The Okavango river flows from southern Angola, through the Kavango region of Namibia and into the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The recent peace in Angola hopefully marks the end of the intense suffering that the peoples of the river basin have endured, and the beginning of sustainable decision-making in the area. Informed decision-making however requires knowledge; and there is a need for, and a lack of knowledge regarding basin-wide land cover (LC) changes, and their causes, during the Angolan civil war in the basin. Furthermore, there is a need for, and a lack of knowledge on how expanding large-scale agriculture and urban growth along the Angola-Namibia border affects the water quality of the river.
The aim of this study was therefore to develop a remote sensing method applicable to the basin (with scant ground-truth data availability) to carry out a systematic historic study of LC changes during the Angolan civil war, to apply the method to the basin, to relate these changes to major societal trends in the region, and to analyse potential impacts of expanding large-scale agriculture and urban growth on the water quality of the river along the Angola-Namibia border.
A range of remote sensing methods to study historic LC changes in the basin were tried and evaluated against reference data collected during a field visit in Namibia in October 2005. Eventually, two methods were selected and applied to pre-processed Landsat MSS and ETM+ satellite image mosaics of 1973 and 2001 respectively: 1. a combined unsupervised classification and pattern-recognition change detection method providing quantified and geographically distributed binary LC class change trajectory information and, 2. an NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index) change detection method providing quantified and geographically distributed continuous information on degrees of change in vegetation vigour. In addition, available documents and people initiated in the basin conditions were consulted in the pursuit of discerning major societal trends that the basin had undergone during the Angolan civil war. Finally, concentrations of nutrients (total phosphorous & total nitrogen), bacteria (faecal coliforms & faecal streptococci), conductivity, total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and Secchi depth were sampled at 11 locations upstream and downstream of large-scale agricultural facilities and an urban area during the aforementioned field visit.
The nature, extent and geographical distribution of LC changes in the study area during the Angolan civil war were determined. The study area (150 922 km2) was the Angolan and Namibian parts of the basin. The results indicate that the vegetation vigour is dynamic and has decreased overall in the area, perhaps connected with precipitation differences between the years. However while the vigour decreased in the northwest, it increased in the northeast, and on more local scales the pattern was often more complex. With respect to migration out of Angola into Namibia, the LC changes followed expectations of more intense use in Namibia close to the border (0-5 km), but not at some distance (10-20 km), particularly east of Rundu. With respect to urbanisation, expectations of increased human impact locally were observed in e.g. Rundu, Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale. Road deterioration was also observed with Angolan urbanisation but some infrastructures appeared less damaged by the war. Some villages (e.g. Savitangaiala de Môma) seem to have been abandoned during the war so that the vegetation could regenerate, which was expected. But other villages (e.g. Techipeio) have not undergone the same vegetation regeneration suggesting they were not abandoned. The areal extent of large-scale agriculture increased 59% (26 km2) during the war, perhaps as a consequence of population growth. But the expansion was not nearly at par with the population growth of the Kavango region (320%), suggesting that a smaller proportion of the population relied on the large-scale agriculture for their subsistence in 2001 compared with 1973.
No significant impacts were found from the large-scale agriculture and urbanisation on the water quality during the dry season of 2005. Total phosphorous concentrations (with range: 0.067-0.095 mg l-1) did vary significantly between locations (p=0.013) but locations upstream and downstream of large-scale agricultural facilities were not significantly different (p=0.5444). Neither did faecal coliforms (range: 23-63 counts per 100ml) nor faecal streptococci (range: 8-33 counts per 100ml) vary significantly between locations (p=0.332 and p=0.354 respectively). Thus the impact of Rundu and the extensive livestock farming along the border were not significant at this time. The Cuito river on the other hand significantly decreased both the conductivity (range: 27.2-49.7 μS cm-1, p<0.0001) and the total dissolved solid concentration (range: 12.7-23.4 mg l-1, p<0.0001) of the mainstream of the Okavango during the dry season.
Land cover changes during the Angolan civil war, contributing causes and effects on water quality were studied in this research effort. Many of the obtained results can be used directly or with further application as a knowledge base for sustainable decision-making and management in the basin. Wisely used by institutions charged with that objective, the information can contribute to sustainable development and the ending of suffering and poverty for the benefit of the peoples of the Okavango and beyond.