The Luangwa River originates in the Mafinga Hills of the Luangwa-Malawi watershed in the north-eastern part of Zambia flowing over a stretch of 850 km at the confluence with the Zambezi River in Luangwa District. The Luangwa River Catchment (LRC) is approximately 145,690.33 Km2 within Zambian territory and it lies between latitudes 9o30” and 15o40” south, and between longitudes 28o00” and 33o45” east, while administratively it lies in five provinces, namely (largest to smallest in terms of areas); Muchinga, Eastern, Central, Lusaka and Copperbelt. The Catchment forms the international boundary with Malawi to the east, and Mozambique and Zimbabwe to the south.
Map of Luangwa Catchment
The Luangwa basin is the third largest in Zambia after the Zambezi Main River and Kafue Basins, and one of the least disturbed. The main stem is unregulated and close to pristine, while hydropower and other developments are located mainly on the Lunsemfwa tributary and on the Lusiwasi River. The middle Luangwa is relatively free of human intervention and this, its vast size, and its mostly unaffected floodplains and high diversity of habitats make the valley one of the most important and economically valuable wildlife areas in Africa, leading to it achieving Ramsar status. The most prominent conservation areas are South and North Luangwa National Parks, with nearby smaller less developed parks (Luambe and Lukusuzi) and game management areas that act as buffer zones. The human population of the basin is low in numbers, mostly clustered in the main urban centres. Subsistence agriculture occurs along the river network in areas with fertile soils. Other valued natural resources include fish, grazing for cattle and wild plant medicines as well as rich mineral resources for mining projects.
The LRC experiences climatic patterns corresponding to mainly three ecological zones, namely: South-eastern Plateau Zone; Rift Valley and the Northern High Rainfall Zone.
Land use include forest reserves, agriculture, national parks, wetlands, buildings, road and railway network, industrial, institutional, commercial and residential areas.
The LRC has an estimated surface water potential of 661.4m3/s. This estimate of water potential was determined from average annual flows but may underestimate the actual water potential considering the availability of significant groundwater resources in the catchment.
Water demand and use
An indication of water demand in LRC is provided by the water permit records kept by WARMA. There is no water permits given on the Luangwa main stem, all the permits are implemented on tributary rivers. Water use is mainly for domestic, agriculture, mining and industrial as well as hydropower. The major hydropower schemes in the catchment are Lusiwasi (12 MW) operated by ZESCO; Mita Hills (24 MW) and Mulungushi (32 MW) operated by Lunsemfwa Hydropower Company.