Zambia faces electricity crisis from global warming

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Zambian President, Edgar Lungu

Zambian President Edgar Lungu mentioned climate change severally in his address during the annual opening of parliament in September.

Reports state that Zambia along with several other African nations rank high among countries most exposed to climate-driven disruption. A havoc he says has already begun.

The worst drought in nearly four decades in the southwest of the country hasn’t just caused crop failures: it also drastically curbed output at hydropower dams on the Zambezi river and tributaries that Zambia relies on for about 80% of its electricity generation. (Neighboring Zimbabwe, which shares the output from some plants, faces a similar problem.)

Meanwhile in the northeast, agricultural output has been hit by floods—which also washed away bridges.

The government has slashed its economic growth forecast for this year as a result, and it’s been pushed into considering some extreme responses.

Energy Minister Matthew Nkhuwa floated the idea of digging canals that could bring water from the Congo river, more than 100 kilometers away, to top up the levels at the Kariba dam on the Zambezi, the world’s biggest man-made freshwater reservoir.

Experts are skeptical. Even if the governments of the three countries involved could reach an agreement, elementary physics makes the idea a non-starter, according to Arthur Chapman, an associate at University of Stellenbosch’s Institute for Futures Research in South Africa.

The Zambezi is more elevated than the Congo, so “there are no places in which one could get the Congo river to flow downhill,’’ he said. “Canals are absolutely not feasible.’’

Zambia may be facing a deficit in food as well as power because of this year’s extreme weather.

It’s likely to be short of the equivalent of 355,000 tons of its staple crop, corn, according to the finance ministry. The government’s disaster-management unit has estimated that it will need more than $100 million to provide aid, including food, to citizens hit by the drought.

The last time there was a severe drought, in 2016, Lungu tried to deflect blame—calling for a day of national prayer. This time, he offered a kind of mea culpa.

“Did successive governments prepare adequately for the people of Zambia to face this situation? Did we do enough to put in place early warning systems?’’ the president said in his address to parliament.

“Maybe not,” he concluded.

Suzan O