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Lake Kariba



The story of the creation of the lake and the building of Kariba Dam is an exciting account of modern engineering. But it is also the tale of the tragic but necessary removal of the Ba Tonga people, who held that the river god Nyaminyami would destroy the dam and allow the Zambezi to run free again. Kariba takes its name after a rock which used to feature quite prominently in the river gorge - but is now buried underwater. Many believed it to be the home of the river god Nyaminyami, who caused anyone who ventured near it to be drawn into the deep water, never to be seen again...

There is suggested evidence that the Kingdom's of Sheba, Solomon and Hiram were enriched by the gold and ivory of Ophir which is supposedly a part of the present day Zimbabwe. The Zambezi was once a gateway to the ancient treasure trove of central Africa. There are plenty of cave paintings and such that are evidence of early man's occupation has been found along most of the river but much of its history has been shrouded in mystery.

HISTORY

50 years ago, the emerging requirements of a young nation drove people to control the flow of one Africa's great rivers "The Zambezi". So the Electricity Supply Commission instigated an investigation for possible hydroelectric schemes to be situated at Kariba and in 1941 funds were allocated. As a result of this survey, a river gauging station was set up at Chirundu as well as at a campsite 25 kilometers downstream from the present dam wall.

The dam was an initiative of the Federation existing at the time between British ruled Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi). To dam the great Zambezi floodplain was in many ways a hopeful leap into the future. Vast areas of forest and scrub would be inundated. Literally thousands of wild animals would lose their habitats and, more importantly, the local villages would have to be relocated. Analysis of the economic advantages convinced the authorities that the ultimate benefit to the people would outweigh the loss of wildlife and disturbance to people's lives. 

In 1958, at the narrow neck of a remarkable gorge, a rising wall of concrete stemmed the river's flow and so created what at the time was one of the largest man-made lakes in history. The Kariba Hydroelectric dam wall had created a vast expanse of water which is now known as Lake Kariba. It provides considerable electric power to both Zambia and Zimbabwe and supports a thriving commercial fishing industry. More than a million cubic metres of concrete were employed to build the 24-metre thick and 128-metre high wall, which was designed to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water passing through its spillway every second. It is located at the northernmost shore of Lake Kariba.

ABOUT LAKE KARIBA AND THE DAM WALL

The building of the Kariba Dam was always surrounded by controversy, both environmentally and socially, it is still an impressive monument to man's engineering genius. There is a big tourist potential that the lake offers, there are many positive implications for the struggling economy and unemployment problems in the area. The Tonga People, whose traditional lands lie buried beneath the lake, would probably benefit most from tourist development. 

Captured inside a mountainous basin and fringed by teak forest, nature reserves and an eery landscape of submerged trees the lake is any photographer's dream. Numerous islands and waterways cause the wildlife to swim about quite frequently, which makes game viewing by boat very popular.

Lake Kariba is located on the Zambezi River, about halfway between the river's source and mouth, about 1,300 km upstream from the Indian Ocean. The lake lies along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Lake was filled between 1958 and 1963 following the completion of the Kariba Dam at its northeastern end, flooding a former gorge on the Zambezi River and displacing large numbers of the local Tonga people. Siavonga and Sinazongwe in Zambia have grown up to house people displaced by the rising waters.

In the early 60's Rupert Fothergill and his team, bravely undertook the biggest animal rescue ever called Operation Noah, the worlds attention was on the lake for the first time. An epic drama which was also partly filmed, unfolded, as wildlife was saved from the rising waters of the new Lake. Over 5,000 animals were rescued, including 35 different mammal species and 44 black rhino. Frightened creatures ranging from elephant to snakes were captured for release into areas that now form Matusadona National Park and Chete Safari Area. The surrounds of Lake Kariba became a fascinating turmoil of ecological change - parts of which now teem with an abundance of flora and fauna in a striking and diverse terrain.

The Kariba Dam wall was designed by the French engineer and inventor Andre Coyne. A specialist in "arch dams", he personally designed over 55 dams, Kariba being one of them. Rumor around Zambia has it that a few of the dams he built in Italy collapsed leading him to commit suicide. This fact has not been corroborated.

Lake Kariba is over 220 kilometers (140 mi) long and up to 40 kilometers (20 mi) in width. It covers an area of 5,580 square kilometers (2,150 sq mi) and its storage capacity is an immense 185 cubic kilometers (44.4 cu mi). The mean depth of the lake is 29 meters (95 ft); the maximum depth is 97 meters (320 ft). The enormous mass of water (approximately 180,000,000,000,000 kilograms, or 180 petagrams (one petagram is one billion metric tons, 180 billion metric tons) is believed to have caused induced seismicity in the seismically active region, including over 20 earthquakes of greater than 5 magnitudes on the Richter scale.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF LAKE KARIBA

Coordinates: 17° S 28° E
Lake type: Hydroelectric reservoir
Catchment area: 663,000 km2
Basin countries: Zimbabwe Zambia
Max-length: 220 km
Max-width: 40 km
Surface area: 5,400 km2
Average depth: 31 m
Max-depth: 78 m
Water volume: 160 km3  180 billion metric tons
Surface elevation:  485 m
Islands Chete, Sekula, Chikanka, Banana

 

ECOLOGY OF LAKE KARIBA

Before Lake Kariba was filled, most of the existing vegetation was burned, creating a thick layer of fertile soil on land that would become the lake bed, as a result the ecology of Lake Kariba became vibrant. A number of fish species have been introduced to the lake, notably the sardine-like kapenta (transported from Lake Tanganyika), which now supports a thriving commercial fishing industry. Other inhabitants of Lake Kariba include Nile crocodiles and hippopotamuses.

Its waters support more than 40 different species of fish - in a rare example of a successful introduction of a non-native species to a lake, the kapenta - taken from Lake Tanganyika - has apparently had a minimal biological impact.

Gamefish, particularly Tigerfish, which was among the indigenous species of the Zambezi river system, a fighting game fish that offers excellent fishing, now thrive on the kapenta, which in turn encourage tourism. Both Zambia and Zimbabwe are now attempting to develop the tourism industry along their respective coasts of Lake Kariba. There are several different barble (catfish) species, one of which, the "vundu", grows to a few hundred pounds and can give fishermen a thrill when they head out to the middle of the lake with your hook in their mouth.

Bream fish, or Tilapia are a very popular eating fish and are plentiful on the Lake.

Fish eagles, cormorants and other water birds patrol the shorelines, as do occasional herds of elephants, with most of the wildlife seen on the Zimbabwe side.

The lake's vastness creates spectacular panoramas as the sun casts its glow across the shimmering waters catching the distinctive half-submerged trees and islands.

Lake Kariba is studded with islands and surrounded by mountains. Once on dry land, these thousands of teak trees were half submerged in water as the lake slowly expanded to its present dimensions. Today, the skeletal branches of the trees jut into the sky from another world.      

The Zambian side of the lake has about 800 km of shoreline, baked African fjords with placid backwaters and numerous islands. Often elephants can be seen swimming between the shore and islands, a sight perhaps unique to Lake Kariba.

FLORA OF LAKE KARIBA

  • Floating macrophytes: Salvinia auriculata (2).
  • Submerged macrophytes (2)
    Ceratophyllum demersum, Potamogeton pusillus, Lagarosiphon ilicifolius, Vallisneria aethiopica, Najas sp.
  • Phytoplankton (4)
    Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii, Anabaena sp., Lyngbya sp., Synedra acus, Melosira granulata, Peridinopsis cunningtonii, Chrysochromulina parva, Tetraedron minimum.

FAUNA OF LAKE KARIBA

  • Zooplankton (2)
    Brachionus falcatus, Bosmina longirostris, Tropodiaptomus kraepelini, Limnocnida rhodesiae.
  • Fish (2)
    Sargochromis codringtoni, Synodontis zambezensis, Tilapia rendalli, Claiasr gariepinus, Synodontis nebulosus, Schilbe mystus, Heterobranchus longifilis, Malapterurus electricus, Eutopius depressirostris, Sarotherodon mossambicus.

CLIMATE

The climate is generally tropical with three reasonably distinguishable seasons. A hot rainy season from late November to March, a cool dry season from May to August and a very hot dry season from September to November. Annual rainfall ranges from 400mm (16 inches) in the Valley to about 700mm (28 inches) on the plateau. Winter temperatures rarely go below 13 degrees C (55 degrees Fahrenheit), day time temperatures hover at about 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during the hot months.

Climatic data  1960-1970 (2)

Mean temp. [deg C]

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Ann.

25.8

25.4

25.7

24.7

22.7

20.2

24.7

20.0

22.6

26.2

29.

27.7

24.7

Precipitation [mm]

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Ann.

149.6

126.0

90.7

14.2

4.6

0

0

0

0

10.9

42.3

157.0

608


  • Number of hours of bright sunshine: 2,920 hr yr-1 (2).
  • Solar radiation: 23.9 MJ m-2 day-1 (2).

PHYSICAL DIMENSIONS

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Ann.

Mean temp. [deg C]

25.8

25.4

25.7

24.7

22.7

20.2

24.7

20.0

22.6

26.2

29.2

27.7

24.7

Precipitation [mm]

149.6

126.0

90.7

14.2

4.6

0

0

0

0

10.9

42.3

157.0

608


  • Average Water temperature [deg C]

Depth [m]

Jan

Feb

May

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

S*

30

29

30

29

26

24

23

23

25

26

28

29


* Surface.

  • Mixing type: Monomictic