Thursday, October 22, 2020

SADC’s longing to end energy and water crisis

Southern Africa ÔÇô a region containing some of Africa’s fastest growing economies ÔÇô is at present facing critical energy and water shortages and has an urgent need to bring on line several projects to generate the two key utilities.

South Africa’s energy crisis of 2015 has been an important factor in plunging the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc in crisis.

This past week, highly ranked government officials who attended a ministerial workshop called by SADC chairman, who is also Botswana President, Dr. Ian Khama agreed in all terms that the crippling regional electricity shortage has left the regional economy virtually on its knees.

Khama himself admitted that the convening of the workshop was prompted by the eminent social, economic and environmental challenges that the region is experiencing, which range from acute water and energy shortages, extreme drought that has adverse impact on the region’s food security.

“I therefore, found it fitting that as the current Chair of SADC, we should convene these Ministerial Workshops, which provides an important platform to collectively dialogue with the aim of identifying short, medium and long term solutions to the current challenges.”, Khama stated in his key note address delivered this past Monday.

Official data indicate that the status of power demand and supply amongst the mainland member states of SADC have grown by a weighted average of 3 percent per annum during 2014/15.

An issue paper published by SADC’s energy organ on water and energy sector shows that the region’s supply and demand is expected to grow at the same rate in 2015/16.  At the same time, the data further shows that SADC’s peak demand and generation capacity reserve margins is currently perked at 8, 247 MW.

Over the last few years, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have had to resort to load-shedding as a stop-gap measure in order to conserve energy.

The SADC chairman said the SADC region is facing a number of multiple challenges related to energy and water availability, delivery, access and affordability with crippling effects on the economy of the region.

 “Indicators have revealed that access to electricity in rural areas is below 10% in most Member States and that the overall electricity access for the region stands below 40% compared to 44% for Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.”

In 2015, as part of the solution to the problem, the mainland member states of SADC commissioned generation capacity amounting to 2, 089 MW from new projects and rehabilitation of old power plants. On the other hand, Botswana is currently looking at increasing the capacity of both Morupule A and B which are the main source of power for the country.

Official statistics provided by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) indicate that by the end of 2015, the SADC members states had installed capacity of 61, 859 MW and an operating capacity of 46, 910 MW against a normal peak demand of 48, 216 MW.

Meanwhile the SAPP figures also shows that one average, public spending on the power sector is low (under 3%) and growth in the energy generation capacity has been low at an annual rate of 1.4 percent over the last 20 years.

As it stands, the region is said to be in need of 7709 megawatts to meet surging demand for electricity despite the fact that 75 percent of its inhabitants still find their energy source literally in the woods.

While the highly ranked officials recommended at the end of the workshop for a speed up of power generating projects, thousands of SADC citizens remains in the dark. Firewood remains the energy source for cooking, heating and lighting for low income earners in the region who cannot afford modern energy sources. 

Remmy Makumbe, Director of Infrastructure Services at the SADC Secretariat told journalists last year that most SADC countries are delaying to implement cost reflective tariffs, which has hindered development of a viable and well-functioning power industry. 

At the same time, Makumbe also expressed concern at the delays by SADC member states in signing of power purchase agreements, which affects project financial closure. An example of such is Botswana’s Mmamabula Energy Project (MEP), which collapsed after South African power utility Eskom refused to sign a Power Purchase Agreement to guarantee export of power to South Africa a few years back. 

The development and economic bloc, which is on the throes of growing energy crisis has however been warned in clear cut terms to invest and improve infrastructure in order to ease the energy crisis.

Water scarcity: A harsh reality

The SADC issue paper does not only highlight problem in the energy sector. The data contained in the paper shows that there is no better performance in the water sector as well.

The majority of the over 200 million people in the region are also at the risk of water shortages. SADC secretariat says that in the past decade, the ravages of climate change have brought uncertainty in rainfall patterns and because of over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture this has seen a decline in yields and the number of households requiring food aid.

Water scarcity is, therefore, a growing concern in the whole region with population growth and associated demands for domestic, agricultural, and industrial increasing stress on limited water resources.

Alarmingly, the SADC 2015 figures indicated that out of the over 292 million SADC region’s population, 60 percent has access to safe drinking water while only 40 percent has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

“This less enviable record is a serious indictment on the region’s efforts to roll-out water and sanitation infrastructure services.” Dr Khama warned his audience at the Gaborone International Conference Centre

The SADC regional Infrastructure Master Plan estimates were that, in order to support regional development by 2027, there is need to increase the current 14 percent of the stored water resources to at least 25 percent.

The just ended ministerial workshop argued SADC member states should invest more in rainwater harvesting, recycling, and desalination depending on the circumstance and should promote conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water. Meanwhile recommendations on both energy and water sectors made at the workshop are expected to be shared with head of states at the upcoming summit slated for Mbabane, Swaziland at the end of August 2016.

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