via NewsDay Editorial: Don’t fiddle over Kariba Dam wall crisis March 21, 2014
It’s unimaginable the scale of destruction the collapse of the Kariba Dam wall will leave in its wake. The cataclysm will sweep away the lives of 3,5 million people in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
Lake Kariba is Africa’s biggest inland water reservoir stretching over 280km; all that water is held in place by a dam wall which has for some time now been reported to have developed “serious structural weaknesses” requiring to be rectified within the next three years or else . . .
Yet, Zimbabwe is attempting to downplay the gravity of the situation while its counterpart Zambia acknowledges the gravity of the situation.
Zambia’s push to raise the required funds to repair the damaged areas to save water and the millions of people living downstream in the Zambezi River Basin should be commended.
Zambian Finance Ministry permanent secretary Felix Nkulukusa, who is also chairperson of an intergovernmental committee responsible for mobilising funds to repair the dam wall, said Zambia and Zimbabwe needed $250 million to avert this major humanitarian and economic catastrophe.
This is no small matter. It requires the two countries to pool their resources together and remedy the situation.
So, Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere should avoid playing politics in the middle of such a potentially calamitous situation by moderating the problems at the Kariba Dam wall.
In fact the snail’s pace Zimbabwe has moved in the face of the Tokwe-Mukorsi and Tsholotsho floods humanitarian crises is cause for concern. Its non-committal stance has rendered over 60 000 people homeless in the face of the torrential rains. This is a sad development, and we urge Kasukuwere to lead the way.
The safety of the 55-year-old dam has been called into question a few times. It is acknowledged that most recently at a meeting of dam operators in July 2012, engineers from the Zambezi River Authority disclosed that the plunge pool below Kariba Dam has deepened beyond expectation — it has now eroded to a depth of more than 81 metres into the rock substrate.
This is the area where the water is released after going through the dam’s spillways. The main concern is, however, not the depth of the plunge pool, but that it has been eroding towards the dam wall, with the likely possibility of undercutting the foundation of the 128-metre-high wall.
This, therefore, is of great concern, as an unstable foundation can lead to dam failure, a potentially catastrophic event for the hundreds of thousands of people living downstream of Kariba Dam.
The deterioration of the Kariba Dam wall could be a classic example of what happens when infrastructure is not being maintained. It is also important to note that the effects of the Kariba Dam wall failure will likely cause a tsunami beyond the African waters, and this is a potentially global threat which should not be taken lightly. It also calls for a global appeal for help if Zimbabwe and Zambia lack the resources to repair the damage.