Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, have fascinated millions of visitors who have marvelled at the spectacular 100 metre water drop for decades.
Now the most severe drought in 100 years is drying up the waterfalls: tourists only see a trickle of water and dry stone. While the falls are at their best during the rainy season when the river reaches its highest flow, and flow volumes are lower during the dry season, officials have said this year’s low water levels are unprecedented, reports Reuters.
Locals that live off the tourist attraction are already seeing fewer visitors. ‘In previous years, when it gets dry, it’s not to this extent. This (is) our first experience of seeing it like this’, said local craft seller Dominic Nyambe to Reuters reporters.
Southern Africa is suffering the impact of climate change, facing water shortages that leave taps dry and about 45 million people needing aid due to poor crops. In addition, Zambia and Zimbabwe, very dependent on hydropower, have already experienced power cuts as the plants on the Kariba Dam downstream from the waterfalls have reduced their power generation due to low water levels.
Experts say there have always been droughts and seasonal variations in water levels, and climate science looks at decades, not individual years, so this cannot be readily blamed on climate change. But according to the Zambezi River Authority, water flows are lower than the long term average, and the lowest since 1995. Reuters quotes Edgar Lungu, President of Zambia, saying this is ‘a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment’.
Furthermore, Richard Beilfuss, an expert who has studied the Zambezi for 30 years and President of the International Crane Foundation, believes the monsoon is being delayed by climate change, ‘concentrating rain in bigger events which are then much harder to store, and a much longer, excruciating dry season’.