Power crisis leaves Ugandans in disarray
By Henry Wasswa Jun 3, 2006, 13:25 GMT
Kampala - In the course of an average working day in Uganda there is always reason to complain. Hospital doctors swear, restaurant owners complain, urban planners gripe, internet operators bang their fists on PCs and the most powerful of voices, the industrialists take their anger to the president.
Each vents frustration according to their own professional agenda. But when, on a regular basis, dusk blankets the Ugandan capital Kampala at almost the same time as a citywide black-out, anger erupts in a unified chorus.
'Whenever there is a black-out, it is total chaos. Traffic lights do not work, At anyone hour, we do not even know which part of the city will be switched off and when. Our clinics become unoperational and the machines in operation and maternity wards are switched off,' Kampala city spokesman, Simon Muhumuza, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Thursday.
At a shop in the city an irate middle-aged shopper purchasing a box of candles tells dpa:' I am buying these because I know that any minute now there will be no power at home.'
The East African nation of Uganda is currently engulfed in darkness as the two hydro electric plants 80 kilometres east of the capital fail to generate enough power to feed the capital's needs. Authorities are rationing electricity on a rotational basis to each town, city and region.
Between them, the two dams are supposed to produce 380 megawatts of electricity but due to the low outflow of water from Lake Victoria, which authorities blame on the recent drought, there has only been between 100 MW and 140 MW of power produced, leaving a deficit of 120 MW in a country where power demand is rising by 6 per cent every year.
The scenario has catapulted a series of shocks across the country, pushing up the cost of industrial production by 50 per cent.
'The cost of production in industries has gone up by 50 per cent due to power failure and many entreprenuers have gone out of business,' said Abid Alam, chairman of Uganda manufacturers association.
His organisation recently threatened to take the country's main electricity distribution firm to court over its decision to hike power tariffs.
Police say that fire accidents related to the power black-outs are becoming a daily occurance in the country, particularly in Kampala which has a concentration of nearly two million people.
'The moment power goes off, people think of lighting candles, put the candles on the table and forget them. We have registered very many accidents due to neglected candles in the residential areas of Kampala. Fire accidents are very many in Kampala because over 70 per cent of electricity users are from there,' police chief fire officer, Joseph Mugisha told dpa.
President Yoweri Museveni recently announced the construction of two power dams within the next three-and-a-half-years. In the meanwhile, the government is encouraging the use of generators which result in deafening noise along the streets of Kampala and other towns.
The country is importing millions of litres of gas to feed the generators and fuel consumption has jumped from 550 million litres to 700 million per year since 2003.
'The growth in fuel consumption has risen to between 5 to 6 per cent per annum. The consumption of diesel has grown faster. There is an increase in the importation of generators due to the power crisis in the country.
'Small generators in the homes and others in industries have increased in the country. Demand for diesel is going to increase next year and an additional 200 million litres will be imported,' the government's energy commissioner, B.G Twode, told dpa.
Environmentalists blame the power crisis on the erection of a second dam near the source of the Nile in 2003 and say that this led to Lake Victoria's water levels falling by 0.47 metres.
They say that the prolonged regional drought which the government insists is solely responsible for the power crisis, has only accounted for a 40 per-cent, or 0.31 metre drop in the lake level since 2000.
Critics blame the government for erecting Kiira power plant next to the old Nalubaale dam; a situation they say led to the double draining of Lake Victoria, the world's second largest fresh water lake.
Due to the persistent power cuts, Milly Nalubwama finds it hard to run her internet cafe in downtown Kampala and faces the problem of raising money to buy a generator.
'Power goes off almost four days in a week and I find it difficult to explain this to my customers. Many do not seem to understand the situation and one of them tried to slap me last week when power went off in the middle of his work. We have no money to buy a generator because these computers need powerful generators,' she said.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur