Study region: The study area is the river basin upstream of the Kariba dam located in the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Study focus: During the dry season of 2019 in Sub-Saharan Africa, extremely low water levels occurred in the Zambezi. According to news media, locals perceived this drought as the worst in several decades. We analyzed the 2019 drought in the Zambezi River Basin upstream of the Kariba dam to determine whether it indeed was the longest, most intense, and severe drought, in terms of precipitation, total water storage and reservoir water level observations over recent decades. New hydrological insights for the region: Data analysis indicates that the 2019 drought indeed had the lowest basin-averaged annual rainfall, most severe local rainfall deficit in the north of the basin, and lowest reservoir level since 1995. However, the rainfall deficit was more severe in 2002, both basin-wide and locally in the south of the basin. The total storage deficit was more severe in 2004, both basin-wide and locally in the central part of the basin. However, as the available storage data did not cover the entire deficit for 2019, its final duration and severity remain unknown. Therefore, it depends on the drought characteristic, hydrological variable, and location within the basin, whether the 2019 drought was indeed the most extreme over recent decades.
- Satellite data