via When ministers fail to wise up to Kariba Dam crisis – NewsDay Zimbabwe March 24, 2014 by Wisdom Mdzungairi
It’s unthinkable the scale of destruction the collapse of the Kariba Dam wall will leave in its wake. The deluge will sweep away the lives of 3,5 million people in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
Besides being a life threat that requires urgent attention by both Zimbabwe and Zambia, it is an environmental catastrophe as much as it will impact negatively on the two countries’ somewhat burgeoning tourism industry.
Zambia Finance ministry permanent secretary Felix Nkulukusa, who is also chairperson of an inter-governmental committee responsible for mobilising funds to repair the dam wall, last week disclosed that Zambia and Zimbabwe needed $250 million to avert the major humanitarian and economic devastation.
We were surprised by the fact that Zimbabwe was attempting to downplay the gravity of the situation while Zambia acknowledged the severity of the state of affairs.
Was Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere trying to play politics in the middle of such a potentially calamitous situation by moderating the problems at the Kariba Dam wall? One also wondered where Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Walter Mzembi is hibernating when it is the industry he superintends that will be heavily hit supposed this misfortune occurred.
At least Zambia Finance minister Alexander Chikwanda on Friday said his government was aware of the risks associated with Kariba Dam which had developed cracks and was working with co-operating partners to help prevent the imminent collapse of the dam wall.
The collapse of the dam would be a huge setback for Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as all the countries in the region. Zambia’s push to save water and the millions of people living downstream in the basin is praiseworthy. This is what we find lacking locally.
Perhaps, they need to understand the importance of Lake Kariba — Africa’s largest inland water reservoir; all that water is held in place by a dam wall which has for a few times been reported to have developed “serious structural weaknesses” requiring to be rectified within the next three years or else. The dam was an initiative of the Federation existing at the time between British-ruled Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi).
Building a dam around the great Zambezi floodplain was in many ways a hopeful leap into the future and remains so today. Vast areas of forest and scrub would be swamped. Thousands of wild animals would lose their habitats and, more important, the local villages would have to be relocated.
But an analysis of the economic advantages convinced the authorities that the ultimate benefit to the people would outweigh the loss of wildlife and disturbance to people’s lives. The vegetation was strip-cleared and burnt making the lake rich in chemicals from the fired wood and the considerable number of remaining trees, provided an essential habitat for many creatures that found their way into the lake.
Records show that the dam wall was built between 1955 and 1959 and well over one million cubic metres of concrete was poured into the 36,6-metre-high wall with a thickness of over 24 metres to sustain the pressure of nearly 10 million litres of water passing through the spillway each second. At the end of 1958, the sluice gates were closed and in 1963, the maximum level was reached.
The Zambezi River’s catchment area covers 1 352 000 square km and eight countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of note is the fact that Zimbabwe and Zambia were, back then, in contention as it was thought that the Kafue River Gorge site in Zambia was preferable to Kariba. No one would want to believe that our leaders have revived that old rivalry.
As the dam began to fill, it became evident that thousands of animals were being stranded on islands. Appeals were made and money raised to buy boats and equipment for their rescue and relocation. The project became known as Operation Noah. It was a mammoth task and beset by numerous hazards. Submerged trees and stumps threatened the hulls of the boats and on the islands there were huge concentrations of snakes including the deadly black mamba. Even so, many were successfully rescued.
One story tells of a game ranger who climbed a tree in a swimming costume and gloves to catch a mamba with a noosed stick. Another tells of the rescue of a black rhino stranded on a small island. The animal was pursued for several hours until, eventually, it was driven past a marksman with a crossbow loaded with a muscle relaxing dart.
But there were many utterly tragic stories too, with scenes of stranded monkeys perching on treetops unable to swim to shore and starving, every bit of greenery on the tree long eaten, their skins rotting in the water and too afraid of humans to allow themselves to be rescued. Countless smaller animals, reptiles and insects simply drowned. It was a reflection of the dominance of colonial rule in Harare back then, that most of the rescued animals were relocated to the Zimbabwean side and most of the people to the Zambian side. Do we see the same resolve today? Perhaps not!
From that day, Kariba Dam has remained a major tourist attraction area for both locals and visitors to the country with teaming wildlife species roaming its vicinity. The dam also produces hydro-electricity power supplying energy to Zimbabwe, Zambia and most of the regional countries so much that if it the dam wall fails, it could spell doom for regional economies.
Even though, Zambezi River Authority at the weekend said measures were underway to start the rehabilitation process in the third quarter of the year, it is important to contain the impending disaster.
Zimbabwe should take full responsibility today and move forward in a positive way — that is what development is all about. Why should Zimbabwe and Zambia fail to raise $250million? In any case how much do they spend on keeping the military going each year? Real leaders must wise up to the facts.