Has Victoria Falls Dried Up?
It happens often during the dry season. Someone snaps a picture of the dry rock wall, on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, and claims with shock that the mighty Falls are drying up and there is almost no water left! Usually it is not a crisis. But when a British journalist from a well-known network punts fake news like this, it causes a crisis.
[Updated in June 2021]. Tourism to Victoria Falls took a huge knock at the end of 2019, because a British journalist from Sky News, Alex Crawford, visited Victoria Falls during the peak of the dry season, and claimed the falls were drying up due to climate change. The story was picked up by Reuters and many other news outlets around the world ran versions of the same story, accompanied by pictures of a dry rock wall as so-called evidence:
What these alarmist journalists are all missing is the fact that this happens every year. The Zambian side of the falls dries up every year, leaving only a dry rock wall. And while 2019 was indeed a dry year following a serious drought in the region, the water levels were still higher than they were in the early 1990's, early 1980's and in even during 1914 and 1915, when there was no global warming yet!
Unfortunately, in their quest for sensationalism, the fake news story that "Victoria Falls is drying up" spread like wildfire around the globe, and thousands of people needlessly cancelled their planned trip to Victoria Falls. The impact on tourism to the region has been devastating.
Subsequently, the situation has completely reversed and the 2020 and 2021 seasons have recorded some of the highest water levels in recent history at Victoria Falls. But sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, hardly any tourists were there to witness this spectacle.
High Water and Low Water Season
Victoria Falls has an annual high water and low water season, which is affected mostly by rainfall in the catchment area of the Zambezi river, which includes mainly Angola and Zambia.
The high water season runs from January to June, usually peaking around March. But every year is different. During this time, the water thunders over the entire length of Victoria Falls, and both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides offer spectacular views of the falls.
The low water season runs from July to December, with the driest months being October and November, before the rains arrive. Every year during this time, the Zambian side of the falls dries up. Let me say that again for the benefit of any journalists reading this: EVERY YEAR during this time, the Zambian side of the falls of the falls dries up! The Zimbabwe side never dries up and has never dried up. In fact, when the water levels are low, there is an amazing natural rock pool called Devil's Pool on the edge of the falls which is accessible only during the dry season. While the pool overlooks the Zimbabwe side of the falls, you can only reach this pool from the Zambian side, and it is one of the main attractions of the Zambian side of the falls during low water season. The rest of the Zambian side is just a dry rock wall.
This is nothing new or newsworthy.
As I first wrote this, in January 2020, the rains were good and the water levels were so high that Devil's Pool had to be closed. 2020 turned out to be one of the highest water level seasons on record, just a few months after Alex Crawford's ludicrous fake news report. Throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the Zambian side has had plenty of water again:
This kind of alarmist, irresponsible reporting has done a lot of damage to the tourism economy at Victoria Falls, for no reason other than sensationalism. It was pure click bait.
Don't let fake news articles about Victoria Falls stop you from visiting this amazing natural wonder, which is a highly recommended and worthwhile destination to add on to your Southern Africa safari itinerary. The falls have not dried up. And as of June 2021, almost the entire town of Victoria Falls has been vaccinated, in order to ensure the safety of tourists as we emerge from the pandemic.
For more images of Vic Falls during different seasons, check out our African travel calendars to read more about the best time to visit Victoria Falls.
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About the author
Onne Vegter is the managing director of Wild Wings Safaris. He has a deep love for Africa's people, wildlife and natural heritage. Onne has travelled to most of Africa's top safari destinations and his writing is based on years of personal experience in the safari industry. Follow him on Twitter at @OnneVegter.