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People and the River



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The Lower and Middle Kunene basin is home to various existing or emerging national parks, communal-area conservancies and community forests that offer significant ecotourism attractions and services within and near conservation areas. By creating job opportunities and complementary sources of income for the local population, ecotourism can play an important role in diversifying traditional livelihoods.

Wildlife serves as major tourist attraction in the Kunene basin.
Source: © Ostby 2007
( click to enlarge )


Ecotourism is a special form of nature-based tourism which is often promoted within and near state protected areas and other types of conservation areas established on communal, freehold and leased land. Ecotourism strives to be environmentally and culturally sensitive, aiming to raise environmental awareness of tourists and local community members. Ecotourism has a significant potential to provide livelihoods to local populations.


Boasting many scenic locations, Angola’s state protected areas in the form of national parks, game hunting and forest reserves make up nearly 7 % of the surface area of the country (MUA 2006), although most protected areas continue to suffer from the neglect resulting from the protracted civil war (1975-2002), and there is little if any existing tourism infrastructure, inside or outside the protected areas. However, all of Angola's protected areas have a significant potential for future tourism activity.


Namibia has a diversified and well-managed network of nature conservation areas that covers nearly 40 % of the country’s land surface area and continues to grow. There are different types of legally recognised and registered conservation areas which at the end of 2008 contributed to the extent the overall nature conservation system as follows (NACSO 2009):

  • Proclaimed state protected areas (national parks and game reserves) (16.6 % of the land area);
  • 53 registered communal-area conservancies (15.7 % of the land area), with an additional 23 emerging;
  • Various registered freehold conservancies (i.e. clusters of freehold farms that have pooled their land and wildlife resources) (6.1 % of the land area);
  • 13 registered community forests (0.5% of the land area), with an additional 38 community forests emerging;
  • Tourism concessions managing 5 % of all registered communal conservancy land.

As a result of these developments and massive infrastructure investments, wildlife- and nature-based tourism has been one of Namibia’s fastest-growing economic sectors in recent years, with much of this being ecotourism. The various communal-area conservancies play a particular role as they are multiple-use zones with a legal status where residents continue farming but collectively manage natural resources and wildlife in order to benefit from better tourism and natural resource revenues (ERM 2009).

More participatory approaches to running national parks, entailing the sharing of park fees with local communities and the involvement of these communities in the operation and management of parks, have helped to turn parks into sources of income and livelihoods for nearby people and communities.

Even more significantly, rapidly expanding wildlife-based tourism within some of the communal-area conservancies has brought about substantial new or enhanced opportunities for complementary rural livelihoods, in particular for members of conservancies located on wildlife-rich land. New or enhanced incomes and livelihoods from conservancies include, e.g. (NACSO 2008):

  • Cash incomes from trophy hunting;
  • Wage incomes from employment in joint-venture lodges and campsites;
  • Sales of crafts and natural products to tourists;
  • Non-cash incomes in the form of meat from trophy hunting and own use hunting;
  • Donations and services provided by joint venture lodge partners; and
  • Professional skills development.

The map below shows the distribution of protected areas within the Kunene River basin.

Protected areas in the Kunene River basin.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2010, after Atlas of Namibia Project 2002
( click to enlarge )

Kunene River Basin

The Kunene River basin includes state protected areas in the Namibian and the Angolan parts of the basin as well as four conservancies on communal land on the Namibian side of the Lower Kunene. These areas are:

State Protected Areas (Lower and Middle Kunene – Angolan and Namibian Side)

  • Skeleton Coast Park (SCP) – covering a narrow coastal strip in Namibia’s Kunene Region which borders the Lower Kunene to the north;
  • Iona National Park – located within Angola’s Province of Namibe in the extreme south-west of the country, bordering the Lower Kunene to the south, and reaching nearly up to the Epupa Falls;
  • Bicuar National Park – located in the middle section of the basin, south-west of Matala; and
  • Mupa National Park – bordering the Kunene River in its middle section, about half way between the Calueque and Matala dams.

Bilateral efforts are underway to integrate Namibia’s Skeleton Coast Park (SCP) and Angola’s contiguous Iona National Park into a transfrontier conservation area (TFCA) straddling the Kunene River mouth and parts of the Lower Kunene (Paterson 2007).

Conservancies (Lower Kunene – Namibian Side)


  • Located within Namibia’s Kunene Region, bordering SCP to the west and the Kunene River to the north;
  • Boasts remote, scenic landscapes and major wildlife resources; and
  • Features three joint-venture tourism enterprises, a campsite, crafts production for tourists, and hunting for own use.


  • Located within Namibia's Kunene Region, bordering Marienfluss Conservancy in the south;
  • Has a joint venture agreement for game viewing;
  • Offers premium hunting, own use hunting and craft production.

Kunene River

  • Located within Namibia’s Kunene Region, bordering the Kunene River between the Epupa Falls and the Ruacana dam;
  • Offers scenic landscapes as well as major wildlife resources; and
  • Has a joint-venture agreement with the Kunene River Lodge.

Uukolonkadhi / Ruacana

  • Located within Namibia’s Omusati Region, bordering the Kunene River Conservancy to the east, and the Namibia-Angola border to the north;
  • Offers major wildlife resources; and
  • Features a community campsite, rocks producing ochre powder, and hunting for own use.

Significant tourist activity and infrastructure – such as in the form of lodges and campsites – exists within these conservancies. They provide wildlife and tourism related livelihoods that complement and diversify traditional livestock-based livelihoods (Long 2004).

Planned Conservancies

Other existing tourism infrastructure and activities (lodges, campsites, etc.) at Epupa and Ruacana Falls (currently outside any conservancy) may be integrated with emerging conservancies. Another 2 conservancies – Okongwati and Otjitanda – are emerging within the lower section of the Kunene River basin.

Community Forests (Lower Kunene – Namibian Side)

Uukolonkadhi / Ruacana Community Forest

  • Located entirely within the borders of the conservancy of the same name (see above); and
  • Provides permits, removal of bees, sales of poles and firewood as main sources of income.

In addition, the Marienfluss Conservancy is in the process of being registered as a community forest.




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