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Identifying and describing the impact of gully erosion in the livelihoods and properties of traditional Himba communities in Kaokoland (Namibia) as a driver of regional migration
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  • Miguel Vallejo Orti,
  • Bernhard Höfle,
  • Olaf Bubenzer,
  • Kaleb Negussie
Miguel Vallejo Orti
Heidelberg University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Bernhard Höfle
3DGeo Research Group, Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University, Germany
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Olaf Bubenzer
Heidelberg University
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Kaleb Negussie
Namibia University of Science and Technology
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Gully erosion is an accelerator of land degradation and one of the most critical agents threatening the environment in Namibia’s north-western region. Large gullies dominating alluvial valleys expand each year during the short but intense rains, leading to a reduction of arable land and grazing areas, destruction of roads, cattle paths, agricultural facilities, and houses, prompting territorial fragmentation and the geographical isolation of local communities. In contrast, gullies can also act as a linear oasis while providing several benefits to their inhabitants. This research aims to describe the mutual influences between a large gully and the local communities in a valley extended towards the south from Opuwo, inhabited by the same native Himba families for several generations. In-situ surveys show that the gully is a general concern in the area due to the insecurity and direct physical risk it poses to humans and their domestic animals. The second factor of distress is the accelerating land degradation in the valley, leading to the disappearance of grazing areas, forcing local shepherds to travel further in their transhumance. Ortho-imagery and spatial analysis show that 10% of the houses, 25% of the Kraals, and 50% of the gardens are less than 50 meters away from the gully border, and therefore they are in current or potential risk of abandonment, forcing eventual re‑settlements and migrations. Moreover, indigenous knowledge arises that the gully also offers a few advantages, like its ability to store water during the dry season. These benefits are frequently seen as a trap or an associated risk for the animals and children getting in the gully. To this end, it is noticeable that as the gully affects the communities and its livelihoods, it also acts as a driver of development for the gully through its agricultural and livestock practices. This is evident by the appearance of the gully heads on paths, ditches, and domestic animals’ routes, along with endemic overgrazing for decades. In summary, this research identified these prevalent human-nature dynamics and attempted to provide recommendations that can reverse accelerated degradation in the long term while describing the present and potential future of the Himba people inhabiting these fragile lands in Kaokoland.