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Coordinates: 16°31′18″S 28°45′41″E / 16.52167°S 28.76139°E / -16.52167; 28.76139

Kariba Dam
Kariba Dam
Kariba Dam from the Zimbabwean side
Official name Kariba Dam
Impounds Zambezi River
Locale Zambia-Zimbabwe
Length 1900 ft (579 m)
Height 420 ft (128 m)
Construction began 1955
Opening date 1959
Reservoir information
Creates Lake Kariba
Capacity 180 km3
Power generation information
Installed capacity 1320 MW
Annual generation 6400 GWh

The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is one of the largest dams in the world at 128 m high and 579 m long.[1]



The construction of the Kariba Dam in the 1950s.

The double curvature concrete arch dam was constructed between 1955 and 1959 by Impressit of Italy[2] at a cost of $135,000,000 for the first stage with only the Kariba South power cavern. Final construction and the addition of the Kariba North Power cavern by Mitchell Construction[3] was not completed until 1977 due to largely political problems for a total cost of $480,000,000. 86 men lost their lives during construction.[2]

Power generation

Image showing the dangers faced by the workers.

The Kariba supplies 1,266 MW of electricity to parts of both Zambia (the Copperbelt) and Zimbabwe and generates 6,400 GW·h (23 PJ) per annum. Lake Kariba, the reservoir created by the dam, extends for 280 km (174 mi) with a storage capacity of 180 km³.

Environmental impacts


Population displacement and resettlement

The creation of the reservoir forced resettlement of about 57,000 Tonga people living along the Zambezi in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Several thousand large animals threatened by the rising water were rescued by Operation Noah. After consultations broke down, the Tonga people were forced to leave their homes and fertile lands that had been under cultivation for hundreds of years. The reservoir flooded the communities where for centuries these people had farmed, fished, worshipped, raised their children and buried their dead. The Rhodesian government did, however, provide some aid to the displaced Tonga tribe. According to an extract from "The Shadow of The Dam", a first-hand account written by David Howarth in the 1960's, "Everything that a government can do on a meager budget is being done. Demonstration gardens have been planted, to try to teach the Tonga more sensible methods of agriculture, and to try to find cash crops which they can grow. The hilly land has been plowed in ridge contours to guard against erosion. In Sinazongwe, an irrigated garden has grown a prodigious crop of pawpaws, bananas, oranges, lemons, and vegetables, and shown that the remains of the valley could be made prolific if only money could be found for irrigation. Cooperative markets have been organized, and Tonga are being taught to run them. Enterprising 'Tonga have been given loans to set themselves up as farmers. More schools have been built than the Tonga ever had before, and most of the Tonga are now within reach of dispensaries and hospitals." There are many different perspectives on how much resettlement aid was given to the displaced tribe. According to anthropologist Thayer Scudder, who has studied these communities since the late 1950s, "Today, most are still 'development refugees.' Many live in less-productive, problem-prone areas, some of which have been so seriously degraded within the last generation that they resemble lands on the edge of the Sahara Desert.[4] A 1961 book, "The Shadow of the Dam" by David Howarth focused on the resettlement of the Tonga tribe during the construction of Kariba Dam.[5]

A 2005 book, "Deep Water" by Jacques Leslie focused on the plight of the people resettled by the dam, and found the situation little changed. Kariba remains the worst dam-resettlement disaster in African history.[6]

Basilwizi Trust

In a quest to restore their lives and find justice, the Tonga formed their own advocacy group in 2000, the Basilwizi Trust.[7] Basilwizi sees itself as a culmination of numerous efforts by the affected people to be heard by the government authorities. They are working to define their needs, and to help the whole community gain skills to directly lobby decision-makers.

In 2005, Basilwizi conducted extensive research on the socio-economic status of the Tonga people. Their report states: "The Gwembe Tonga on the Zambian side and the Zimbabwean Tonga are one; but due to separation brought about by the dam, they are now considered different people. Their languages have become slightly different over the years. Some, especially on the Zimbabwean side, no longer speak Tonga, the language of their ancestors, due to dominance of other indigenous languages." Basilwizi is now undertaking new activities to revive the Tonga culture, to preserve the language and to build local access to education. They are also focusing on food security and access to electricity, still lacking after 50 years.

The group is also calling on the World Bank and other parties involved in building the dam to bring justice to the Tonga. "Calls for reparation, coming many years after the displacement of these people from the land of their ancestors, have not yielded any significant benefits," observes Basilwizi in its recent report. "Such compensation could be in monetary terms, decommissioning of the dam, official recognition of past and current injustices suffered, or complete restoration of the ecosystems. A new dialog to correct the wrongs committed should commence. The Tonga are … trying to find solutions to their predicament and to rise out of the imposed poverty. The perpetrators should not look at this as a social obligation but a realization that this could have been done better and so what economic, political and cultural program can follow."

River ecology


The Kariba Dam controls 40% of the total runoff of the Zambezi River, thus changing the downstream ecology dramatically.

Wildlife rescue

From 1960 to 1961, 'Operation Noah' captured and removed around 6,000 large animals and numerous small ones threatened by the lake's rising waters.

Recent activity

On the 6th of February 2008, the BBC reported that heavy rain might lead to a release of water from the dam, which would force 50,000 people downstream to evacuate.[8]. Rising levels led to the opening of the floodgates in March 2010, requiring the evacuation of 130,000 people who lived in the floodplain, and causing concerns that flooding may spread to nearby areas. [9]


The name Kariba is thought to be a corruption of the Shona word for a trap. Kariva is a little trap and it is believed when those who wished to construct the dam wall wanted to explain the nature of the project to the locals they emphasised that they wanted to build a little water trap-Kariva. However, the complex pronunciation of the 'v' in Kariva saw the Western constructors produce a sound much like a 'b' hence the creation of the word Kariba.

See also


  1. ^ "Kariba Dam". Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  2. ^ a b Spurwing facts
  3. ^ Indictment: Power & Politics in the Construction Industry, David Morrell, Faber & Faber, 1987, ISBN 978-0571149858
  4. ^ "Pipe Dreams: Can the Zambezi River supply the region's water needs?". Cultural Survival Quarterly. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  5. ^ |title=The Shadow of the Dam |publisher=Collins |ISBN=MW0012531 }}
  6. ^ "When Elephants Fight". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  7. ^ "Basilwizi: Promoting Development in the Zambezi Valley". Basilwizi. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  8. ^ Floodgates to open in Mozambique
  9. ^ Zambia opens dam to alleviate flooding

External links

Simple English

Coordinates: 16°31′18″S 28°45′41″E / 16.52167°S 28.76139°E / -16.52167; 28.76139

The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is one of the largest dams in the world at 128 m high and 579 m long.[1]


  1. "Kariba Dam". Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 


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