Two years after the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) and Namibia Wildlife Resorts’ (NWR’s) environmentally dangerous rubbish dumps made headlines in Informanté with the image of a gemsbok eating a leftover hamburger from the rubbish heap at Sesriem, nothing has changed.
The gemsbok picture became iconic.
Recommendations from an in-depth study done in 2013 on Waste Management and Pollution Prevention in Protected Areas lie gathering dust, adding further evidence of MEFT and NWR’s lackadaisical approach to the environment over the last two decades.
As tourism struggles to revive after months of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, it is more crucial than ever before that MEFT and NWR rectify their environmental practices and reduce their very large pollution footprint.
Namibia is home to some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Its vast landscapes and pristine wilderness attract people from around the globe, yet the rubbish dumps in most if not all the national parks remain ugly eyesores and environmental disaster zones.
These photographs were recently taken at Sesriem, the gateway to the famed dunes of Sossusvlei, which forms part of the UNESCO Namib Sand Sea world heritage site and is one of Namibia’s main tourist hotspots. The dump is located on the side of a tributary of the Tsauchab River. From the aerial photo it is evident that when the area next experiences heavy rainfall, the rubbish is likely to end up in the Sossusvlei pan.
In today’s world that is increasingly environmentally aware, these sites – where all manner of rubbish is dumped and burned – are dinosaurs of the past that should have been shut down and rehabilitated years ago and replaced with more sustainable solutions.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism and Namibia Wildlife Resorts, which operates the camps and resorts in the national parks, is the custodian and therefore responsible for ensuring that all their operations are environmentally sound.
Namibia’s 22 national parks cover an area of more than 18% of the country and include the vast Namib Naukluft Park, the Fish River Canyon, and Etosha National Park, with well-frequented camps and resorts like Ai-Ais, Sesriem, and Okaukuejo. Strangely enough, if you look at NWR’s website, you’ll read about an ethos that blatantly contradicts its actions. It clearly states that it belongs to the people, is accountable to its stakeholders, has integrity, is trustworthy, and walks its talk. It describes its ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ as ‘. . . contributing to sound environmental management practices and conservation efforts,’ and in its Enviro Kidz programme its desire to ‘. . . nurture future generations of Namibians with a love and appreciation for their natural resources and environment’. Yet, a glance at the rubbish dumps at the NWR camps tells a very different story.
Although clean-ups have been implemented in the past at NWR resorts like Ai-Ais, they were short-lived and were not rolled out to the other camps, resorts, or national parks, and it seems that hardly any recycling of waste material takes place although some token recycling bins hint to the contrary. As the world moves forward in waste management, NWR casts a blind eye and continues to dump and burn its waste with no concern for the environment or the planet.
While it lures tourists with false words and empty promises, the charred dumpsites remain blemishes in the landscape that clearly tell us that the custodians of Namibia are clearly not responsibly carrying out their mandate.
Covid-19 has dramatically affected the tourism industry and has left thousands of people unemployed. When the international airport came to a standstill earlier in the year, it became obvious how vital the tourism sector is to the country’s economy. The lockdowns and social distancing have given us the space to reassess our actions and to contemplate our environmental impact on the planet. As a result, the tourist has become a discerning traveller, who travels at a slower pace, is more environmentally conscious than ever before, and is increasingly fastidious in the choice of destinations that genuinely put their sustainability and conservation ethos into practice.
It is now time to hold MEFT and NWR accountable for their environmental practices – and their integrity.
Private tourism operators over the years have countrywide from the iconic Etosha to the Ais-Ais resorts have publically and privately called on them to walk their talk, reinvest and implement sound environmental practices, not only for our visitors but for our children, so that they can grow up proudly in a country that cares for its land and its people. And continue the legacy.