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Lake Profile


General Information

Description Kariba Dam is one of the largest dams in the world. The dam was constructed on the Zambezi River along the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and jointly owned by the two countries.
Country Zambia
Latitude -16° 47' 55" (-16.7986)
Longitude 28° 0' 0" (28.0000)
River Basin Zambezi


 Kariba global index map (LakeNet Explorer)
 Kariba locator map
 Zambia map
 Lake Basin Management Initiative (LakeNet Explorer)

Physical Characteristics

Description Apart from giving the country much needed hydroelectricity, Lake Kariba also is used for fishing and recreation.
Volume 185.00 km3
Surface Area 5,580.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 29.0 m
Maximum depth: 97.0 m
Residence Time 3.3 years
Origin Human Made
Type Fresh
Catchment Catchment size: 663,848.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 119:1


Economic Value Lake Kariba has a complex socio-political history. It was conceived during the twilight of the British colonial interest in southern central Africa. It was envisaged as an engine of economic development for the British territories of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and the protectorates of Nyasaland and Barotseland, under a new political conglomeration, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The location of present day Kariba dam was a result of technical as well as political considerations: technical in that it was thought to be more hydrologically stable than the competing Kafue Gorge site in Zambia, and politically in that it assuaged the apprehensions of a minority white government in Southern Rhodesia of investing a strategic development facility in a country that could conceivably be governed by a majority black government.

The reservoir was designed during a period when concepts of human rights, social justice and equity in relation to colonial subjects were rudimentary, if at all considered. It was also during the period when environmental management was an emerging discipline, an era where engineers were an awesome community that could harness nature’s energy potential for the development of central southern Africa. Consequently there was little environmental impacts assessment of the proposed reservoir. The relocation of the Tonga people of the Gwembe valley was inadequately planned and little post relocation assistance was given. Several studies now show that the social impacts of forced translocation trauma evolve over an extended period.

Major Cities Lusaka

Watershed Management

Description To rationalise the hitherto uncontrolled development activity of the Lake Kariba environs, the Zimbabwe Government, through the Department of Physical Planning, produced the Kariba Combination Master Plan (1998 (The Kariba Lakeshore Combination Master Plan Preparation Authority 1998). This covers the Administrative districts surrounding the lake.
Issues The reservoir is in a tectonically active area at the southern end of the African Rift Valley. Since its filling in the early 1960's, Kariba has caused numerous earthquakes in the area, 20 of them in excess of magnitude 5 on the Richter scale.
Other Issues Biodiversity Conservation

Biodiversity Conservation

Description Elephant, buffalo, rhino and a host of smaller game are abundant. The waters of the lake itself support more than forty different species of fish, as well as hippo and crocodiles.

There was no Environmental Impact Assessment done for Kariba, prior to development of the dam, so baseline data is not available.

Kariba appears to be one of the few successful examples of introducing non-native species to a lake. A sardine species was introduced that apparently has had only minimal biological impacts.

Species of Concern

LakeNet Programs

World Lake Basin Management Initiative
LBMI Regional Experience Sharing and Review Workshop for Africa


Kariba  Experience Brief. Final. 2/27/2006.


Africa Online: Lake Kariba
Crop Explorer - Global Reservoir and Lake Elevation Monitoring
Crop Explorer - Lake Level Variations from TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason-1 Altimetry for Lake Kariba
ILEC Database
Inland Integrated Coastal Zone Management: Lake Kariba Case Study
Introducing Co-Management Arrangements in Lake Kariba In-shore Fishery: Progress, Opportunities & Constraints


4/23/2004 - Towards a Lake Basin Management Initiative
1/24/2004 - The true cost of ignoring the World Commission on Dams
8/6/2003 - Fuel shortage cripples fishing operations in Kariba
4/25/2003 - Human activities threaten life in Zambezi Basin
3/8/2000 - Aid arrives for desperate Zambians, 15,000 at risk of starvation
3/6/2000 - Flooding destroys Zambian crops following opening of Kariba Dam gates

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
International Lake Environment Committee, the United Nations Environment Program and Environment Agency, Government of Japan. 1997. World Lakes Database.

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