Wildlife tourism is a major source of income and livelihood for many rural communities across southern Africa. But it also presents a potential threat to water resources.
Many wildlife tourism lodges in the region are in remote locations where little or no infrastructure exists. They depend on natural sources such as rivers, dams and boreholes for their water needs.
The lack of infrastructure such as housing, roads and public transport in these remote places also means that the staff employed at lodges often reside on the tourism properties. Lodges thus need water not only for tourism operations but for the domestic use of staff members.
But rural residents too need water to secure their livelihoods, such as raising cattle. Lodges’ water use should not be to the detriment of the local communities.
In Southern Africa water resources are becoming stretched because of growing population numbers as well as the reduction in the volume of available good quality water as a result of environmental degradation, erratic rainfall and climatic variability brought on by the effects of climate change.
Tourism ventures need to balance the needs of guests and staff with the needs of surrounding communities. Imbalances in a water-stressed region like southern African could lead to conflict around water use, similar to what has already been experienced in many island states.
Working with wildlife tourism industry role players, our research team recently completed a multi-year study that reviewed the per capita water consumption of guests and staff at more than 30 exclusive luxury wildlife lodges across Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Wildlife tourism companies approached the researchers to do an independent review of water quantity and quality across their southern African operations. The results were made available to industry participants. This view of the existing situation would be used to set benchmarks for comparison across the industry.
This is an excerpt from an article by Kevin Mearns, originally published on the The Conversation.