The Zambezi River, which means “Great River” in the Tonga language, is one of Africa’s most biodiverse rivers, and the fourth-largest river basin on the continent.

It supports a growing population of over 30 million people scattered across eight riparian countries: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A man pushing his fishing boat off from the Zambezi riverbank with a long bamboo pole.
Fisher person on the Zambezi River, Mozambique. | Photo by Lori Pottinger, International Rivers

The river has three distinct stretches. The upper Zambezi flows undammed from its source through vast floodplains and vibrant fisheries to the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site Victoria Falls. The river’s middle stretch is marked by gorges, falls and rapids, including the Batoka Gorge, one of the world’s most revered whitewater rafting spots and a source of significant income for both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Zambezi’s lower stretch nourishes the Mana Pools and the Sapi-Chewore game reserves, home to “big five” game animals, before it fans out into the Zambezi Delta, a fertile haven for migratory waterbirds, coastal mangroves and innumerable other species.

Unfortunately, the Zambezi River is also one of the continent’s most dammed waterways. The Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams are two of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, and the power they generate has come at an immense social, economic and environmental cost. The river also faces increasingly severe and frequent droughts due to climate change, rendering hydropower an even less stable source of electricity than it was.

Our Work in the Zambezi

International Rivers is working to protect this magnificent river and its communities. We’ve supported research exploring how climate change is threatening the river, and we’ve studied energy alternatives such as wind and solar power, two cost-effective, quicker-to-deploy electricity sources that will not compromise the river’s fragile ecosystems, biodiversity and unique and valuable heritage.

Related Resources

International Rivers’ Africa Program Director Rudo Sanyanga tells a powerful story about the Tonga people of the Zambezi River (2013)
Daniel Ribeiro tells us his story about falling in love with and fighting for the Zambezi River (2012)

Latest Updates

  • The Zambezi River, Drained Bone Dry
    By: Fidelis Zvomuya “Rather than look upstream in anger, we must start looking downstream with compassion,” said 79-year-old Mafiosi Siabwanda, a Tonga elder from Mola in the Nyaminyami District of Kariba,…
  • Batoka Gorge Dam, Zambezi River
    Flooding out the Natural World The governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe are moving forward with plans to build Batoka Gorge dam, not far downstream from the magnificent Victoria Falls, on…
  • Memories and Unanswered Questions on the Zambezi
    By: Rudo Sanyanga, former Africa Program Director Although I had spent many years working on the Zambezi River, the lower Zambezi region in Mozambique was unfamiliar to me. I had crossed…