International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Okavango River Basin

The Okavango River has its source in the Cuito and Cubango Rivers in Angola. The river flows uninterrupted through Namibia to Botswana and discharges an average of 10 billion cubic meters per year to the Okavango Delta. The area of the Okavango Delta fluctuates between 6,000 to 8,000 square kilometers during the dry season, swelling to 15,850 square kilometers during the flood season.



The Agreement Between the Governments of the Republic of Angola, the Republic of Botswana, and the Republic of Namibia on the Establishment of a Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM) (the “OKACOM Agreement”) was signed in Windhoek, Namibia, on 15 September 1994, and immediately entered into force.


The Member States are Angola, Botswana, and Namibia.


The Okavango River has its source in the Cuito and Cubango Rivers in Angola. The river flows uninterrupted through Namibia to Botswana and discharges an average of 10 billion cubic meters per year to the Okavango Delta. The area of the Okavango Delta fluctuates between 6,000 to 8,000 square kilometers during the dry season, swelling to 15,850 square kilometers during the flood season.


Article 1.1 of the OKACOM Agreement established the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission (“OKACOM” or the “Commission”). The OKACOM Agreement does not contain a provision regarding the legal personality of the Commission.


The broad objective of the OKACOM Agreement was to establish OKACOM as an entity that would act as a technical advisor to the Member States “on matters relating to the conservation, development and utilization of water resources of common interest” to the Member States. Specifically, OKACOM is charged with advising the Member States on the following issues affecting the Okavango River Basin:

  • Measures and arrangements to determine the long term safe yield of the water available from all potential water resources in the Basin;
  • The reasonable demand for water from consumers in the Basin;
  • The criteria to be adopted in the conservation, equitable allocation and sustainable utilization of water resources in the Basin;
  • Investigations related to the development of water resources in the Basin, including the construction, operation and maintenance of any waterworks;
  • Prevention of water pollution and control over aquatic weeds in the Basin;
  • Measures to alleviate short term difficulties resulting from water shortages in the Basin during periods of drought, taking into consideration the availability of stored water and the water requirements of the Member States; and
  • Other matters to be determined by OKACOM.


OKACOM consists of delegations appointed by each Member State, with each delegation containing not more than three members. Each Member State designates one member of its delegation to serve as the delegation’s leader, with the leader having the authority to employ an unlimited number of advisors to the delegation (although no more than three may attend an OKACOM meeting unless otherwise agreed by OKACOM).

OKACOM is required to meet at least once per year, but may meet more frequently as agreed upon by the three delegations. The venue of meetings alternates between the three Member States, unless the delegations determine otherwise with respect to a particular meeting. The leader of the delegation tasked with hosting a particular meeting serves as chairperson during that meeting.

In May 2007, OKACOM’s Member States entered into the Agreement on the Organizational Structure of OKACOM. This agreement provides for three entities within OKACOM—the Commission, the Okavango Basin Steering Committee (the “OBSC”), and the Secretariat (also referred to as “OKASEC”). The Commission serves as OKACOM’s principal organ and is responsible for guiding its policy and supervising its activities. The OBSC, which was established in 1995, serves as the technical advisory body to the Commission. The Secretariat, which commenced operations in February 2008, is an internal entity within OKACOM that possesses the legal capacity and mandate necessary to assist OKACOM in implementing its decisions. The Secretariat also assists with information sharing and communication. The Secretariat is headed by an Executive Secretary who works under the direction of the Commission. Botswana was selected to host the Secretariat for its first three years, after which time it may relocate to another Member State.


OKACOM has partnered with a number of multilateral organizations and foreign governments. In May 2007, OKACOM signed an agreement with the Government of Sweden whereby Sweden pledged to provide US $2.2 million to help establish the OKACOM Secretariat and to fund its first three years of operation. Through the Swedish International Development Agency (“SIDA”), Sweden also promised to support the activities of the Secretariat for ten years, with Swedish funding decreasing as Member State funding increases over that time period.

OKACOM has also partnered with the Global Environment Facility (“GEF”) and the United Nations Development Programme to implement the Environmental Protection and Sustainable Management of the Okavango River Basin Project (“EPSMO”). With a GEF grant of over US $5 million and funds from other sources, the project will prepare a transboundary diagnostic analysis of hydro-environment threats and develop a strategic action program designed to facilitate the joint management of the Basin’s water resources and to protect its aquatic ecosystems and biological diversity.

OKACOM has also partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”), which provided US $7 million to support OKACOM’s institutional framework development through the Okavango Integrated River Basin Management Project.


All Commission decisions during OKACOM meetings are made on the basis of consensus. If the delegations fail to reach consensus on an issue during a meeting, the issue must be referred to the Member States by the respective delegations for further negotiation.


Article 7.4 of the OKACOM Agreement provides that: “Any dispute as to the interpretation or implementation of any Article of this Agreement shall be settled by the [Member States].” There are no further provisions for dispute resolution in the OKACOM Agreement.


OKACOM is authorized to appoint consultants to assist in gathering and processing information concerning any matter on which it is tasked with advising the Member States. A Member State may request that OKACOM provide such advice in the form of a written report signed by the leaders of each Member State’s delegation. Each Member State’s delegation is then responsible for submitting such reports to its respective government.

During OKACOM’s 16th Meeting, held in Gaborone, Botswana from 24-27 May 2010, OKACOM adopted a protocol to share information related to the Okavango River Basin. This new protocol, the OKACOM Protocol on Hydrological Data Sharing for the Okavango River Basin (“Protocol”), is intended to help the three Member States better prepare themselves for extreme climatic events, such as floods and droughts.

The Protocol provides that the OBSC is the entity responsible for the implementation of the Protocol. But, under the Protocol, each Member State shall be responsible for the installation and the operation and maintenance of hydrometeorological stations in its territory.

The specific types of data required to be monitored pursuant to the Protocol include water levels, water discharge, water quality, sediment transport and meteorological data. More specifically, the Protocol also provides that the Member States shall share, on a daily basis, water level data collected from key hydrometric stations at the following sites: (a) in Angola, Menongue on the Cuebe, Mucundi on the Cubango and Cuito Cuanavale on the Cuito; (b) in Namibia, Rundu and Andara on the Kavango; and (c) in Botswana, Mohembo on the Okavango. The Member States are also required to share, on a quarterly basis, discharge data from all stations, calculated using rating curves from the previous hydrological year. Water quality data is also to be shared on a quarterly basis, and on an ad hoc basis as requested by the Member States. The Protocol specifies that the following parameters should be considered during an analysis of water quality: electrical conductivity, total dissolved solids, dissolved oxygen, pH, phosphates; nitrates, fecal coliforms (in inhabited zones), total hardness, temperature, turbidity, total suspended solids, and chlorophyll a. The Protocol requires that the sampling and analytical methods used to measure water quality be standardized among the Member States. With respect to sediment transport data, the Protocol mandates that such data be shared on an annual basis among the Member States. The Protocol also requires that meteorological data, including rainfall, evaporation and temperature data, be shared on an ad hoc basis. At the end of each hydrological year (defined in the Protocol as the period commencing each October 1 and ending each September 30), the Member States are given three months to prepare an annual hydrological report for such year, and the report is then distributed by OKASEC.

The Protocol also requires that early warning information with respect to important environmental indicators is shared among the Member States. OKACOM’s Hydrological Task Force is required to provide OKASEC with “the best available information on floods, droughts and pollution magnitudes at different time and space scales.” OKASEC is then required to channel such information to “decision making bodies and other public actors” in the Member States.

See also Organizational Structure, noting that it is the responsibility of the Secretariat to assist with information sharing and communication.


See Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization, which describes the notifications provided to Member States under the Protocol.


Each Member State is responsible for covering the costs incurred by its delegation and related advisors in attending OKACOM meetings. In addition, Member States that host particular OKACOM meeting are responsible for all costs associated with securing a venue for the meeting, distributing an agenda, and recording and distributing the meeting minutes. Otherwise, all other costs incurred or liabilities accepted by OKACOM in the performance of its duties are shared equally among the Member States, unless otherwise agreed by OKACOM.

Reports prepared by OKACOM are to include estimates of the costs involved in implementing the Commission’s advice, and may also include proposals for the apportionment of these implementation costs among the Member States.

See also Relationships, describing the international funding partnerships.


No specific provision.


While the OKACOM Agreement does not contain a specific provision regarding compliance and monitoring, see Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization, which describes data monitoring requirements under the Protocol.


The Every River Has Its People Project is a regional initiative funded by SIDA and implemented by the Kalahari Conservation Society in Botswana, the Namibian Nature Foundation, and the Association for Environment Conservation and Rural Development in Angola. The Project was initiated in 2004 and ended in 2007. The Project created the Basin Wide Forum, a transboundary committee comprised of 10 local community representatives from each of the Member States. The Forum’s purpose is for the participants to share experiences and to assist in the development of knowledge-based community livelihoods and environmental action plans based on the socio-economic and hydro-environmental conditions in the Okavango River Basin.


Each Member State is free to withdraw from the OKACOM Agreement six months after providing written notice to the other Member States. Even after withdrawing, a Member State remains bound by its obligations for a further twelve months from the effective date of its withdrawal.





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