DROUGHT CURSE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA AFFECTING ENERGY? SOLUTIONS?
Joyce, a Malawian lady staying in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe was shocked when, in the midst of cooking her food she discovered that the lights had gone out. Surely it was not the units because she had bought electricity units the day before. Later she discovered that there was no electricity in the whole neighbourhood. She had to beg charcoal from a neighbour to finish cooking. But by the time the charcoal was ready for cooking, the food had gone bad.
A thousand kilometres west from Joyce there lies Lusaka, the capital of Zambia where problems of electricity are even worse. Ilonga, living in the city centre of Lusaka says they only see electricity in the night and before they can cook in the morning, it goes out again.
The situation in Harare is even worse because Irene says they can go for days without electricity and they have to use gas or charcoal to cook for the family.
Why are the three countries, who were called the triplets because they formed the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the early 1950s, in the same trouble? Who has bewitched them?
In a 2015 report by the World Bank Group which is titled ‘Powering the Zambian economy’, the Bank said, “Until 2006, Zambia had surplus power. The history of surplus has also contributed to low tariffs, which have been one of several barriers to investment in the grid and new generation capacity to meet rising demand.”
According to Mining for Zambia, investment in mining made consumption of electricity to go up in 2000 when investors pulled in billions of dollars in the mining industry and this drove energy consumption. This economic boom led to the procurement of various electric gadgets such as kettles, fridges, washing machines, geysers, among others.
The drought that has enveloped Southern Africa for several years has led water levels to go down in Kariba dam and that has led to rationing of electricity.
This drought curse affected Zimbabwe too because in July 2019, the Government of Zimbabwe, that shares Kariba dam with Zambia , announced that it would face critical electricity shortage because of the dropping of water levels in the dam.
To add misery to the electricity curse, Hwangwe colliery that provides coal power for electricity generation has decreased in production because of deteriorating infrastructure.
In Malawi persistent droughts have caused power shortages as the two hydroelectric plants, Nkula and Tedzani, have been affected by low water levels .This has affected most public facilities, particularly the Ministry of Health. Relatives of patients are always in prayer if their relative is in the operation theatre since electricity could be cut anytime and there is lack of petrol for generators due to erratic funding.
As is the case with many African Governments, The Government of Malawi turned to China for a funding worth $600 million for a coal plant that will be located in Southern Malawi in Mwanza at a place called Kammwamba. Although this is a heave of sigh for Malawians environmentalists are up in arms saying coal is not environmentally friendly as it emits carbon emissions. Malawi is a signatory to the Paris Agreement which wants to stop such emissions because they make the world hotter.
People in all the three countries have turned to alternative energy sources such as charcoal, solar, gas stoves, generators and candles to provide energy. This system has led to wanton cutting down of trees by charcoal sellers because there is a big market for charcoal which they are failing to satisfy. Less trees is leading to less rains and this makes the water levels in the dams that generate electricity to get lowered further. Less rains are also affecting agricultural productivity as Southern Africa relies on agricultural fed rainfall. It is a vicious circle.
Examples to copy?
Other countries have been in the same situation but have managed to successfully come out of such crises. Nepal is a start performer which had power cuts that lasted more than twelve hours. However, the leadership of the country started investing in micro hydro plants from flowing water in rivers. These hydroelectric systems eventually harvested enough energy for the country in direct contrast to the conventional hydroelectric power plants that relies on the high force of water.
In Malawi, for example, there are a number of rivers that have waterfalls and those include rivers in Livingstonia Plateau in Northern Malawi, Rivers in Chikangawa plantation, Bua River in central Malawi, as well as other rivers in Southern Malawi. The electricity tapped from the rivers can feed Malawi as well as Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Another way is use of solar. Governments should make a deliberate policy to encourage people to install solar system. Solar system is cheap because it uses the power f the sun. This can be done by, among others, introduction of subsidies and reduction of tax on solar panels imported from outside these countries. This would make the solar panels very cheap and can hence be used even by the average citizen living in a rural area.