News Release


If Kariba Dam Fails...

Implications for Southern Africa if Kariba Dam collapses detailed in IRMSA and Aon risk report

"The Kariba Dam is in a dangerous state. Opened in 1959, it was built on a seemingly solid bed of basalt. But, in the past 50 years, the torrents from the spillway have eroded that bedrock, carving a vast crater that has undercut the dam's foundations. Engineers are now warning that without urgent repairs, the whole dam will collapse. If that happened, a tsunami-like wall of water would rip through the Zambezi valley, reaching the Mozambique border within eight hours. The torrent would overwhelm Mozambique's Cahora Bassa Dam and knock out 40% of southern Africa's hydroelectric capacity. Along with the devastation of wildlife in the valley, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) estimates that the lives of 3.5 million people are at risk." (BBC, 3 October 2014)

World-wide media attention was given to the possible collapse of the Kariba Dam during the last part of 2014. Most of the funding has been secured for the massive engineering project required to secure and rehabilitate Kariba Dam. But in December 2014 the critical period was defined as "the next three years", while the rehabilitation project is only due for completion in 2025. Project delay 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.

In a detailed report on the implications of the failure of Kariba Dam, the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) and Aon South Africa released the risk report today (10 Sep 2015). 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.

"Whether you are a shareholder, stakeholder, board member, business executive, risk manager or even a private individual, if you live, work, own property or have investments in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique or Malawi the chances are that if the Kariba Dam fails you will be affected," explains Kay Darbourn, researcher and writer of the report and a founding member of IRMSA.

"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. 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 Kay.

Some countries rely mainly on hydropower from the Zambezi and their economies will be seriously impacted, both for industries that rely on electricity to operate and in terms of revenue generated from the sale of electricity. South Africa, already in a precarious energy supply shortage, will lose 1500MW of imported power as the Cahora Bassa Dam fails. Access to water for people in the Kariba and Cahora Bassa catchment areas for drinking, food and agriculture will be severely restricted. Transportation and access to the areas affected will be curtailed. New projects and investment in the region will be severely compromised, as the ongoing lack of electricity and water will make these uneconomical, potentially for up to eight years while the dams are being rebuilt.

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. So each new piece of crucial risk information presented in this report places business leaders and risk managers in a better position to mitigate and plan for such risks in an informed way. We already know from Aon's Global Risk Management Survey released earlier this year, and from IRMSA's first edition of their South Africa Risk Report 2015, that the failure and shortage of critical infrastructure is amongst the top 10 South African risks identified by business leaders and risk managers.

"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. By providing this information to our clients and other risk managers in the IRMSA network, we hope to empower you to make the right decisions with regards to the risks you and your company may face," adds Nico.

Kay Darbourn, IRMSA concludes: "Whilst we can debate whether the Kariba Dam will fail, why it might occur and when, there is no doubt that the impact across the region would be devastating. What do you, or your company need to do to understand and manage your risks around this potential catastrophe? What can you or your company do to support the people responsible for the Kariba Dam rehabilitation project to reduce the likelihood of this event occurring?"


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