No hope for Botswana to tap from the Zambezi river

Africa’s fourth largest river basin, after Congo, Nile and Niger Zambezi River Basin is facing a serious challenge due to the ongoing El Nino.

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Africa’s fourth largest river basin, after Congo, Nile and Niger Zambezi River Basin is facing a serious challenge due to the ongoing El Nino.

The river which stretches across eight riparian states such as Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe has witnessed decreasing water levels in Zambezi River basin due to poor rains and rising temperatures. This has resulted in the once majestic Victoria Falls losing its attractive features.

It has also plunged Zimbabwe and Mozambique into darkness as the low water levels are struggling to power hydro power stations while Botswana’s dream of drawing water from the river hangs in the balance.

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph ministers responsible for the shared water resources from Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe gave an insight into how the effects of climate change have the potential to ruin their tourism and agriculture sectors and hydro power stations which rely on the Zambezi River.

As the water levels decrease at an unprecedented level, Botswana’s dream of drawing water from Zambezi for irrigation purposes in Pandamatenga farms hangs in the balance.  Botswana had also planed to link up water drawn from Chobe/Zambezi River to North/South carrier pipeline to augment shortage of water in the country.

Botswana’s Minerals, Energy and water Resources Minister, Kitso Mokaila said that effects of global climate change could affect the implementation of water projects in the country.

Speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the just ended Zambezi Water Resources Commission(ZAMCOM) minister meeting, Mokaila said that the decreasing water levels as a result of lack of rainfall and rising temperatures has been discussed at length by ministers of the concerned countries.

“There have been discussions about Botswana’s intention to draw water from Zambezi River basin. But now we have been affected by the global climate change,” said Mokaila.

Mokaila said that countries are assessing whether they should come up with projects similar to the one which Botswana intends to draw water from Zambezi river basin or not.

He is of the view that if the drought situation does not allow the project to be undertaken then there is no need to go ahead with such a project.

Mokaila also revealed that some ministers who sit in the ZAMCOM have raised some issues relating to Botswana’s intention to draw water from Zambezi River.

“Other ministers have raised concerns about Victoria Falls drying up and Kariba Dam not producing as much electricity as it used to. So it is something that we will discuss among ourselves as ministers to find out if it is in the best interest of other member states for Botswana to draw water from Zambezi River,” he said.

He added that “We cannot be naïve and say that things are not changing. Climate change has affected us all but what is important is to have something that is sustainable. You can’t just blindly say I will do something just because you can.  What is needed is for all countries that share the water resources to work harmoniously together for the benefit for all.”

Mokaila further stated that if the environment allows Botswana to draw water, Botswana will go ahead but if the environment does not allow the country to go ahead with the project the country will not proceed with the project.  Mokaila also disclosed that the decreasing water levels will affect the tourism sector.

Zimbabwe‘s Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchingari stated that Zimbabwe has been affected “economically looking at the importance of electricity in the agriculture sector and its key importance in the tourism sector.”

She indicated that they require hydro-electricity in order to run industries and drive the agriculture sector.

“We have been adversely affected and hydro electricity is the cheapest and environmentally friendly. We are now resorting to other expensive ways such as thermal electricity where we use coal which is not environmentally friendly. It is linked to serious gas emission which causes havoc to the ozone layer,” added Muchingari.

She indicated that the use of thermal power was one of the subjects that was on COP21 agenda in France.   She said that countries like United States of America have banned thermal power but there is need to understand that countries like USA have developed with the usage of thermal power.

Muchingari said that they will not be deterred by countries such as USA which are calling for some developing countries to ban thermal power station.

She said that they are looking at using more thermal power stations for industries after the country was badly affected by water levels as Kariba Hydro power station is no longer producing enough electricity as it use to.

Muchingari said that they used to produce 900 megawatts from Kariba Power Station adding that they are currently generating 278 megawatts due to decreasing water levels in Zambezi River basin.

“We have never witnessed that since the construction of Kariba Dam. Unemployment is also likely to go up because many people will lose their jobs in the agriculture sector since there is no water and electricity. We are worried that the import bill is likely to go up,” said Muchingari.

Muchingari said that the low levels of water at Victoria Falls has also affected the Tourism sector. She said that as a world heritage site tourists used to come in large number and due to low levels of water the number of tourists who come to see the mighty Victoria Falls has declined.

Mozambique, Public Works, Housing and Water Resources, Minister Carlos Bonete Martinho said that the 75% of Zambezi River basin inflows reach Mozambique which result in flooding. He said that as result of the floods there is need to build dams to capture water that flows into Mozambique.
“The water captured could be used at a time when the country is experiencing drought. We could be using the water now when the Zambezi River is experiencing decreasing water levels,” said Martinho.

He stated Mozambique with other member states that share the river basin will continue to pursue ZAMCOM agenda which is geared towards promoting the equitable and reasonable utilization of the water resources of the Zambezi watercourse as well as the efficient management of water resources.

Article was orginaly published by Sunday Standard of Botswana

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