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The Real Truth – Is Victoria Falls Drying Up?

Recent international news reports have suggested that the Victoria Falls is at its lowest levels in a century due to climate change, causing travellers to panic and cancel their bookings. Find out the real truth behind these exaggerated claims.

30th December 2019

• Has Victoria Falls dried up due to climate change? No, it has not.
• Should we be aware of climate change and be taking action? Yes, absolutely.
• Was this the areas worst drought in a century? No, it was not.
• Are the Victoria Falls rising this year? Yes, they are already currently higher than the same time last year.
• Was it right for the press to sensationalise a news story, causing other far-reaching and damaging effects, without presenting all the facts? No, absolutely not.

What impact have these reports had on Victoria Falls tourism?

The effect of these false reports on local tourism has been devastating, as travellers clamber to cancel bookings, or now cross Victoria Falls off their bucket list, potentially creating a lasting impact that those in the tourism industry just don’t know how long will last.

Please read on to find out the truth and see why Victoria Falls is still a seventh wonder of the world and a remarkable destination to visit.

We are not trying to sell a news story here, we are just presenting the facts as they are and trying to undo some of the damage that has been caused by these unscrupulous news reporters who, in their bid to sell a story have misinterpreted the facts.


What is the truth behind BBC and Sky News reports of the Victoria Falls Drying Up?

The Truth Is – the Zambezi River, which feeds into the Victoria Falls is subject to large seasonal fluctuations, subject to rainfall in its entire catchment basin, this is clearly seen on the graph below. The greatest volume of water at Victoria Falls is always between April and May and the lowest volume is always in October and November.

Interesting to note that even in the years of the greatest volume, when it comes to the low water months of October / November the lines of the graph are very close, showing that there is very little difference in water levels at that time of year, every year.

 

Zambezi River flow graph shows different levels of the Zambezi through the years from the late 1970's

The Truth Is - If you visit Victoria Falls in the months of October and November, on the Zambian side you will see a dry rock face and on the Zimbabwean side (which has a lower elevation) you will see a reasonable flow of water. Every year.

In the photos below, which were taken in 2014, you can see that the water level is low and the dry rock face in Zambia shows itself. It happens every year, so 2019 is nothing new.

Some people choose to come in October and November to specifically see the impressive dry rock formations. Other activities such as the white-water rafting, the devils pool and game viewing are also at their best during this time. So when to visit, depends on your priorities.


Aerial photo of Victoria Falls 7 November 2014 -Zambia side

This photo taken on 7th of November 2014 shows mostly a dry rock face, apart from a tiny trickle of water on the Zambian side to the right. Zimbabwe to the left still has water, see next photo.


Aerial image of Victoria Falls Zimbabwe side taken 7 November 2014

Taken on the same day as the previous one, but with the Zimbabwean side now in the foreground. You can see how the angle of the photo changes the perspective of the amount of water.


Aerial image of downstream Victoria Falls showing change in angle of altitude

Also taken on the 7th of November 2014. This shows how the Zimbabwe side to the left has a lower elevation to that of Zambia on the right, hence the flow of water is directed to that side.

 

The Truth Is - if you visit Victoria Falls between the months of January and August, you will see a full curtain of water falling across the entire length of the falls.


Aerial photo of Victoria Falls taken 30 January 2015

This photo taken on the 30th January 2015 shows how quickly the river rises and is once again a full curtain of water across the entire 1.7 km chasm.

 

The Truth Is – rainfall between December 2018 and April 2019 in the Zambezi catchment basin was lower than normal, resulting in a lower water flow in November 2019. However it’s not the worst it has ever been, in fact, it’s only the seventh lowest, since records began in the early 1900s, as can be seen in the mean annual flow figures below.

Mean annual flow of the Zambezi River at Victoria Falls

The Truth Is - the 1914/15, 1915/16 and 1918/19 rains were all pitiful, almost 3 years of consecutive drought - climate change, back then? I think not!

The 1994/95 and 1995/96 were the worst recorded years, so to presume that climate change is having an effect today is unreasonable, especially when the 2017/2018 season recorded one of the highest mean annual water flows.

To be certain that climate change is affecting annual rainfall, we would need to see several years of continued low rainfall. We should all be acutely aware of the consequences that climate change can have on our planet, but we should also not jump to early and unfounded conclusions.

These fluctuations in rainfall have been happening for centuries, even before David Livingstone first set eyes on the Falls in November 1855. He actually landed on Livingstone island and would have seen a dry rock face to his left and a full flow of water to his right, yet he still managed to pen that "scenes so wonderful must have been gazed on by angels in their flight."


Are the Victoria Falls going to fill-up in 2020?

No one knows the final answer to that question yet, but the rains have now started for the 2019/2020 season and the water flow as of the 27th December 2019 is 323 m3/s, already higher than the same date last year, which was 267m3/s. Updated readings can be seen on The Zambezi River Authority.

As of the date of this article, there has been substantial rainfall in the Upper Zambezi catchment basin. This water will only get to Victoria Falls in March / April 2020 but the indications are good so far.


Why is this such big news?

So the difference today is social media and 24 hr news channels. For the last several years around the October / November someone posts a picture of the dry rock face in Zambia and hysteria ensues.

This year (2019) BBC and Sky News, in a bid to exasperate the effects of climate change, have got hold of the story, twisted it to suit their needs and it has gone viral, with every other news channel consequently picking up the same misguided information and posting it across the internet.

None apparently aware of the consequences this exaggerated report would have on tourism. However, their attempts to highlight climate change could indeed have the exact opposite effect. The facts, as they have stated are simply not true, showing only what they want to show and interviewing on those that they want to interview. So, sadly it does becomes difficult to trust anything that they report, I certainly don't.


Aerial picture of the Victoria Falls taken 19 November 2019

This image taken 19th of December 2019 shows that the Victoria Falls, on the Zambian side are now starting to flow and the Zambezi river is rising, already higher than the same date last year.


If you are thinking of coming to Victoria Falls then please contact us so we can help you plan your holiday of a lifetime.


Ask a question or add your comment here

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Questions and Comments From Other Travellers

Please read through these questions and comments from other travellers

Impressed as to how much water there actually is flowing over the Victoria Falls 
These are photos, taken of the Zambian eastern cataract on the 31st December 2019. Far from the dry rock face that was reported and shown on BBC and Sky …

Plans for the Batoka Dam in the lower Zambezi 
Hi, Having just spent Christmas in Livingstone again, I was shocked to see how few people there were compared to previous years - and to hear the anger …

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