SEATTLE — On January 18, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot L. Engel introduced a bill to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs called H.R. 4819, or the Defending Economic Livelihoods and Threatened Animals (DELTA) Act.
The bill focuses on the Okavango River Basin, which encompasses Angola, Botswana and Namibia. It seeks to boost economic development in southern Africa, as all three of these countries continue to fight against poverty and other economic hardships.
Angola’s economy has been struggling since 2015, when, according to the World Bank, reduced oil prices caused the GDP growth to decrease to 1.5 percent, down from 10.3 percent in previous years. Furthermore, Angola has a high rate of inflation, large amounts of deficit, high public debt and negative interest rates.
Botswana is different because it has a successful economy, but high rates of economic inequality and poverty. The World Bank states that poverty in Botswana only fell from 13.2 percent in 2013 to 12.3 percent in 2018.
Similar to Botswana, Namibia is also an upper-middle income country. However, it continues to be plagued by both a lack of job creation and economic inequality that has been entrenched in the country since the days of apartheid.
The DELTA Act has five main goals that it aims to complete in order to foster economic development in southern Africa and the Okavango River Basin area:
- To encourage federal agencies to work in conjunction with the governments of Angola, Botswana and Namibia to create improved natural resource management and wildlife conservation.
- To add protection to the migration routes of elephants and other endangered species that live around the river basin.
- To fight against poaching and trafficking of wildlife in the area.
- To assist with human health and other development needs of the local communities around the river basin.
- To generally stimulate the economic development in southern Africa, namely Angola, Botswana and Namibia, as well as the region around the river basin.
If passed into law, the DELTA Act would be beneficial to both the people who depend on the delicate ecosystem of the Okavango River Basin for their livelihoods, as well as the endangered animals that call the area home.
For example, the preservation of the river basin is critical because it supports around a million people and is their main source of water. Botswana depends on the Okavango River Basin as a means to generate income from tourism. The river basin is the “second largest foreign currency earner” for the country, according to the Okavango River Basin Water Commission.
Furthermore, combating poaching and trafficking is also important because the DELTA Act states that these activities can have detrimental effects on the local government, due to the potential of causing instability in the region.
The Okavango River Basin also happens to be home to the largest remaining group of elephants in the world. Therefore, protecting wildlife and natural resources from poaching and exploitation is crucial to ensuring the ecosystem’s wellbeing, and as a result, improving the growth of the communities that live in the area.
The DELTA Act seeks to spur economic development in southern Africa by encouraging federal agencies to work with the governments and local communities of Angola, Botswana and Namibia in order to create a better “policy-enabling environment.”
Not only would these countries benefit, but the bill also states “it is in the strategic interest of the United States to… advance conservation efforts and promote economic growth and stability in the greater Okavango River Basin.”
The DELTA Act has been introduced to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and as of this writing no further action has been taken on it.
– Jennifer Jones