Environmental Learning and Action in the Kuiseb (ELAK) is one of the more interesting, but limited, portions of my job. I will describe what ELAK does but I just want to summarize it into an oversimplified statement: ELAK is about bringing people together and providing them with the tools for better decision making. The really neat thing about ELAK that it does not just give them the tools for the enhanced decision-making, it also shows them where the tools they already have are. An example, Topnaars need help with some things but don't have the equipment, experience, or maybe the infrastructure. ELAK basically brings everyone into the same room for stakeholder meetings and says, "Okay what do we want and need." People start talking and realize that; "hey! This guy can help me," they then talk to "this guy" and "this guy" says; "if it brings the whole basin along I would be happy to." Granted this guy does not always say sure and cannot always help. (A note: guy is a term I consider to be gender neutral, use of the word guy does not imply a bias toward males.)
For me, others may differ, the most important thing ELAK brings to people is the environmental education/learning. It is not really classroom style learning, it is more in the form of raising awareness. There are all these groups in the basin making a living but previously the basin as a whole didn't really know what the basin as a whole was doing. Walvis bay knew how Walvis Bay operated, NamWater how NamWater operated etc. Most Stakeholder Meetings are characterized by presentations on activities in the basin. The most recent meeting was a huge blend of presentations and information sharing: a presentation on virtual water (a strange and interesting theoretical concept), a presentation by NamWater on water abstraction at Swartbank, one from Gobabeb on analyses of some of their data, Walvis bay explaining urban water infrastructure and management. The huge blend of topics linked by a central theme, the basin, is really interesting. By letting everyone know what you know, and they let you know what they know, everyone ends up knowing more, therefore able to make better decisions.
All of this information sharing and all of these workshops have been aimed at deconstructing semi-artificial "sections" of the Kuiseb that divided the basin in the minds of the people. (Kuiseb was grouped in to upper, middle, and lower catchments) By doing this the Kuiseb becomes one unit, making it easier for people to understand everything happening in the basin is related. Actions in one part of the basin affect all parts. At this point the basin management committee now enters from stage left.
Through the interactive process of the stakeholder meetings the need for a basin management committee was introduced and accepted. Without boring the reader with the various Namibian bills that allow for the existence of such a body: it is provided for in the "Water Bill." The BMC has many roles and responsibilities but mainly it is an advisory body to the minister for water and natural resource related issues within a Basin.
The underlying goal of the BMC is to further the development of the basin while preserving its uniqueness. What makes a basin unique are the environment and the people. The actions and decisions help the environment and help the people living in the basin. The committee, selected by stakeholders from stakeholders, makes decisions that bring the whole basin forward with everyone onboard.
On the personal level you can sit there and absorb what is going on like it is any other meeting, then it hits you. "Wait this is the future of Namibia." It is intimidating to realize that you are working with the people and with the idea (BMC) that are going to be guiding (if not guiding then advising) the development of the country (the idea is for the country the people are for the Kuiseb). Since development is limited by water the decisions that the committee makes really impact the future of the basinâ¦just a little.