The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) warns that Victoria Falls could lose its status as a World Heritage Site if the Zimbabwean and Zambian governments go ahead with development plans near one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River sits on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and is the largest body of water in the world, stretching 1.7km and dropping 108m into a gorge. It is the main tourist attraction in both countries, where visitors can enjoy sightseeing, bungee jumping, rafting, boat cruises, wildlife viewing and the famous Flight of Angels.
Plans are at an advanced stage to build a hydroelectric plant, a 300-bed hotel complex and a golf course near the falls, according to a Unesco report.
The power station proposal comes as Zimbabwe faces a severe power shortage which has seen the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) introduce power cuts. Zesa is also struggling to pay at least $6m a month for the electricity it receives from Zambia – which has achieved a power generation surplus of 1,156MW since the construction of a new power station. in the north of the country.
Victor Mapani, chief executive of Zambian electricity company Zesco, said the country’s surplus electricity is available for trade in the southern African region, within the interconnected power grid.
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Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced this week that he plans to engage his Zambian and Mozambican counterparts with a view to solving his country’s energy deficit.
Some commentators say building a power station near Victoria Falls will alleviate Zimbabwe’s electricity problems, but campaigners like Farai Maguwu, director of the Center for Natural Resource Governance, say it will have a negative impact on the economy. Zimbabwe’s already struggling economy. The country’s monthly inflation rate reached 25.6% in July.
A recent report from Zimbabwe’s cabinet indicates that tourism contributes at least $1.9 billion to gross domestic product annually and projects that it could reach a target of $5 billion by 2025.
However, Maguwu said the projections may not be met if developments continue.
“Victoria Falls is one of God’s natural wonders. It is important that the falls are preserved because that is what attracts tourists.
“The Zimbabwean government should not be seen as pushing foreign tourists away. It is not surprising that some senior government officials see an opportunity to make money from these business projects,” Maguwu said.
Zimbabwe’s environment and tourism minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu, declined to comment on “the Unesco affair”.
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Interior and Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe said he was not aware of any proposed commercial activity near Victoria Falls. “I am not aware of the project. If indeed the project is on the cards, I hope your concerns have been taken into account during the design. Heritage will certainly be protected,” he said.
However, the Zimbabwean Environment and Management Agency’s communications officer, Joyce Chapungu, said: “We have not received any documentation for these proposed development projects to enable us to do a stocktaking exercise. environmental impact to determine how these projects would affect the relevant district.”
A bigger picture
The director of the Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions, Rejoice Ngwenya, urged the Zambian and Zimbabwean authorities to move the projects elsewhere.
“It is important that Zambia and Zimbabwe respect UNESCO’s views and expertise. These governments can carry out these projects at least 40 km from the heritage site. It is undisputed that the construction of a hotel, a power station and a golf course will create jobs, but they must see the big picture.
Zimbabwe Institute of Labor Economic Research economist Prosper Chitambara said the projects would not affect the economy.
“Tourists come to see the waterfall and there are no tourists who would like to go to a place where there is no electricity and enough accommodation. The establishment of a hotel and a power plant electricity will help reorganize the facilities of the resort,” he said. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly daily maverick 168 newspaper, which is available nationwide for R25.