The Okavango River is the fourth largest in Africa.
Its vital waters, coursing through Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, sustain one of the world’s largest, most biodiverse wetlands. Inhabited for centuries, the basin’s indigenous people long ago harmonized their culture and lifestyles with the Okavango’s cycles such that their presence has no impact on the area’s ecological integrity.
Resource At Risk
While the downstream Okavango Delta is protected and preserved within Botswana, the all-important headwaters which flow from Angola and Namibia are not, putting everything downstream at risk, from natural resources such as fish, wood, and grass, to crop and livestock production and, in Botswana, the use of natural habitats for providing tourism services.
The greater basin provides a vital source of water to about 1 million people, the world’s largest population of African elephants, and significant populations of lions, cheetahs, and hundreds of species of birds. The upstream waters have come under increasing threat from deforestation, uncontrolled fire, rising commercial bushmeat trade, and unchecked development. If they were to remain unprotected, the future of the Okavango Delta would be at risk.
National Geographic has been working to protect the area for a number of years. Now they will have assistance from industry giant DeBeers’ through a five-year partnership intended to protect and preserve the Okavango basin. In this manner, DeBeers’ diamond revenues will be used to directly fund the preservation and protection of the Okavango Delta’s people, wildlife, and resources.
Watch: Protecting a natural wonder
Unique Closed Basin
The headwaters begin at an elevation of 4,300 feet in the Angolan highlands, where it is known by the Portuguese name Rio Cubango. From there the waters move south, forming part of the border between Angola and Namibia and flowing into Botswana. The Okavango terminates as a closed basin, meaning it has no outflow to the sea or other bodies of water. Its output is ultimately discharged into the Okavango alluvial fan, in the Kalahari Desert.
Giving Back to Africa
In the last 30 years DeBeers’, infamously known for monopolizing rough diamond supply through the 1900s, has become increasingly involved in philanthropic ventures on the African continent. In addition to landmark agreements with Botswana and Namibia – which have transformed those countries into some of Africa’s most prosperous – the mining giant moved key administrative operations as well as diamond sorting, polishing, sales, and distribution jobs to Africa from London.
Last year, when Covid-19 caused their mines to shut down, DeBeers’ acted to support their 20,000+ employees by sending $2.5 million to Namibia and Botswana. In June 2021, DeBeers’ made news by pledging another $7 million to support vaccine procurement there. All told, the miner’s contributions toward relief funds, community, and logistical support during the pandemic total $17 million.
“Into the Okavango”
In 2018, NetGeo produced a documentary film exploring 1,500 miles of the basin titled “Into the Okavango.” Now streaming on the Disney channel, it follows a team of explorers on an illuminating four-month, 1,500-mile expedition across the Okavango Delta – one of our planet’s last wetland wildernesses.
Written by John Pollard
Are you surprised by any of this? Do you know the names Gareth Penny, Philippe Mellier, and Bruce Cleaver? Can corporate giants reinvent their identities? Is DeBeers prioritizing philanthropy or just serving their own interests? Did you know all of their diamonds are aggregated, sorted, and distributed from Botswana – even their Canadian yield? Should DeBeer’s open a public “Diamond Disney” in one of their mines with roller-coasters and haunted house rides? What would they name their version of Mickey Mouse?
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