The Zambezi is Africa’s fourth-largest river and is one of the finest and least spoilt rivers in the world. Its source rises from a tiny spring in North-western Zambia and flows for 2,700 kms into the Indian Ocean at its delta on the Mozambique coast.
Its basin (if you include all the river’s tributaries) covers most of central and southern Africa; an area of some 1.3 million sq. kms. – larger than the Sahara Desert. Eight countries in the region are directly linked into this vast river system – Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.
The Zambezi is one of Africa’s last remaining wild rivers. Its spectacularly beautiful attractions include one of the Seven Wonders of the World; Victoria Falls and its four gorges: the Batoka, Kariba, Mupata and Lupata as well as two man-made lakes: Kariba and Cabora Bassa.
The river basin also incorporates several of Africa’s finest National Parks and safari areas and its magnificent delta has, for centuries been a focal point in the history and culture of the region.
On June 3rd 2010, the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme declared Zimbabwe’s Middle Zambezi Valley a Biosphere Reserve. This designation is a first for Zimbabwe and will allow us to test different approaches to integrated management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine resources and biodiversity. Zimbabwe’s new Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve stretches over approximately 40,000 sq. km in the Zambezi valley. It includes riverine and terrestrial ecosystems unique to Southern Africa, one of its largest man-made reservoirs, Lake Kariba, and two core National Park areas: the Matusadona National Park on the Lake Kariba’s southern shores, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore safari areas, declared in 1984.
The Zambezi basin is rich in biological diversity. Its wetlands, aquatic systems, riverine woodlands, montane forests, dry forests and savannahs are all complex eco-systems which support abundant wildlife and a great diversity of trees and plants; some species native only to the Zambezi region. As a result, the Zambezi basin holds many wonderful wilderness landscapes and many natural resources that are of exceptional value.
However, the Zambezi River’s wild nature faces many threats:
- Poverty forces people into poaching of important Zambezi species like the Black Rhino, Elephant and Leopard, or unsustainable harvesting of forests and fish
- Developments such as high-impact agriculture, mining, energy generation, water extraction and ill-advised tourism developments are often prioritized over the preservation of wilderness for tourism, hunting or conservation
- Land planning in the eight Zambezi region countries lacks co-ordination, and is often haphazard.
- Local communities are seldom properly informed or consulted. What happens in the upper catchment area can have drastic environmental consequences on people and wildlife far downstream.
Unlike most places in the world today, options for development in the Zambezi basin are still open. The Zambezi Society believes that this is a perfect opportunity for planners, decision-makers and conservationists to avoid the mistakes made elsewhere.