Looming Collapse of Kariba Dam: A Common under threat


This surely is a subject of interest in the area of Sustainability and the Commons as well as Development in general as will be revealed in the following discourse.

Kariba Dam is made of a double curvature concrete arch that lies on the Zambezi River Gorge. The dam is 128 metres tall and 579 metres long, forming Lake Kariba – one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, extending 280 kilometres and holding 185 cubic kilometres of water. Financed by the World Bank, this dam was designed by a French company and constructed by an Italian company in 1959 during the British colonial era in the then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). On the dam lies one of the world’s largest hydro-electric power stations, which was initially built to sustain, among other colonial interests, the copper mining exploits of the Copperbelt in Zambia.

Currently, Zambia and Zimbabwe derive the bulk of their energy from Kariba Power Station, with Zimbabwe getting another small percentage from four Thermal Power Stations – Hwange, Munyati, Harare and Bulawayo. Zimbabwe is getting about 42 % of its full energy needs from Kariba, and a present near-complete expansion of the power station will increase this capacity to 71 %.

However, it has been revealed that since the dam’s construction, the water fall-out from the spillway has been scouring the ground near the base of the dam, creating a large ‘plunge pool’ which is said to be now 90 metres deep and only 30 metres from the foundations of the dam. To save the dam, it is claimed by experts that this plunge pool needs to be reshaped to prevent further backward erosion towards the foundation. Although the World Bank is not convinced of the looming danger, the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) and AON South Africa have both issued a report which claims that if nothing is done, the dam will collapse in three years”.

Up-river, from Kariba, is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the Victoria Falls (locally called Mosi-Oa-Tunya, meaning The Smoke That Thunders). Further down the Zambezi River is another Power Station which lies on the Cabora Bassa Dam and supplies clean power to Mozambique and South Africa (40% of the region’s hydro-electric power). All along the Zambezi valley are various communities that interact with and rely on this environment, besides a rich array of wildlife. The Zambezi Valley is therefore a very significant kind of macro-common, with many other micro-commons within it. However, collapse of Kariba dam would trigger a tsunami that would tear down the valley, wreaking havoc on both human and animal life in this macro-common. The Cabora Bassa dam would also inevitably give way under the force of this tsunami.

The consequences on this macro-common and the countries in the region are ‘too ghastly to contemplate’ as the article puts it. Given this scenario, should the International Community and all interested parties wait until a catastrophic disaster strikes? My opinion is that it is wiser to take preventive action now rather than rush to chip in with aid when disaster has already struck. Meanwhile, all communities in the valley must be notified of this possibility and emergency plans must be put in place as a matter of urgency.



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