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Lake Kariba, Zambia

Lake Kariba

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.

The vegetation was strip cleared and burnt, making the lake rich in chemicals from the fired wood and the considerable number of remaining trees provided an essential habitat for many creatures that found their way into the lake.

Building the dam wall began in the late 1950s. Well over a million cubic metres of concrete was poured into the 36.6 metre high wall with a thickness of over twenty four metres to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water passing through the spillway each second. At the end of 1958, the sluice gates were closed and in 1963 the maximum level was reached.

The Zambezi River rises in north western Zambia and its catchment area covers 1 352 000 square kilometers and eight countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It enters the Indian Ocean in Mozambique at Quelimane.

It flows for some 2 650 kilometers from its source to the Indian Ocean. It is the fourth largest river in Africa flowing into the Indian Ocean.

Kariba Dam is located approximately halfway down the Zambezi River.

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.

Both Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were in contention as it was thought that the Kafue River Gorge site in Northern Rhodesia was preferable to kariba. The matter was solved in 1951 by a board of experts known as “the Panel” who all agreed that the dam be built on the Zambezi River, at the Kariba Gorge site.

In August 1955 , the then Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi) called for tenders for the construction of the wall and power station was awarded to the Italian consortium Impresit on 16 July 1956

Kariba Dam 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.

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