Smell power crisis, Mr. President!

Hon Folks, Escom has raised the alarm: generating power from water is a lost battle unless there’s a consistently good downpour in the next five years.

Water levels in the Shire River have for a decade been on the decline, resulting in diminished capacity to generate the hydro-power we bank on in Malawi. It started with regular two-hour load shedding schedules and a promise of a better tomorrow.

Last year, much longer load-shedding schedules of up to 8-10 hours-and, in some places beyond-were introduced. There was a respite during the rainy season when load-shedding frequency declined.

Now we’re back to longer load-shedding schedules and it appears we haven’t seen the worst yet. Earlier in the week, Escom urged business captains in Blantyre, the country’s commercial city, to brace for increased power-outages. There simply isn’t enough water in the Shire, the major source of our hydro power, and the prospects aren’t good at all.

Surprised? Not unless you are a millennial or are battling amnesia. The alarm on Malawi’s diminishing capacity to generate hydro-power was sounded way back when Bakili Muluzi was in power which he relinquished some 13 years ago.

I vividly remember attending a farewell reception for two consultants from Eskom, South Africa, at Sunbird Mount Soche where they openly declared that there wasn’t much hope left in our hydro-electric power due to serious environmental degradation along the Shire River and Lake Malawi, among other things.

During the reign of Bingu wa Mutharika, there was a World Bank-funded project to import or tap power from Mozambique which Bingu thwarted in his second term, dismissing it as a raw deal. In retrospect, the presidential decree was ill-informed and we’re left to pay the price.

We’ve heard about building dams, investing in a coal-powered plant, purchasing heavy duty generators, improving the capacity of hydro-power plants at Nkula and Tedzani through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) grant, constructing more power stations of the Wovwe type in strategic places throughout the country, embarking on the energy server campaign and many other ideas.

Politicians in government have bragged on MBC about a multi-pronged strategy for power generation and distribution to meet and surpass demand. Ironically, progress is only verbal. In reality, the situation is getting worse.

Unless government banks on a miracle to save the economy from suffocating under the pressure of lengthy blackouts, it’s incumbent upon the President and his Cabinet to meet, thrash out and communicate measures to mitigate the power crisis we are gliding into. Escom and its offspring, Egenco, can only say what they can or cannot do within their mandate of generating, distributing and selling power.

If we must go nuclear or tap power from elsewhere or construct coal-generated power plants to supplement or replace the troubled hydro-power, it’s up to government to decide and communicate.

What’s amazing is the indifference of folks in government to the impending crisis. Alibe pulobulemu (they’re not shaken) despite that the economy is already on its knees. Elsewhere in the world, when there’s a major crisis, presidents cut short their vacations to provide the much-needed political leadership in the national quest for solutions. Here, not even the minister responsible for energy sees the need to be part of the dialogue on the impending electricity crisis, probably because Cabinet hasn’t discussed the crisis.

Looking at the prospects for more lengthy and regular power outages, I see in them much more than the ugly face of darkness. In there are also wheels of economic activity slowly grinding to a halt and throwing into bankruptcy businesspersons who borrowed money to run a bakery, welding shop, grain mill, butchery and many other small businesses.

In power crisis, I also see inflation rising again, economic growth declining, workers losing their jobs and generally, further loss of the country’s potency to grow the economy and reduce poverty. All these are issues that the President and his Cabinet-not Escom-would hopefully address when they wake up.

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