Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
THE African Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA) has allayed fears over the potential drying up of the Victoria Falls.
ATTA, in a statement, also criticised what it described as “sensational” recent media reports for lacking an appreciation of historical seasonal patterns and changes in the water flow and its levels.
Confusion had gripped the travel and tourism industry at home and abroad following a BBC report on effects of climate change and its impact on the falling water levels in Victoria Falls. The report sparked widespread debate as sceptical opinion leaders and some tour operators turned political and sought to manipulate the scenario in a bid to project a bad image about the country.
This is despite insights by climate change experts and explanations from tourism industry stakeholders whose businesses stand to be negatively affected by the biased reports.
“There has recently been a number of media and news organisations around the world reporting about Victoria Falls potentially drying up. Whilst we are cognisant that climate change is a growing concern on a global level, and that it is potentially having an impact on countries throughout the world, what has been lacking in the media reports is an insight into the historic seasonal patterns and the resultant changes in water flow, which are vital pieces of information to ensure a clear perspective is maintained,” said ATTA in the statement.
“The seasonal rise and fall of the Zambezi River changes the look of Victoria Falls on a daily basis. The western side of the falls is lower than the eastern side and, therefore, carries the most water all year round. “This fluctuation is less noticeable at Devil’s cataract and the Main Falls. From Livingstone Islands onwards, this ebb and flow becomes more apparent and at low water, this portion of the Falls dries up almost completely.”
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) spokesperson, Mr Godfrey Koti, weighed in saying the authority was disturbed by negative publicity around the Falls over the climate change dilemma, which is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. “As the authority we would like to put it on record that the Falls are not dry at all. We acknowledge there is an issue to do with climate, which needs attention of the world because it is a global phenomenon and not peculiar to Victoria Falls. We are coming out strongly against this bad publicity that has befallen our premier tourism product and assuring stakeholders that there is nothing as spectacular as the Victoria Falls,” said Mr Koti.
“Those who want to visit should know the Falls are still intact and this has not yet impacted on current business season although it has a strong possibility of giving us problems in the future.”
He said the flow of the water through the Falls varies throughout the year with the highest level being seen around April to June and lowest from October to December. This is influenced by the rains in the catchment area of the river, slightly above the northern-western Zambia, Angola and DRC, Mr Koti added.
ATTA further stated that it has engaged various stakeholders based in Zimbabwe seeking clarification around the concerned reports, which it described as “sensational”. It noted that historical data provided by the Zambezi River Authority, which monitors the water level flows in the region daily, provide evidence that the annual mean water levels of the river have in fact been lower in at least six prior examples of a period spanning 1914 to the current date period.
“Whilst Zimbabwe has indeed experienced an extensive drought over the course of this year, the water levels of the Zambezi and indeed the flow levels over Victoria Falls, have remained above those recorded over the drought period of 95/96,” said ATTA.
“Although the Falls are a spectacular experience at high water, the spray often obscures the waterfall making it difficult to see and photograph.
“Each time of the year, throughout the change of seasons and the change in water levels, has its advantages and disadvantages but one thing is consistent – Victoria Falls remains a magnificent sight and natural phenomenon all year round.”
A local group, Team Tourism recently rejected the BBC report, making it clear that the Falls are not dry. The group is made up of State tourism officials, tour operators and other like-minded entities. Through the campaign #VictoriaFallsIsNotDry, Team Tourism’s aim is to reject the negative reports by projecting a business as usual situation at theFalls.
Despite the alarm caused by sensationalised headlines, ATTA said the good news was that records from the Zambezi River Authority were showing that water levels were once again on a consistent rise. Already water “has started to flow once again” over certain points along the eastern cataract of Victoria Falls, the dry portion or cliff-face of Victoria Falls, which has been pictured in all recent media reports, said the regional body.
“We anticipate that given the recent reports of rain in the Zambezi catchment area, and indeed the rainfall being experienced in the immediate region, that these water levels will continue to rise as would be anticipated and consistent with the norm for this time of year and the change in season from mid/end of November, beginning of December,” it said. “We hope this clarifies some of the queries and concerns being raised around the water levels of the Falls.”