River conservation in the countries of the
Southern African Development Community
B.R. Davies and M.J. Wishart
It first made sense to confine ourselves to ‘Southern Africa’ within an ecological and biogeographical framework and we elected to address the area ‘south of 17°S’ effectively the Zambezi Valley southwards. As we progressed, however, it became clear that recent socio-political developments might have far more important consequences for river conservation in the region than, for example, purely geographical or biological considerations. Thus, we reconsidered and broadened our boundaries to cover the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Although some may disdain our socio-political, rather than biogeographical approach, we argue that throughout SADC, socio-political considerations are inextricably linked to conservation issues. The community comprises the Republics of Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique- (Mozambique), Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. Even with our decision we were immediately faced with the problem of inclusivity. For instance, it made no sense to include Mauritius and Madagascar (see Benstead et al., this volume, for Madagascar) and, hence, our review excludes the Indian Ocean states, although it does, to some extent, include the recent addition to SADC, the DRC (we avoid overlap with the coverage of the DRC by Pacini and Harper (this volume)).
The uneven distribution, both of permanent surface waters and of human populations in the region has led to the construction of large water-distribution networks (interbasin transfers: IBTs), and will do so with increasing frequency. Such developments have profound implications for river conservation (see also Davies et al., this volume). Within this framework there is growing pressure to look beyond national boundaries for water. The Congo and Zambezi Rivers, for instance, are the only large perennial systems of the region (Table 7.1), and both are being investigated as potential sources of water for the southern states of the region. The abundant water of the Congo, and the increasing trend towards ‘redistribution’ of unevenly distributed water (Asmal, 1995; Davies and Day, 1998), makes it vitally important for SADC.
Our decision was also shaped by the recent democratic elections in South Africa, the disbanding of the so-called ‘Front-Line States’, South Africa’s return to the international community, and the creation of a regional economic community. It is this last, we feel, that will eventually lead to rapid industrial, urban and rural development, with concomitant effects on aquatic environments. In this context, unless closer regional cooperation is strengthened (see Wishart et al., this volume), river ecosystems will be subject to even greater stresses than at present.