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Ministry contradicts Escom on water levels

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Despite the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining indicating in its Weather and Agrometeorological Bulletin that good rainfall amounts were received over most parts of the country during the first ten days of December, 2016, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) continues to ration power to its customers.

Earlier in October, Escom said low water levels and subsequent low flows in the Shire River, where Escom taps power to generate electricity, were behind the blackouts.

In the bulletin, the Department said in the period under review, two main rain bearing systems, the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and Congo Air Mass got established and were active over Malawi.

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It said as a result of this, most areas in Malawi received moderate to heavy rainfall while many areas registered average to above average rainfall.

“During the month of December, the ITCZ, an area of low pressure encircling the earth where the northeast and south east trade winds meet and convective activity breeds vigorous thunderstorms. The thunderstorms are characterised by heavy rainfall, thunder, and lightening accompanied by strong winds,” the statement said.

The Department has further predicted that from December 18 to December 25, most areas across the country are expected to continue receiving more rains as widespread rainfall associated with locally heavy downpours, thunder, lightening and strong winds due to the combined effects of the establishment of ITCZ and an influx of Congo Air Mass.

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But while our investigations show that Escom has stopped publishing its loadshedding programme, blackouts continue to be experienced in some parts of the country.

Some residents of Blantyre that we spoke to complained of experiencing load shedding of up to 15 hours in the past few days. Others in Lilongwe said they have not noticed any significant change in power supply even after the start of the rainy season.

According to Escom Public Relations Officer, George Mituka, Water levels in Lake Malawi are still too low to impact electricity supply.

Mituka said as of Monday, water flow as measured at Liwonde Barrage is at 120.38 cubic meters (cumecs) per second against a requirement of 260cumecs.

“If you have seen some improvement in the electricity supply over the past 24hours, it is due to runoff water from Shire River tributaries downstream of Liwonde which fed directly into our reservoirs resulting into temporary relief. This runoff water is temporary since once it is gone, we revert back to depending on the still low Shire River flows,” he said.

During the press conference in October, Escom officals warned Malawians to brace for extended blackouts by December if water levels in both Shire River and Lake Malawi will not improve.

At that meeting, Escom said its power generation capacity had gone down to 165 megawatts from 200 megawatts, a situation which the Corporation said was making it difficult to generate power.

Escom Director of Generation, Evance Msiska, said water levels in Lake Malawi had hit their lowest levels in history.

“This would be a critical situation which would make it impossible even to provide any service to industry and even some essential services. Operating at the current flow of 140 cumecs is unsustainable. Currently a discharge of 115 cumecs is recommended for sustainability,” Msiska said.

In its latest Malawi Business Climate Survey Report, the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) has listed electricity among the major constraints to doing business in 2016.

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