Power cuts threaten lives in Malawi


Frazer Potani, AfricaNews reporter in Lilongwe, Malawi

Five-year-old Rosetta from Nathenje, a rural settlement sharing boundary with Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, is a lucky girl because something terrible would have happened to her life. Doctors recommended that she undergo surgical operation after a diagnosis revealed that she had a tumour in her large intestine.
WC saves Malawians from power blackouts
When the day of her operation came she was placed on a theatre table at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) ready to be operated on.

However, as surgeons were preparing to put on their green surgical kits including strap masks round their mouths and put sterilized instruments to operate on the little girl, suddenly there was an electricity black-out forcing the operation postponed!

The number of incidents above are unknown or yet to be known but reveal that power cuts can put patients’ lives in danger including at risk of deaths!

According to the World Bank, Malawians’ health is already threatened by inadequate public health sector’s low expenditures.

“Expenditures in health have been rising in real terms and as a share of total budget expenditures. However, funding for the sector remains insufficient for the delivery of the Essential Health Package. A large share of total expenditures in the health sector is provided by development partners,” says the bank.

Yawning gap

In recognition that energy plays a great role in the delivery of health services and in an effort to close Malawi’s yawning gap of low energy supply against high demand Global Television & Solar (GTV& Solar) Ltd one of the companies that were certified by the Department of Energy and Mines was established in 2000.

The firm’s Managing Director Andrew Nkoloma said appreciating the link between energy and health, the country’s Ministry of Health was one of its partners.

He disclosed that his company was working with Health Ministry to save lives in the country through among other things, installing and servicing vaccine fridges in which delicate vaccines are kept for the needy across the country.

“Global Television & Solar is one of the certified companies by the Department of Energy [and Mines] to do all solar installations and supplies in Malawi. You talk of health sector, to us the Ministry of Health is like our partner because we have done quite a lot,” he said adding that his firm has installed many solar vaccine fridges countrywide and routinely service and maintaining to make sure that they were functioning properly.

“These vaccines stored in these fridges have to be kept at a controlled temperature otherwise they can easily expire before even are taken to the needy and to maintain such temperatures the fridges need energy. This is where we are saying there is a link between energy and health,” said Nkoloma a general electrical engineer who has been exposed to solar energy (general renewable energy technology).

He further said this was why his firm was working with all District Health Officers (DHOs) countrywide.

“We have also been installing a number of water pumping systems in the same sector as well as a number of lighting systems. Currently we are working with a number of DHOs and organizations that are supporting DHOs in water pumping, lighting and refrigeration,” said Nkoloma who did his training with Mzuzu University and attended national, regional and international energy meetings.

Malawi’s Energy Department says energy contribute to delivery of adequate, quality health services because among other things hospital equipment depend on energy to perform special tasks as was the anticipated operation on Rosetta at KCH.

Poverty and energy

President Bingu wa Mutharika admitted that Malawi cannot eradicate poverty and achieve social-economic development without energy.

Mutharika among other things said the sole state owned electricity supplying company the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) was struggling to meet Malawi’s energy demand because some of its equipment was over 50 years old in need of replacement.

“Energy is very important because among other things our country’s economy cannot achieve growth because in order to produce and export the private sector relies on energy to produce for both the local and international market,” said the President.

One of Malawi’s esteemed entrepreneurs, Symon Itaye concurred with Mutharika saying electricity blackouts have been crippling private sector development.

“Persistent electricity blackouts just like water shortages have been cutting the private sector’s production output in the country,” he said adding that in return this was also affecting the country’s economic growth.

ESCOM says struggles to supply adequate electricity because of among others, load shading due to environmental degradation, dishonest clients who were not honoring bills and vandalism of its structures by some people.

The National Statistical Office (NSO) based in Malawi’s old capital, Zomba said just about 10 per 100 Malawians in the over 13 million population use electrical energy while the rest rely on wood.

Majority Malawians’ reliance on wood including charcoal production for cooking and lighting according to one study by the Forestry Department consumed over 4,000 hectares of the country’ forests worthy about K70 million per month against a replacement of about 700 hectares through afforestation programmes also per month.

No wonder concerned by rampant cutting down of trees for charcoal production Energy and Natural Resources Minister Grain Malunga issued a directive that all engaged in charcoal selling be arrested.

Other sources

But government critics challenged him that the state has to identify other energy sources first before charcoal burning is to be fully declared illegal in the country.

World Energy Council (WEC) says Rosetta and many poor people in the developing world are suffering from impacts of energy cuts because of the failure by governments such as the United States (US) to fulfil promises they had made.

The council says G8 (group of world’s richest countries including the US in 1999 agreed that 1 billion people be given access to electricity worldwide.

But the US pulled out of the agreement, deciding that costs for its economy would be too great.


Recently a sigh of relief hovered over Malawi as in an effort to improve electricity generation in the country, the US Government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initiative announced that it is to grant Malawi Government over K53 billion for rehabilitating Escom’s aging power generation plant infrastructure.

But recent media reports indicate that Washington will not release the money because Malawi Government is allegedly violating human rights and not practicing good governance.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says countries like Malawi are still lagging behind in development in all their sectors including health and their people suffering from the pains of poverty because their societies are failing to generate adequate energy in form of electricity for use to develop.

The agency discloses that due to low access to energy in poor developing countries like Malawi women and children especially girls spend time they would have otherwise used for developing their families and going to school hunting for wood in the bush.

“Women and children often have to spend each day collecting heating fuel, further destroying tree cover,” says the agency adding that energy sources such as wood are also dangerous.

“Indoor air pollution, due to smoke from cooking fires causes 1.8 million deaths a year, mostly in rural areas. The problem for the half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2 a day is how to afford the electricity they desperately need for basics such as cooking and heating, agriculture, lighting for education, pumps for clean water, and workshops meant to draw vital policies for advancement of the development agenda,” says the agency adding that the number of people without electricity in poor developing countries worldwide continue to swell daily.

“The number of people without electricity has increased in the past 20 years [worldwide] and will continue to grow by 25 percent in the next 20 years on current trends. In Africa, one in five people have no electricity, oil rich Nigeria has more than 60 million people without power, India has over 400 million and Brazil over 30 million without electricity,” says the agency.

The agency says almost one in every three people [2 billion] people in the world’s population is without electricity and depends on energy sources unfriendly to the environment.

The agency further says the world faces the challenge of developing energy sources that are to replace current ones that contributing to environmental degradation.

It adds that wind is far the fastest growing energy source though globally fossil sources of energy still lead and release more carbon dioxide also threatening global climate.

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