Balloon war at SossusvleiBy: JAN POOLMAN
A WAR of words has erupted over a planned tethered balloon project in the Sossusvlei area, with one side arguing that it will spoil the beauty of the area, while the black economic empowerment company Jemara Business Trust believes it will attract more tourists to Namibia.
Another concern is that the project might jeopardise a pending application for declaring the Namib Sand Sea as a World Heritage Site.
The Namibia National Commission of Unesco submitted the application to the Secretariat of the World Heritage Committee in February this year.
The Southern Namib Sand Sea in western Namibia stretches from Sesriem to Saddle Hill along the coast to Sandwich Harbour inland to the Kuiseb River Canyon.
The planned balloon project, which will be based at a parking area five kilometres from Sossusvlei, falls outside the area under consideration for World Heritage status.
The project involves a helium balloon that is permanent inflated and tethered at the same place, but can be lowered and raised again.
According to Frieda Kanime of the Namibia National Commission of Unesco, states party to the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage are requested to put measures in place to protect the listed World Heritage sites in their territory.
“It is therefore important to preserve the uniqueness of the Namib Sand Sea. Mining or any excavation activities will not be allowed within its boundaries.”
She told The Namibian that the application is expected to be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session next year for possible inclusion on the World Heritage list.
Dennis Hesemans of Namib Sky Balloon Safaris is of the opinion that a stationary balloon tethered to a cement block, which will be “like a ten-storey building”, will ruin the beauty of the dunes at Sossusvlei.
“It is crazy. The kind of tourism that Namibia offers is natural and the clean environment plays an important role. At Sossusvlei you find the biggest dunes in the world and this project will affect the beauty of this rarity.”
Hesemans operates hot-air balloon flights over the Sesriem/Sossusvlei area, but his balloon lands outside the park.
Jemara Business Trust will be operating from within the park, about 66 km from Hesemans’ hot-air balloon operation.
According to the acting CEO of the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR), Daniel Nghindinua, NWR had studied Jemara’s business plan and approved it.
“To this end, the Jemara Business Trust and NWR have signed a memorandum of understanding to pursue the concept. A substantive agreement will be negotiated and entered into once Jemara Business Trust has done further work on the proposed project concept and fulfilled all legal requirements such as obtaining the environmental clearance from the responsible ministry, which will pave way for the implementation of the project.”
Nghindinua said the tethered balloon project would be environmentally friendly, non-polluting, odourless and quiet, and will only require a small space with a radius of about 12 metres.
“It has fewer environmental degradation effects than vehicles, accommodation facilities, and airplane/helicopter rides. It produces no litter, no huge excavation and extensive earthworks and can be easily dismantled and carried away should the need arise. It is therefore not anticipated that there would be any negative effects to people, the World Heritage status, and the environment. State and NWR funds are also not being used for the project,” Nghindinua said.
Lesley Gariseb of Jemara Business Trust told The Namibian that the project will cost about N$6 million and is expected to be realised towards the end of this year.
“In the meantime we obtained the environment clearance certificate and will not spoil the area, as we are aware of the importance of the beauty of the dunes which are a tourist attraction.”