Danger of Kariba dam collapse threatens African economies

11 September 2015

Should the Kariba dam, a hydroelectric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe, collapse, it would trigger years of economic, social, environmental, humanitarian and technological fallout that would devastate Southern Africa’s economies.

Further, new projects and investment in the region would be severely compromised, as the ongoing lack of electricity and water would make these uneconomical, potentially for up to eight years, while the dam was rebuilt.

These predictions were made by Kay Darbourn, a member of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (Irmsa), in a report, ‘Impact of the Failure of the Kariba Dam Risk’, which highlighted the risks and challenges for the Southern African region related to the current state of the dam, as well as its proposed rehabilitation project.

The report said engineers had warned that without urgent repairs, the entire dam would collapse and a tsunami would flow over the Zambezi Valley and reach the Mozambique border within eight hours.
The torrent was expected to overwhelm Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa dam and destroy 40% of Southern Africa’s hydroelectric capacity.

Darbourn thus foresaw electricity-strapped South Africa losing 1 500 MW of contracted power from Cahora Bassa for at least five years and the disaster putting the lives of 3.5-million people at risk.
Darbourn began her research following a 2014 BBC report highlighting the dangerous state of Kariba. According to the report, torrents from the dam’s spillway had eroded the basalt bed the dam was built on in 1959, forming a large crater and undercutting the dam’s foundations.

The dam’s six floodgates need repair and the dam rehabilitation project has already secured most of the required funding from the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the European Union.
The project is expected to be complete in 2025, but environmental changes or project delay from any cause could contribute to the likely failure of Kariba dam.

“Whether you are a shareholder, stakeholder, board member, business executive, risk manager or even private individual, if you live, work, own property or have investments in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique or Malawi, the chances are that if the Kariba dam fails, you will be affected,” warned Darbourn.

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