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Severe drought — Once mighty Victoria Falls dries to a trickle

Victoria Falls, also known as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – “The Smoke That Thunders” in the indigenous Lozi language is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The waters of the Zambezi River cascades 108 meters (355 feet) down into a gash in the earth, drawing millions of visitors from around the world.

However, this year’s drought in south-central Africa has taken the thunder out of the natural wonder, leaving the falls a mere whimper of its former self. While the falls typically slow down during the hot African summer, this drought is the worst in almost a century.

“In previous years, when it gets dry, it’s not to this extent. This (is) our first experience of seeing it like this,” said Dominic Nyambe, a seller of tourist handicrafts, reports the Irish Times. “It affects us, because … clients … can see on the Internet (that the falls are low) … We don’t have so many tourists.”

An aerial view of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe....

An aerial view of the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tourism accounts for around 10 percent of Zimbabwe's GDP.

Photos taken in January this year are in stark contrast to photos taken this month. In January, water was plentiful, cascading over the falls and creating the landmark mist that is so awe-inspiring. Now, all that is seen is a rock wall.

“Flow of the Zambezi River varies sharply from its mid- to late-rainy season maximum, then bottoms at the time of the first widespread rains,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews said. “Any delay in the onset of rain can allow river levels to continue to wane, potentially for weeks, depending on steering controls for the weather.”

Even as world leaders are meeting at COP25 in Madrid, Spain to discuss ways to halt the catastrophic warming caused by human-driven greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is suffering some of the very worst effects of the climate crisis. Taps are running dry and over 45 million people are in need of food aid as crops wither in the fields.

 These pictures of the Victoris Falls are a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our en...

“These pictures of the Victoris Falls are a stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment and our livelihood.”
Zambian president, Edgar Lungu

Zimbabwe and Zambia are heavily reliant on hydropower from plants at the Kariba dam, below the falls. There have been extensive power cuts affecting homes and businesses. Data from the Zambezi River Authority shows the water flow at its lowest since 1995 – and well below the long-term average, according to The Guardian.

With all that is happening, scientists are cautious about categorically blaming climate change because there are seasonal variations. Harald Kling, a hydrologist at engineering firm Poyry and a Zambezi river expert, said climate science dealt in decades, not particular years, “so it’s sometimes difficult to say this is because of climate change because droughts have always occurred”.

“If they become more frequent, then you can start saying: OK, this may be climate change.” While noting that current climate models had predicted more frequent dry years in the Zambezi basin – “what was surprising was that it [drought] has been so frequent.” The last drought was only three years ago. As the river got hotter, 437 million cubic meters (15 billion cubic feet) of water were evaporating every second.

Back in October, Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu fired a warning shot on Twitter, posting photos of the barren falls and declaring the images are a “stark reminder of what climate change is doing to our environment and our livelihood.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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