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NAIROBI, Jun 9 2000 (IPS) - Kenyan residents are bracing for tough times ahead following the government’s decision to put into place a massive six-month electricity and water rationing programme.
The country is reeling from the effects of a drought this year which has resulted in a serious food crisis and a 40 percent power shortfall, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of Kenyans.
“We don’t know how we are going to survive for the next six months,” says Lucas Muoki, an electrical artisan.
“If food is becoming more expensive and we don’t get electricity to do our work, how are we going to feed our families?”
Last week, a worried president Daniel arap Moi announced that more than 23 million Kenyans – about 80 percent of the population – are faced with severe famine, due to the lack of rains.
Moi has appealed to the donor community for food aid to assist the east African country in averting the looming famine.
“It is God who brings rain. Even powerful leaders of the world cannot provide rain for their people,” he said.
The power crisis, the first witnessed in Kenya in 40 years, is expected to further cripple an already fragile economy which, last year only managed a marginal growth of two percent.
The power-rationing lasts 12 hours for industries and 18 hours for domestic users.
The rationing programme has affected nearly all-essential sectors, from agriculture to Tourism.
The industrial sector, where investors are now producing at much lower capacities and workers work for fewer hours, is hardest hit, threatening thousands of casual jobs. The education sector and health have also been affected.
“This shortage is likely to bring the economy down,” charged an angry Chris Kirubi, who heads the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KMA). “We have turned industrialists into farmers.”
The power rationing programme has affected the Kenyan shilling, pushing it from 72 to the current average of 76 against the US dollar.
Horticultural producers say the rationing of power would force them to spend on higher operational cost, and fear the resulting loss of quality in their products would be a disadvantage them while competing in the global market.
Kenya is a leading exporter of fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers to European markets, an economic activity that is Kenya’s leading foreign exchange earner.
“We have nowhere to turn to reduce our costs except to cut back on jobs,” says Jimmy Kent who heads a vegetable exporting company.
Domestic consumers too, are faced with an extended power rationing, which will bring them electricity for three days a week.
The informal sector, much of which is found within residential areas, also goes without electricity much of the day, with growing fears that millions will lose their jobs and turn to crime.
“We have no choice but to close down and look for something else to do,” says Mary Adhiambo, who runs a hair Salon in Langata suburb, on the outskirts of the capital.
In the next kiosk, James Mwangi, an artisan has changed his working schedule. Now he begins his welding work at 10.00 PM, when power resumes. “I don’t wan’t to lose my customers, so I have to learn to cope with new schedules,” he says.
Kenya’s government controlled power sector is largely dependent on water, much of its investments going to hydroelectric projects along the river systems.
The failure in the long rains has reduced water levels needed for optimum power generation, forcing the Kenya Power Company to put in place a 12-hour power-rationing programme in major towns.
Moi himself has admitted “lack of foresight” on the part of his government, to avert the current power crisis. “The best thing now is to stop depending on water for power and try other ways,” he told a gathering.
But the search for alternative sources of energy is still far off, and could cost consumers much more when it eventually comes.
For example, although Kenya has a huge thermal potential, little investment has gone into it, due to over dependency on hydropower.
Kenya’s geothermal potential is estimated at more than 2,000 megawatts, an equivalent of the hydro potential of Africa’s largest river Nile in Uganda.
To bridge the 180-megawatt shortfall, the government is planning to install mobile generators at a cost of 30 million dollars.
Kenya, since 1997, alternately suffered droughts and floods associated with the El Nino and La Nina which have been ravaging the Horn of African region.
Weather experts say the current drought is as a result of the La Nina, which is also responsible for the flooding in southern Africa.
Crippling as it is, weather experts say the crisis is far from over, at least for the next three months. “We will have to live with drought,” advises head of meteorological department, Evans Mukolwe.
NAIROBI, Jun 8 2000 (IPS) - Kenyan residents are bracing for tough times ahead following the government’s decision to put into place a massive six-month electricity and water rationing programme.
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