Mozambique has allegedly asked Zambia to refrain from opening the spill gates of the Kariba dam in an attempt to reduce floods that have killed 50 people and left 400,000 homeless in the country.
But according to a hydro engineer in Zimbabwe two gates and possibly even three have already been opened at the dam which is operated by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA).
The first gate was reportedly opened on 9 February when the water level at the dam was 484.63m asl and the second gate was opened on 15 February when the water level had risen to 484.8m asl. The engineer said that the water level at the dam is currently 3m below peak level.
‘The dam is controlled by the ZRA and they have to maintain the dam at a certain level and are trying to achieve this by opening gates,’ said the engineer. ‘They have to maintain the dam now, otherwise when flood waters reach Kariba, it could be in danger,’ he added.
According to the engineer, the Zambezi river achieves its peak flows in the region between March and May. Therefore, the heaviest flows have not yet reached the Kariba dam. Zambia’s western, eastern and southern provinces have already been flooded due to continuous and heavy rains in the country.
Jacques Lecornu, the secretary general of the International Commission on Large dams said that in France, the press have reported that the Kariba dam is causing more flooding for villages downstream in Mozambique which have already been devastated by floods. ‘This is a complete misunderstanding of the role of the dam,’ said Lecornu.
Officials from the ZRA said that opening the two gates would not cause any serious flooding on the Zambezi river. Water from the Kariba dam feeds into the Zambezi river which enters the Mozambican channel via the Cahora Bassa dam.
The hydro engineer in Zimbabwe is also not worried about further flooding. ‘Kariba takes the peaks of the flows and spilling could be compounding problems in the lower Zambezi river, but Cahora Bassa can handle it,’ he said.