Zambezi

Victoria Falls, considered the the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi.  rel=
Victoria Falls, considered the the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi. Creative Commons licence
© Howard Chalkley

Home of the world's largest waterfall

The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean. The 2,574 km long river has its source in Zambia and flows through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean.

The Zambezi's most spectacular feature is Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfalls.

The river supports large populations of many animals. Hippopotamuses are abundant along most of the calm stretches of the river, and many crocodiles are also present. Monitor lizards are found in many places. Bird life is abundant, with species including heron, pelican, egret and African Fish Eagle present in large numbers. Riverine woodland also supports many large animals, such as buffalo, zebras, giraffes and elephants.

The Zambezi supports several hundred species of fish, some of which are endemic to the river. Important species include cichlids which are fished heavily for food, as well as catfish, tigerfish, yellowfish and other large species.

Current threats
Sewage effluent is a major cause of water pollution around urban areas, as inadequate water treatment facilities in all the major cities of the region force them to release untreated sewage into the river. This has resulted in eutrophication of the river water and has facilitated the spread of diseases of poor hygiene such as cholera, typhus and dysentery.

The Kariba Dam and Cahora Bassa Dam have reduced flooding of the Zambezi and have disrupted fish, bird and other wildlife feeding and breeding patterns. The dams have also interefered with traditional farming and fishing patterns.

As regular flooding has been reduced, people have inhabited floodplain areas, but these areas are still inundated in an extreme flood event – this has resulted in greater loss of life and damage to propert than was previously experienced.

Zambezi River watershed / ©: Revenga, C., S. Murray, J. Abramovitz, and A. Hammond, 1998. Watersheds of the World: Ecological Value and Vulnerability. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Zambezi River watershed
© Revenga, C., S. Murray, J. Abramovitz, and A. Hammond, 1998. Watersheds of the World: Ecological Value and Vulnerability. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

Countries
Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique

Basin population
38.4 million

Size
1,390,000 km²

Length
2,574 km

Key species
Hippopotamus, crocodiles, abundant bird life. Riverine woodland also supports many large animals, such as buffalo, zebras, giraffes and elephants. The Zambezi also supports several hundred species of fish, some of which are endemic to the river.

Livelihood facts
Many people rely on the river for fish. About 80% of the population of the valley is dependent on agriculture. Mining and hydropower are big industries in the Zambezi basin.

Related links

Sources

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required