Despite heavy rains Zimbabwe’s Kariba Dam is only 15% full
Zimbabwe’s finance minister has an optimistic growth projection for 2017, but the inability to produce enough power domestically may put a damper on things
Heavy rains, which have pounded Zimbabwe in recent weeks and caused floods in some parts of the country, have not yet translated into significant inflows into the Kariba Dam, which the country shares with neighbouring Zambia. The two countries rely on the dam for the generation of hydro-electric energy. Low water levels in the Kariba have been a source of concern and blamed for power shortages.
Zimbabwe is currently battling a persistent liquidity crunch, a high public-sector wage bill that gobbles up 97% of all monthly revenues, a dwindling tax base, and bottlenecks in settling international transactions.
This week, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Busisa Moyo urged the government to speedily resolve the payment backlogs, which threaten the operations of industry. "Companies are unable to supply products and to procure goods for production," he said.
Despite the signs of a tough year ahead, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has projected an optimistic economic growth rate of 1.7%. This is at odds with the International Monetary Fund estimates of economic contraction of as much as 2.5% this year.
In its latest weekly update, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) said the Kariba Dam was 15% full, with 477.61m of water, slightly above the minimum threshold of 475.50m.
"The Kariba lake was created and designed to operate at levels between 475.50m and 488.50m, with 0.70m freeboard at all times. The lake dropped by 0.04m during the week under review and closed the week at 477.61m on January 6 2017. Last year, on the same date, the lake level was 477.39m. All spillway gates at Kariba remained closed during the week under review," it said.
The water levels at the Kariba lake have been sharply falling since the onset of the drought induced by the El Niño weather pattern which swept across southern Africa almost two years ago. Weather forecasts by the Meteorological Department predict more heavy rains and have issued more flood warnings.
The ZRA, a statutory body formed by the Zimbabwean and Zambian governments, is responsible for the allocation of water used by Zimbabwe’s Kariba South and Zambia’s Kariba North power stations. Zimbabwe needs about 1,200MW of power, but is only able to generate about two-thirds of its power requirements from domestic sources.
Obsolete infrastructure and persistent breakdowns have resulted in the main power stations failing to operate at optimum levels. The Kariba South station generates 600MW of power and the Hwange station — the other main electricity generation unit in Zimbabwe — generates 267MW, according to the Zimbabwe Power Company. The balance of Zimbabwe’s power needs is augmented by imports from SA and Mozambique. SA’s Eskom supplies about 300MW to Zimbabwe at a cost of about $6.5m (R88.3m) a month.
Meanwhile, the heavy rains, should they persist, could also deal a blow to the prospects of a good agricultural season. Chinamasa has pinned his hopes of an economic growth primarily on agriculture and mining. "Agriculture and mining are to drive overall growth, with sector growth of 12% and 0.9%, respectively, in 2017," he told Parliament in his national budget address last month.
The governing Zanu-PF party is hopeful that its "command" agriculture scheme, unveiled in July last year, will see Zimbabwe return to its former glory of being the breadbasket of Africa. Under the programme, farmers with 100ha of land, large water bodies and a minimum of five years’ farming experience are contracted by the government to produce at least 1,000 tonnes of grain each. The farmers receive free farming inputs. About 400,000ha were earmarked for the scheme, guaranteeing 2-million tonnes of maize. Last year, Zimbabwe spent $256m importing grain to meet its food needs.