Tokwe-Mukosi Dam flaws possibly linked to cost-cutting measures

Changes to the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam’s design made more than a decade ago could have contributed to the flaws that have caused the displacement thousands of families earlier this year, according to a recent report published by The Financial Gazette of Zimbabwe. reported in February that more than 4,500 residents in areas downstream from Tokwe-Mukosi had been evacuated following heavy rains in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province after water began leaking through cracks in the dam’s walls.

According to The Financial Gazette’s report, French design firm Coyne et Bellier was first commissioned to provide a study for the dam and a hydropower plant in Fall 1967.

The idea was tabled during decades of political unrest before being resurrected in 1980, with Coyne et Bellier providing further studies in the mid-1980s. The group then proposed a concrete arch dam in 1992, though the design was changed after being deemed too expensive by the Zimbabwe government.

“[The design] was considered excessive and so the Designs Division of the Department of Water Development began a thorough investigation into the Coyne et Bellier design report and came up with a cheaper alternative in the form of a concrete-faced rock-filled dam,” said a report released in 1998 — the same year in which construction of Tokwe-Mukosi finally began.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority has since said that Tokwe-Mukosi — which is still being constructed — will not collapse, though thousands of evacuees are still being sheltered in refugee camps sponsored by a number of multi-national relief organizations.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for

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