African News

Darkness Engulfs Zimbabwe

15 October 2006 at 06:14 | 513 views

Zimbabwe has been hit by a double whammy: the shutdown of a major power station, and the disruption of electricity supplies from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), causing unprecedented power outages.

The huge electricity failure plunged hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses into darkness, and although the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) immediately introduced load-shedding, rationing electricity to parts of the country, the result is that daily power cuts in some areas are lasting for up to 10 hours.

On Saturday six generators at Hwange Thermal Power Station, in Matabeleland North Province, blew up, causing the plant to shut down completely and depriving the national grid of 400mW of electricity. Two other generators at the power station have been idle for some months because a persistent and acute shortage of foreign currency has made repairs unaffordable.

ZESA’s corporate affairs general manager, James Maridadi, said in a statement that the electricity shortage had been compounded by vandals in the DRC, who had cut the transmission line of national power utility Societe Nationale d’Electric (SNEL), which carries electricity to Zimbabwe at a monthly cost of US$715,000, and this had deprived the grid of another 100mW.

Thermal power stations in the capital, Harare, another in the second city of Bulawayo in Matabeleland North Province, and a third in the Midlands Province town of Munyati have been inoperable for some time due to coal shortages, causing the loss of a further 200mW.

Zimbabwe used to be self-sufficient in producing fuel for power generation and curing tobacco, but the foreign currency shortages have made it almost impossible to maintain and replace mining equipment and railroad stock, leading to coal-supply problems for industry and forcing some tobacco farmers to import coal from neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia.

Maridadi announced that "ZESA Holdings wishes to inform the public that suppressed domestic electricity generation at Hwange Power Station, coupled with curtailed imports following a forced transmission line outage from SNEL, have resulted in massive load-shedding being undertaken by the power utility on a rotation basis since Saturday, 7 October."

On national state television he told the public that it would take "about US$30 million to normalise operations at Hwange, and we are in talks with the government regarding that issue."

Acquiring both the necessary but scarce foreign currency and the 500,000 litres of diesel required to kick-start the Hwange generators may prove difficult, as the country has been suffering intermittant fuel supplies for the past few years.

Electricity is being sourced from the country’s hydroelectric Kariba Power Station on the Zambezi River, with additional imports coming from Zambia and Mozambique.

BLOOD SUPPLIES DRY UP

Inconsistent power supplies have forced many homes, businesses and institutions to rely on generators for electricity. However, a faulty generator caused a fire at the Harare headquarters of the National Blood Services (NBS), spoiling the contents of 14 cold-rooms, several of which were used to store the nation’s blood bank.

An NBS official told journalists they would immediately stop supplying blood to all hospitals in the country and were trying to source the US$20,000 required for a new generator.

While it is an increasingly common sight to see people carrying firewood, one line of business is doing a roaring trade.

Jennifer Dube, who manages a local nongovernmental organisation and has been importing small electrical generators from China, Dubai and South Africa for the past 14 months, told IRIN she had been "making huge profits because many affluent people are fed-up with the power cuts."

The power outages have further embarrassed government officials, as they coincided with the International Travel Expo, an exhibition designed to market Zimbabwe as the international tourism destination it once was to a host of influential industry players gathered in Harare from around the world.

Photo: President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Source: IRIN

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