ESCOM line vandalism paralyses Lower Shire hospitals and businesses; Mortuaries, labs, pharmacies affected

Vandalism of two towers on Kapichira to Nchalo 132kv overhead line at Kasinthula in Chikwawa District earlier this week has compromised health service delivery in Lower Shire — thereby putting lives at risk and bringing businesses to a halt.

Vandals descended on the towers for Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) line, which feeds Nsanje and Chikwawa, by cutting off its members and the line eventually came tumbling down on Monday, November 13 at around 03:40hrs.

As the towers fell down, so did service delivery for health centres, fresh food grocery shops, welding centres, butcheries, hair salons and barbershops, among other businesses in Nsanje and Chikwawa.

ESCOM Director of Transmission Masauko Mula at the site

For now, parts of Chikwawa are barely surviving on supplies from an alternative line from Kapichira as the alternative is only able to supply domestic customers for Illovo Sugar Estate, Chikwawa Boma, Dyelatu Trading Centre and Thabwa.

For health facilities in Nsanje, the situation is getting dire as the district hospital is running on diesel-powered electricity generators to keep laboratories, mortuary and vaccine units running.

Nsanje health promotion officer, George Mbotwa bemoaned that usage of the generators was not sustainable, saying: “Most of our services need electricity to run. We have resorted to using back-up power sources for our system.

“In our case, we use a diesel generator. This generator alone consumes 20 litres of diesel per hour to run the service around the hospital.”

He confirmed that with diesel pegged at K2,734 per litre, it means Nsanje hospital generator consumes an estimated 400 litres of diesel per day, which translates to K1,093,600 — too costly for a public facility that survives on the government funding.

“Minus the resting period of every five hours for the [generator], we are using 100 litres in five hours and that is close to 400 litres per day,”Mbotwa said. This is putting a lot of stress on the management of fuel because it is the same fuel that is used to run ambulances.”

He agreed that running on the generator was not sustainable for the hospital and other public facilities in Nsanje as other services needing constant power include the pharmacy unit, which has an air conditioning unit that has to be kept running as well as the laboratory’s testing equipment.

“There is also the mortuary and we have vaccines that need to be kept at the recommended temperatures. Fridges for these vaccines have to be kept running all the time.”

Mbotwa added that they learnt with shock that the power outage in Nsanje occurred due to the effects of vandalism of the Kapichira-Nchalo transmission line — thus he sent a plea to perpetrators of vandalism, saying their actions affect everyone directly and indirectly.

The district hospital’s deputy health promotion officer, Peter Nasoni said the main hospital had gone for three days without accessing stable electricity supply, as of November 15, due to the unfortunate vandalism.

“It means that we also do not have water because for Southern Region Water Board to pump water, it also relies on electricity,” Nasoni said. “We also have a theatre that relies on electricity.

“Much as we have a generator, the price of fuel has gone up and we may not always run on this generator, so our theatre has also been affected,” he said, adding that also affected is X-ray section.

Some small-scale businesspersons around Chikwawa echoed concerns similar to those of the health facilities, with Robson Luka, a shopkeeper at Dyelatu, saying power outages spell bad news for his grocery shop.

“When power goes off, say due to low voltage or vandalism, it means we cannot store fresh food such as milk in our refrigerators. Cases of vandalism are counterproductive and those who engage in such acts must stop,” Luka said.

A welder at Dyelatu, Paul Wandale said there was a need for members of the communities to play their part in protecting ESCOM assets such as the towers.

“The perpetrators of vandalism should stop such acts because this affects our businesses and by extension, our families and our dependents,” Wandale said.

ESCOM Director of Transmission Masauko Mula confirmed that the vandalism of the lines had affected power supply to most areas in Lower Shire — the stronghold of the sugar manufacturing sector.

“This line, essentially, supplies the whole part of Lower Shire — that is Chikwawa and Nsanje districts. In this case, all the facilities in this area have definitely been affected. We are talking about health and education facilities being affected.”

He said this when he led a team of ESCOM officers and the media who visited the site where the two towers tumbled down after the vandals tampered with them.

Mula estimated that it would cost ESCOM about K200 million to re-install the damaged towers, adding that ESCOM will construct a temporary line to restore supply to the affected areas in the short-term.

“The temporary diversion for the transmission line will take us four to five days to complete [from November 14]. The line will be there until such a time we procure tower materials to construct a new line,” Mula said.

The Lower Shire outage has affected areas such as Bangula, Ngabu, Sorgin, Nsanje Boma, Marka, Luwe, Mbang’ombe, Thabwa, Thekelani, Livunzu, Sankhulani and Chapananga up to Chikombe Mozambique Border.

Nsanje and Chikwawa are among the districts where ESCOM has been conducting anti-vandalism sensitization campaigns in the last two years, but the vice still persists largely due to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers who buy such vandalized ESCOM assets.

Last year, ESCOM produced a report on the prevalence of vandalism cases in the Southern Region, indicating that MV conductors were the most targeted by vandals. Thyolo, Blantyre, Zomba and Mulanje registered the most cases of vandalism.

The report shows that 41,355 MV conductor were vandalized in the region followed by HV conductor (12,875), 10,124 earth mat, 1,708 MV cable, 1,165 twin wire, 905 LV stay, 438 HV stay,  195 HV cable, 77 transformers, MV fuse units (57) and HV metering unit (four).

Thyolo topped the list of the districts in the region hit the hardest by vandalism after registering 34 transformer cases, followed by those of 5,500 MV conductor, 1,303 earth mats, 480 MV cable and 100 HV conductor. Some 20 HV cables were vandalized in Chikwawa during this period.

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