LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia and Zimbabwe will give French engineering firm Razel-Bec the task of making safe the Kariba Dam, whose wall is swelling, raising the risk of cracks in the structure designed to hold back up to 180 billion cubic meters of water.
A collapse of the dam could pose a risk to 3.5 million people in Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as Malawi and Mozambique further downstream, according to a 2015 report by global risk managers AON.
"It is a real risk that the dam could fall without that effort being put in place," Dam Maintenance Engineer Farai Furasa told Reuters, referring to the planned renovation.
"Some forces are pushing toward the dam wall and digging into it and the water could slip underneath the dam and cause it to collapse."
The Zambezi River Authority, which manages the dam on behalf of the two countries, plans to reshape the plunge pool at the dam's base and repair the spill-way, which controls the release of water, within five years.
The dam was built in the 1950s.
Kozanai Gurukumba, its safety manager, told journalists on Monday the expansion should be completed by the end of 2020, while work on the spill-way to contain the swelling in the dam wall is expected to be done by 2022.
"It has taken a while in terms of procurement process but the contract is now official," he said. "We expect the contractor Razel-Bec of France to take possession of the site by mid next month," Gurukumba said.
He said the $294 million cost of the work would be funded through a combination of grants and loans.
The hydroelectric dam has installed capacity of 1,626 megawatts of electricity shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe, but severe drought in the region has reduced power generation, hurting the economies of both countries.
(Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)