Victoria Falls Marred by Pollution

By Singy Hanyona

LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, September 28, 2000 (ENS) - The Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River, an acclaimed UNESCO World Heritage site, is no longer a paradise, but a threat to human health and the environment.

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Victoria Falls (Photo courtesy UNESCO)
One of the world's great waterfalls, the 340 foot high falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is sixth in the world by volume of water. The falls and surrounding rainforest are set aside as a national park.

But people from around the world pass through the area daily, leaving permanent ecologically damaging footprints. Home to over 30,000 residents in Zambia's tourist capital of Livingstone, and host to about 500,000 tourists annually, the falls are being spoiled by pollution.

Disco sounds, human waste and emissions from the vehicular traffic are replacing the freshness of the tranquil wilderness that once was Victoria Falls.

A new invasive, poisonous weed, Lantana Camara, is threatening the ecology of the falls. The weed, a foreign species, is native to Argentina. All interventions by the Victoria Falls Joint Management Committee (VJMC), to uproot and eradicate the weed have proved futile.

Town planners have allowed overcrowding of the fragile environment with tourism facilities and the resultant adverse ecological impacts.

hotel

The Kingdom at Victoria falls is the closest hotel to the actual Falls. It is situated within the Victoria Falls National Park. (Photo courtesy Zimbabwe Sun)
The National Heritage Commision, a member of the Joint Management Committee in the border area, says, "Garbage lies uncollected. Waste from hotels is dumped everywhere."

Kagosi Mwamulowe, chief conservator at the Heritage Commision, says, "Detergents from hotels find their way into the river system, disturbing the delicate ecological balance of the system."

"Some of it is eaten by monkeys, baboons and wild pigs, while some is drained by the local stream into the Zambezi River where it makes the water murky and dirty," said a construction engineer at the Sun International Hotels' construction site, who declined to be named.

Sun International, a group of hotels and catering firms, is constructing a multi-million dollar hotel project just a few metres away from Victoria Falls.

Tour operators have appealed to the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe that share the mighty falls to put in place a Master Plan to guide development in the area.

In 1855, when the famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone put the natural wonder of the world on the map, little did he know that 145 years later, his statue would gaze at the same falls, so changed by pollution and environmental degradation.

It was Livingstone who wrote in his diary, "On sights as beautiful as this Angels in their flight must have gazed." He claimed the falls for the British crown and named it after his Queen.

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Whitewater rafting near Victoria Falls (Photo courtesy Afrizim.com)
The Southern African Research Documentation Centre warned of an impending ecological disaster if no steps are taken to rectify the situation in the January-April, 2000 edition of its publication "The Zambezi."

The persistent warning cries from stakeholders have resulted in the launch of the Clean Up Zimbabwe Campaign, designed to highlight the problems of the Victoria Falls area. The campaign is a community based program allied to the international Clean up the World campaign.

The Victoria Falls are locally known as "Mosi-oa-Tunya," a name given by the Kololos, a South African tribal group that colonised the Livingstone area in the 1830s. The falls are called "Shungu-na-Mutitima" by the local Toka-leya speaking people.

Both names mean the "Smoke that Thunders," refering to the volume of water cascading into the mighty chasm, at about two million gallons per second at the height of the rainy season from February to May.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Cross-Border Association has advised tourism developers to demonstrate the concept of smart partnerships through environmentally friendly infrastructure development and sound environmental management.