Over the past week, Africa’s top copper miner has been failing to meet increasing demand for both fuel and electricity, which has resulted in some industries and mines to down scale their daily production.
Experts warn that if central government delays to take action, the energy crisis might spiral into an economic disaster for the mineral rich African state.
“There is no fuel at many gas stations not only in Lusaka… Zesco [power utility firm] has also increased their load shedding even when it is cold season [winter],” said Paxina Ngazimbi, a Lusaka resident.
Authorities have blamed the on-going fuel shortage to a burst on an interlink pipeline which feeds Zambia with crude oil from a port in Tanzania, while persistent electricity rationing is reported to have been sparked by increased domestic usage as more people attempt to fight the chilly weather this winter.
Peak power demand when Zambian consumers switch on their heaters outstrips the 1 800MW it currently generates, although Zambia expects to have a surplus of 600MW by 2016, the nation’s utility firm said at the onset of the latest power rationing circle.
An increase in electricity generation will allow Zambia to supply excess to countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana which also experience electricity shortfalls during peak periods.
Jeremiah “JC Blaze” Chalwe, a radio jockey at a Lusaka radio station said power rationing continues to worsen daily while some selected filling stations still had stocks of fuel.
“Load shedding is the order of the day we even getting used to it. Most of the filling stations are not working at all and am told the situation is worse on the Copperbelt [Zambia’s mining region],” Chalwe said.
Zambia consumes about two million litres of diesel per day and 700,000 litres of petrol daily. The country has no domestic reserves and crude oil supplies are sourced from Middle East through an interlink pipeline from its north-east neighbour, Tanzania, at a cost.
About 80% of Zambia’s annual export earnings are derived from mining followed by agriculture and tourism. Economic analysts say prolonged fuel and electricity shortages in the country might have adverse repercussions on mining and agriculture activities.
“Things are not easy right now but I am sure something will be done very soon. It’s not easy… but we are very positive something will be done,” said Thomas Mkandawire, an executive at another Lusaka radio station.
Months after being ushered into office, President Michael Sata and his administration scrapped off the 15-day strategic reserves fund which allowed oil marketing companies to stock up reserves for a considerable number of days and invited fresh tenders for the supply of 1.4 million tonnes of oil after the expiry of a two-year supply contract with Glencore International plc, a Switzerland headquartered commodities trading company.