ECONOMIC IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN NAMIBIA

By By Clemence Tashaya
March 2011
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MORE environmental impact could further impede development in Namibia, a country highly dependent on its natural resource base.

This is in view of the present pressing developmental challenges already there for the country to provide for its 2 million people because of environmental degradation.

But thanks to the wide range of policies and programmes concerning natural resource management that have been implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

These policies encompass environmental issues in the agricultural sector, livestock production, tourism and the fish industries that are key sectors to the country’s economic development.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, it has become widely acknowledged that Africa’s poorer nations suffer most from the effects of climate change. This vulnerability, the Ministry says, stems partly from the nations’ geographic location in areas such as drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa.

These countries’ capacity to cope with climate change is also lower than that of wealthier nations because of limited financial resources, skills and technologies and high level of poverty.

The director of Environment Affairs in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Theofilus Nghitila, outlined that the global nature of climate change makes an economic analysis more complex than for any other local or regional environmental pollution problem.

“In addition, the fact that the impact of climate change will not necessarily be felt immediately, but rather some time in the future complicates the analysis. Economic analysis of a problem with such a long time horizon will be highly dependent on what assumptions are made about the preferences of future generations.

“A careful economic analysis of climate change requires that all kinds of economic values associated with affected environmental systems are addressed. This means that natural systems provide goods and services that have a value for the society. In addition, certain attributes of an ecosystem, for example biodiversity, can be valuable because Namibians or people living further away value the fact that certain species exist,” he says.

Adds Nghitila, “Values associated with the functioning of ecosystems can be divided into use-values and non-use-values, where the first type concerns the direct use of a natural resource and the second type refers to option value for future use or even the existence value of just knowing that a resource exists.

“Use values can be further divided into consumptive and non-consumptive values. Consumptive use values could, for instance, be the value of harvesting a resource such as timber, fish or trophy hunting tourism activities or the value of production from agricultural land use. Non-consumptive use values are obtained without directly affecting natural resources and these include recreation and wildlife viewing tourism activities.”

Research has shown that most poor nations are heavily reliant on climate change-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fishing. Thus taking an example of Namibia; it is highly dependent on natural resources with estimations that up to 30 per cent of its GDP is reliant on its environment.

Data released recently by the Climate Change Analysis Indicators Tool indicates that Namibia is, in fact, estimated to be a net sink for carbon dioxide due to large uptake of CO2 by trees. Namibia contributed less that 0.05 per cent to global CO2 equivalent emissions since 1994 even when this carbon sink is excluded from calculations.

Information at hand suggests that over 20 years, annual loses to the Namibian economy could be up to 6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to the impact that climate change has on its natural resources alone.

To this effect analysts have suggested that Namibia should take steps to ensure that all its policies and activities are “climate change proofed” and that the country has a strategy to deal with displaced farmers and farm workers. They further emphasise the need to mainstream climate change into polices and planning adding that it is the responsibilities of industrialized nations, who have largely created this problem of climate change to help Namibia and other vulnerable countries to cope with climate change impact for a climate constrained future.

Studies at global level have concluded that Africa, in particular especially countries in southern Africa, will most likely experience significant income losses and a drop in consumption of the low-income households as a result of climate change due to low substitution possibilities between imported and domestic foods.

This is also because they have less access to capital, making it harder for them to adapt to climate change or purchase their way out of reductions in crop productivity by buying food.

As a matter of fact, most poor people in Namibia who live in vulnerable locations such as floodplains in the north and south coastal areas lack access to the social safety nets as they already suffer as flood victims as evidenced recently by the washing away of homes and tourists resorts by floods.

The Director of the Disaster Risk Management (DDRM), Japhet Iitenge, saysa flooding in Namibia has become a common phenomenon, with the Caprivi, Kavango, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshikoto and Hardap Regions experiencing severe floods over the last five years.

Some low lying irrigation fields along the Orange River at Nooredoeer were inundated when the river broke its banks in January 2011 thereby spelling huge production losses for crop farmers. Farmers projected crop losses between 50 and 60 per cent.

The Government projects thatNamibia faces absolute water scarcity by 2020 due to climate change would be severe.

A report issued annually by the National Early Warning and Food Information Unit (NEWFIU), a department under the Office of the Prime Minister, shows that declines in rainfall and increases in desertification on the agricultural sector have already led to a decrease in soil fertility and agricultural output also impacting on livestock and forest and rangeland production.

The report further outlines that Namibia’s agricultural output is extremely sensitive to climatic conditions with over two thirds of its population practicing subsistence cropping and pastoralism, mostly on communal owned land. This suggests that agriculture is contributing an average 6, 4 per cent to the Namibia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the Government being on record saying that the current agricultural contribution to the GDP is still insufficient and that it could increase with the private sector’s participation.

Furthermore, a report by the Agricultural Inputs and Household Food Security Situation issued in December 2010 suggests that in total, agricultural activities contribute about 5 per cent of the GDP on which both subsistence and commercial cropping of millet and maize on rural households of Namibia depend on is likely to be negatively impacted by the present climate changes.

The report says much land used for agricultural purposes is already marginal, and changes in rainfall variability as well as quantity could mean agriculture will no longer be viable in these areas such as Owamboland, the south, and the eastern Caprivi Region and others alike.

The global climate change has not spared the livestock front in Namibia, with the projected risk of even more dryness; livestock has increasingly substituted crops, although the suitability of this substitution is likely only on very small tracts of land.

Experts like Dr Cleopas Bamhare recognize the fact that vegetation changes due to desertification may not necessarily result in changes in productivity.

Bamhare says switching from cattle ranching to game farming or from meat production to wool production may not reduce income adding that greater aridity associated with climate change would result in a shift towards stock and game farming.

He suggests that losses in livestock farming could be significant especially in the Nama Karoo region adding that the carrying capacity will drop from 15 kilogrammes per hectare by an estimated 15 per cent with losses of between 2 and 3 kilogrammes per hectare. Thus small stocks such as sheep and goats will experience range shifts, affecting the poorest people who will get a lot poorer as they could lose all their stock.

On the fishing industry in Namibia which is ranked as one of the top ten fishing nations in the world, experts point out that the potential impact of man-made climate change on the country’s fishery is negligible.

A scientist and Project Executor for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the Namibian Nature Foundation (NNF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Dr Dennis Tweddle told Prime Focus that exports have increased annually to more than 20 per cent of Namibia’s exports with a final value in excess to N$4, 6 billion.

Tweddle, who is also currently working on the Integrated Management of the Zambezi/Chobe River System Fishery Resource Project, notes that local rainfall has limited effects, thus localized impact of climate change in Namibia are negligible.

“The reality is that there are such enormous natural variations in annual rainfall and also over periods of several decades, that it will be virtually impossible to tell whether man-made climate change has any impact at all,” he says.

However, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism says the impact of climate change on the tourism sector particularly the wildlife and coastal areas of Namibia remains uncertain.

The Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Sem Shikongo argues that climate change induced droughts and floods might cause the outbreak of canine distemper virus that will kill the lion population.

He further notes that climate change and associated aridification could threaten the lucrative sector. The contribution of nature-based tourism including landscape, game viewing and trophy hunting is estimated to be 75 per cent of Namibia’s total tourism sector.

Mr Shikongo suggests that any impacts to biodiversity and natural ecosystems will impact on tourism.

The tourism sector makes up to five per cent of the Namibia’s entire economy. Industry output growth rate of 14 per cent outstrip other sectors and tourism is considered to harbour significant potential growth and development. PF