Does the Kariba Dam divide or Unite Zambia and Zimbabwe?

Kariba Dam,Lake Kariba from the Zimbabwean side. © Bill Corcoran:IRIN
File pic: Kariba Dam,Lake Kariba from the Zimbabwean side. © Bill Corcoran:IRIN

AT 128 metres tall, the Kariba Dam is an impressive sight as it looms over the Zambezi gorge separating Zambia and Zimbabwe. Before it was built in 1955, under the British colonial Federation of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, questions were raised about whether a dam would be better placed in the Kafue gorge, especially on the side that became Zambia.

Now the two countries are wrangling again as they seek to address the Kariba dam’s possible collapse. A proliferation of media reports saying there are just three years to avert disaster have been met with near-panic. The Zambezi River Authority has taken to calling the reported timeframe a “misinterpretation”. But the sense of urgency persists.

According to Yamfwa Mukanga, Zambia’s minister for transport, works, supply and communications, successive governments have known about the problem facing the dam since 1995. The issue centres on the flood gates, which leak water when closed, putting the dam’s foundations at risk of erosion. An employee of the Zambia Electricity Supply Company, which uses the dam to generate hydroelectric power, thinks the gates may have fallen into complete disrepair and that a new dam ought to be constructed. A potential donor however reckons all six gates could be fixed over six years.

Prolonged discussions have taken place between the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments about who should pay for the work. The EU, the World Bank and the African Development Bank talk of jointly financing the project—but disagree about the political and legal implications of giving support to Zimbabwe’s ostracised government, since the World Bank wants to finance its contribution via a loan (the EU is proposing a grant). “Can the World Bank give a loan to Zimbabwe?” a diplomat asks pointedly.

A decision needs to be taken quickly, as allowing the dam to fall into a state beyond repair would prompt a regional crisis. Mozambique would be flooded and its Cahora Bassa dam destroyed. Flooding would also affect Malawi. And Zambia and Zimbabwe would lose a crucial source of power.

Source : Economist