THE world’s largest man-made lake, Kariba, is in the grips of a man-made crisis.
The lake’s 200 billion tonnes of water is receding fast.
And, as the water levels recede, a major power and environmental disaster is looming for both Zambia and Zimbabwe as the two countries’ fishing industries feel the pinch.
The desire to meet power demand by both Zimbabwe and Zambia has seen both countries drawing unsustainably high volumes of water so much that the two nations have achieved the opposite of their goals.
Generation capacity has dropped by half and the energy crisis has worsened, with dire consequences on Zimbabwe, whose industries are all but dead.
The declining water levels have also been caused by a poor rainfall season that affected Zimbabwe, including other parts of southern Africa.
This is the first time that the world’s largest man-made lake has faced prospects of running so low that it may be decommissioned as far as electricity generation is concerned.
The lake’s dam wall was built between 1955 and 1959, forcing out several thousands of people, mainly Tonga speaking people, to pave way for an electricity generation project that has been the source of energy for both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
More than 6 000 animals were rescued in what became known as Operation Noah as the lake’s waters rose quickly between 1958 and 1964.
As the water reaches unprecedented low levels, probably last experienced when the lake was still rising in the early 1960s, a “cold war” has since erupted in the resort town of Kariba, whose economy hinges on fishing and tourism.
Fishermen are jostling over dwindling spaces to moor their boats as the falling water levels reduce areas most ideal to act as harbours.
Tension is rising among fishermen who rely on the lake for sustenance as they fail to agree on how best to share the few ideal spaces left, with some fishermen being blocked from accessing other harbours.
While fishermen fight over harbours, the fish itself is now difficult to catch as fishing grounds have shifted.
Eddington Cherai, director of Small Joint Enterprise, a kapenta fishing venture, said the low water levels have affected everyone and people are now panicking.
“The hunting ground has changed so much that the fishermen are now confused and are now in panic mode following the low water levels here,” said Cherai who added that the situation was even worse for fishermen up the lake in Binga, some 200km away.
“Unlike here in Kariba where we have different fishing basins including 3, 4 and 5 that we may exploit until more water flows into the lake during the rainfall season, our Binga counterparts are out of the kapenta market because they hardly have any fishing basins left there. They have a small fishing ground and have been badly affected by these low water levels since they are not allowed to go to other places that still have water for their operations,” said Cherai.
At harbours near Kariba town, relations are especially strained at places like Chawara Harbour where one businesswoman, only identified as Mazvidza, has reportedly refused other fishermen from using her part of the Kariba shoreline that still has good access to the lake.
Mazvidza has denied any wrong doing, claiming she does not own a stand in Chawara.
In a terse e-mail response at the weekend, she said: “I do not have a stand in Chawara and have never been allocated a stand there. Furthermore, the lake has several kilometres of shoreline and I am not responsible for giving permits or right of access to anyone. That responsibility lies with the local authorities.”
The disputed area, estimated to be several thousands of square metres in size, is located between Chawara harbour and Kariba Bream Farm.
Nearly 30 fisheries have been affected by the standoff, which ironically has been going on for the past five years, but has been worsened following the fall in water levels in Lake Kariba.
Chawara harbour fishermen chairman, Proud Magora, confirmed to the Financial Gazette this week that the “cold war” over access to lakeshore has affected their operations.
He said fishermen were failing to pass through to the lake after new owners blocked the access route and some boats have been stranded on the sandy beaches as water continues to recede.
“Nearly 30 fishing companies including co-operatives have been affected by the move to block us access to Chawara harbour where we have more than 100 boats mainly for kapenta fishing. It is becoming tough for us as we have to look for alternative ways of accessing the harbour. We have families to feed and this is our only source of income,” said Magora who indicated that they normally catch about 10 000 tonnes of kapenta daily, which is now more difficult to bring to the shore because of the fight over harbours.
“This has been a hot issue. We have even approached the local Member of Parliament, Isaac Mackenzie, to help us break the impasse with the municipality and the lease owners, but nothing has been achieved. We are concerned that we are being denied access to the lake shore yet fishing is our livelihood and this has affected directly or indirectly thousands of people,” added Magora.
Kariba fishing industry players want the lease agreements on the disputed zone to be revisited to quell tensions.
“Councillors and the Kariba Town Council administration must sort out this problem as a matter of urgency. It has brought tension in the fishing industry especially in Chawara harbour where mostly indigenous operators are based. We have raised the issue on several occasions but little is being done,” said one councillor speaking on condition that he is not named.
Kariba MP Mackenzie confirmed the dispute.
“I have been briefed of the case and I even instructed the municipality to resolve this issue amicably as it is affecting fishing operations in the town. We cannot be seen to be stifling the only source of employment for the majority in Kariba over an administrative blunder,” said Mackenzie in a telephone interview.
Kariba municipal city chamber secretary, a Richard Kamhoti, was still to respond to questions e-mailed to his attention by the Financial Gazette at the time of going to print.
Kariba Publicity Association chairman, Nigel Ncube, was also not readily available for comment.
While both fishermen and the ordinary Zimbabweans pray for a better rainfall season that would replenish the lake’s waters, the outlook is bleak as forecasts point to a major drought due to an expected El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon, which involves drastic fluctuations in climatic and inter-annual time scales.
The World Food Programme has since said: “There is an on-going El Niño event since March 2015 which is expected to strengthen. The overwhelming evidence is that the current El Niño event is almost certain to remain active throughout 2015 and likely to extend into early 2016 . . . we can expect at least a moderate event. However, there is a significant chance that this event could reach some of the strongest levels of the last 35 years.” –Nhau Mangirazi