The Working for Water (W4W) expedition team will do this by “poling” dug-out canoes across each of Africa’s five most iconic deltas in one year, while conducting high-quality scientific research in these sensitive wetland ecosystems, surveying wildlife along the transect route, and seeding long-term community conservation projects.
From Botswana to Nigeria, South Sudan, Zambia and Mozambique, the W4W team will push their physical limits over hundreds of miles and move across some of the remotest and most dangerous regions in Africa. The expeditions will take them across the pristine Okavango Delta (the largest inland delta in the world), Lake Bengwuela and the associated swamps, the vast and little-known Zambezi Delta, the war torn and soon to be exploited Sudd Swamp (the largest swamp in the world), and finally the Niger Delta (the second largest and most degraded delta on earth). This project will, therefore, take us from the most pristine wetland ecosystems on earth to the most devastated, demonstrating to the world that if we do not act NOW we will lose forever what remains of these wilderness areas and the migrations they support.
Africa is changing rapidly. Substantial investment is coming in from countries like China, Brazil and India. Mineral rights are being sold, gas and oil exploration is underway, dams and hydro-electric schemes are being built, road networks are expanding, and water is becoming more and more scarce due to population growth and climate change. We need to ensure that the world understands the importance of the services provided by wetland ecosystems before they disappear.
These ancient African swamps and deltas all have the potential to yield large oil and gas reserves. Exploration is underway and we will need to choose between pure water and oil revenue, and world class natural heritage and despoiled dumping grounds. We need to care about this, because once they are gone, we have lost them FOREVER.
The Okavango Delta, Bengweula Swamps, Zambezi Delta, Sudd Swamp and Niger Delta are among the largest in the world, exceeding the size of small countries. These wetland ecosystems purify the rivers and the water that people drink, as well as support regional biodiversity and the migrations of millions of animals. They are reservoirs of life that support huge numbers of birds and animals during the dry season – images from prehistory still intact due to civil war and inaccessibility. Working for Water will stimulate positive change for Africa’s “Big Five” deltas by lobbying for World Heritage Status, new protected areas and Transfrontier Conservation Areas with national government, as well as interacting with local communities to find out what they need, and getting the necessary baseline biodiversity assessments completed. We can envisage the future we want for the deltas based on the richness we can still witness now, and gathering and telling sharing the lives and aspirations of the local people that depend on these ecosystems to the world.
To prove to the world that our presence in these ecosystems can be sustainable and that the lifestyles of local communities must be hailed as an example to us all, all five expeditions will be run on solar power and the expedition teams will live as close to the land as possible. By living like the locals, using the same means of transport, and having no ecological footprint on our expeditions, each expedition will showcase the sustainable lifestyles of the local communities that live in and depend on these wetland ecosystems. Local communities will be involved in all expeditions and the community conservation projects that support sustainable livelihoods and heritage rights to the land, and which will help protect these systems in perpetuity. As the saying goes: every river has its people… and untold stories. We are going there to find these people and share their stories through local translators in their home language and the shared experience of surviving through both strenuous and life-threatening situations on our way to discovering a way to protect these globally important wetlands.