When you visit, drive through, or camp in an area and have 'minimum impact' this means that that area is left in the same condition as – or better – than when you entered it. Whilst most visitors view minimum impact as being desirable, spend time to consider the ways in which we contribute to environmental degradation, and how these can be avoided.
Use your vehicle responsibly. If there's a road, or a track, then don't go off it – the environment will suffer. Driving off-road leaves unsightly tracks which detract from the 'wilderness' feeling for subsequent visitors. In the drier western areas these tracks can also crush fragile desert plants, and scar the desert for decades.
Use toilets if they are provided, even if they are basic long-drop loos with questionable cleanliness. If there are no toilets, then human excrement should always be buried well away from paths, or groundwater, and any tissue used should be burnt and then buried.
If you use rivers or lakes to wash, then soap yourself near the bank, using a pan for scooping water from the river – making sure that no soap finds its way back into the water. Use biodegradable soap. Sand makes an excellent pan-scrub, even if you have no water to spare.
Biodegradable rubbish can be burnt and buried with the camp fire ashes. Don't just leave it lying around: it will look very unsightly and spoil the place for those who come after you.
Bring along some plastic bags in which to remove the rest of your rubbish, and dump it at the next town. Items which will not burn, like tin cans, are best cleaned and squashed for easy carrying. If there are bins, then use them, but also consider when they will next be emptied, and if local animals will rummage through them first. Carrying out all your own rubbish may still be the sensible option.
Whilst the rules for reducing impact on the environment have been understood and followed by responsible travellers for years, the effects of tourism on local people have only recently been considered. Many tourists believe it is their right, for example, to take intrusive photos of local people – and even become angry if the local people object. They refer to higher prices being charged to tourists as a rip-off, without considering the hand-to-mouth existence of those selling these products or services. They deplore child beggars, then hand out sweets or pens to local children with outstretched hands.
Our behaviour towards 'the locals' needs to be considered in terms of their culture, with the knowledge that we are the uninvited visitors. We visit to enjoy ourselves, but this should not be at the expense of local people.Local payments
If you spend time with any of Namibia's poorer local people, perhaps staying at one of the community campsites, then take great care with any payments that you make.
Firstly, note that most people like to spend their earnings on what they choose. This means that trying to pay for services with beads, food, old clothes or anything else instead of money isn't appreciated. Ask yourself how you'd like to be paid, and you'll understand this point.
Secondly, find out the normal cost of what you are buying. Most community campsites will have a standard price for a campsite, an hour's guided activity, or whatever. Find this out before you sleep there, or accept the offer of a walk. It is then important that you pay about that amount for the service rendered – no less, and not too much more.
As most people realise, if you try to pay less you'll get into trouble – as you would at home. However, many do not realise that if they generously pay a lot more, this can be equally damaging. Local rates of pay in rural areas can be very low, and a careless visitor can easily pay disproportionately large sums. Where this happens, local jobs can lose their value overnight. (Imagine working hard to become a game scout, only to learn that a tourist has given your friend the equivalent of your whole month's wages for just a few hours guiding. What incentive is there for you to carry on with your regular job?)
If you want to give more – for good service, a super guide, or just because you want to help – then either buy some locally made produce (at the going rate), or donate money to one the organisations working to improve the lot of Namibia's most disadvantaged. The Nyae Nyae Foundation, IRDNC, and Save the Rhino Trust (Knobloch St, Swakopmund; tel: 064 403829; email: srtrhino@ iafrica.com.na) would all be delighted to suggest a worthwhile home for your donation – where every cent of your money will be put to good use, without causing any damage to the people that you are trying to help.