Hapless water and electricity supply, the greatest Malawi’s undoing on development

In my other article over a month ago, on this very platform, I discussed the topic, “Malawi, the peaceful country, still the poorest nation in the world” where I pointed out many issues which have been a deterrent to Malawi’s progress in development with some suggested solutions. In case you missed it here is the linkhttp://www.nyasatimes.com/2013/07/23/malawi-the-peaceful-country-still-the-poorest-nation-in-the-world/.

Today I would like to discuss with you the two parastatals which are supposed to be the major players in development of this country but have thwarted us and these are water and electricity supply statutory corporations. If incompetency of these two corporations is unbridled, Malawi will remain dwarfed in development.

I love my country and I wish it was an immediate trail to South Africa in development by now but alas, the situation is regrettable. I appreciate what our governments have done within 49 years of our independence.

British ruled Nyasaland for about 56 years thus from 1907 to 1963 and left this country in development malnutrition than they did with Zimbabwe and Zambia however we need to give merit where it matters, in 1964, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda came to power when Malawi had two national hospitals, two secondary schools, two tar mark roads, one airport and other miserable things of British administration in Nyasaland. Well, enough of blame shifting, the government has been in our hands for 49 years, we should have done better.

Malawi’s Electricity Situation
The electricity supply managed by Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), is the most pathetic one than that of water. It is hapless that, electricity supply which is the hub of economic development has for a long time failed us.  escom  load shedding

According to Index Mundi (2013) Zambia electricity production as of January 1, 2012 is at 9.6 kWh, with the population of 13, 817,479, Zimbabwe produces 7.72 kWh with the population of 13 million, Mozambique produces 14.98 kWh with the population of 23,515,934 while Malawi Electricity production is 1.676 kWh (2008 est.) with Electricity consumption of 1.559 kWh (2008 est.) and population of over 14 million.

In ascending order, you notice that Malawi is on the very bottom with Mozambique being the highest electricity producing country. Even if we multiply Mozambique’s population by 4, it will still be by far ahead of Malawi on electricity production. Zambia is number two while Zimbabwe is number three according to this sampling.

According to United Nations Foundations (2012), population percentage with access to electricity in Malawi is 8.1%, percentage of population using solid wood for cooking is 91.40. Urban population using charcoal for cooking is 93%. Population percentage of people which the government is failing to provide electricity with is 19.80.

According to United Nations Foundations (2012), people’s average income per day in Malawi is $0.9. Our imports as of 2011 estimate were $1.722 billion and $1.752 billion (2012 est.). Our Exports were as low as $945.1 million. The population below poverty line as of 2004 was 53%. When you look at these figures, you would agree that it is so hard to realise development. How can a country develop when it loses more money through imports? This situation can change if we intensify electricity supply which will attract investors and establish a number of companies and industries to counter high import rate.

Some weeks ago, ESCOM donated MK35 million to Presidential Initiative for Safe Motherhood aimed at constructing a maternity waiting home at Ntcheu district hospital. Though the donation was for a good course, it was foiling, coming at a time when ESCOM has been attributing its poor services to lack of funding.

The money would have boosted its services if it was used to buy some transformers which ESCOM has been complaining about. What sense is in donating money for maternity room when you fail to provide electricity in the same hospital leading to more deaths of babies and people in incubators and theatres respectively? Some houses are yet to be connected since their application of electricity a decade ago.

While others would disagree with me, I advocate for de-monopolisation of electricity and water supply to realise better services from the same. Others would say that, private companies will overcharge consumers because their sole aim is to make profit. Well, no objection, but I am convinced that it is better that way than paying for unavailable services. Load shedding has been persistent and yet the bills have been unreasonable and unstably higher as Lucius Banda noted.

I remember staying for 14 days without electricity in 2007 in Area 25 but the bill was the same as previous months. Isn’t that stealing? So, you see that it is phantasmagoric to pay for the service you never got and reasonable for available costly services.  I am not saying that, ESCOM and Water Board be privatised but rather to allow other companies supplying the same which would influence ESCOM and Water Board to wake up and deliver to people’s expectation and with competition, prices are likely to be reasonable than now (supply-price relationship with demand in mind).

Other companies can use small rivers and windmills to generate electricity for particular areas. In 2002, William Kamkwamba from Lilongwe, built a windmill using locally available materials and was able to supply electricity and water in his village. We may have such but precocious establishment in particular areas for both urban and rural residents.

Poor electricity supply has costed us so much. Foods get bad in refrigerators which destabilise households’ budgets, loss in businesses such as supermarkets food distributors etc. Some people’s daily living depend of electricity such as those with barber shops, welding shops, salons, video centres and many others. Without electricity, these people can go on forced fasting. What about electrical appliances such as TVs, refrigerators, cookers, photocopiers, computers etc. which get damaged due to load shedding and ESCOM does not compensate? This drags people’s economic progress.

In factories, manufacturing of goods get interrupted thereby reducing exports and use of generators is unreliable and expensive solution. At times while people are busy writing and reading emails, power goes off, destructing business connections and social communication and worse more loss of data.

In the evening at the time students are seriously studying, power misbehaves, thereby frustrating academic progress which is fundamental to development. These are few among many examples. How do we expect development in such environment? In most cases, ESCOM takes us for granted by not giving a warning on a visiting load shedding.

The president has been begging investors to come to Malawi, for sure; no serious investor can risk investing in a country with fallible electricity supply. This is the main reason we have remained behind. We can’t talk about rural industrialisation when we can’t manage the few urban residences? Note that the country loses millions of Kwachas in a minute of power failure.

Malawi’s Water Situation
Power interruptions contribute to poor water supply. One doesn’t need to be told of the importance of water. Water is life but unsafe water takes life. In Malawi, more than 3,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. When you include adults, approximately 18200 people die of diarrhoea.

Over 7 million people don’t have access to adequate sanitation. It is estimated that over 2.9 million have no access to safe water in Malawi but I think the figure is underestimated considering the masses living in rural areas and town skirts without clean water. Can you imagine, flush toilets, hospitals and even households without water! Unclean water increases waterborne diseases. In some areas such as area 23, a week or more can go without water, risking people’s lives.

Conclusion
The government should concede that, it has failed and needs a helping hand to avoid undoing development through poor water and electricity supply. Promises have been made giving naked hope to Malawians. The main power plant, at Nkula Falls was left by colonial masters. Population has bloated now, and we need to find a lasting solution to this problem.  Let’s allow private companies to join in water and electricity supply to promote industrialisation and development.

In some countries like Kenya, private companies supply water in different areas using small river and wells and any pipe damage is easily noticed and rectified before end of the day. Why can’t we adopt such a system? Remember, we had poor government ran post and telephone services but when private companies joined, we registered improved services.

The same may apply to water and electricity supply. Let’s keep on hoping for better for once we lose hope, we have nothing remaining for us.

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