resolution satellite imagery analysis to establish fire and flooding history, following up from early University of Texas involvement in the NASA SAFARI 2000 project.
The project’s scope entails working in 3-7 communities throughout the Delta over four years, supported by a US National Science Foundation grant of over $600,000 (roughly BWP 3.94 million). Though the project started in earnest this year, it greatly benefited from reconnaissance fieldwork in 2006 and 2007 and strengthening local partnerships with Maun-based researchers. While some interviews were conducted in English, many thusfar have also been conducted in both SeTswana and Hambukushu. The need for translators provides the research team with an avenue for training local field assistants in data collection and analysis techniques including interviewing, vegetation analysis, and GPS. Capacity building and outreach comprise an important part of the project’s mission, and the team felt it was critical to have local buy-in from the very start of the project.
Working in the Etsha region not surprisingly entailed engaging with the impacts of recent flooding years, notably in Etsha 13 and Tubu where multiple families were forced to relocate as their homes went under water. The expansion of the floodplain also changed how people could access resources: areas once traversed to get to the water to collect lilies, reeds, and fish are now soaked and stretch many more kilometers. These floodplain areas draw livestock in for drinking and grazing. Understanding how people change their livelihood strategies in the face of such environmental change is the heart of this multi-year project, and surely the lessons learned will be different from various sections of the Delta.
The team also wishes to express their deep gratitude to Kgosi Seemeko for his support, Reverend Annah at the Botswana Council of Churches for the hospitality, Reverend Emmanuel Segotso at the Gumare Health District for his continued help in finding wonderful translators, and Ms. Allison White of the US Peace Corps for her tireless enthusiasm.
Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 08, March 2012)