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People and the River



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In the 2001 census, Namibia's population was estimated to be 1.8 million with a low density of about two people per km². While 33 % of the population were found to live in urban centres, some 67 % of the population can be considered as rural (NPC 2001, NPC 2004).

Rural dwelling, Namibia.
Source: iStock / Brytta 2009
( click to enlarge )

Namibia has experienced significant urban growth, mostly due to rural-urban migration. The proportion of Namibians living in urban areas increased from 28 % to 33 % between 1991 and 2001. Drivers for this process included (Fuller 2006):

  • Prolonged droughts;
  • Poor socio-economic conditions in rural areas; and
  • Retrenchment of farm labourers.

Most of those migrating to urban areas have been people in the economically active age range (15-59) seeking better work opportunities. This means that the rural areas have higher proportions of both young (0-14 years) and old (60+ years).

The table below summarises the 2001 census for Namibia, the Kunene Region, and its Epupa constituency, that is comprising the major part of the Kunene basin on Namibian territory.

Census Statistics 2001 (Namibia, Kunene Region, Epupa Constituency)



Kunene Region

Epupa Constituency


1 830 330

68 735

13 129

Growth rate (%)




Urban population (%)




Rural population (%)




Population density

(inhabitants per km²)




Source: NPC website 2010; NPC 2005

The Namibian Section of the Kunene River basin: A Predominantly Rural Area

On its Namibian side, the Kunene River basin mainly falls within the Epupa Constituency (see administrative map in the Government section), the most northern constituency of the administrative unit “Kunene Region”. The Kunene Region as a whole is characterised by a very low population density (its degree of urbanisation is among the lowest in Namibia) and the capital Opuwo (which is located just outside the Kunene basin) is the only urban settlement of any significance. The total population in Epupa Constituency inside the Kunene watersheds was only 13 129 people in 2001 (NPC 2005).

The population of the Kunene Region lives in scattered rural settlements. Population concentrations, as well as the location of settlements are often variable, and are subject to patterns of transhumance, under which herders move seasonally with their cattle. Although many households retain a permanent base, in the driest areas entire families relocate in search of water and grazing (ERM 2009).

Access to Social Services

The northern part of the Kunene Region, where the basin is located, continues to suffer from deficiencies in both quantity and quality of basic social services.


Although the population is extremely young, educational services and standards are low, facilities limited and there is a lack of well qualified teachers. School is often seen by the adults as leading their children away from their traditional way of life, from cattle management and from their domestic responsibilities (ERM 2009). School attendance is low (in the 2001 census ca. 70% of children aged 6 to 15 years did not attend school in Epupa Constituency), and children participate in the productive activities of their households at an early age (NPC 2005).


Until 1991 (the first census of independent Namibia), health services in the northern Kunene Region were extremely under-developed. Since then, there has been a quantitative and qualitative improvement in service provision, although poor road conditions limit access to primary health care. There are several clinics and at least one hospital in Opuwo. The primary health care service is weak in its outreach work. This may be ascribed to a shortage of nurses, vehicles and the inaccessibility of many parts of the region. As a consequence, communities in the Kunene basin do not have easy access to medical services and must travel considerable distances to receive treatment. Malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and measles are principle causes of death (ERM 2009).




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