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RURAL Electrification Authority chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda (middle) on a speed boat on his way to Lunga district from Samfya.

Challenges of getting electricity to Lunga

AFTER a gruelling journey of about 60 kilometres on Lake Bangweulu from mainland Samfya to Lunga, located about 800 kilometres north of Lusaka, the entire team was understandably exhausted.
No one was looking forward to another three hours or so on Lake Bangweulu, and least of all, under the dark, not even on the 115hp speed boat.
“If my bride came from here [Lunga], and I was told to bring lobola [bride price] here, I wouldn’t accept. I would tell my in-laws that please let’s meet in Samfya. Or if they can’t make it to Samfya, then I would suggest I send the money, maybe through some other means,” one journalist said.
“This is an open prison mudala. Here, you should be very selective in what you steal. Only steal that which you can consume at once because there’s nowhere to run to if you steal something big.”
He may have said it in a jocularly manner, but there is no joking about how punishing Lake Bangweulu is.
“People like you should just be flying. It’s not easy travelling by boat. At least for us, we can spend a night here if anything goes wrong. But I don’t think you guys can manage,” the man propelling the boat said.
Hardly comforting words coming from a man who you should look to should anything go wrong!
Well, he is only being truthful; in fact, he is speaking from experience.
There have been times that he has been forced to spend a night.
“Ngatayibukile bwino Bangweulu, tulalala ifwe [If the conditions don’t look good on Lake Bangweule, we just sleep,” he said.
All sorts of theories abound about Lake Bangweulu with some suggesting that it is better to venture on it while intoxicated with alcohol, or for the more adventurous, a bit of ganga in the system does the secret of scaring away the spirits.
But owing to the remoteness of Lunga, and how difficult it is to access it through Lake Bangweulu, it has largely remained undeveloped unlike mainland Samfya.
However, things are now looking up in Lunga, whose major attraction is the Bangweulu wetlands – expansive clear water wetlands in the southeast of Lake Bangweulu.
A number of infrastructure developments have been taking shape in Lunga since it was declared a district in 2012.
A team from the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), which prides itself in being in the frontline in developing rural areas, was recently in Lunga to check on the progress of the 300kwp solar mini grid that it is developing there.
In line with its strategic plan of increasing access to electricity in rural areas, it has identified the promotion of solar energy solutions as one of the strategies in attaining its mandate.
It is against that background that Lunga was identified for the implementation of a 300kWp solar mini grid.
The proposed mini solar grid project includes both civil and electrical works. The scope of works for the civil component of the project includes, although it is not limited to, geotechnical investigations of the project area in order to ascertain the suitable type of foundation for civil structures.
The project also involves, construction of a power house to house the control room, batteries, control equipment and storage for acute spares, sales and administration block, and three staff houses.
The project will also include construction of a foundation plinth for the solar panel array framework, water reticulation system, guard house, ablution block complete with shower facilities, solar power plant yard, and perimeter fence.
However, according to the geotechnical investigations, the area is swampy and is prone to flooding and as such, the contractor is expected to ensure that a suitable foundation is designed for the structures to avoid compromising the structural integrity of the buildings.
When REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda recently inspected the structures being constructed for the solar mini grid, he was not too pleased with the quality of the blocks being used.
Mr Musonda immediately asked the contractor, Astor Investments Limited, to stop the works until the issues of quality are addressed.
“We have to improve on the quality of the blocks. Considering the cost of the equipment we intend to put here, it will be unwise to go ahead. This is tax payers’ money. They had a brick-making machine but I hear it’s down and they’re procuring spares to repair it. So without the machine, the quality has been compromised. I’ve asked them to stop,” he said.
“As a mechanical engineer myself, a licensed one for that matter, I can tell that the quality is not good.”
Mr Musonda, who promised to send two senior engineers to Lunga within the shortest possible time so that they can work with the contractor on the issue of quality, said despite the challenges involved in accessing Lunga from mainland Samfya, REA is determined to ensure that the project is successful.
“We’re committed to getting Lunga up as a district. We’re proud of this project as Zambians. We’ll not be intimidated by the challenges; we are determined. We won’t be cowed by the challenges,” he said.
REA, together with the University of Zambia, are also studying the wind regime in Lunga for the purpose of setting up a hybrid solar power station.
While in Luapula Province, Mr Musonda also visited Isokwe Island on Lake Mweru to see how REA can help in line with President Lungu’s promise to ask line ministries to work on easing some of the challenges that the islanders, particularly the public service workers, face.
When, in July last year, President Lungu visited Isokwe Primary School, which has a pupil population of 330 and six teachers, he wrote in the visitors book that: “I have taken full note of the challenges being faced here as narrated to me by the headteacher. I promise to look into them systematically through the line ministries. Please work hard and do not feel abandoned.”
On its part as REA, Mr Musonda says the authority will be connecting Isokwe Primary School together with the teachers’ houses to solar power in a project that is estimated to cost about K20,000.