The Kariba Dam drew worldwide attention in the last part of 2014 when it emerged that the dam was facing a possible collapse.

In December 2014 the critical period was defined as “the next three years”, while the massive rehabilitation project is only due for completion in 2025.

Experts fear that project delays from any cause, along with climate change, high rainfall patterns impacting future dam levels and potential seismic activity, could all contribute to the likelihood of failure of the Kariba Dam.

Impact of the failure of the Kariba Dam

The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) and Aon South Africa recently released a detailed report on the implications of the failure of Kariba Dam.

The “Impact of the failure of the Kariba Dam” report was finalised in June 2015 and is sponsored by Aon South Africa and researched and written by Kay Darbourn.

It tells a story around the risks and challenges for the region related to the current state of the dam and the proposed rehabilitation project.

“If the Kariba Dam fails, the water flow from Kariba will continue down the Zambezi River, impacting people, property, animals and plant life until it reaches the Cahora Bassa Dam at which stage the flow will cause this dam to be breeched and the cycle of damage will continue downstream,” explains Kay Darbourn, researcher and writer of the report and a founding member of IRMSA.

“This is likely to occur over a period of 8 to 10 hours until the flow dissipates.  The reduction in the supply of electricity to various countries in the region will be significant and immediate. This will just be the start of years of economic, social, environmental, humanitarian and technological fallout that will devastate the region’s economies,” says Darbourn.

The magnitude of risk is unknown

Nico Bianco, Business Unit Head: Corporate and Specialty of Aon South Africa, leading risk advisors and insurance brokerage and sponsor of the report, adds: “While we may know what the types of risks and challenges are that we will face in the event that Kariba Dam fails, the actual magnitude of many of these risks is unknown.

“The potential failure of the Kariba Dam is a Southern Africa regional risk that falls into the infrastructure risk category, but in addition it would lead to severe power supply constraints – another key challenge currently impacting the region.

“This report shows that all of us in Southern Africa will suffer the impact if this risk materialises and calls for each of us to take an interest and be as involved as possible in preventing this potential catastrophe from happening.

“The impact will span across the entire risk consequence spectrum, from significant loss of life, damage to property and the environment, to economic fall-out.

This risk and its potential consequences need to be viewed as part of the existing power supply and demand challenges in the region and will require a strong commitment from governments, private companies and financiers to prevent the failure from happening,” adds Nico.