Kariba threat/impact

Impact of the Failure of the Kariba Dam

Report published by The Institute of Risk Management South Africa

June 2015

Kariba Dam wall from the Zimbabwean side

Considerable world-wide media attention was given to the possible collapse of the Kariba Dam during the last part of 2014.

[For example], on 3 October 2014 the BBC reported that:

“The Kariba Dam is in a dangerous state. Opened in 1959, it was built on a seemingly solid bed of basalt. But, in the past 50 years, the torrents from the spillway have eroded that bedrock, carving a vast crater that has undercut the dam’s foundations.

Engineers are now warning that without urgent repairs, the whole dam will collapse. If that happened, a tsunami-like wall of water would rip through the Zambezi valley, reaching the Mozambique border within eight hours. The torrent would overwhelm Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa Dam and knock out 40% of southern Africa’s hydroelectric capacity. Along with the devastation of wildlife in the valley, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) estimates that the lives of 3.5 million people are at risk.”

Most of the funding has been secured and one high level executive in an entity that may be significantly impacted has said “well, now the funding is in place, we can relax” but can we?

The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA), through its Risk Intelligence Committee, completed the first South Africa Risks Report at the end of 2014 and this was published in January 2015. The IRMSA Risk Report highlighted a number of risks for the region to consider and reflected on the differences between IRMSA member’s feedback on key risks and those featured in the 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risks Report.

As the IRMSA Risk Report was being finalised, the committee suggested that we might take some of the risks identified within the report and complete “case studies” which go into more detail on specific areas of the risks and provide this work to our members as examples of how the risk report may be used as the base for further investigative risk reviews as relevant to specific entities and industries.

Two of the key risks for the region that were considered within the risk report were concerns related to electricity supply in South Africa and the need for improvements to infrastructure, both for new projects and the need to maintain existing structures. Research around the Kariba Dam was chosen as our first review and is presented as a story – we ask the question “what if the Kariba Dam should fail, what would the impact be?”

Research was focused on the region that might be impacted by the failure of the Kariba and Cahora Bassa Dams. The report considers some aspects of history, current challenges and some future concerns but is not intended to be a risk assessment – we hope that you will take what you can from this report, as it might impact you and your company, and continue with managing your specific risks and opportunities.....

To read the risk research report, click on the link below:


The report [12.5MB] was sponsored by Aon South Africa.

Aon PLC is the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human resources solutions and outsourcing services. Through its more than 66,000 colleagues worldwide, Aon unites to empower results for clients in over 120 countries via innovative and effective risk and people solutions and through industry-leading global resources and technical expertise.