Thursday, June 30, 2011

Malawi Braces for Black-Outs Till December

The outlook on life is already 'dark' in Malawi; the spirits very low.
It has been a long time since problems moved in 'groups' of one; collectivity is their new name.
Packed like sardines in the Malawi-Problems-Catalogue are:
Fuel shortages.
Forex crises.
Human rights imprisonment.
Poverty escalation.
Political impasses.
Off target International Monetary Fund programmes.
Negative outlooks and sentiments from the Common Approach to Budgetary Support group of development partners.
Uncertainty over the chances of getting K21 billion donor aid and grants.
I all fairness, these solo players in the catalogue were supposed to be 'enough' for the single, warm heart that is the Malawian.
Not at all.
Adding on to this pile of problems is this week's announcement by the country's generator and distributor of electric energy.
Malawi's sole electricity supplier- the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi- Escom, announced yesterday that Malawi was going into a period of fully-fledged black outs as works on Nkula Falls and Tedzani commence.
Escom's Director of Generation, Darper Chapalapata, said yesterday there would be six hours of black outs everyday starting from Wednesday (yesterday).
In line with his words, blackouts started yesterday.
Chapalapata said the six-hour black outs will take place from 04:00p.m. to 10:00 p.m. everyday.
"This will happen until December 31, 2011. We want everything to be okay by that date, and expect no further interruptions to electricity supply during the rainy season," said Chapalapata.
The spirits, already down by the myriad of challenges outlined above, cannot get any lower.
This is the first time in Malawi's power generation history to have six-hour black outs running over a period of six whopping months.
Already, people are complaining that they will be missing Big Brother Amplified Live Eviction shows since they take place from 07:00 p.m.. This is despite the fact that most Digital Satellite Television payers have footed their bills with Multi-Choice Malawi hoping that they would have full-time entertainment.
Lomwe is still in the Big Brother Amplified House as Malawi's remaining representative. The other country representative, Felicia Susan Ngoma, was evicted on Sunday and arrives home today.
The other casualty is President Bingu wa Mutharika himself, since most citizens will now miss his speeches traditionally rebroadcast in the 'Presidential Daily' programme broadcast in the evening.
Malawi Broadcasting Viewers will also miss MBC News at 8 (live). THis means that MBC-TV should reduce the amount of money before news/mid news/after news advertisers pay for slots from between K48, 000 to K52, 000 now, to less than K40,000 since- during the entire period of the blackouts- most viewers (except those with generators) will be watching the live news programmes.
Video and live television showrooms will also be hit by the eletricity black outs' problem; so will bar owners with no generators.
It seems that Escom has opted for the 04:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. duration to shelve heavy industries from making equally heavy losses, a move likely to be lauded by the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
However, industries that employ people on night shifts have to face up to the reality that, if they run no generators, their production will stall from 06:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day, giving foreign competitors an edge over them, and threatening Malawi's export capacity since production targets are likely to be missed, more than met.
More likely, people will be blaming the ruling Democratic Progressive Party for this, and Mutharika for many other things.
The truth is that Malawi's electricity generation system needs an overhaul.
Finance Minister Ken Kandodo knows this pretty well, and announced during this year's Budget Statement that a World Bank project worth US$500 million will help solve the country's problems.
The black outs are coming in because, during the next six months of maintenance works at Malawi's hydro-electric power stations in the Lower Shire, generation capacity will be reduced by 40 per cent.
Already, the country faces high demand for electric power, and has so far failed to meet the same.
It is hoped, however, that with Malawi Growth and Development Strategy pinning its focus on improved energy delivery, the span for blackouts may well be short.
What with Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority's liberalisation of the energy sector?
Just that, for a long tme to come, Escom will remain a key player in the electricity generation sector- it's strong feet being the investments in power generation machines in the Lower Shire.
And its long time experience in dispersing both darkness and light.

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