Over Three Million Threatened With Disaster According To Zimbabwe-Zambia’s Kariba Dam Tests

The five-decade-old Kariba Dam threatens collapse which would create a disaster for three and a half million in the vicinity. In early March, engineers from the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), which manages the Kariba Dam, issued a serious warning that one of the world’s largest dams could collapse at any time. The Kariba Dam is responsible for Lake Kariba, one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Lake Kariba’s capacity is 180 cubic kilometers. ZRA told the New Zimbabwe that the “situation at the Kariba Dam wall is a cause for grave concern… all urgency is expected in order to avert any such catastrophe as dam failure.” The ZRA affirmed the Kariba Dam, which is located on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, is in need of massive critical repairs to avoid a disaster.

Decades of erosion have weakened the foundations of the dam threatening potential collapse, engineers told City Press. “Anything is possible, so there is a need to act to avoid risk and minimise panic,” Modibo Traoré, head of the Zimbabwe UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, told Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

Madzudzo Pawadyira, the director of the Civil Protection Unit (CPU), according to The Guardian, said that communities in flood-prone areas are being resistant to the CPU’s efforts to relocate them to higher ground for their own protection. Pawadyria said, “we don’t have powers to forcefully move them, thus mostly depend on politicians to try and convince them to settle elsewhere, but with little success.” Pawadyira pointed to the Tokwe-Mukosi disaster and stressed the importance of learning from the lack of effective efforts of disaster avoidance and emergency preparedness during the failure of that dam. “The Tokwe-Mukosi disaster took us by surprise, as we had not foreseen water rising to that level, but the fact that anything can happen any time,” Pawadyira told IRIN.

The Kariba dam requires 250 million dollars in repairs. Repairs must be made within three years to best avoid disaster. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Union have agreed to help fund the repair, according to the Zimbabwe Solution. The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam constructed between 1955 and 1959 by Impresit of Italy. The first phase of construction cost 135 million dollars. By the time the dam was fully completed in 1977, the construction costs amounted to 480 million dollars and the lives of 86 men.

The Kariba Dam supplies 1,319 megawatts of electricity to parts of both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The dam generates 23 petajoules of energy per year. The Kariba Dam controls nine-tenths of the total runoff of the Zambezi River. Its construction changed the downriver ecosystem dramatically. From 1960 to 1961, “Operation Noah” relocated approximately 6,000 large animals and many smaller animals after the Kariba dam’s construction resulted in rising water levels in the man-made lake and destroyed their traditional habitat.

Rainfall in the region is expected to increase adding to the threats of the Kariba Dam’s failure. Experts are concerned that all of the dams on the Zambezi River, in addition to the Kariba, may not be capable of handling the excess water. Zimbabwe-Zambia experts understand the magnitude of destruction any failure in the Kariba Dam would create and stress that it would mean disaster for the people, animals and finances of the region.