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Hunger, power cuts in Zimbabwe, Zambia as lake level hits record low

Zambia president Lungu at prayers for the economy last year. FILE PHOTO AFP
Zambia president Lungu at prayers for the economy last year. FILE PHOTO AFP

Kariba, Zimbabwe | AFP

Lake Kariba on the Zambezi River border between Zimbabwe and Zambia used to be dotted with hundreds of commercial fishing rigs, while local fishermen in small makeshift boats would catch enough bream for their livelihood.

Now the fishermen are standing on shore praying for rain as drought has shrunk the water level of the world’s biggest man-made lake by volume to a record low.

“It’s so bad that on a bad day you can catch just a couple of fish, just enough to eat on the day or exchange for cooking oil or a small packet of cornmeal,” said one of them, Cyril Murinda.

“We just hope that God hears our pleas for rain and the dam fills up so that we can get back to fishing, otherwise we will just starve.”

Lake Kariba has fallen to 12 percent of its capacity, hitting the fishing industry and also vital hydroelectric power production in Zambia and Zimbabwe, according to the dam’s operators.

This time last year, the lake was 51 percent full.

“We are lower than the lowest levels we had in 1995 and 1996,” engineer Munyaradzi Munodawafa, chief executive of the lake’s managers Zambezi River Authority, told AFP in a telephone interview.

Kariba’s maximum storage of an enormous 185 cubic kilometres (44.4 cubic miles) of water makes it the earth’s largest man-made lake by volume.

John Chiringa, who runs a fishing company in Kariba town, said kapenta — a small, sardine-like fish — are hunted commercially by some 400 boats, known as rigs, at any one time.

The rigs employ thousands of people. They operate at night, attracting the shoaling fish with lights and scooping them up in dip nets.

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