Power shortages grip Zambia as dam levels dip

2019-12-18 20:01
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Zambia's 19-hour rolling blackouts have sent homes plunging into darkness, crippling daily life and business operations with the worst power outages the nation has seen.

Recurring drought across southern Africa has cut the water reserves of the hydroelectric dam of Kariba, the main source of energy of the country.

"Water levels in the dam continued receding, dropping to 476.93 metres above sea level as at 10 December 2019," the country's Energy minister Matthew Nkhuwa told parliament last week.

Currently, the water level in the dam is at 1.48 metres above the minimum operating level which translates to 10 percent usable water for power generation.

"At a similar period in 2018 the water level in the dam... was at 55%," Nkhuwa said.

Residents are subjected to 19 hours of power outages daily but in some instances others stay without power for longer, fuelling popular anger.

Some residents of the slums of Lusaka's Chaisa and Chilenje areas have staged protests against prolonged blackouts, stoning power installations as well as offices of the power utility firm, ZESCO.

"These long hours of staying without power have really made us suffer," local barber shop owner John Likumbi said.

In November, state utility power operator ZESCO started importing power from ESKOM of South Africa to cushion the impact of the power deficit on the country's economy.

But the imported power has only reduced outages by two hours.

ZESCO board chairperson Mbita Chitala admitted that despite importing power from ESKOM, the utility firm still faced challenges in "importing the full 300 megawatt from time to time."

Eskom faces its own woes, with its old and poorly maintained coal-fired power stations struggling to keep up with the electricity demands of Africa's most industrialised economy.

Opposition leader Chishimba Kambwili blamed the rolling blackouts on the "total failure by this government."

The energy minister has said he feared that if the rainfall for Zambia did not improve, the situation might worsen.

For some, solar energy is the only sure way to survive the power outages.

"I am making savings ... in future I plan to buy a solar panel," barber Likumbi told AFP, adding that the blackouts made it difficult to even take children to school.

Read more on:    zambia  |  southern africa
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