Lack of rain in Zambia and Zimbabwe has left the area in a prolonged drought, drastically reducing flow at the iconic Victoria Falls, shrinking Lake Kariba, affecting tourism, threatening the livelihood of regional farmers, and causing power outages.
South Africa utility Eskom seems set to enter into contracts to supply power to Zimbabwe and Zambia to help the shortfall in hydropower output - but only if it is available.
"We have contracts that we have signed, with Zesa of Zimbabwe and Zesco of Zambia. We do export specifically to Zimbabwe at this point in time. I do not know if we have started with Zesco," Eskom's chief operations officer, Jan Oberholzer, told journalists last week.
Zesa, or the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, and Zesco are state power utilities in Zimbabwe and Zambia, respectively.
Victoria Falls spans one kilometer across both countries and had a drop of about 110 meters. This World Heritage site has been described by UNESCO as “the largest curtain of falling water in the world.” It is a major tourist attraction for both countries.
This year’s drought has caused the Falls to “shrink to a trickle” as the Zambezi River has shrunk due to lack of rain. The flow on the Falls is influenced by the rain in the upstream catchment area. The highest flow is April through June and driest from October through December.
Zimbabwe is already feeling the decrease in tourist numbers, reporting a year-on-year decrease of 3 percent to 1.11 million for the first half of the year. Despite this data, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority is reported as being unconcerned as there is always seasonal variation in tourist visits.
But this attitude does not necessarily match the reality that as a consequence of the prolonged drought, Kariba Dam has fallen to 10 percent capacity. This has forced Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to introduce power cuts lasting as long as 18-hours due to the low water levels in Lake Kariba, the world's largest man-made reservoir.
Despite a modest amount of rain recently, the lake level has continued to recede, dropping by 11cm during the first week of December before closing at 476.93m (10 percent usable storage) which is the lowest level since 1996. Last year on the same date, the Lake level was 483.06m.
The drought has drastically affected regional farmers and it is estimated that approximately 5 million people are in need of food aid.
Zambia’s meteorological department forecasts normal to better-than-normal rain for the current season, but international forecasters, including the South Africa Weather Service predict, less-than-normal precipitation for much of the region (Business Live).