Environmental Law and Policy in Namibia: Towards Making Africa the Tree of Life (Third Edition)



Katharina Ruppel-Schlichting

1 Introduction

Namibia’s surface area is 824,268 km² with three major categories of land tenure: the so-called commercial farmland with freehold tenure (approximately 44% of the country situated predominantly in the south and centre of Namibia), communal areas which are situated mainly in contiguous blocks in the northern Namibia (approximately 41% of the country), and the state land including conservation areas (approximately 15% of the country).

Namibia has common borders with Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa and a coastline of 1,572 km at the Atlantic Ocean to its west. The Ocean with its cold, nutrient rich Benguela Current has a significant influence on Namibia’s climate, vegetation and marine life. Main geographical areas in Namibia include two of the largest and most important great deserts, namely the Kalahari Desert in the east, which is dominated by stabilised dunes an the Namib Desert in the west, which comprises a wide range of landscape types. The Central Plateau with its Great Escarpment lying in the inland of the Namib plains and rising up above them is the third great landscape unit in Namibia.1

Namibia is one of the driest countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a mean annual rainfall of approximately 270mm with wide regional and seasonal variation. This is reflected in the country’s rivers. Most of the rivers that rise in Namibia such as the Kuiseb are dry for most of the year, they are ephemeral and seasonal. The perennial rivers in Namibia are located on the northern and southern borders and gain their flow in Zambia and Angola and in South Africa respectively. Only three perennial rivers reach the sea, namely the Orange, the Zambezi and the Kunene rivers, while the Okavango and the Kwanda flow into the the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti Swamps in the North of Botswana. Major parts of Namibia is thus predominantly dependent upon ephemeral rivers and groundwater.2 According to figures from the World Bank and based on the definition on arable land by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)3 only 1% of Namibia’s land surface was arable in 2012.

Against the backdrop of variation in climate and aridity in the country, it is explainable that the vegetation cover in Namibia is generally low. The main groups of soils in the country are unconsolidated sand (arenosols) and shallow and weakly developed soils on bedrock (lithosols, xerosols, regosols and yermosols).4 Owing to very low contents of clay in the soil, the water holding capacity is generally very low. Nonetheless, Namibia has a broad variety of vegetation types including deserts, savannahs (dwarf shrub savannah, various acacia-based tree and shrub savannah associations and the mopane savannah) and dry woodlands. Moreover, Namibia has an abundant dense and diverse mammalian fauna.

The United Nations Statistics Division in its 2013 Environment Statistics Country Snapshot Namibia5 provides data about the environment for comparative purposes. The country snapshot of Namibia, inter alia, reflects the following data:6

Land and Agriculture

Total area (km²)



Agricultural land (km²)



Arable land (% of agric. land)



Permanent crops (% of agric. land)



Permanent pasture and meadows (% of agric. land)



Change in agricultural land area since 1990 (%)



Forest area (km²)



Change in forest since 1990 (%)






Population (1000)



Population growth rate from previous year (%)



Air and climate



Emissions of:



CO2 (million tonnes)



CO2 per capita (tonnes)



GHG (million tonnes CO2 eq.)



GHG per capita (tonnes CO2 eq.)



Ozone depleting CFCs (ODP tonnes)






Proportion of terrestrial marine areas protected (%)



Number of threatened species



Fish catch (tonnes)



Change in fish catch from previous year (%)






Energy consumption (1000t oil eq.)



Energy consumption per capita (kg oil eq.)



Energy intensity (kg oil eq.) per $1,000 (PPP) GDP



Renewable electricity production (%)



Water and Sanitation



Long-term average renewable freshwater resources (mill m³/year)



Urban population with access to improved drinking water source (%)



Rural population with access to improved drinking water source (%)



Urban population with access to improved sanitation (%)



Rural population with access to improved sanitation (%)



2 Major Environmental Concerns in Namibia

To quite some extent, Namibia faces environmental problems that are similar to those experienced in many parts of Africa; some of the most challenging issues will be pointed out broadly in the subsequent paragraphs in order to give an overview of the importance of taking legal and non-legal measures for environmental conservation.

2.1 Land Degradation and Soil Erosion

Land degradation in Namibia, like elsewhere in the world occurs in different forms and the effects and causes of land degradation are manifold.8 It is, inter alia, caused by climatic variations, especially the high variability of rainfall patterns, and human activities. According to the Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/2010,9 23% of Namibian households depend on subsistence farming as the main source of income. This figure has decreased from 38% in 1993/1994 and 29% in 2003/2004. However, many Namibians depend – directly or indirectly – more on farming than on any other economic activity.10 Despite the fact that the whole agriculture and forestry sector, which includes processing, only made up 5.1% of GDP in 200911 most of the land in Namibia is used for agricultural purposes.12

Overstocking and overgrazing are considered to be the main causes for land degradation in Namibia. Especially in rural areas, poverty forces people into unsustainable environmental management practices such as overstocking and overgrazing in order to ensure food supply. More often than not, the densities of livestock exceed the carrying capacity of the land, which places strain on the environment. Further negative effects on land are caused by the unsustainable harvesting of forest resources, wild plants and game, and the clearing of land for farming or housing purposes.13

Land degradation not only has negative economic consequences in that it reduces the country’s resources, it also poses a serious threat to food security and rural livelihoods, which particularly affects the most vulnerable groups in Namibia’s poor and densely populated areas. The most alarming effects of land degradation are deforestation, decreased availability of palatable grass species, soil erosion, bush encroachment and soil salinisation.14

2.2 Deforestation

In 2005, almost 7.7 million ha of Namibia was covered by forests.15 This corresponds to 9.3% of the total land surface area. Almost 2% of the forest area has disappeared since 1990, however. In 2010, official data reported on FAO questionnaires from Namibia reveal that the forest area had decreased to under 7.3 million ha.16 Major threats to forests in Namibia include the expansion of land for agriculture; the cutting of wood for fuel and for domestic use; clearing for infrastructure development; uncontrolled wild fires; selective logging through timber concessions and unlicensed curio carving; and habitat destruction by elephants.17

Forest resources are of essential importance as woodlands stabilise fragile soils. Moreover, forest areas are the home of rich biological diversity. But forests also play a vital role from a socio-economic perspective and especially in the rural areas of Namibia, many are directly or indirectly dependent on the availability of forest resources for browsing, building material for homesteads, fuel wood for cooking, light and heating, and medicines amongst others.

However, the increase of the population unfortunately goes hand in hand with an increase in an unsustainable use of timber for fuel, housing, fencing, fire, and poses a severe strain on the environment as deforestation not only leads to the loss of resources used for human activities, it also results in desertification and severe degradation of land.18

2.3 Water Management

Water is a critical factor and water supply remains a serious problem throughout Namibia, as the country is considered to be one of the most arid countries in southern Africa. 22% of Namibia can be classified as desert, with a mean annual rainfall of less than 100 mm. 33% is classified as arid, with a mean annual rainfall of between 100 and 300 mm. 37% is classified as

semi-arid, with a mean annual rainfall of between 301 and 500 mm, and 8% as sub-tropical, with a mean annual rainfall of between 501 and 700 mm. 19 These low rainfall rates, exacerbated by evaporation rates often higher than the precipitation, a high degree of rainfall variation, and variable rainfall distribution patterns are responsible for the fragility of Namibian water resources.

Water is needed in terms of basic sustenance and for agriculture. Sustainable water management is, therefore, a major challenge. Major threats to water availability are population pressure, as well as industrial development and growth. The latter two are causing surface and ground water pollution, resulting in a decrease in water availability and quality, harmful to human and animal health. Environmental law can substantially contribute towards reducing these negative effects, e.g. by limiting the use of pesticides, or by preventing the discharge of waste water or other substances harmful to aquatic systems. Sound water management can for example be enforced by a permit system for the abstraction of water in order to avoid the over-abstraction of water.

Environmental law, an integrated water resource management that promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related natural resources, as well as increasing public awareness with regard to water problems is needed, in order to tackle the challenge of equitable access to enough water of acceptable quality.

2.4 Climate Change

As mentioned earlier, Namibia is considered to be one of the driest countries in southern Africa. The cold Benguela current along the west coast and Namibia’s location traversing the subtropical high-pressure belt greatly influences the main features of the climate. The climate of Namibia is characterised by high variability. This in part, contributes to making Namibia vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

In Namibia’s initial communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2002,20 it is stated that trends in climate change predict that temperature will increase, specifically in central inland areas, rainfall will be variable and the rainy season is predicted to be shorter. Furthermore, an increase of potential evaporation at a rate about 5% per degree of warming and a sea level rise of up to 30cm was predicted. Namibia’s second national communication to the UNFCCC dated 2011 reveals that

The projected temperature increases will result in evaporation and evapotranspiration increases in the range of 5-15%, further reducing water resource availability and dam yields. It is predicted that, even without the additional stresses of climate change on the water resources, demand will have surpassed the installed abstraction capacity by 2015.21

Climate change in Namibia has an impact on access to water and sanitation, health, agriculture, fisheries and marine ecosystems, forestry, energy, and human settlements.22 A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that poor and other disenfranchised groups are the greatest victims of environmental degradation. In Namibia, the majority of the population live in rural areas, where poverty is a sad reality and remains one of the greatest challenges in the southern African region. The combined impact of climate change is expected to reduce livelihood opportunities even further, to reduce biodiversity and food security; the prevalence of drought and flooding will increase. Predicted impacts associated with temperature increases include a further rise in sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and the resultant threat to food security and sustainable development in general, with more people being caught up in the poverty trap. Limited adaptive management puts Namibia’s population and its natural resources at risk. Thus, integrating adaption and mitigation strategies into the legal framework is essential. Additionally, access to information, public participation and the development of an educational approach is called for. Finally, interdisciplinary research into the effects of climate change needs to be consolidated.

2.5 Waste and Pollution

Namibia in general and Windhoek in particular, are considered to be clean, if compared to many other parts and capital cities in Africa. Yet, growth in development and in population brings about an increase in pollution and waste. More people produce more waste, and economic development inevitably has negative effects on our environment: ground water and air pollution, more generally the toxic contamination of soils, etc. Therefore, waste management and pollution control are essential in terms of environmental protection.

Since 1990, the industrial production has significantly increased in Namibia with an attendant real potential to pollute the environment: the food industry, meat processing and mining all are potential sources of pollution.23 Carbon dioxide emissions are on the increase due to increasing motorisation, and the amount of household waste is rising too. Household waste accounts for a significant amount of waste produced in all the urban and rural areas of Namibia.24


1 See Goudie / Viles (2015:3ff.); See also Mendelsohn et al. (2009).

2 See Goudie / Viles (2015:12ff.) and Sweet / Burke (2006).

3 According to which arable land includes land defined by the FAO as land under temporary crops (double-cropped areas are counted once), temporary meadows for mowing or for pasture, land under market or kitchen gardens, and land temporarily fallow (land abandoned as a result of shifting cultivation is excluded)

4 Sweet / Burke (2006).

5 Available at http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/envpdf/Country_Snapshots_Aug%202013/Namibia.pdf; accessed 18 August 2015.

6 Source with further references: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/envpdf/Country_Snapshots_Aug%202013/Namibia.pdf; accessed 18 August 2015. Data on Economy from World Bank at http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=world-development-indicators; accessed 18 August 2015.

7 For more details and figures see Chapter 13 II on Renewable Energy Law.

8 Klintenberg / Seely (2004).

9 NSA (2012:56).

10 Iyambo, N, then Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in his foreword to Mendelsohn (2006).

11 HSF (2012:15).

12 Mendelsohn (2006:10).

13 MET (2006:1ff.).

14 Klintenberg / Seely (2004:7).

15 See http://www.fao.org/forestry/country/32185/en/nam/; accessed 25 August 2015.

16 See http://faostat3.fao.org/download/R/RL/E; accessed 25 August 2015.

17 Cf. FAO (2005).

18 MET (2006:13).

19 GRN (1997a:1); for Namibia’s main climatic characteristics (rainfall, temperatures, fog, wind, etc.) see also Goudie / Viles (2015:37ff.).

20 GRN (2002d).

21 GRN (2011a:6).

22 Karuaihe et al. (2007:34ff.).

23 MET (2006:70).

24 MET (2006:87).