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People and the River



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Livelihoods in the Basin  

Factors of Livelihood Distribution

Rural livelihoods vary significantly in space and time within the Kunene River basin. The constitution of different livelihoods and their distribution in the basin is influenced by a number of features and factors.

Sisal mats for the local market.
Source: Tump 2008
( click to enlarge )

These include:

  • Climatic and agro-ecological conditions – including annual rainfall and variability, temperature levels and variations, soil fertility, and topographical features;
  • Perennial rivers and permanent water bodies;
  • Rural and urban human settlements – including major urban centres;
  • Major physical infrastructure – like dams and roads; and
  • Institutional structures dedicated to natural resources management and conservation – like national parks, reserves, conservancies and community forests.

Climatic and Agro-ecological Conditions

Climatic and agro-ecological conditions vary significantly across the Kunene River basin. Mean annual rainfall levels range from 1500-1000 mm (Upper Kunene) to below 250 mm (Lower Kunene). Mean annual temperatures range from 18-20° C (Upper Kunene) to 22-24° C (Lower Middle and Lower Kunene) (MUA 2006). As one traverses the basin in a south-Southwestern direction, starting from the source of the Kunene River in the far north all the way to the point where the river starts forming the border between Angola and Namibia, rainfall levels and soil fertility tend to decrease continually while rainfall variability and temperatures tend to increase continually. The sub-humid highland climate and fertile soils in the far north provide excellent conditions for relatively productive rain-fed crop farming. During the rainy season, strong rainfalls in Angola’s highlands (upper section of the basin) give rise to extensive seasonal flooding in parts of the upper and middle basin. The resulting seasonal floodplains which are referred to in Angola as chanas (this term is known in Namibia as iishana) are used for seasonal crop production. Chanas when filled with water are further used for livestock and for fishing, as the floods carry rich fish stocks. See the Agriculture section, in particular Rainfed, Floodplain Crop Production for more information.

Further downstream, the agro-ecological potential for crop farming continually decreases and the prevalence of livestock farming increases, giving rise to changing proportions of mixed crop-livestock farming systems. Eventually, rain-fed crop production is no longer possible leaving extensive livestock farming as the only rain-fed farming option. As the arid climate intensifies the need for greater mobility of herds and people increases to ensure optimum use of ever scarcer pasture and water resources. This is reflected in the transhumant (agro-)pastoral systems that are found in the lower section and to a lesser extent in the lower middle section of the basin.

Irrigation of crops can ensure the feasibility and sustainability of crop farming as well as enhance its productivity, particularly in the middle and lower sections of the basin where the agro-ecological conditions in the basin constrain or rule out rain-fed crop farming. Details on existing and planned irrigation schemes in the basin are found under Irrigated Crop Production.

Perennial Rivers and Permanent Water Bodies

The main course of the Kunene River is fed by a number of perennial tributaries, particularly in the Upper Kunene. These rivers as well as existing dams and weirs (Gove, Matala, Calueque, and Ruacana) have fish resources that support small-scale artisanal fisheries. For more information see the section Fisheries.

Urban and Rural Settlements

The density of rural settlements decreases in the upstream-to-downstream direction, along with average rainfall levels, soil fertility and the potential for rain-fed crop farming. While population densities > 25 inhabitants/km² are found in selected areas of the upper section of the basin, the density of rural settlements decreases further downstream to the point where few if any people are found, near the mouth of the river, and population densities are below 2 inhabitants/km².

Major urban centres are found within the basin: Huambo and Lubango – the capitals of the Provinces of Huambo and Huila – are located in the extreme northern section and in the western part of the middle section of the basin. These urban centres not only have a distinct, largely cash-based economy and livelihood profile, they also strongly influence livelihood patterns in their rural hinterland. Urban demand for food, fuel wood and other natural products drives related markets and creates largely cash-based economies in the surrounding rural areas. The same holds for smaller urban areas (secondary towns) in the basin.

Major Physical Infrastructure

Major physical infrastructure in the basin is home to several major water impoundments:

  • The Gove dam in the upper basin section;
  • The Matala weir on the border between the upper and middle sections of the basin;
  • The Calueque weir on the border between the middle and lower sections of the basin; and
  • The Ruacana hydroelectric plant in the lower section of the basin.

These structures contribute to livelihoods inside and outside the basin by regulating water flow (e.g. the Gove dam in the Upper Kunene), providing water for irrigation (e.g. The Matala weir in Angola and the Etunda Irrigation Scheme in Namibia, just outside the basin, but using Kunene River water), and/or generating hydropower (viz. Ruacana).

The basin is also crossed by at least three major trans-provincial highways connecting Lubango with Huambo, Kubango/Menongue and Xangongo/Ondjiva, respectively. Generally, roads constitute transportation corridors that facilitate access to local and distant markets, which is a very important factor of improving livelihood opportunities, for example by connecting existing urban centres and larger agglomerations of rural households in the basin.

Institutional Structures

Various institutional structures aiming to promote nature conservation, effective participatory natural resource management, and sound land use planning are located in the basin. These include protected areas in both the Namibian and the Angolan parts of the basin as well as several conservancies and a community forest on the Namibian side of the Lower Kunene.

More information on these parks, conservancies and community forests is provided in the Ecotourism section.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View a historical timeline of the Kunene basin countries, including water agreements & infrastructure

Video scenes about the limited access to water of the San in Kunene Province