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Updated Mar 16, 2020

Zambia is suffering from severe electricity and water shortages due to a lengthy drought, lowering reservoir levels for the nation’s hydroelectric plant at Lake Kariba, the world’s largest artificial lake. Despite heavier rainfall than usual, available water for hydroelectric production was just 11.5 percent at the beginning of March, slightly better than a record low in January but vastly below the 42 percent from last year. The plant, which can produce up to 2.1 gigawatts of electricity, is now running at a quarter of its full capacity, causing frequent power outages for Zambia and Zimbabwe. Nearly half of Zambia’s power generation comes from the dam, but climate change threatens the reliability of the hydroelectric dam with rainfall coming more unexpectedly and at a lower rate. Over the past decade, total rainfall has dropped 2.3 percent at the same time as the region has warmed by 0.34 degrees Celsius (32.6 degrees Fahrenheit).


Why It Matters

Diminishing returns from Lake Kariba’s hydroelectric plant demonstrates how climate change threatens basic amenities such as water and power supply. The erratic downpours have done little to replenish the lake’s reservoir levels, but it has done enough to devastate crops and infrastructure. In response, agriculturalists who have suffered under the drought and unpredictable rain have turned to selling charcoal, produced by chopping down Zambia’s forests and thus creating a feedback loop of accelerating climate change as fewer trees mean less carbon sequestration and therefore faster rates of warming. For Zimbabwe, these power outages come on top of drastic levels of food poverty afflicting the country, which the United Nations World Food Programme estimates needs US$239 million to prevent starvation for Zimbabweans for the first half of 2020 alone.

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