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The iconic Victoria Falls, known as “The Smoke That Thunders”, is struggling to live up to its moniker as Southern Africa lies in the grip of one of its worst droughts in decades.
It is not unusual for Victoria Falls – on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe – to run low on water during the dry season. This year, however, water flow is at its lowest level for a quarter of a century.
The Zambian President, Edgar Lungu, has linked the drying up of Victoria Falls with climate change, and has warned that one day they could disappear entirely.
In an interview with Sky News, he said: “Do we want to want to pass on the Zambezi without the mighty Victoria Falls?”
“It’s a serious problem, a genuine one. And it is surprising when people trivialise it and say ‘climate change is not real’. Probably they’re living in a different world. But this world we live in, Zambia, we are feeling the effects of climate change really adversely. And it is impacting on everyone.”
Sky News reporter Alex Crawford visited the sight and said: “The world’s largest falls are now down to a trickle in places.”
Across 2019 the average water flow at Victoria Falls has been down by almost 50 per cent, according to figures released by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Climate and Tourism. However, this week a spokesperson denied that the falls were at risk of disappearing in our lifetime.
“It’s normal to have low water this time of the year but the falls will never dry in our lifetime. We haven’t had as much water as we have had in the past years but it’s not dry,” said tourism authority board member Blessing Munyenyiwa.
The drought that has swept across Southern Africa is the worst in 40 years and has caused food insecurity across the region. Nearly eight million people in Zimbabwe are now dependent on food handouts from the World Food Programme.
Last month, it was revealed that more than 200 elephants had died due to a lack of water at Zimbabwe’s main conservation zones of Mana Pools and Hwange National Park. In response, the national wildlife agency unveiled plans to move 600 elephants, among other animals. The process has been described by wildlife authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo as “the biggest translocation in our history”.
So what is the view of Victoria Falls, from the ground? In an Instagram post this morning, Chinese television broadcaster CGTN showed the difference between the dried-up falls on December 4 and another photograph of the falls with abundant water flow in January 2019.
A Luxury Lodge near Victoria Falls, The River Club Zambia, has taken a different view of the dried-up falls. In an Instagram post, they wrote: “It is absolutely amazing to see the shape of the gorge without the flow of water and see what actually lies below Victoria Falls!”
They add that for anyone wishing to see the water flow, they are able to visit the Zimbabwean side of the falls.