Thursday, June 12, 2008

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Kafue Wetlands


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In southern Zambia, the Kafue River crosses a broad floodplain roughly 255 km long. Before the Itezhi-tezhi Dam was built on the river in 1978, flooding beginning in December would cover much of the plain well into the dry season. Although the dam was built to allow the release of sufficient water to cause seasonal flooding, this mimicking of the natural floods has in general not been practised.

The Kafue Flats floodplain provides important habitat for rare and endemic species, including the Kafue lechwe (antelope) and wattled crane, and supports local livelihoods, especially cattle-raising and fishing. Limited seasonal flooding following the construction of the dam has been linked to a decline in fish production and in the Kafue lechwe population. The number of lechwe fell from around 90 000 before the dam was built to around 37 000 in 1998. In 2004, a partnership between World Wildlife Fund, the Zambian Ministry of Energy and Water Development, and the Zambian Electricity Supply Company put new rules in place for water releases from the dam to mimic natural flooding patterns more successfully.

The 1970s image shows Kafue Flats in the dry season, with water levels retreating. The Kafue Gorge Dam can be seen in the lower right corner of the image (yellow arrow). Itezhi-tezhi Dam was built a few years later to provide more storage capacity for electricity generation at the Kafue Gorge Dam. The 2007 image shows the Kafue Flats during wet season floods, helped for the first time by the release of adequate water from the Itezhi-tezhi Dam.
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