SEATTLE — The phrase “river of life” encapsulates an innate truth: rivers have been essential to the existence of humans since life began.
Flowing from their murky and mysterious channels are many wonders — entire underwater ecosystems which supply humans with food and supplies, a means of transportation, irrigation and farming techniques, and now importantly in today’s age, a current which can be utilized for its hydropower energy.
The Zambezi River is no exception. As the fourth-longest river in Africa, it is deemed to be one of the most valuable waterways because of the economic opportunities associated with its hydropower properties, as it currently accounts for half of the total hydropower capacity in Africa.
This river is regarded as a means of supporting and securing sustainable livelihoods for as many as 250 million people living in Southern Africa, according to the World Bank. Aside from the economic opportunities available alone by utilizing energy, the river is also home to subsistence agriculture and fisheries, providing for 47 million people, which is about three-quarters of the Zambezi River Basin’s population.
As the climate changes and developmental changes on the river’s resources persist, sustainable management is the key for the future. To initiate these changes, in 2001, eight riparian states enacted the Agreement on the Establishment of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM).
“This introduced a framework for promoting the equitable utilization, efficient management, and sustainable development of the Zambezi River Basin,” says the World Bank.
The Zambezi River Basin Program is currently addressing Africa’s developmental needs. However, its goal of bringing sustainable development throughout river basin communities is not possible without support from a multi-donor trust fund enacted by the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA), which is responsible for communication between riparian states to further progress the development of water resources for sustainable evolution.
With both the ZAMCOM and the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) conversing on how to best tackle this issue, they have found that the most effective way to manage water resources is by “empowering regional bodies with the institutional mechanisms and information platforms to better manage shared water resources and advance high-priority infrastructure investments.” In other words, by improving how information is distributed and received, many more opportunities are created between countries to work toward similar goals and thus yield better results.
Furthermore, by advancing the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (HES), which has been delayed for 10 years, there rests a possibility of securing the future of the Kariba Dam, which was reported by the BBC to be in a dangerous state in 2014.
Through HES, 1.2 million more households’ energy needs will be reached between the communities of Zimbabwe and Zambia, and energy production will also increase by 8,962 GWh per year through the combined efforts of the Batoka Gorge HES alongside the existing Kariba Dam.
The future seems bright for the shared waters and communities of the river basin as its countries engage and collaborate toward sustainable and effective methods for the future.