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Zambia lies entirely within two large river basins, the Zambezi River basin and the Congo River basins. Below are three major river systems within the Zambezi River basin and two within the Congo River basin:
- The upper main Zambezi River system is joined by the Luangwa and Kafue tributaries in Zambia. The upper Zambezi originates in Angola and flows to Mozambique after forming the border with Zimbabwe.
- The Kafue River system covers an area of 152 000 km2. The river has two important dams, the Itezhi-Tezhi dam and the Kafue Gorge dam, the latter of which is used for hydropower generation.
- The Luangwa River has a catchment area of 165 000 km2. It drains most of the central parts of the country and empties into the Zambezi.
- The Chambeshi River and the Luapula River are associated with lakes Mweru and Mweru-Wantipa and drain their water into the Congo River system.
- The small Tanganyika drainage system is also part of the large Congo River system.
The total renewable water resources of Zambia amount to about 105 km3/year, of which about 80 km3/year are produced internally (Table 2). An extensive area of 25 000 km2 is covered with Limestone aquifer layers extending from Lusaka to the northwest.
There are about 1 700 dams. The total capacity is about 106 km3, but this includes 50 percent of Lake Kariba on the Zambezi River, which is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe and which accounts for 94 km3 of this capacity. Not taking into consideration this shared dam, the total capacity is thus about 12 km3. However, this figure probably also includes small dams with a height of less than 15 metres. Information related to dams at the Water Board is fragmented; although the Board in 1994 initiated a study to compile a dam inventory for the country, this is not available yet. In drought prone areas of the Eastern, Lusaka, Central and Southern provinces, water needs to be conserved for livestock, agriculture and municipal use. This has led to the construction of low-cost earth dams and water impoundment earth bunds, spearheaded by the farmers themselves or the government for drought relief since 1991. The number of such structures is estimated to be between 2 000 and 3 000. However, most of them are in a state of disrepair either because of breaching, lack of or insufficient maintenance or poor design.
Zambia has an installed hydropower capacity of 1 670 MW. The present capacity of the Kafue Gorge dam mentioned above is 900 MW, while the Lake Kariba dam contributes about 600 MW and the Victoria Falls 108 MW. The hydropower stations Northeastern and ZCCM hydropower have capacities of 24 MW and 38 MW respectively.
Wetlands, including dambos, which cover about 3.6 million hectares or 4.8 percent of the total land area, are a source of livelihood for the majority of small-scale farmers in Zambia. Dambos are used for grazing animals in the dry season when upland vegetation is dry and with little nutritive value. They are also important for fishing, livestock-watering, hunting of small animals, collection of thatching grass and most importantly, for dry season vegetable growing. Seepage zones and shallow wells are used as sources of water. Sometimes water storage needs for irrigation may dictate the construction of a low-cost earth dam. This type of use at small-scale does not entail the use of heavy machinery for cultivation or draining water.