In the Okavango Delta, Botswana, household adaptation to climatic variability hinges upon access to wetland resources. Household adaptation may be effective for current flood variability, but inadequate for future climate variability. Government interventions through adaptation planning for flood variability may also be inadequate. This study aimed to improve knowledge on adaptation planning in the Okavango Delta and similar areas in the world. The specific objectives were to determine household exposure, adaptive capacity and sensitivity to flood-related shocks, identify and assess government interventions for flood variability, and determine the effect of these interventions on household adaptation to flood variability in the Okavango Delta. Informed by the institutional analysis and development framework, the study used data from a survey of 623 households in five villages, some qualitative methods and secondary data sources. The results indicate that households are inherently sensitive to shocks, due to their dependence on natural resource-based livelihood activities, and that most households had sick members (53 %), and were food insecure (74 %). More households were more affected by river desiccation (84 %) than by flooding (23 %). Adaptation planning was implicitly undertaken in the form of disaster risk reduction, and mainstream development and poverty reduction programmes. These effectively contributed to household adaptation to flood variability but inhibited local institutional learning and innovation. Moreover, they were neither participatory nor conformant to local norms and therefore not sustainable in the long term. There is a need to adopt explicit, flexible and participatory approaches to planning to promote autonomous adaptation to flood variability in the Okavango Delta.