VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
ZAMBIA has upped its rural electrification drive, although much needs to be done for a significant portion of the population in both urban and rural areas to have access to power. While official estimates indicate that Zambia is over 25 percent electrified, only five percent of the rural population has access to reliable electricity.
As a result of the lack of access to reliable electricity in rural areas, many small-scale entrepreneurs are struggling to make ends meet.
Oswell Siame, a metal fabricator in Mpika, needs regular supply of electricity to run his business efficiently.
However, electricity supply in the district is erratic, compelling small scale enterprises to resort to alternative sources of energy. And for some communities, low power voltage is a major challenge hindering them from enjoying reliable power supply.
“I use a generator which gives me consistent supply of power for my business to run well. However, it is expensive to own a generator because one needs fuel to operate it,” Mr Siame said.
Students in Mpika have their own share of complaints about the low power supply in the district.
Tusankine Simukonda, a student at Mpika Secondary School, can barely study at home in the night because of poor lighting.
It gets very difficult during the rainy season when the old solar-powered lamps he relies on fail to charge, leaving him with no option but to study under candlelight. Mapalo Chibwe a Grade Six pupil, faces a similar challenge.
“If the battery is charged, then I have light. Otherwise I must study under candlelight”, she says. Sometimes Mapalo can’t do schoolwork in the night because her family can’t afford to buy candles.
The electricity supply challenges being experienced in Mpika will be a thing of the past as Zesco has started the construction of a 330-66 kilovolts substation in the district.
The US$38 million-worth substation will service Muchinga, Luapula and Northern provinces.
A Chinese company, TBEA, has been contracted to build the substation which is expected to address the problem of low power voltage in the three provinces.
The effects of low voltage include poor appliance performance, dim lighting and intermittent outages.
“The new substation will address the demand for electricity in Muchinga Province, which has a customer base of 23,900. The project will also benefit the people of Luapula and Northern provinces due to proximity,” Zesco spokesperson Henry Kapata said.
Mr Kapata said the people in the three provinces are looking forward to the completion of the project because it will improve their businesses and quality of life through reliable power supply.
He said all the upcoming industries in Muchinga will benefit from the substation and this will shore up the rural economy.
“All those that have been hesitant to invest in the area because of the low power voltage will re-think their positions and (possibly) set up business in Muchinga,” Mr Kapata said.
Mr Siame is optimistic that the Zesco project will boost small enterprises in the district.
According to the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), access to electricity for rural communities currently stands at five percent.
The Zesco project will complement the ongoing rural electrification drive by REA to power all rural areas by the year 2030.
REA, through its master plan, has been working at increasing access to electricity in rural areas through solar and hydro energy projects and connecting some areas to the national grid in an effort to accelerate development in the country.
Corporate affairs manager Justin Mukosha says there has been an increase of electricity access from three percent to five percent across the country since the year 2005.
Each year, the agency invests about K50 million in rural communities by providing electricity supply to public places such as markets, schools and hospitals.
REA projects are 90 percent funded by Government while donor aid accounts for about seven percent.
Since the establishment of REA, public facilities such as schools, health centres and chiefs’ palaces have been connected to electricity.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka