By Marvellous Sakala
Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), the body that manages and regulates water usage at the Kariba Dam, announced last year in December that the water levels in the dam were now dangerously low.
In its issued statement the ZRA directed the two power companies, ZESCO in Zambia and ZPC in Zimbabwe, to reduce generation at Kariba. ZESCO Limited on the Zambian side was asked to reduce generation at the Kariba North Bank Power Station to 800 MW maximum. ZRA directed Zimbabwe Power Company (Link) to reduce power generation to a maximum of 300 MW.
Subsequently, Zesco on the third day of this year instituted a 6-hour load-shedding exercise due to the aforementioned reason but the hours were later increased to 12.
The word load shedding brings about a feeling of dismay because electricity is
a critical component of our Country’s economic development. Electricity is a basic necessity in all commercial endeavors. From lights, cell phones, and computers to electrical equipment and digital management systems, we need electricity to be able to function in our various professional capacities.
The economy is now in darkness with load shedding not only impacting food security but business sectors and industries at large. This load shedding is already causing significant damage to the economy with millions of kwachas being wiped out from the GDP for each day it continues.
Food security under threat
Our Food insecurity as a nation is under threat due to load shedding as farmers are put under tremendous pressure to feed the nation during this dark period. Electricity is central to modern farming practices, and load shedding will seriously disrupt farming operations. Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling, and other systems all depend on the power supply.
Farms across the country have been forced to adapt to a ‘new normal’, for instance, some farms in Chisamba have rescheduled their time slots for operations with some workers working at night.
The effects of load shedding on farming production costs, productivity, food prices, and food security need to be carefully considered. An effort to create more sustainable, scalable, and reliable energy supplies for the agricultural sector will be critical to ensuring farmers continue their critical role in our economy.
The impact of power cuts on Zambian farms has many negative and far-reaching consequences that reverberate through the supply chain. It starts with impacting the availability of produce, which leads to higher prices for consumers and fewer competitive options arriving on our shelves. This means more money spent by consumers on less produce and less produce supplied and sold by farmers.
Small business in trouble
Small businesses in the compounds are being heavily impacted by load shedding – more so than their larger counterparts because they can’t afford backup generators or the solar system installations that bigger businesses can install to mitigate the impact of power outages.
For instance, John a Baberman in Matero has had his income disrupted because he hardly works due to load shedding yet he is still required to pay rentals for his shop every month end. Patricia, a hairdresser based in Mutendere is in a similar situation as John and Mr. Banda ‘the welder’ of Kalingalinga Compound is not making the same amount of money he was making pre-load shedding.
On top of these general vulnerabilities load shedding also carries a huge cost for SMEs.
There’s the cost of downtime, the cost of business disruption – up to 12 hours daily, and many small businesses are now suffocating. SMEs lack the necessary support structures to take the hit.
Manufacturing Industry suffering
The manufacturing industry has not been spared because when load shedding occurs, manufacturing operations are shut down, resulting in increased downtime, decreased productivity, and, at times, equipment damage.
According to Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) Chief Executive officer Ms. Muntanga Lindunda load shedding has increased production costs for most manufacturers in form of an increase in fuel expenditure to run generators, as some companies project to spend millions of Kwacha on diesel every month.
Ms. Lindunda further says the negative impact of this on the already overburdened Foreign exchange means the country’s fuel consumption will rise. ZAM, therefore, wants the Government to suspend the export of electricity to other Countries until the power requirements of local industries are met.
Crime rate will certainly increase due to the blackouts and homes, shops, and offices risk being broken into. There will be avalanches of robberies, shopliftings, and thefts due to compromised security systems. As security lights and systems turn off when the power does, they leave homes and businesses vulnerable to all sorts of attacks.
Household budgets disturbed
Many monthly household budgets include buying enough to stock the refrigerator but with load shedding in full swing – things have changed. People now buy their day-to-day food as they can no longer keep food in their refrigerators and this has disturbed budgets.
Silent Costs of load shedding
Load shedding also carries a host of ‘silent’ costs to the economy and some of these silent costs include;
Jobs lost as a direct result of load shedding;
Hundreds of thousands of jobs could have been created had load shedding not happened;
Zambia’s reputation globally;
A loss of confidence by the citizens in the government;
Following the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a pick-up in economic activities with the hope of resurgence – but the current electricity crisis does not help – and all the gains made risks being wiped off completely.