Maputo — Power cuts in the port city of Beira, and in other towns and cities in the central Mozambican provinces of Sofala and Manica, have now reached critical level, causing enormous losses to companies.
The problem lies in a major breakdown in the Chibata sub-station, in Manica, on 29 January. The public electricity company, EDM, has been struggling to repair the damage for the past week, but the situation is not expected to return to normal until mid-February.
The Chibata sub-station is a key link in supplying electricity from the Cahora Bassa dam to the centre of the country. EDM has imported some power from Zimbabwe, but this is insufficient to cover the needs.
EDM has therefore halted the rehabilitation of its own power station at Chicamba, on the Revue river, and has put it back into service. Both Chicamba and a second station on the Revue, at Mavuzi, had been taken off-grid in January, as major upgrading began.
According to EDM chairperson Augusto de Sousa Fernando, cited in Wednesday's issue of the independent newsheet “Mediafax”, the power available from the Zimbabwean imports and from Chicamba only meets 30 per cent of the needs.
He pointed out that matters were made much worse in Manica because of sabotage of the electricity transmission lines by thieves stealing cables and metallic pylon parts.
“We urge the authorities and the public at large to maintain their vigilance faced with this vandalism against the transmission lines, since the consequences are disastrous for our clients and for the country”, he said.
EDM is resorting to two reserve transformers to repair the Chibata sub-station. The transformers, each weighing 60 tonnes, were in the western province of Tete and had to be taken on giant trucks to Chibata, where they arrived on Sunday.
Had it not been for the reserve transformers, it would have taken EDM at least a year to repair the damaged Chibata transformers, said Fernando, or two years if it had been decided to buy new ones at a cost of two million dollars each.
As it is, with the reserve transformers, EDM is optimistic that the repairs at Chibata will be completed by 15 February.
In the meantime, Beira suffers in the February heat. EDM is operating a regime of rolling power cuts, providing what little power is available first to one part of the city then to another.
On Tuesday, the area containing Beira Central Hospital was without electricity from EDM all morning, and had to fall back on its emergency generators, with priority granted to the operating theatres and the intensive care unit.
Even so, the amount of electricity available was restricted, and a hospital source told “Mediafax” that this resulted in deaths, but gave no details.
Since shops and markets are unable to keep products cold, they have been forced to cut prices or watch their goods rot. A chicken that cost 120 meticais (about four US dollars) before this crisis was being sold on Tuesday for 35 meticais, while the price of a kilo of beef has been slashed from 150 to 75 meticais.
The largest supermarket in the city, the Beira branch of the South African chain Shoprite, has decided to cut its losses and shut down altogether as from Saturday, since its backup generator is not working.
Those companies and households who possess generators now face enormous bills for the diesel needed to keep them operating.