In early March engineers at a conference organized by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA, a Zambia-Zimbabwe organization which manages the Kariba Dam), warned that the 128-metre-high dam could collapse, threatening at least 3.5 million people especially in Mozambique and Malawi.
Years of erosion had made the foundations of the dam weaker, said engineers. "Anything is possible, so there is a need to act to avoid risk and minimize panic,” Modibo Traore, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) in Zimbabwe, told IRIN. The Kariba Dam holds one of the largest man-made expanses of water in the world.
ZRA says the “situation at the Kariba Dam wall is a cause for grave concern”, and “all urgency is expected in order to avert any such catastrophe as dam failure”. It acknowledged the need for major repairs.
Pawadyira said the CPU was in constant touch with the military, police and ZRA to map out an emergency plan to respond to early warnings of a disaster at Kariba.
“We have inspected the dam wall and are making plans, particularly with the military, which would provide helicopters and rescue personnel, on how to evacuate and search for victims of a possible… flood", he said. They are also warning communities of the threat; and are in constant touch with the Zambian and Mozambican authorities with updates, he added.
In the event of a wall collapse, Pawadyira said the waters would move with “tremendous speed”, and reach an area about 150km away within seven hours, a likelihood, he said, that required “utmost readiness” as the waters could easily submerge villages, buildings and drown people downstream of the dam, in Zambia as well as Mozambique.
A collapse of the Kariba Dam, which generates hydro-power, would not only affect livelihoods of communities and commercial entities that depend on it for tourism and fish, but also electricity in southern Africa, Erich Bloch, a well-known Zimbabwean economist, pointed out.
A fundraising committee has been formed to look for money to reshape and stabilize the plunge pool at the bottom of the Kariba Dam to reduce further erosion at the base of the dam which could lead to its collapse, according to ZRA.
When the dam was constructed between 1954 and 1959, engineers estimated that the pool would stretch for a maximum 10km, but it has spread about 90km putting additional pressure on the dam wall.
A joint communiqué by Zimbabwean and Zambian energy ministers, who visited the Kariba Dam recently, said major repair works needing US$230 million would start in 2015 with financial support from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Union.
Kariba Dam collapse fears and disaster preparedness in Zimbabwe, IRIN (9 April 2014)