Decreasing levels of Lake Victoria Worry East African Countries
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First published: February 12, 2006
The low water levels have begun to affect the country's electricity supply. Uganda's capital, Kampala, has experienced unprecedented power cuts recently. The country has resorted to severe power rationing, with some areas having electricity for less than five hours in a day. Ugandan industrialists have already predicted hard times ahead for the industrial sector, saying escalation in operation costs will force them to shut down, costing thousands of jobs. The Chairman of the Uganda Manufacturers' Association, Abid Alam said his organization was pushing for dialogue with the energy ministry to mitigate the problem.
"We want the government to subsidize the cost of fuel so that industries can power their own generators, and the government should expediently increase thermal-electricity generation as stopgap measures," he said.
The Secretary General of the East African Community, Amanya Mushega says the rapidly decreasing levels of Lake Victoria threatens huge trade disruptions among the three East African countries (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) that heavily depend on lake borne shipping. Mushega who was speaking hours after a new report accused Uganda of contributing to the drop of the lake water levels secretly said that Uganda along with Kenya and Tanzania would badly be affected by the decline.
"We are soon going to have serious strains on trade because of the alarming receding lake water levels. Shipment charges are already skyrocketing and this will eventually impact on the cost of trading among the three countries, " Mushega told journalists in Kenya.
Demonstration over abrupt power shortage coming:
The National Tax Payers and Tax Protection Organization (NTAPO) has threatened to mobilize a national demonstration in April against abrupt power cuts in the country. The National Executive Director NTAPO, Joseph Kasibante says that the ungazzeted irregular power load shedding has made the presence of electricity useless. Kasibante asked power suppliers-Umeme Ltd to publicize their load shedding schedules to enable the public to cope up with the system. However, his appeal came on the same day the power distributors published a power load shedding schedule for February.
According to the schedule published in the Monitor and New Vision newspapers, an area which gets power during the day, does not get any at night and an area cannot have power for two consecutive days. The day time load shedding begins at 6:00am and ends at 6:00 pm while the night load shedding starts at 6:00 pm and ends at 6:00 am.
On Friday, Umeme said in a statement that the Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited is generating only 170 MW instead of the installed capacity of 300 MW because of the decreasing levels of Lake Victoria.
The Daily Monitor quoted the Umeme Manager for Corporate Communication, Robert Kisubi, as saying on Monday that as the water levels drop, the electricity sector must reduce usage of Lake Victoria water by increasing the load shedding. Although the explanation by Kisubi could be genuine, it took some business people by surprise as many were not expecting a decrease in load shedding. The fear, especially by those businesses renting premises that use a standby generator, is that they will get rent increment from their landlords while those renting in premises without generators fear losing business all together. With the planned closing of one of the power dams in Jinja as a measure to control the water loss from the worlds second largest lake, the situation is only expected to be worse and daytime load shedding could increasingly be experienced daily.
About 90 percent of all the power consumed in Uganda is generated from the two dams at Jinja. Although, Uganda has some hydroelectric potential along the River Nile, only a fraction of it has been developed. As a result, Uganda is experiencing insufficient power. Currently, the country's power demand is greater than the supply, with fewer than 10 percent of the population having regular access to electricity yet many towns do not have any power supply.
Lake Victoria's decreasing water levels
UN official blames drop in water levels on Uganda
Writing in the New Scientist magazine on Wednesday, Daniel Kull, a hydrologist with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Nairobi, Kenya, said Uganda was using more of the lake's water than was agreed upon 50 years ago under an international pact.
According to Kulls calculations, the water level in the lake is almost half a meter lower than what it should be, with water releases at Ugandas Owen Falls and Kiira dams at almost twice the permitted rates.
Lake Victoria, Africa's largest fresh water lake, is shared by the East African nations of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is one of the most highly populated areas in the world, and the surrounding basin is intensely cultivated. Water levels have plummeted since 2003, and are now at an 80-year low.
However, the United Nations office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs quotes Ugandan authorities dismissing Kull's conclusions and blamed an ongoing drought in the region for the lake's low water levels. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Karisa Kabagambe, said the impact of prolonged drought has been severe and that all the lakes in the region have had declining water levels in spite of the fact that Kiira Dam is not connected to them.
Kabagambe says the reduced water levels are the result of a 10 percent to 15 percent decline in rainfall across the lake's catchment areas during the past two years. But Kull insists that the dams on Lake Victoria were as much to blame for the low water levels as the drought. He adds that if the dams had operated as agreed, the drought would have accounted for only half the water loss.
British engineers designed the Owens Falls dam to generate hydropower without disrupting the natural flow of the water from the lake. A formula known as the agreed curve was set, detailing the maximum water flow of between 300 cu.m. and 1,700 cu.m. per second, depending on the water level in the lake.
According to engineers, the problems began in 2002 when Uganda finished building the Kiira hydropower complex in the eastern town of Jinja after the second dam created a second outlet at a lower gradient than the natural barrier.
Kull estimated that over the last two years, the two Ugandan dams have released water at an average of almost 1,250 cu.m. per second - 55 percent more than is permitted given current water levels.
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First published: February 12, 2006
Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.