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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 09:44 GMT
Flooding destroys Zambian crops

By Ishbel Matheson in Lusaka

More than 12,000 people in Zambia are at risk of starvation in the Lower Zambezi area following the opening of the Kariba Dam gates more than a week ago.

A year's supply of food for thousands of people who farm along the banks of the Zambezi River was wiped out in just nine hours after the dam gates were opened.

Crops of maize, bananas, pumpkins and ground nuts were submerged by the rising water levels.


Gates at the Kariba dam were opened a week ago
Local people have been so desperate to salvage any of the precious food that they have been diving from canoes to try to harvest the underwater crops.

However, this has proved a risky undertaking - at least one farmer has been attacked and seriously injured by a crocodile.

Local leaders are now warning that without urgent supplies of food, the people of the Lower Zambezi will starve.

Heavy rain

The overspill gates at Kariba were opened because heavy rain further up the Zambezi led to fears that the dam might burst, causing a major catastrophe throughout the region.

But little thought appears to have been given to the impact on the subsistence farmers further down the river.

Local people complain they were given very little information about the operation and there certainly seems to be no contingency plan in place to help people or businesses affected by the dramatic rise in water levels.

The Lower Zambezi is one the premier holiday destinations in Zambia and many of the tourist lodges which contribute vital income to the country have been flooded.

The Zambian Government, which has donated $1m in medical supplies and food to neighbouring Mozambique, has still to act to help its own people.

Despite the visits of government ministers and the establishment of an emergency committee, major assistance has yet to be delivered to the people of the Lower Zambezi.

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