Lake Volta, Ghana: The Biggest Reservoir in the World by Surface Area

Lake Volta, located in the South-Eastern part of Ghana, is the largest man-made lake in the world. Covering 8,502 km2, it is the biggest reservoir by surface area, and the fourth largest on the planet by volume (148 km3).

Lake Volta Stats

Lake NameLake Volta
Surface area6045.160
Maximum depth75.0
Average depth24.5
Lake typeReservoir
Catchment area404374.90
InflowsWhite Volta River, Black Volta River
OutflowsVolta River
Shore length5492.28
Mixing typePolymictic
Residence time1248.5
FrozenNever freezes
Trophic stateOligotrophic
Dam height20
Dam year1981
OriginHuman Made
Average discharge1372.072

Lake Volta Accommodation

Geography, Hydrology and Climate

The reservoir starts from the Volta Basin, situated in the Central part of Ghana and extends over half the length of the country. It occupies more than 3.5% of Ghana’s entire land area, featuring 4,800 kilometers of shoreline.

The two primary inflows of the reservoir are the Black Volta and White Volta rivers, which unite their waters in the lake and exit it together, forming the mighty Volta River, which makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Plenty of islands are located on the lake, of which Dodi, Dwarf and Kporve islands are well-known. Because the reservoir is situated in a tropical area, its waters stay warm throughout the entire year.

The Kwahu Plateau, on the Southern end of the basin, is characterized by poor soil, and because of this, there aren’t many inhabitants in this particular area. The annual rainfall average is between 1,000-1,140 millimeters. The primary vegetation here is mostly savannah, with some woodlands, characterized mainly by Red Ironwood and Shea wood.

The Afram Plains area, located south to Digya National park, is Kwahu Plateau’s opposite. Here, the terrain is lower (between 50 and 150 meters), and the average rainfall is between 1,140-1,400 millimeters annually. The countryside is usually flooded or swampy during the rainy season and much of it is submerged into the lake. Transportation is poor on both the plateau and the plain.

Digya National Park is the oldest and the second largest reserve in Ghana. It protects more than 6 primates and is home to 236 bird species. It was proclaimed a protected area in 1900 and became a national park in 1971.

History of the Dam

The dam holding back the lake is called Akosombo dam, and was first proposed by Albert Ernest Kitson, a British-Australian geologist in 1915. The build-up process to the execution of the dam started 8 years before Ghana gained its independence, and was supported by Kwame Nkrumah, who would eventually become the first president in the country.

The plan was to harness the power of the river and use it to provide electricity for the Tema aluminum smelter, located 25 kilometers east of the country’s capital city, Accra. The factory would use up to 80% of the power created by the dam and the rest would go out to the people of Ghana for domestic usage. The earnings of this operation would then be expended on establishing new local bauxite mines.

Because of the many technical difficulties, the construction of the dam only began in 1961, with the help of funds raised by the managing company and loans from the Unites states and the United Kingdom. The barrage was completed 4 years later.

The densely populated area where the dam was planned had to be evacuated, and more than 78,000 people and 200,000 animals were relocated from the basin to surrounding areas. A total of 7,800 km2 was flooded and more than 120 buildings were destroyed during the process (not including small residential houses).

15 years later, the Akosombo dam couldn’t keep up with the industrialization and development of Ghana, so Kpong Dam was constructed in 1981. The two dams together provide 70% of the country’s electricity, and they also export it to Togo and Benin.

Consequences and Local Problems

Although the man-made lake has its benefits, such as being advantageous for the local industry, one mustn’t forget that it wiped out much of the rural life and economy in Eastern Ghana. Because locals lost the ability and circumstances to farm, many of them have moved on to work as fishermen.

A lot of families had to give up their children because of poverty issues, and actually sold them into bondage, encouraging children trafficking and illegal child labor. There are up to 10,000 children working in the fishing industry 12-17 hours every day in harsh conditions as slaves. Because the lake is being overfished, the region is getting even more problematic, which will not stop until the economic situation improves. There are also cases of prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases circulating along the lake’s shoreline, making the area not too appealing to tourists.  

Importance of Lake Volta

The reservoir plays a key role in local transportation, providing an easily maneuverable waterway to both ferries and cargo ships. The body of water is navigable from Akosombo through Yeji, making it easy to get from one side of the reservoir to the other. Tourism is not very popular in the region, although some cruises include the island of Dodi in their itineraries.

Recent Developments

A large-scale enterprise is set to harvest timber from the forests which are flooded under the reservoir, instead of destroying existing forests. There would be many advantages to this plan, if it were to succeed. It would drastically upgrade and improve the conditions of navigating on the lake. The plan could generate foreign currency for the whole region which could eventually lead to economic growth and an increase the standard of living, also reducing the dependence of locals on the fishing industry.

This business idea of the enterprise could produce the largest amount of sustainable tropical hardwood in the World, with benefits both for the surrounding environment and its locals.

Lake Volta Map