The Star Early Edition
Kariba dam at ‘dangerous’ lows
WATER levels at Kariba dam were at ”extremely dangerous” lows that could force a shutdown of its hydro-power plants, Zambia’s Energy Minister Dora Siliya, said last week.
Poor rainfall and overuse of water by Zambia and Zimbabwe, the countries that share the reservoir, have caused its levels to drop, with electricity generation already reduced by more than half.
As of December 28, Kariba was 14 percent full, compared with 51 percent a year earlier, according to the dam’s regulator.
“The situation is dire,” Siliya said. “I’m praying. We sit here and gaze at the sky and say, ‘please, the levels of Kariba are at extremely dangerous levels.’”
She said a continued absence of rains could force the power plants to shut down altogether.
Mining companies in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer have had to reduce their electricity use and buy expensive imports at a time when plunging metal prices have triggered the mothballing of some mines and more than 10 000 job cuts.
Households and businesses endure power cuts as long as 14 hours a day.
The cost of importing power and emergency generation could threaten the government’s 3.8 percent budget deficit target for 2016.
Zambia was the most vulnerable country in sub-Saharan Africa to the El Niño weather system, partly because of its dependence on hydro power for more than 95 percent of generation, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts including Oyinkansola Anubi said in a November note.
Six of Zambia’s 10 provinces had received below-normal rainfall this wet season, Meteorological Department director Jacob Nkomoki said last month.
Water flows in the Zambezi river that feeds Kariba on December 28 were 27 percent lower than a year earlier when measured at the Victoria Falls, about 125km upstream from the dam, according to data from the Zambezi River Authority.
At Chavuma, about 600km north-west and near the river’s source, flows had started to improve and were 23 percent higher on December 28 than a year earlier.
Water levels at Kariba on the same date were 477.57 metres above sea level.
The government would spend $1.2 billion (R19.5bn) to mitigate the power crisis, Siliya said. – Bloomberg