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Local Communities Essential in Water Conservation

Local is Essential By Miriam Mannak CAPE TOWN, Dec 7 (IPS) - Local communities in Southern Africa should be given a greater opportunity to participate in initiatives for the management and conservation of natural resources such as water.

This was one of the main conclusions of the third Zambezi Basinwide Stakeholders Forum, held recently in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
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[Map of Zambezi Basin (drainage basin), Africa]

"Generally speaking, the public is poorly represented when it comes to the management of natural resources such as water. This needs to change," said Felix Monggae, chief executive officer of the Kalahari Conservation Society in Botswana, which runs a project called 'Every River Has Its People'....

Residents of the basin have to be consulted, said Monggae, because they are most immediately affected by conservation strategies. "Men and women living in the basin are the prime stakeholders. Like no one else they depend on the basin's resources. For this reason alone, governments of the eight riparian states should promote public participation and community involvement," he told IPS.

The Zambezi Basin traverses Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The inclusion of grass roots insights also improves the quality of conservation efforts, noted Ruth Beukman of Global Water Partnership Southern Africa, an organisation that encourages the sharing of knowledge and experience concerning water management in the region.

"When it comes to decisions regarding water resource management and conservation, local knowledge is crucial," she told IPS. "Of all the basin's stakeholders, the members of the community know best what is happening on the ground and what is needed in their region."

But, involving communities is not always an easy task. As Monggae indicated, this process can be complicated by the sheer number of persons living in the Zambezi Basin, which is home to some 40 million people."There are many different groups living in the basin, each with different needs -- for instance farmers, fishers, tour operators, chiefs and households. All these groups have different requirements and ideas," he said in an interview with IPS.

And, "Let's not forget the wildlife, birds and vegetation. Though voiceless, they too are stakeholders, as they depend on the basin's resources for their wellbeing."...

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