Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Victoria Falls, one of southern Africa’s biggest tourist attractions, has hit its highest peak in years for the month of February following heavy rains that have pounded major catchment areas of the Zambezi River in parts of the SADC region.
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) said the water levels have increased significantly compared to the same period last year.
The Victoria Falls, which have drawn millions of holidaymakers to Zimbabwe and Zambia for their stunning views, saw its waterfalls reduce to a trickle when the region recorded the lowest rainfall in nearly four decades in the 2018-2019 cropping season.
This sparked fears that climate change could kill one of the region’s biggest tourist attractions.
‘The Zambezi River flows at Victoria Falls have continued increasing steadily due to local rainfall activity and increasing inflow from the Upper Catchment, closing the period under review at 1,209 m3/s on February 8 2021. The flow observed on the same date last year was 677 m3/s,’ the ZRA said in an update.
Data from the Authority showed that four times more water flowed over the world’s largest waterfall on April 20, 2020 – at 3,922 cubic metres per second compared to 1,007 cubic metres per second on April 20, 2019.
ZRA monitors water levels on the Zambezi river at 13 stations. The maximum flow ever recorded at Victoria Falls – 10 000 cubic metres per second – was in 1958 when the Kariba Dam wall was still being constructed in 1958.
The lowest flow ever recorded at Victoria Falls happened during the 1995-1996 season, when the premier tourism spot recorded a flow of 390 cubic metres per second.
Lake Kariba, which straddling Zimbabwe and Zambia over the Zambezi was also experiencing increased inflows into this body of water which holds 180 cubic kilometres of water.
‘The Kariba Lake is designed to operate between levels 475.50m and 488.50m (with 0.70m freeboard) for hydropower generation. The Lake level is increasing with increasing inflows from the Zambezi River and immediate Kariba Lower Catchment – closing at 479.57m (28.69% usable storage) on February 8 2021, compared to 476.71m (8.36% usable storage) recorded on the same date last year,’ said ZRA in an update for the January 26 – February 8, 2021 period.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected tourism numbers for the Victoria Falls rainforest, as due to lockdowns in major key markets.
The Zambezi River usually experiences two peaks or floods – in the upper catchment area, upstream from Victoria Falls.
Their magnitude usually influences the level of water flows downstream.
The Falls are expected to peak at the end of May this year as the water flows from both inside Zimbabwe and the upper catchment area of the Zambezi River.
The best time to visit the spectacular Victoria Falls is from February to May, soon after the region’s summer rains.
That is the time when tourists can witness the world’s largest sheet of falling water flowing at its greatest volume.