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.

A Tale of Two Swamps – Kafue

This is where I came in.  One of these swamplands occurs just south west of Lusaka in Zambia.  The Kafue River rises in the industrial Copperbelt in the centre of Zambia – the first thing I ever remember seeing in Africa when I was heading to Zimbabwe on a jumbo jet in 1993.  Its circuitous route takes the Kafue roughly south west and through one of Zambia’s larger national parks of the same name.  The Zambians damned the river at this point to make the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam, but below this point the river passes through a gently inclined wide open plain, before narrowing through a series of gorges to discharge into Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River.

This plain is full of small lakes and channels fringed by extensive reed beds; it contains two more national parks (Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon), several other reservations and a whole load of communities specialized in reaping the rich protein of fish from its waters.  Being so close to Lusaka, much of the fish is shipped off to the city and is potentially lucrative income for people living in the region.

As in many places, it is not all good news.  There is the threat of overfishing of the stock as it is not being monitored and managed; there are invasive species such as crayfish and Nile perch or tilapia that could be nudging out the native species. Two dams; the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam at the top of the swamp and the Kafue Dam deep in the gorge, power a large proportion of Zambia’s electricity needs.  Fundamental to this is a controlled flow of water, and villagers are complaining of the upsetting of the natural cycles of flood and retreat in the swamp that are damaging fish nursery habitats.

So the government wanted a plan for the Kafue Fisheries, taking forward an Act of Parliament , helping to monitor and manage the stocks and activity and any external threats.  Problem was is how you define the Kafue Fisheries Area within which you can do all this monitoring and management and for that you needed a geographer.  Me.