Thinking Citizen Blog — The Zambezi

Thinking Citizen Blog — Wednesday is Climate Change, the Environment, and Sustainability Day

Today’s Topic — Great Rivers of the World XI: the Zambezi: largest African river flowing into the Indian Ocean

Most famous for the Victoria Falls, the Zambezi flows through or along the border of five countries: Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Today, a few notes on the river’s course, the Falls, and the Kariba Dam. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE COURSE OF THE RIVER: upper, middle, lower

1. The “Upper Zambezi” begins in Zambia and runs south into Angola for about 150 miles before returning to Zambia.

2. The “Middle Zambezi” begins at Victoria Falls and Lake Cahora Bassa. This stretch has been called “one of the world’s most spectacular whitewater trips, a tremendous challenge for kayakers and rafters alike.” Have you tried it?

3. The “Lower Zambezi” — from Lake Cahora to the Indian Ocean, receives drainage from Lake Malawi through the Shire River. It is navigable but very shallow during the dry season.

NB: The Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams have shrunk the delta to half of what it was. This has disrupted the feeding and breeding of fish, birds, and other wildlife. Specifically, there is less grassland for cattle during seasonal flooding and traditional farming is no longer feasible in many areas.

KARIBA DAM: bi-national, re-settlement costs, structural risk, water shortage

1. Kariba is “double-curvature concrete arch dam” built in the late 1950s by an Italian construction firm. It is located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Each has a separate power plant attached to the dam — one on the north bank, the other on the south. The dam controls 90% of the run-off of the Zambezi River.

2. Building the reservoir required the resettlement of 57,000 Tonga people. The process has been described as the “‘worst dam resettlement disaster in African history.” An opening of the floodgates in 2010, resulted in the resettlement of another 130,000.

3. There is evidence of structural weakness in the dam which could put 3.5 MM lives at risk as well as 40% of South Africa’s electrical capacity.

NB: On the other hand, “low rainfall and the overuse of water by the power plants” could result in water shortages, and perhaps the shutdown of the power plants.

VICTORIA FALLS — “The Smoke that Thunders” and the “Place of the Rainbow”

1. Victoria Falls (see above) is located at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. It has six gorges. (For details see second link below).

2. The most common Sotho name for the falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya meaning “The Smoke that Thunders.”

3. Older names mentioned by the explorer David Livingstone are Seonge or Chongwe both meaning “The Place of the Rainbow” due to the spray.


Victoria Falls

Kariba Dam


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to climate change or the environment. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to climate change that the rest of us may have missed. Your favorite chart or table perhaps…

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.