The Zambezi River is one of the mighty rivers of Africa, with 6 countries depending on the use of its water. Starting as an innocuous spring in North Western Zambia, 50 kms north of Mwinilunga, Figure 1, this river gains in strength and importance steadily until it empties in the Indian Ocean in Zambezia Province of Mozambique.

Figure 1: The source of the Zambezi River in North Western Zambia All along its course, millions of Africans depend on it. It nurtures crops on farms as well as wildlife. Thousands of people earn a living from the hospitality industry in the game parks by its bank and in tourists’ attractions like Livingstone and Siavonga. Thousands more depend on its fishing industries which flourish in Lakes Kariba and Cahora Basa. This is one of the few rivers in the world which boasts two hydroelectric dams, namely: Kariba in Zambia/Zimbabwe and Cahora Bassa in Mozambique. The pressure from humans for fuel wood and charcoal has led to its demise. It is a regular annual occurrence to get floods in the ephemeral rainy season with places like Zambezi, Kabompo, Mongu, Shesheke, Senanga and Quelimane requiring food and shelter relief during such periods. In the same year, Kariba and Cahora Bassa could run low during the ensuing dry season with the ubiquitous load shedding in Zambia and Mozambique.

In fact, the Zambezi runs so dry that kids hop from rock to rock above the mighty Victoria Falls and cross from Zambia into Zimbabwe (Figure2).

Figure 2: Victoria Falls in the dry season All of this despite having an above average rainy season. Contemporaneously with that, wildlife at the Manas Pools game reserve spend all day looking for precious drinking water which their predecessors got readily from the Zambezi River. Deforestation of the Zambezi River basin is the culprit of this manmade disaster. The wanton destruction of vegetative cover for fuel wood and charcoal leads to rain water running unchecked into the river during the months of December to March. Water, which if arrested, will percolate through the soil down to the water table and recharge the phreatic surface, Figure 3. It is that recharge which is released as springs to keep the river flowing all year round, as happened 30 years ago.

Figure 3: Water table recharging a river Another problem with deforestation is that of soil erosion. Eroded soil has been transported and is filling up Lake Kariba (Figures 4 and 8) at an alarming rate. In addition, the silt is wearing out the blades of the turbines at the hydroelectric generating station, causing severe imbalance and the concomitant vibration. Turbine maintenance is now more frequent than 30 years ago. Every time a turbine is out for overhaul, Zambia faces load shedding. This is impacting adversely on the productivity of industries in the country.

Figure 4: Lake Kariba at Sinazongwe, filling up fast, due to siltation caused by soil erosion in the upper reaches of the Zambezi River With less water in the lake, the generation of electricity from the turbines is affecting output from the Kariba hydroelectric station (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Kariba hydroelectric dam the major source of power generation in Zambia and Zimbabwe with a grid to feed the entire Southern Africa This affects both Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as the Southern Africa region. Silt in the lake also erodes the high speed turbines thus reducing the lifespan tremendously and causing vibrations and premature bearing failure. Siltation is also deceptive as it is from bottom up. As a result, one sees the surface level of the lake and feels that there is adequate water for power generation, however, on doing a hydrographic survey, it is soon revealed that deposition has occurred and reduced the effective volume tremendously. A concerted effort is now required to revegetate the Zambezi basin. Indigenous species are hardy and best suited for such task. They will help to arrest the flow of rain water and recharge the water table. Through radio and television programs all governments must educate the populace to embark on such aggressive afforestation drive. As Zambia diversifies its economy away from copper production, industries such as agriculture and crocodile farming (Figure 6) are assuming greater importance. These industries depend on water from the Zambezi River and could suffer as a result of deforestation.

Figure 6: Crocodile farming on the bank of the Zambezi River at Siavonga The proposed copper mine in the Lower Zambezi game reserve in Zambia, by the aptly named Zambezi Resources, will put more pressure on this precious water course, with the inevitable consequence of pollution from untreated mine tailings and the concomitant water pollution problem. A polluted Zambezi will deplete Kapenta fish stocks in Lake Cahora Bassa. This is a major source of affordable protein for the entire Mozambique population. SADCC nations ought to meet to discuss this proposed project, it is of regional concern and not just Zambian? Proving that the Zambezi River basin binds the nations of Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique as it weaves its way through an eclectic mix of landscapes from the Central African Highlands to the Indian Ocean, descending 1,500 metres in the process. For millennia this vital lifeline sustained the livelihood of Bantu people, by providing abundant fish, copious water for livestock and ample means of irrigation for crops, today it has become a scant resource for their descendants.

Figure 7: Afforestation in the Zambezi River basin could restore this natural wonder of the world to its past glory

Figure 8: Satellite image of Lake Kariba

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