Media panned for ‘fake news’ about Vic Falls ‘drying up’

Victoria Falls. Picture: Safari.com

The report in December was ‘ill-thought-out, careless, inaccurate, hopelessly wide-of-the-mark reporting’ which damaged the tourism business.

A businessperson involved in tourism at Victoria Falls has hit out at media organisations which reported last month that the World Heritage site was in danger of drying up because of droughts caused by climate change.

In an open letter to British TV channel Sky News, Peter Jones said its correspondent Alex Crawford’s report in December was “ill-thought-out, careless, inaccurate, hopelessly wide-of-the-mark reporting”.

He went on: “For those of us living at the Victoria Falls, both in Zambia and Zimbabwe, we are picking up the pieces after your whirlwind visit to incorrectly inform the world the mighty Victoria Falls was in danger of drying up. I have heard some tall stories before, but this one really takes the biscuit.

“We have all lost bookings and business in some way as a result of your misinformation [and] some people’s lives have taken a very definite turn for the worse.”

Jones pointed out that when Crawford aired her report in December – as did other mainstream media outlets, including Reuters – the Zambezi River flowing over the Victoria Falls was in the middle of its low-flow season.

The water in the Zambezi comes primarily from central Angola, western Zambia and the Chobe River in Botswana … but water flows only peak at the Falls around May.

Jones said: “We are all worried about the effects of climate change. The climate has been changing constantly over many generations but between 1914 and 1924, we had five of the lowest years of the river on record, and yet no comment was made about the climate creating the problem back then.

“It is quite normal to have a very high water level every 10 years or so (2018, 2009, 1997, 1969, 1958) as much it is normal to have a very low year each decade (2015, 2005, 1995), none which you made mention of in your various reports.”

A post on the website www.victoriafalls-guide.net confirmed Jones’ assessment.

It said: “For the past several years around October/November, someone posts a picture of the dry rock face in Zambia and hysteria ensues.”

The website said the rainfall between December 2018 and April last year in the Zambezi catchment basin was lower than normal, resulting in a lower water flow in November, but it was not the lowest on record.

“The truth is – the 1914/15, 1915/16 and 1918/19 rains were all pitiful, almost three years of consecutive drought – climate change, back then? I think not!”

It added: “The truth is – the Zambezi River, which feeds into the Victoria Falls, is subject to large seasonal fluctuations, subject to rainfall in its entire catchment basin. The greatest volume of water at Victoria Falls is always between April and May and the lowest volume is always in October and November.

“Interesting to note that even in the years of the greatest volume, when it comes to the low water months of October/November, there is very little difference in water levels at that time of year, every year.”

The website also said the rain had started for the 2019/2020 season and the water flow as of December 27 last year was 323m3/s [cubic metres per second], already higher than the same date last year, which was 267m3/sec.

This was confirmed by official figures on the Zambezi River Authority website. According to the authority, the highest recorded flow at the Falls was in 1958, when the Kariba Dam was under construction downstream and the flow peaked at 10,000m3/sec.

Regarding the impact of the media reports, Jones added: “Tourism is a very fragile industry and takes time to build up. It takes a single moment of violence to turn it upside down, like in Kenya with the bombings. Or the Ebola outbreak, which was closer to London than here but affected us more that the UK.

“And now, your badly thought-out, scantily researched idea that the Victoria Falls was somehow going to dry up will do the same.”

news@citizen.co.za

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