A tale of two swamps – Problem with the dams

On completion of formalities with the DC we drove a few hundred metres to the river’s edge to the Department of Fisheries complex.  The local fisheries officer had arranged us to meet the Namwala Fisherfolk Association but they were slow in arriving.  In the interim we passed around the offices.  I picked up lots of useful information on the location of all the fishing villages along the river and in the Kafue Flats.  It is amazing how much useful data is hidden away in offices like this.  I had asked about a list of all the villages at the head office in Chilanga but no-one could lay their hands on the information.  Here it was stuck up on the walls of the chief local fisheries officer.  Probably drawn in the seventies, the map was simple but clear and accurate – a detailed map of all the bends in the main river and its tributaries with carefully placed and labelled dots showing the location of the villages and a great long comprehensive key. Again I took photographs and was later able to fit them over the existing GIS data and create a digital database.  Despite care being taken with the paper, age had taken its toll – the edges were brown and frayed, a few tears had been repaired with sticky tape and the light had faded some of the features on the map.


Another useful data source

Our catch up with the fisheries officers complete, we took a quick inspection of their facilities and looked out over the river.  At Namwala there is a much narrower flood plan with none of the lagoons we had found further east, just the main river channel and a few reedy banks before the ground level rose.  The fisheries officers told us that does not stop flooding issues caused by the hydroelectric dam further upstream.  Traditionally the villagers of the flats could predict and adapt to the natural flood and ebb of the river; indeed the changes in river level were beneficial both for creating nursery grounds and fishing opportunities.  But the holding of water in the Itezhi-tezhi Dam for the turbines meant that the natural floods were not occurring at appropriate times or were too time limited to fit natural cycles of fish breeding.  Instead, the flood of water downstream was controlled by the demand for electricity in the urban areas of Zambia.  This could mean frequent discharges of water from the dam that caused a near tidal wave along the river for hundreds of kilometres.    With little or no warning of these fishermen had been swamped from their boats, villages could be quickly inundated and by measuring the long term effects on those nurseries and fishing grounds it was clear stocks and catch rates were falling.


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