Namibians Look to Government, One Another for Action on Climate and Environment

Namibia is an arid land between two deserts, the Kalahari in the East and the Namib in the West. Droughts and water scarcity are common. Yet most Namibians depend on agriculture, relying on natural rain for crop and livestock production – and are thus highly vulnerable to climate change. The country is also a tourist destination with pristine landscapes and a thriving wildlife population, including some of the world’s most iconic free-roaming animals. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent collapse of international travel and leisure tourism, tourism contributed more than 10% of Namibia’s gross domestic product and employed, directly or indirectly, more than 100,000 citizens. It is a sector that depends very much on sound environmental protection policies, anti-pollution measures, and conservation regulations to manage the country’s natural resources. Namibia is endowed, too, with precious minerals. Recent exploration projects for oil and gas in the ecologically sensitive Okavango basin and for uranium near the Stampriet Transboundary Aquifer System have raised concerns among environmentalists and local communities about water contamination and damage to fragile human and wildlife habitat, linking resource extraction to agricultural production and tourism. In Namibia, as in most countries, climate change and environmental governance intersect to raise fundamental questions for human health and well-being. From air and water pollution to extreme weather events and global warming, causes and effects are often intertwined, and may also be tightly linked to people’s economic lives. Understanding popular perspectives and priorities can help strengthen efforts to prevent or mitigate negative outcomes, whether through policy advocacy or direct action. This dispatch reports on special survey modules included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Namibians’ experiences and perceptions of climate change, pollution and environmental governance, and natural resource extraction. Findings show that while climate change is still an unknown concept to more than half of Namibians, those who are aware of it expect far more action from both the government and their co-citizens to fight it. More Namibians are focused on pollution and environmental protection, rating trash disposal as the most important environmental issue in their community and calling on the government to ban the production and use of plastic bags. But if environmental-protection policies threaten jobs and incomes, citizens are sharply divided as to which should be prioritized. And by a margin of almost 2 to 1, Namibians say the benefits of natural resource extraction, such as jobs, outweigh negative impacts such as pollution. Still, most want the government to regulate natural resource extraction more tightly to protect the environment.