Water levels at the Kariba reservoir plunged to a record low of less than 1%, curtailing power supply to Zambia and Zimbabwe and shuttering the tourism and fishing industries.
The dam, which is the world’s largest human-made based on water-storage capacity, had 0.97% usable storage on December 28, compared with 20% a year earlier, according to data available on the Zambezi River Authority’s website. That’s less than the previous low set almost three decades ago. Normally, water levels start rising in January.
Zambia began power rationing on Tuesday because of the critically low levels.
Zimbabweans have been subjected to 19 hours of power outages a day, because there is insufficient water in the Kariba dam to drive the nation’s main hydropower plant. The cuts only eased over the festive season due to reduced demand from industry, which usually closes for its annual shutdown over the period.
Kariba, which has a total installed capacity of 2,130 megawatts split between the two nations, is currently limited to power output of about 300 megawatts for each country due to the water-supply constraints.
The fishing industry is reeling from the low-water levels. Kariba dam is a popular destination for catching tiger fish and bream. It’s also an abundant source of kapenta, an affordable protein for many people in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.
“The kapenta fishing industry is now experiencing low catches,” George Masendu, a councilor at Kariba, in Zimbabwe, said on Tuesday by phone. The low catches have translated into reduced stocks being supplied to retail outlets across the nation, including at OK Zimbabwe , the country’s largest retailer, he said.
“It’s how we survive, this has an impact on livelihoods,” he said. “After the tourism sector, kapenta is the second biggest industry in Kariba.”
The shortage is likely to fuel inflation and leave low-income households with few options for sources of protein. The fish is cheaper than beef and chicken.
Some boats are no longer docking in their usual harbours because of low water levels and are using alternatives closer to the lake, according to Winnie Muchanyuka, head of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. However, tourism activities such as boat cruises are still taking place.
“The situation is a bit worrying,” she said by phone. “Largely, this hasn’t yet really affected tourism. It’s something still manageable from a tourism perspective and we are hoping that the situation will stay like that until the water levels increase.”