List of the biggest dams in Africa

Dams have been a part of man’s life for a very long time. Dams have been used to retain water in rivers for irrigation and to meet other domestic needs. More recently, dams have been used to drive industrial growth and to light homes due to additional energy needs. Due to rising numbers and increased industrialization, Africa has experienced a scarcity of resources. The African continent has seen an increase in the construction of massive dams to supply water more regularly and to generate hydroelectric power. Most dams are located along the Nile specifically in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is located in a mountainous region with plenty of rivers ideal for construction, earning the nickname Africa’s water tower. This article is a list of Africa’s biggest dams.

Biggest dams in Africa

  1. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)
  2. Gilgel Gibe III Dam
  3. Kariba Dam
  4. Merowe Dam
  5. Katse Dam
  6. Aswan High Dam
  7. Cahora Basa Dam
  8. Inga Dams
  9. Tekeze Dam
  10. Akosombo Dam
  11. Kainji Dam

1. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

The dam is Ethiopia’s most massive project to date, costing about $6.4 billion, making the dam Africa’s largest dam generating a massive 6000MW of electricity. The dam is located on the Blue Nile and construction work began in 2011. The main dam makes use of roller-compacted concrete (RCC) which is a mixture of normal concrete and flies ash. The technology uses less water, making the mix drier and without any slump. It is delivered by truck and spread out by bulldozers before being compacted by vibratory rollers. The Dam will be the largest in Africa upon completion, about 1,800m long, 155m high and will have a total volume of 74,000 million cubic meters. The dam has a 15000 cubic meters per second spillway and a rockfill saddle dam that is 5km long and 50 meters high. The generating capacity of the dam will be from 16 Francis turbines located in 2 power stations situated on either bank of the river producing 15000GWh annually. The dam will also be capable of handling a flood of 19,370 cubic meters per second, reducing alluvium in Sudan by 100 million cubic meters, and also facilitating irrigation of around 500,000 ha of new agricultural lands. The dam will also reduce about 40km of flooding in Sudan.

2. Gibe III Dam

Our list of the biggest dams in Africa is not complete without mentioning this dam located across the Omo River in Ethiopia. The RCC dam is 243m high with an associated hydroelectric power plant. It will be the third-largest dam in Africa upon completion.  It will have a power output of about 1870MW. The Gibe III dam is part of the Gibe Series of dams and there are plans for Gibe IV (1472MW) and Gibe V (560MW) dams.

3. Tekeze Dam

This dam is Africa’s tallest arch dam. It is a double curvature arch dam located on the border of the Amhara and Tigray region of Ethiopia. The dam is situated on the Tekeze River, a tributary of the Nile that flows through one of the world’s deepest canyons globally. The 188m Tekeze Dam is Africa’s largest double-curvature dam. The powerhouse contains four 75MW turbines generating 300MW of electricity.

4. Kariba Dam

The dam stands at 128 meters (420ft) and is 579m (1,900ft) long. The dam is the world’s biggest man-made reservoir. It forms Lake Kariba which extends for 280Km (170 mi) and holds 185 cubic kilometers of water. Plans to rehabilitate the dam began in 2014 after experts advised that it should be repaired after cracks appeared on its walls. The experts warned that Africa’s largest man-made lake would measure 226Km long and in some places is 40Km wide, would collapse if no action was taken to repair it. Rehabilitation works on the project include; reshaping of the plunge pool downstream of the dam wall, which started in 2017, and rehabilitation of the spillway. It consists of six gates in the upper part of the concrete dam wall through which the ZRA releases water into the plunge pool to manage the reservoir water levels. The Kariba dam rehabilitation project will ensure that the dam can operate at its full capacity to international standards and the installed power generation capacity of 1830 MW.

5. Merowe Dam

Downstream on the Nile less than a decade ago, Sudan completed the Merowe Dam which has a length of about 9Km and a crest of up to 67m. It consists of concrete-faced rockfill dams on each river bank. The planned generating capacity for the dam is 1250MW from 10 Francis turbines each with a capacity of 125MW.

6. Katse Dam

It is located in South Africa and was created to alleviate South Africa’s water crisis. The dam is a concrete arch dam on the Malibamat’so River in Lesotho. The dam is Africa’s second-largest double-curvature arch dam, after Tekeze Dam, and is part of the Lesotho Highland Water Project, which will eventually include five large dams in remote areas. The dam is below the confluence of the Bokong River, which forms the western arm of the Katse reservoir.  Water from the dam travels through a 45Km, 4m diameter tunnel, exiting at a hydroelectric station near Muela. The high elevation of the dam allows a gravity floe delivery system to South Africa, in addition to hydroelectric power for Lesotho, and was one of the main reasons the site was chosen.

7. Aswan High Dam

It is located near its namesake city in Southern Egypt. The Aswan High Dam ranks as the continent’s second-largest dam. It is built across the Nile and is the largest embankment dam in the world. The dam produces 2,100MW of electricity and has a height of 11 meters and a length of 4Km. Powering twelve generators, each at a rate of 175MW, to produce 2,100MW.

8. Cahora Basa Dam

It is one of Zambezi River’s two major dams. The Cahora Bassa Dam is the largest hydropower plant in Southern Africa. Power is generated through five 415MW turbines for a combined capacity of 2,070MW. Most of the power generated from this dam is exported to South Africa through the Cahora Bassa high voltage direct current (HVDC) line system, with two conversion stations in Songo, Mozambique, and Apollo, South Africa.

9. Inga Dams

It is comprised of two single dams, Inga 1 (351MW) and Inga II (1424MW). Dams in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently operate at a combined capacity of 1,775MW. Built on Inga Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the hydroelectric dams currently work at merely half their potential capacity. Expansion of the dam has generated interest from nations and power companies in the pursuit of a Grand Inga project estimated to cost $80 billion which would make it the largest power station in the world with a capacity of up to 70 GW.

10. Akosombo Dam

It is located at Lake Volta, in Southeastern Ghana. The dam draws its hydropower from the world’s largest man-made lake with a surface area of 8,502 square Km.  Initially, it was constructed to provide security for the country’s aluminum industry. The power plant currently has an installed capacity of 1020MW and provides electricity to Ghana, Togo, and Benin.

11. Kainji Dam

It is built on the Niger River in Nigeria, the Kainji Dam provides electricity to all of the west-African countries’ major cities. Despite the intention of designing a dam with an installed capacity of 960MW, only eight of the proposed twelve turbines have been installed, reducing the plant’s capacity to 760MW. The Kainji Dam has a length of 10Km and is one of the world’s longest dams.