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Zambia suffers water and electricity shortages after long-lasting drought

  • Zambia suffers water and electricity shortages after long-lasting drought
    Kariba Dam. Credit: Wikipedia

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In the past three years, the water level in Lake Kariba, the world's largest man-made lake by volume, has dropped by six metres, reports The Guardian. Climate change is having an impact on southern Africa, and the Zambezi basin, where Lake Kariba is located, is suffering a severe drought that is even drying up Victoria Falls, upstream from Lake Kariba.

After record low levels last January, available water for hydropower in the reservoir increased slightly to 11.5% following recent rains. In comparison, a year earlier the hydro level was more than 42%. The reservoir is now at about a quarter of its capacity, leading to power cuts in Zambia and Zimbabwe, very dependent on hydro power. About 50% of Zambia’s electrical power comes from the Kariba dam.

Over the past 60 years, the country has warmed an estimated 1.7 degrees Celsius. In addition, average rainfall has decreased about 2.3% each decade during that same time. Furthermore, after long months of drought, rain concentrates in torrential events that are harmful to crops and infrastructure.

Carol Mwape Zulu, from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, said climate change can ‘draw development backwards. It’s not just immediate infrastructure damage – you realise it has an impact on education, on children who can’t access schools. It also impacts health issues, nutrition, food security – and malnutrition is holding back children’s development’.

People’s livelihoods are affected by the drought: as crops fail, farmers resort to charcoal production ─ cutting down trees ─ to earn some money, leading to increased deforestation. Charcoal is a more reliable fuel than electricity for cooking, and less expensive. And the impacts of the drought go on and on: wild and domestic animals have died from water shortage and the queues at boreholes start at 1am.

Director of nonprofit Harvest help Zambia Alexander Kasenzi put it like this: ‘I have a strong feeling that what we’re experiencing now has come to stay, and we have to completely change our thinking if we’re to survive’.

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