The people of Malawi are learning to live in the dark. Their beleaguered power utility, Escom, is unable to meet electricity demand and early this year reintroduced a tortuous schedule of rolling blackouts known as “load shedding”.
Malawians now check electricity reports that read like weather forecasts: “There is a medium probability of load shedding today and tomorrow, with a higher probability on Thursday and Friday.”
Newspapers print survival tips and “load shedder recipes” for food you can prepare without electricity. And there are bleak jokes aplenty. “Q: What did Malawians use before candles? A: Electricity.”
The power cuts are hurting an already stagnant economy. Both big industry and small businesses are feeling the pinch.
Meanwhile Escom has warned that the blackouts could drag on for months, perhaps even years, as it struggles with a maintenance backlog and a barrage of technical problems at its ageing Nkula and Tedzani power stations.
Captains of industry and commerce say erratic power supplies are proving costly to their businesses while life has become unbearable for ordinary people due to frequent blackouts.
Some stakeholders and economic analysts urged Escom and government to find a lasting solution to the power crisis which affects efforts to revive the economy.
On the business side, the situation has affected mainly the agricultural and manufacturing sectors which have been on the downward spiral since the early 2000s.
We have been talking about rising labour costs in the country. We have a situation where people came to work and spend the whole day doing nothing because there is no power, especially in industrial areas. Those people need to be paid; where does the money come from if there is no production?” sometimes businesses worked on tight deadlines to produce goods.
If such deadline are missed out on business opportunities, be assured that the orders might be cancelled.
The situation is bad and it cuts across the board. There is need for Escom to find a plan to deal with the matter. The most affected areas are agriculture and manufacturing industries. If we use generators then the cost of production will go up and again it affects our business operations.
Economic analyst says huge damage had already been done by the erratic power supplies.
These load sheddings are causing the closure of many factories and it is badly increasing the cost of doing business in the country. The damage has been done and it’s preventing business to get back to normal.
If this frequent blackouts continues, it will be difficult to tell investors who want to come and set up their machinery which should run for 24 hours that they will not be able to do so because of power cuts.
Trust me, with these blackouts, Malawi could no longer create employment, while most young people no longer saw a future for themselves.
Ordinary residents in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe are also concerned by the frequent power cuts. These power cuts had a net effect of increasing the cost of living on the ordinary citizens.
The major impact has been economical — refrigerated perishable goods are going bad; milk, cheese, meat among others, the cost of firewood and other alternative energy sources has reduced the disposable incomes for most families as they have to spend money on paraffin, gas, candles and solar energy and fuel to power generators.”
Residents are concerned that they were paying in advance for the electricity but supplies were erratic, increasing the financial burden upon their meagre earnings through formal and informal means.
Some residents said their major expenses arose from buying firewood, gas or paraffin while their social lives have been affected as most times they cannot watch television.
However, Escom said the power utility was working tirelessly to improve the security of electricity supply.
The dis-jointed Escom said it was important for consumers to complement the power utility by exercising various Demand Side Management (DSM) initiatives like switching off gadgets that are not in use.
However, I quote former Blantyre Newspapers Editor James Mphande, who said for the past eight years, people will realise that there were rehabilitations at Nkula, Tedzani by Indians and other companies costing millions of US dollars.
The talk then was that after such works, power interruptions would reduce or stop but nothing has changed. We still talk of rehabilitations; one was scheduled for January at Nkula and has now been shifted to 2017. James argument is: if rehabilitations are not bringing any change/improvement, maybe it is high time we put our efforts elsewhere.
Apparently, government and Escom are wasting money, borrowed to be paid by our children and their children, but there is nothing in return. Look at the cost of overhauling/building new Hydro power point against the cost of almost annual rehabs. It is like keeping a jalopy that costs you more in maintenance when the best alternative is to just get a new one at almost same cost.
Finally, my question to Escom is you have over the past years been carrying out rehabilitation works on its power generating plants with millions of US dollars spent. For each of these works, we are told once completed, blackouts will be a thing of the past. The funny thing is that despite losing such huge sums every two years, there is no improvement in terms of power supply. If anything, the situation is getting worse. Who sanctions these costly but ineffective rehabilitations?Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :