DRY DELTA SET FOR WET WINTER
It is around 9:00 in the morning. Despite the early hour, the unforgiving sun beats down fiercely on the Daunara wilderness.
The heat forces a large number of polers to seek shelter under the leafy tress that line the riverside’s muddy banks.
Meanwhile a group of European tourists, basking in the sun’s golden rays, set off in canoes, expertly steered across the Gomoti River by their guides.
The river is one of the few to survive the drought that has parched much of Ngamiland District in the last two years. The water still flows, but at a much lower level than normal.
Over 600 polers gather by this river every morning, desperately hoping to win tenders to take tourists on boat trips, sometimes overnight into camps.
“We are gathered here from different villages because other rivers have dried up. So it is survival by grace,” states Meshack Keogotsitse, a rugged youth with a muscly physique toned from hours spent ferrying tourists over water.
Together with over 100 other polers, Keogotsitse relocated from Boro River last year after the river ran dry.
“This is our bread and butter. We depend on the river to give us food and clothes. We have families to support!”
His friend/competition, Keaoleboga Mosweu, reveals that although they no longer make as much as they used to due to the recent influx of polers, there is still a living to be made.
“If you are smart, you can make good money from this business. It pays well, but it needs patience. I am grateful that at the end of every week, I can buy food, groceries and other necessities for my family,” says Mosweu, shielding his eyes as the sun bursts out from behind a cloud.
Another to make the switch from Boro to Daunara is Obusitswe Ntebang, one of a number of female polers.
Like her male counterparts, Ntebang is well aware of the deadly dangers that lurk below the river. Yet she has no option but to peddle her canoe into the hippo and crocodile infested waters.
“I have to do it to survive. It’s that or starve,” she says simply.
“Most of us had been operating from Boro River but we moved here last year after the river dried up. In this business, we are equals, there is no men or women, we are just polers,” she adds with a smile.
Gazing at the partly cloudy sky, Ntebang is hopeful the rains will return this year, enabling her to go back to Boro to rejoin her family and work closer to home.
It seems her hope is not without merit.
Floods from the Angolan Highlands have started feeding the Okavango Delta from Mohembo River.
According to the Regional Manager of Water and Sanitation in Maun, Kutlo Kgobero, water is expected to reach the Delta by winter.
“We are hopeful that Thamalakane River and others will get water this year. Already in Namibia’s Rundo River, the water levels have risen and that is the same water that is flowing into Botswana. Water levels at Mohembo are steadily going up,” revealed Kgobero, explaining that the Okavango Delta gets its water from Cuito River, which runs from Angola’s Highlands through Namibia and into the Mohembo channel.
Thousands of families from Boro, Daraxau, Morutsa, Xaxaba, Ditshiping, Xutau in Botswana depend on this water.
When it does not come, the consequences are far-reaching. Cattle die of thirst, humans go hungry and polers are dispersed.