Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and Namibian environmental activist Reinhold Mangundu published an op-ed on Oct. 14 calling for a moratorium on oil drilling in order to preserve natural ecosystems — specifically for the protection of the Okavango watershed in Southern Africa. 

In the op-ed published by the Washington Post, Prince Harry and Mangundu, who also holds a master’s degree in sustainable development, warn against the environmental effects of drilling and the importance of valuing nature and life over profit. 

“Some things in life are best left undisturbed to carry out their purpose as a natural benefit. This is one of them,” the co-authors wrote.

The Okavango River flows through Angola, Namibia, and Botswana, providing resources to Indigenous communities and regions rich in native wildlife. The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands and a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural (UNESCO) World Heritage site. Fed by the rainfall in Angola’s highlands, the river provides water and fertile ground to 1 million Indigenous people and inhabitants. 

But now, corporate drilling has set its sights on Namibia and Botswana, posing a threat to the people, endangered wildlife, and unique ecosystem that the Okavango supports. 

ReconAfrica, a Canadian oil and gas company, has secured licenses for exploratory drilling in the Kavango Basin, where it expects to uncover up to 32 billion barrels of oil. But many have been critical of these plans, unsure if ReconAfrica has weighed the effects of potentially polluting local wells and the entire ecosystem. 

Citing recent pipeline leaks — such as the early October spill in California that released up to 144,000 gallons of oil into the ocean — Prince Harry and Mangundu warn of irreversible consequences to the environment that drilling risks. 

“There is no way to repair the damage from these kinds of mistakes. Drilling is an outdated gamble that reaps disastrous consequences for many, and incredible riches for a powerful few,” they wrote. “It represents a continued investment in fossil fuels instead of renewable energies.”

With November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow right around the corner, environmental preservation and alternative energy sources to reduce carbon emissions are at the top of the global conversation. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in an August “Code Red” report that increased droughts and devastating weather events fueled by global warming are aspects of our changing climate that will only worsen without immediate action. The research shows that without a drastic reduction in global carbon emissions, we will reach a global warming temperature past 1.5 degrees Celsius (the limit set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement) within the decade. Science-led goals outline the need for a global commitment to stop the use of fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy. 

The upper basin of the Okavango River is rife with poverty and most communities depend on the natural resources for agriculture, food, and tourism. Some of the river basin is protected for wildlife, but most of its area is unprotected. 

“Hundreds of thousands of farmers and fishers depend on clean water flowing down to the Okavango Delta. In other projects, extractive development has used vast quantities of water andcan leave toxic pollutants in its wake,” wrote The Duke of Sussex and Mangundu. “ReconAfrica’s materials indicate it may drill for 25 years, and because the region’s waters eventually drain into the Kalahari Desert, pollutants could accumulate.”

Environmental advocacy groups are calling on world leaders at COP26 to take the Pledge for Nature and commit to conserving 30% of global land and 30% of global seas and oceans. The Amazon rainforest is under constant threat from overfarming, and rivers, forests, and ecosystems such as the Okavango and the Amazon that face drilling, deforestation, pollution, and drought are vital lifelines for the Indigenous communities and endangered species that depend on them. 

But immediate action can prevent the loss of these natural resources. Advocates argue that world leaders must transition to renewable energy and end the use of fossil fuels, while governments and corporations have a responsibility to preserve biodiversity. 

“To protect the Okavango River Basin, we call on the world to stand in solidarity with us, our allies and local communities in advocating a full moratorium on oil and gas development in the region. We also encourage investors to note who profits — notably, ReconAfrica and its partners — and who is at risk from likely environmental destruction,” Prince Harry and Mangundu write.

The op-ed’s call to action is the type of effort, as they point out in the case of Costa Rica’s groundbreaking moratorium on drilling, that works with participation and leadership. 

“Now, the choice is simple: Either we honor our natural and life-sustaining ecosystems, preserving them for generations to come, or we exploit them on a path to permanent destruction. Will you stand with us?”

You can join Prince Harry, Mangundu, and Global Citizen partner Re:wild in advocating for the protection of the Okavango from corporate drilling by signing the open letter here.


Defend the Planet

Prince Harry Wrote an Urgent Op-Ed to Stop Oil Drilling in Southern Africa. Here's Why.

By Kate Nakamura