Zambezi River Basin

The Cahora Bassa Dam, Mozambique

Receeding coastal wetlands Mozambique. / ©: WWF-Canon / Meg GAWLER
Receeding coastal wetlands Mozambique.
© WWF-Canon / Meg GAWLER
Africa's second largest dam, Cahora Bassa on the Zambezi, was completed in 1975. It is 80% owned by the Portuguese Government and 20% by the Mozambique Government. The majority ownership of the dam was retained by the Portuguese after the country became independent.

Nearly all of the power generated by Cahora Bassa is sold to the South African State electricity company, ESKOM. ESKOM sells some of this power to the Mozambique government to power an aluminium smelting plant. Only a relatively small amount of the power is distributed within southern Mozambique.

There is very little electricity transmission infrastructure in Mozambique and a recent study showed that only 1% of rural households in the country have access to electricity. This level has hardly changed in 25 years and despite Cahora Bassa, most Mozambicans still have no access to electricity.

Dams along its length have reduced the mighty Zambezi River to a fraction of its flow where it meets the Indian Ocean. People and wildlife have been seriously affected, and the impact on Mozambique's lucrative shrimp fishing industry has been catastrophic.

The 16 million dollar industry has been reduced to less than half and is in danger of being wiped out altogether. Meanwhile, there are proposals for a new dam, Mepanda Uncua, downstream from Cahora Bassa, even though Cahora Bassa does not operate at full capacity.

"There are some major steps that can be taken to increase power available to the Mozambique people without further damage to the environment and at much lower cost than a new dam," says Helena Motta of WWF Mozambique. "Independent studies show that by changing the flow patterns of water released from the Cahora Bassa dam, more power could be generated with less impact to the river flow. Cahora Bassa at maximum power would more than meet the needs of the country for the foreseeable future, with other power sources such as natural gas and solar and wind power being developed for the rural areas."

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