Zim, Zambia economies trip on water shortage

Floodgates on the Kariba dam wall between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Kariba is the world's largest man-made dam. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)
Floodgates on the Kariba dam wall between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Kariba is the world's largest man-made dam. (Jekesai Njikizana, AFP)

Harare - Low water levels at Kariba dam will further worsen power generating capacity in Zimbabwe and Zambia, power utilities in the two southern African countries say, with power deficits seen widening until the onset of rains in November.

Increased power deficits will hobble economic activity in the two countries. The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe said production will go down and negate growth projections for the industry. Zambian companies have already complained of the effects of power shortages on poultry producers and miners in the country.

“The situation at Kariba is a cause for concern for us in the mining industry. We seem to be in a fix with the issue of power,” Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe president David Matyanga said last week.

Bessie Phiri, the public relations manager for Zambian power utility ZESCO, said in Lusaka on Monday that “the power rationing that ZESCO is implementing is meant to conserve the water resource so that generation of electricity from the power station can continue through to the next rainy season”.

Should the water levels at Kariba fall further, power generation will have to be stopped, officials said. The Zambezi River Authority, the organisation mandated to oversee the Kariba dam, is now rationing water available for power generation by Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Phiri added that Zambia only has about 1 158 gigawatt hours available for generation from August up to December 2015. This means that on average, Zambia “should now only be generating up to 305 MW from (its) Kariba North Bank Power Station”.

The Zimbabwe Power Company last week said that the Kariba power station is faced with a possible shutdown for the next two months owing to water shortages. It added that water levels at Kariba have gone down to 480.81 metres above sea level by the end of July - more than 1% below the level for the same period last year.

Continued usage of water for power generation below this level would be unsustainable as it will cumulatively force down the water level below 475.5 metres, which is the minimum draw down level. Rains for the region normally start in November but dry conditions in the past few years could herald late rains and if this happens, the Zimbabwean and Zambian hydro power plants at Kariba will have to be shut down.

Power generation from the Kariba power plant has since been cut by 30% to 475 MW. Zimbabwe has other power plants; the Hwange coal-fired power plant and smaller plants in Harare and Bulawayo bring its overall power generating capacity to 1 300 MW, which however is still below peak demand of around 2 000 MW.

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