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People and the River



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Upstream and Downstream  

The Kunene River has a length of 1 050 km and covers an area of 106 500 km². Around 87 % of the catchment lie on Angolan territory. The Kunene basin is divided into three sub-basin:

  • The Upper Kunene;
  • The Middle Kunene; and
  • The Lower Kunene.
Population density from upstream to downstream.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2010
( click to enlarge )


There is very little information on the size of the population of the Kunene basin. For Angola, however, the “Plan for the Integrated Use of Water Resources in the Kunene River Basin” (LNEC 2001) estimates that 1 975 429 inhabitants lived in the Angolan part of the basin in 1990. The Angolan section of the basin comprises 22 municipalities in four provinces: Huíla, Huambo, Kunene and Namibe. Huíla Province is the largest in the basin with 12 municipalities amounting to 900 024 inhabitants in 1990, corresponding to 45.6 % of the Angolan basin population. Huambo has five municipalities located within the basin. They comprise 885 513 inhabitants and represent 44.8 % of the population of the Angolan basin. Kunene Province, with four municipalities and 188 871 inhabitants in the basin, represents 9.6 % of the population of the Angolan section of the basin. Finally, the municipality of Tombua in Namibe Province contributes only slightly to the basin population with an estimated 1 000 inhabitants (LNEC 2001). An overview of the provinces and municipalities within the basin is provided here.

As far as can be ascertained, there are no recent exact figures for the Namibian part of the basin. Useful, however, is the 2001 Population and Housing Census. It indicates that the sparsely populated Epupa Constituency, which comprises most of the Namibian basin part, had 13 129 inhabitants in 2001 (NPC 2005).

Population Density

The highest population density in the basin is around Huambo, in the Upper Kunene, and decreases towards the Lower Kunene (see map above). This is caused in part by the higher water availability in the upper reaches of the river system which comprise perennial tributaries due to the regular and high rainfalls on the Angolan central plateau. About 90 % of the entire river discharge is generated in the perennial rivers of the upper catchment.

The population density is strongly associated with the social organisation and economic activities of the population. It is possible to identify three major population patterns:

  • The urban / suburban population;
  • The agricultural population living to some degree in concentrations around agricultural centres that provide markets; and
  • The (semi-)nomadic pastoral population living mainly in scattered family units and complementing pastoralism with subsistence farming.

Within the Angolan part of the basin the population density was estimated at 21.4 % inhabitants per km². In the four provinces as a whole (involving all municipalities, not only those located in the basin) the population density in 1990 was highest in Huambo (40.3 inhabitants per km²), decreasing in Huíla (12.8 inhabitants per km²) and lowest downstream in Namibe with 1.7 inhabitants per km² (LNEC 2001).

In the Namibian basin part, the (semi-)arid Lower Kunene is also sparsely populated and settlements are at considerable distance from the river. Okongwati is the closest “settlement” (with 414 in habitants in 2001) and still located inside the watershed, whereas Opuwo as the closest “town” (with 5 101 inhabitants in 2001) is located just outside the basin (IWRM Plan Joint Venture 2010).

Water Users

The Kunene River and its tributaries provide water for different “users” both within and outside the basin (see also Water Demand chapter):

  • Domestic users (urban and rural);
  • Irrigated agriculture;
  • Animal husbandry (livestock);
  • Hydroelectric power production;
  • Forestry;
  • Mining; and
  • Tourism.

The largest water user is irrigated agriculture. In the Angolan basin area government plans foresee the rehabilitation and installation of old and new irrigation areas, mainly in the Middle Kunene reaches. On the Namibian side of the Kunene River, irrigation occurs mainly within the Etunda Irrigation Scheme near Ruacana, just outside of the basin, using Kunene water abstracted from the river at Calueque.

Major Dams

From upstream to downstream, the following major dams along the river regulate the water flow, and provide water to settlements, irrigated areas, as well as hydroelectric power plants:

  • Gove dam: regulates the flow of the river to allow optimal power generation downstream; stores water to supply settlements and irrigation needs along the middle Kunene River in Angola; from 2011 will also generate hydroelectric power for local consumption.
  • Matala weir: stores water for domestic water supply, local development and a nearby irrigation scheme; generates hydroelectric power for use in south-west Angola, for example in Lubango and Namibe.
  • Calueque weir: stores water for domestic water supply, local development and downstream irrigation in Angola; stores water for bulk transfer and use in northern Namibia; regulates the flow to enable optimal electricity generation downstream at Ruacana.
  • Ruacana diversion weir: generates hydroelectric power for the national electricity network of Namibia.

Further details on the water infrastructure in the basin is contained in the Dams and Infrastructure section.

Matala weir, Angola.
Source: Vogel 2010
( click to enlarge )
Calueque weir, Angola.
Source: Tump 2006
( click to enlarge )




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View a historical timeline of the Kunene basin countries, including water agreements & infrastructure

Video scenes about the limited access to water of the San in Kunene Province