Zimbabwe begins power cuts

HARARE - Zimbabwe has begun power cuts to cities and towns lasting several hours on end because of an acute shortage of electricity, the result of equipment breakdown and also because South Africa is unable to maintain exports to its neighbour.
In yet another example of how infrastructure is collapsing in Zimbabwe after six years of unprecedented economic decline, the capital, Harare and the second biggest city of Bulawayo were on Friday plunged into darkness for about four hours.

Officials at the state-run Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) told the Press that the blackout was part of a load shedding plan as they battled to ration the little power available to all parts of the country.

"We introduced load shedding in some parts of Harare and this also affected other parts of Bulawayo suburbs," ZESA spokesperson Obert Nyatanga said.

Nyatanga said main foreign supplier, Eskom, was experiencing problems with some of its generators forcing it to reduce exports to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of its power requirements and apart from Eskom also buys electricity from Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Eskom's inability to maintain normal supplies to Zimbabwe had resulted in total power imports falling by about 80 percent and this at a time ZESA was also having problems with one of its ageing generators which has now been put under repair.

As a result, ZESA has been left with an electricity shortfall of 400 megawatts, Nyatanga said.

The ZESA official said the power cuts will continue for several more days but were expected to end by end of the week.

Electricity is only one item on a long list of key commodities in critical short supply in Zimbabwe as the country grapples its worst ever economic crisis, described by the World Bank as unprecedented in a country not at war.

Food, fuel, essential medical drugs, chemicals to treat drinking water for urban residents and nearly every other basic survival commodity is in short supply because there is no hard cash to pay foreign suppliers.

The South African, DRC and Mozambican power firms have maintained supplies to ZESA despite its erratic payment record more because their governments will not allow them to switch off Zimbabwe.

But energy experts say power firms may not be able to maintain supplies to Zimbabwe by 2007 because they will have run out of excess electricity, a situation set to plunge Zimbabwe into an unprecedented energy crisis.