THE continuous low water levels on Zimbabwe's biggest dam, Kariba, could see a 300% spike in electricity costs, as the country battles crippling power cuts of up to 17 hours daily, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) has warned.
This was revealed at the just-ended sixth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Victoria Falls where Uneca noted that the adverse effects of climate change and drought had worsened water levels on Kariba.
The presentation by Uneca comes at a time when the power utility, Zesa, announced that electricity tariffs are going up by 19,02% with effect from March 1.
Uneca executive secretary Vera Songwe said the El Niño-induced drought has had adverse effects on the country's power generation and economic growth.
"Zimbabwe, as we stand here, is an example of how sustainable development could affect our growth. In 2018, Zimbabwe grew at 6,2%, but because of the El Niño, drought and other climate-related issues, particularly in the Kariba Dam, which at its height gives us 1 100 megawatts of energy, only gives us 100 megawatts of energy," Songwe told delegates this week.
Zimbabwe is likely to continue importing power from neighbouring partners, whom it also owes millions of United States dollars in arrears.Zimbabwe owes Mozambique's power utility Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa US$35 million, and has reduced its debt to South Africa's Eskom to US$27 million after paying US$10 million late last year.
Energy minister Fortune Chasi told state media this week that the country is paying nearly US$1 million monthly towards clearing its debt with Eskom.
Kariba Dam is currently 41,95% full as of February 24.According to the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), the lake level has continued rising steadily as inflows increase, closing the period under review at 477,01 metres (10,42% usable storage) on February 24.
Last year on the same date, the lake level was 481,35 metres (41,95% usable storage).Low water levels at Kariba have crippled the country's power generation. In April last year, Zesa Holdings reduced average power output at anchor power station, Kariba South, by 5,3% to 445 megawatt after the ZRA cut the water allocation for electricity generation by 5,3% from 38 billion cubic metres to 36 billion cubic metres. Kariba Dam is designed to operate between levels 475,50 metres and 488,50 metres (with 0,70 metres freeboard) for hydropower generation.
Songwe said factors like the unavailability of power as a result of climate change could further weaken the economy in 2020 as witnessed in the rest of Africa. "We have it all and we must succeed and that is why we are here today. We are not growing as fast. In Zimbabwe where we stand, Zimbabwe in 2018 grew by 6,8%, but as we know, the rest of the continent is not getting these numbers. Because of climate change, the numbers also are falling. The rest of the continent is also affected. This year's Zimbabwean growth has contracted to almost negative 4%. This is what happens with climate change, you go from 6,8% to -4%," Songwe said.
Last year, Zimbabwe was plunged into darkness and forced to endure an excruciating load-shedding schedule due to low water levels at the country's major water source, Kariba Dam.
The water on Lake Kariba last year plunged to its lowest level since 1996, worsening the power generation crisis. Zimbabwe and Zambia depend on Kariba Dam for nearly half their power.
Water levels at the world's largest man-made freshwater reservoir — which straddles the two countries — fell to 10% of usable storage, according to data posted on the ZRA's website.