Concerns over environmental impact of building the P1 billion Bridge over the Okavango River – a world heritage site – have been brushed aside with Government insisting that every necessary precaution has been taken before the start of the project. KEITEBE KGOSIKEBATHO reports
The Okavango River Bridge whose construction is expected to commence soon, is anticipated to bring with it a notable facelift to the otherwise serene and pristine mighty river in the North western of Botswana.From the artistic impression of the project, the bridge spot larger than life replica elephant tusks at its entrance and at the exit, partly to symbolize the thriving tourism industry in the area and to give the bridge a unique outlook.
Such aesthetic feel and attention given to an infrastructure of this nature is perhaps a first in Botswana and the hope is that the bridge will compete with other international iconic structures which are highly rated and are themselves tourist attractions.
However developments of this nature obviously come with rigorous construction work which if not given attention may take a toll on the environment.
The question now is - Should environmentalists be worried? The Okavango Delta is a wetland of international importance (a Ramsar site and the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage Site) which is rich in wildlife species and is home to 5, 000 insects, 3, 000 plants, 540 birds, 164 mammals, 157 reptiles, 80 fish and countless micro-organisms.
“We were guided by environmental guidelines as per the UNESCO World Heritage Site requirements. We also work with the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism as our partners in this project,” said the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Elias Magosi.
According to Magosi, after conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project, and considering the UNESCO and Ramsar restrictions, they had to consider carefully where to locate the bridge, which type of material to use and the quantity of material to be used.
“As it is the bridge is a bit longer than what we had initially planned. We had to make adjustments to place it, where the environment would not be exposed to as much damage,” Magosi said, adding that they also had to limit the number of support pillars which will be used to support the bridge hence being forced to rather settle for top quality steel , a certain type of concrete and cables.
“As a result we had an increase in budget to accommodate all the environmental requirements but at the same time not compromising quality,” said Magosi.
The inscribed World Heritage property encompasses an area of 2,023,590 ha with a buffer zone of 2,286,630 ha, and the Okavango River Bridge spans between Mohembo East (Kauxwi) Ferry Landing Site and Mohembo West (Shakawe) Ferry landing Site which is in the inner zone of the inscribed World Heritage property.According to Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute in Maun, as long as an environmental impact assessment was carried out and approved then there should be no problem. He explained that the World Heritage listing only prohibits major construction activities such as mining which if carried out are bound to cause major environmental rifts or even change the delta’s ecosystem.The construction of the bridge is fully funded by the government of Botswana through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
The civil works comprise the construction of a 1, 161 metre-long road bridge, with the following configuration; Left Bank: 4 spans; 32.75 45.00, 32.75m, Main Channel: Cable Stayed of 3 spans; 100, 200, 100m, Right Bank: 14 spans of 32.75, 12x45.00, 32.75m. Pedestrian walkways and lighting over the bridge and along 3 km of approach road.The bridge is obviously of socio-economic importance to the Delta and Chobe areas, as well as to the rest of the country. It is anticipated that it will among other benefits, make services available to all by reducing crossing time, by making it feasible for expansion of future road network, and integrate tourist attraction sites and activities such as Lake Ngami, Tsodilo, Aha Hills and others.The construction of the bridge was awarded to ITINERA and CIMOLAI Joint Venture from Italy for the sum of P1 billion and is expected to be completed in July 2019. CPP Botswana (Pty) Ltd consultant will supervise the project.Magosi said his ministry will make it a point that the contractor finishes the project within the same time and within stipulated budget.A representative of the company Alex De Col vowed that ITINERA and CIMOLAI was committed to delivering an excellent and satisfactory project to the Botswana as they have realised its worth and importance to the country. The project is expected to create between 350 and 400 jobs for locals.