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 11 
 on: April 20 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Dear FoME Community,

DW Akademie is pleased to announce the launch of its new Digital Innovation Library website http://akademie.dw.com/innovationlibrary We are inviting visitors to explore the site and learn more about the variety of work that projects are implementing across Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America to strengthen freedom of expression and access to information using digital technologies. This website is an offspring of our latest research study ‘Advancing Freedom of Expression: Using digital innovation to foster Article 19 in the Global South’ (http://www.dw.com/en/dw-akademie/digital-innovation-study/s-32581)

The Digital Innovation Library is an interactive platform designed to showcase the wide range of exciting digital activities that are taking place across the Global South to challenge some of the issues prominent in media development, such as supporting participation and inclusion, or holding to account. The user is able to browse the site in two ways: they can use the ‘Discover’ section, using an interactive feature, to get an overview of what approaches, technologies, topics or functions of media development are being used by different projects; or the ‘Thematic Search’ section to get background information on each of the categories above and identify what projects are doing in these different areas. Each project featured in the library has an accompanying factsheet, photo gallery and ‘Behind the Scene’ interview.

The rich insight and experience from these projects ranges from data journalism and data release projects in Cambodia and Argentina, fact checking in South Africa, to documenting and mapping incidents of corruption, violence, or sexual harassment in India, Colombia and Egypt respectively. This is a dynamic platform where more projects can be added and new ideas shared. It is an opportunity to not only highlight the incredible work that is taking place within the media development arena vis-à-vis digital technologies across the Global South, but also to encourage peer to peer learning and to provide a space for creative problem solving. We aim to continue building the Digital Innovation Library and hope that you can join us in this endeavor by suggesting any projects that you think should be included at the library. You can find out more on #mediadev (dw.com/mediadev) and can post any feedback on our Facebook page- www.facebook.com/DWAkademie

Best wishes,
Steffen Leidel
Kommissarische Leitung Digital und Wissensmanagement
Strategie und Beratung
DW Akademie

Deutsche Welle (DW)

 12 
 on: April 06 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Posted April 4th 2016, by L.S.M Kabweza / Techzim News

A report yesterday in the government owned newspapers The Sunday Mail, says the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is intent on introducing Chinese style internet restrictions to the country to put a stop the “abuse” of the internet.

According to the article, the president was addressing his party supporters at Harare International Airport who had come to welcome him home after an official visit to Japan. While acknowledging that the internet can provide great use such as research, the president said the abuse is “everywhere”.

Here’s an excerpt from the article. Most of it is in the Zimbabwean Shona vernacular so we have translated below.

    On social media, the president said Government would also look at how China controls these platforms and learn how to introduce similar measures to stem abuses.

    We want the general technology in our country to be advanced. So that the mobile phone is not just a feature phone, but it can be used to discover news, record news and to share with others via apps like WhatsApp.

    You are the ones that understand these smartphones. With them you can talk to people, share with them, students can research for their education. For example they can research the history of the country.

    However there’s a lot of bad stuff on the internet. There’s a lot of abuse that happens there. Some people use the internet in bad ways. It’s everywhere. But the Chinese have put in place security measures and we will look at these so that we stop these abuses on the internet.

No time of implementation is mentioned.

Popularly known as The Great Firewall of China, the restrictions the Chinese government have put on the internet are designed for internet censorship. According to a Wikipedia article dedicated to the firewall, the “regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from view selected websites, and filtering keywords out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China.”

Internet censorship in China is generally considered extreme. US run communication and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, Instagram, Dropbox and Soundcloud are all blocked. Last year Wikipedia too was blocked after it started making its content hard to monitor. You can see the full list of blocked sites here.

There are local Chinese versions of most US run popular apps, but even these are said to be heavily monitored.

Facebook along with WhatsApp, are extremely popular in Zimbabwe. In fact, for many people, thanks to zero-rating and internet bundling, the two apps ARE the internet.

President Mugabe’s announcement comes after months of rumours suggesting the government is working on telecoms regulations to ensure there was one internet gateway for the country, operated by the government telecoms provider, TelOne.

Currently, there are multiple internet gateways operated by both private and government operators. The most notable of these are operated by Liquid Telecom (private), TelOne (government), Powertel (government) and Africom (government & private). A single internet gateway would make monitoring and restricting internet use easier.

Following the rumours we contacted the Zimbabwe ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, several weeks ago and he said no such central control of internet access is being planned.

Evidence on the ground however already suggests otherwise. The draft National ICT Policy released by his ministry just 4 months ago for example says as part of the infrastructure sharing agenda, government wants “a one stop shop infrastructure sharing facility” that all internet provider use, and the facilitation of  the “establishment of a national fibre backbone with open access by the State.”
(see page 20 of the draft policy, which you can download here: http://www.techzim.co.zw/2015/12/heres-zimbabwes-2015-draft-national-ict-policy/#.VwUmPyakV0x)
or print your copy: http://www.techzim.co.zw/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Zimbabwe-Draft-National-ICT-Policy-2015-.pdf

source: http://www.techzim.co.zw/2016/04/china-style-internet-censorship-coming-to-zimbabwe-president-mugabe/#.VwUk5yakV0w

 13 
 on: April 06 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Posted April 5th 2016, by Nigel Gambanga / Techzim News

Zimbabwe is facing another cash crisis. That much is pretty obvious to the people standing in queues outside some of the retail banks around the country.

Though not as crippling as the cash shortages that the country has experienced in the past, the current spate has affected scores of bank account holders who have had to experience frustrations related to this.

Despite assurances from different institutions that the situation is manageable, some people have already tagged the situation as the start of something that could spiral out of control and lead people down a very familiar and uncomfortable road.

Zimbabweans generally prefer to deal in cash and when it comes to the security of the formal financial system and questions about the reliability of banks, it doesn’t take much to rattle the entire population.

For more than a 10 years citizens have been subjected to different waves of financial services mayhem.

From banks facing curatorship and then going under, accounts of speculative practices from the champions of indigenous financial institutions to a hyperinflation experience that eroded the value of bank deposits and came tied with its own cash shortages, most Zimbabweans will tell you that they have seen the rough side of formal financial services.

The solutions that have been embraced for the current shortage by those affected are fairly obvious. A report in the Herald outlined some of these measures which have included $500 limits on withdrawals, the disabling of the Zimswitch cross-bank ATM facility and the suspension of the Point of Sale cashback facility from some retailers.

The governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, Dr. John Mangudya also encouraged people to use plastic money instead of relying on cash. This came ahead of a directive issued to tobacco farmers to open bank accounts from which they would receive the payments for the sale of their crop.
Where is mobile money in all this?

One measure that isn’t being pursued as aggressively, though, is the mass adoption of mobile money services as a way of working around this potential crisis.

Despite its strong presence across the country where it has outpaced formal banking services, mobile money has only been mentioned as one alternative and not as the leading solution that it is primed to be.

Some likely reasons could be the high costs attached with mobile money transactions as well as the fact that the leading provider of mobile financial services, Econet’s EcoCash, (it holds 74.3% of registered mobile money subscribers) which handles the majority of mobile money transactions (it pushed 96.9% of transactions in the last quarter of 2015) is a private sector operator and not a public sector solution.

However, all this is flying in the face of the reality that mobile money has established a firm place in the Zimbabwe financial services matrix. Our country’s economy has slowly embraced the movement of money through informal trading channels and mobile money has emerged as a convenient tool for carrying these transactions.

In the most recent telecommunications sector quarterly report from the industry regulator POTRAZ, mobile money services registered transactions valued at $533 million dollars in the three months ending December 2015 from an aggregate of 7.3 million mobile money subscribers.

The service’s popularity has been fuelled by a high mobile penetration rate, the ubiquity of mobile money agents (there are over 33,000 mobile money agents across Zimbabwe) limited requirements for signup as opposed to formal banks’ account registration and of course, the significant distrust that the country’s banks have earned.

Mobile money service providers also appreciate the convenience that they can deliver and have been going out of their way to integrate their platforms with as many third-party services as possible in the hopes of mopping up as much transactional revenue as possible.

All this points to how mobile money should be at the centre of this cash crisis workaround or at the very least, how it should be more of a solution than the use of plastic money alternatives which the central bank has been advocating for.

For the sake of progress, until the actual solution for the real problem that is instigating this cash crisis has been identified, it would probably be worth exploring how the use of mobile money can be positioned as a solution.

source: http://www.techzim.co.zw/2016/04/mobile-money-credible-solution-zimbabwean-cash-crisis/#.VwUjLyakV0w

 14 
 on: February 27 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Despite efforts to slow the facility’s decline and correct structural problems, Kariba Dam is crumbling; a dam collapse at the site would prove disastrous for the entire region.   
By Jacques Leslie,   February 2, 2016

The new year has not been kind to the hydroelectric-dam industry. On January 11th, the New York Times reported that Mosul Dam, the largest such structure in Iraq, urgently requires maintenance to prevent its collapse, a disaster that could drown as many as five hundred thousand people downstream and leave a million homeless. Four days earlier, the energy minister of Zambia declared that Kariba Dam, which straddles the border between his country and Zimbabwe, holding back the world’s largest reservoir, was in “dire” condition. An unprecedented drought threatens to shut down the dam’s power production, which supplies nearly half the nation’s electricity.

The news comes as more and more of the biggest hydroelectric-dam projects around the world are being cancelled or postponed. In 2014, researchers at Oxford University reviewed the financial performance of two hundred and forty-five dams and concluded that the “construction costs of large dams are too high to yield a positive return.” Other forms of energy generation—wind, solar, and miniature hydropower units that can be installed inside irrigation canals—are becoming competitive, and they cause far less social and environmental damage. And dams are particularly ill-suited to climate change, which simultaneously requires that they be larger (to accommodate the anticipated floods) and smaller (to be cost-effective during the anticipated droughts).

Mosul Dam’s predicament is partly a result of the ongoing war; many maintenance workers have not returned there since August of 2014, when ISIS fighters briefly took control. (Iraqi and Kurdish forces soon regained it.) But the main issue is that, like many such dams, the project shouldn’t exist in the first place. Opened in 1986, it was built on unstable gypsum bedrock, requiring grout to be constantly injected into the foundation to prevent the dam’s collapse. That work has ceased. In 2006, long before ISIS began making headlines, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called Mosul Dam “the most dangerous dam in the world.”

Kariba’s difficulties are more complicated. It has been nearly incapacitated by ongoing drought, which has lowered the reservoir’s volume to twelve per cent of its usual capacity. But if the reservoir is refilled, the dam faces the possibility of collapse. It was built in the late nineteen-fifties, and in the years since water flowing through the dam’s six floodgates has carved a three-hundred-foot-deep pit, or plunge pool, at its base. The plunge pool extends to within a hundred and thirty feet of the dam’s foundation; if it reaches the foundation, the dam will collapse. That seems hard to imagine now, with the reservoir at a record-low level. But the Zambezi River Basin, on which the dam sits, is the most susceptible of Africa’s thirteen basins to exceptional droughts and floods, and climate change is intensifying both.

Kariba’s collapse, like Mosul’s, would constitute an epochal event in the history of energy development—the dam industry’s Chernobyl. The ensuing torrent would be four times bigger than the Zambezi’s biggest recorded flood, in 1958, and would release enough water to knock over another major dam three hundred miles downstream, in Mozambique. At least three million people live in the flood’s path; most would die or lose their crops or possessions. About forty per cent of the electricity-generating capacity of twelve southern African nations would be eliminated.

The dam, four hundred and twenty feet tall and nearly two thousand feet wide, was built with financing from the World Bank to provide power for the copper mines of what was then Northern Rhodesia. The designers intended to make the dam impervious to a one-in-ten-thousand-year flood, but their calculations were based on only three decades of Zambezi flow data—a period too short to permit credible forecasting. This flaw became apparent in 1957, when the site, still under construction, was hit with a flood bigger than the designers’ worst-case projection. The planners hurriedly enlarged the spillway, but in 1958 the project was hit by another flood, twice as big as the previous one, so the spillway was expanded again. More recent projections, cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicate that the Zambezi River Basin will experience still drier and more prolonged droughts and even bigger floods in years to come.

Since the nineteen-nineties, Kariba’s operators have been allowed to open only three of the dam’s six floodgates at a time, for fear of enlarging the plunge pool. If the reservoir fills to a dangerous level, the operators face two options: allow water to flow over the top of the dam and tumble down its face, threatening the foundation, or, more likely, open more than three floodgates, causing the plunge pool to expand. To head off a catastrophe, the World Bank and other international lenders agreed in November of 2014 to provide a loan of nearly three hundred million dollars to repair it, stating that the project requires “immediate attention.”

But “immediate” means decades, not years. “It takes a long time to carry out the necessary due diligence and secure the financing for a complex project like this,” Munyaradzi Munodawafa, the chief executive of the Zambezi River Authority, which operates Kariba, told me in an e-mail. “We’re looking at a fifteen- to twenty-year process, in which we are five years under way.” To repair the dam, workers will enlarge the plunge pool downstream, to reduce erosion near the foundation. But it’s not certain to work, and major flooding could occur before the repairs are completed.

The World Bank and other international financiers like dams because they seem to offer large-scale solutions to energy and water shortages. Kariba is just one of more than two thousand large dams in Africa; Zimbabwe, one of the world’s poorest nations, has at least two hundred and fifty-four. But maintaining a dam is expensive—and much less popular than building one. Even in affluent countries such as the United States—whose dam infrastructure is in sufficient disrepair to have earned a “D” rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 2013—maintenance is often neglected; it’s not likely to fare better in impoverished, corruption-ridden countries such as Zimbabwe or Iraq. Dams can’t be drained, and dismantling them can be as costly as building them. It’s the trap of Industrial Age technology: once mechanized systems supplant natural ones, they must be managed in perpetuity, or else they break down.

source: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/one-of-africas-biggest-dams-is-falling-apart

 15 
 on: February 04 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Zimbabwe ECM Media BriefLusaka, 20 January 2016: Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) views the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruling outlawing the marriage of children below the age of 18 years as a progressive step towards liberating children from rampant abuses caused by early marriage.

On Wednesday 20 January 2016, the Constitutional Court struck off Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which allowed marriage of children below the age of 18. The court ruled that this provision was inconsistent with section 78(1) of the country’s Constitution which sets 18 years as the minimum age of marriage in Zimbabwe.

PSAf views this ruling as a springboard to ending gender based violence, child abuse and other human rights violations associated with child marriage. We are pleased that this ruling provides a basis for the protection of children from early marriage and its associated vices. We now call on the authorities to ensure that this ruling is observed by all stakeholders, including religious and customary leaders. It is our hope as PSAf that other Southern African countries will follow suit in outlawing this barbaric practice.

In 2014 and 2015, PSAf implemented a project on Ending Child Marriage in the Southern Africa. Under that project, we developed media briefs on Ending Child Marriages in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Copies of these media briefs are available on our website www.panos.org.zm.  The project raised awareness on the drivers of child marriage in southern Africa, prompting and stimulating discussions and dialogue to influence policy changes and legal reforms against child marriage.

During the situation analysis for the media brief for Zimbabwe, the inconsistency in the provision of the Constitution and the Marriage Act was identified as one of the factors limiting efforts to end child marriage. While the constitution clearly defined a child as someone below the age of 18, the Marriage Act set 16 years as the minimum age of marriage. We are pleased that the Constitutional Court has corrected this anomaly and struck of Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act.  This is indeed a positive step towards ensuring development of the marginalised.

Child marriage is a violation of children’s rights and adversely affects the development of the child. PSAf reiterates that child marriage undermines all the fundamental rights of the children who are forced into it, whatever the circumstances.

ENDS//

Issued by: Lilian Kiefer, Executive Director, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)

Tel: +260978778148/9, Email: general@panos.org.zm

read also: http://www.herald.co.zw/breaking-news-concourt-outlaws-child-marriages/

 16 
 on: February 04 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
By Elias Banda, PSAf Regional Media Development and ICTs Programme Manager

PREDICTIONS for the year 2016 are that Southern Africa will experience significant changes in weather patterns, due to the El Nino phenomenon, leading to delayed and decreased rainfall which will reduce farm yields and households food security in the region. Chronic malnutrition is therefore expected in many southern African countries, including Zambia.

With such extreme weather patterns unfolding, it is important that citizens, especially the vulnerable rural poor and marginalised know on time what effects this weather pattern will have on them and their livelihoods.

ReliefWeb, a specialized digital service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), says more than 29 million people are expected to have inadequate household food in southern Africa due to this El Nino effect. There are also fears that the negative weather effects will deepen and increase in scope with its effects lasting until 2017.

Other studies by Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) and its partners show that the poor and marginalised need access to practical information on how they can identify and respond to these challenges presented by the El Nino, and how they can alleviate poverty.

Fortunately this information on the negative effects of the El Nino phenomenon on farming and food security exists. The government and its agents have been collecting solutions on how farming communities can protect their crops and produce from the negative effects of El Nino or any kind of drought. What we need are provisions to make this information easily accessible to citizens.

This wealth of vital information on the extent of the damage to be caused by this weather pattern and what climate adaptation remedial action is to be taken needs to be shared or made available to these affected agricultural communities or those that need it can mean life or death for these vulnerable groups.

Farmer groups, including poor women and youths in rural communities will be looking to have access to life saving information on the available drought resistant crops, available cheaper sources of early maturing seeds, expected rain fall period among others so they can adequately plan with precision their agricultural season.

“Access to information held by government or public bodies is the notion that the public can obtain information in the possession of the state for the purpose of being informed about the activities of the state,” says the Parliamentary Strengthening Organisation.

Access to information presupposes that this information is held on their behalf or for them by the government agents or public bodies. It supplements their right to information or their freedom of expression.

Access to information is necessary for promoting transparency and accountability in the administration of public resources. It also facilitates the active and informed participation of citizens, especially the poor and marginalized, in the affairs of their community and nation.

Having an access to information law enables government bodies to be transparent to the taxpayers in the management of government resources while keeping ordinary citizens informed of their government’s plans and actions.

This high level of awareness in the affairs of their nation improves the level of engagement by citizens among themselves and with their government thereby resulting in policies and laws designed with the input and participation of every interested citizen and stakeholder in the matter. This law also compels public institutions to make available research data and findings on numerous issues of national importance to researchers and scholars to use in their quest for a better society. This reduces problem solving time and helps save hard earned tax payers’ resources. It also improves the country’s research and development (R&D) technological efforts.

Without Access to Information legislation, citizens struggle in the dark and fail to take advantage of the existing collective wealth of knowledge readily available within government circles. Researchers repeat the same research not knowing that government researchers already found the answer!

Sadly for Zambia, Access to Information legislation has been elusive since the country attained independence in 1964. It is encouraging Zambia’s efforts to come up with this Access to Information law have intensely continued.

It is for this reason that on 14th January 2016, a PSAf team appeared before the National Assembly of Zambia Select Committee on Information and Broadcasting Services to plead a case for the poor and marginalised communities to have this favourable piece of legislation in place so vital and life-saving information which is currently gathering dust on many shelves of public institution offices can be access and fully utilized.

Further, PSAf believes that access to information helps fight corruption as the veil of secrecy and dark corner meetings are removed. Access to information also has a tendency to improve service provision in societies where it is found by creating a competitive frenzy among public bodies in trying to out-do each other in quality service provisions. In fact most of the countries with access to information legislation have strong institutions of governance and strong economies.

The author is PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email: elias@panos.org.zm. This article was first published in the Zambia Daily Mail.
source: http://www.panos.org.zm/?p=3270

 17 
 on: January 24 2016 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Posting by Dominic Muntanga / BINGA 2020 - https://www.facebook.com/groups/150749638410566/?fref=nf

I am personally very disheartened by the news that most Tonga temporary teachers in Binga are now out of the teaching because of Government policy to improve teaching quality by requiring qualified teachers to teach. While I support Government's stance to improve the quality of teaching in all of Zimbabwe, Binga included, I believe this policy has a disproportionately negative impact on the teaching and learning of Tonga in schools. Here is what I propose we do as a community: 1. Get a list of all of the affected temporary teachers (Name, Surname, Date of Birth, O' Level Qualification, A' Level Qualification, School where you last taught, What grade you taught, Career Aspiration.) 2. Use this information to do the following: 1. Get government to facilitate the train these teachers so that they can also improve their qualifications. 3. Find NGOs and other partners to help us create a scholarship fund for these young people to go into teachers colleges. This is not only about the education of our children, it is about our identity as a people. All of that said, the temporary teachers MUST also be willing to develop themselves professionally. Some of them have been in the system for 10-20 years and in that time, they have not thought about advancing themselves. Change and Development begins with you!

Send the information to binga2020@gmail.com

 18 
 on: December 28 2015 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
By Bregtje van der Haak on August 7, 2015

Achille Mbembe discusses the history and horizon of digital communication and identity in the African continent with Bregtje van der Haak. Mbembe suggests that what some regard as the explosion of the Internet is really just the continuation of the age old cultures in the new age of the Afropolitan.

read more / source: http://thisisafrica.me/the-internet-is-afropolitan/?fb_action_ids=975574642488392&fb_action_types=og.likes

This interview has first been published in the Chimurenga Chronic (May 2015 edition).
http://chimurengachronic.co.za/

 19 
 on: December 16 2015 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
Network Contact: Counterpart International, September 15, 2015

Author: Tina Yesayan, Publication Date: January 1, 2014

This guide offers an overview of best practices in using social media for advocacy and is intended as a reference for civil society organisations (CSOs) to integrate and use technology to promote democracy, human rights, and governance, as well as utilise social media to support greater citizen participation and transparent political processes. Realising the ever-changing landscape of social media, the guide was designed to avoid specifics and rather offers organisations ideas on how to approach social media as a whole and how to reach their intended programmatic goals using the medium. Created by the Civil Society and Media Team at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), "the guide is intended as a local capacity building tool to strengthen the ability of entire organizations, their staff and members to deliver greater impact."

The guide offers the following:

    An overview of the major global platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus; with tips on how NGOs can best use these platforms to reach their advocacy goals.
    A section highlighting social platforms that are popular regionally where USAID has missions.
    An introduction on how to use analytics to measure the impact of social media in programming, plus an overview of what key performance indicators to analyse.
    Close to 90 terms, and in the Flipbook version of the guide, users can link back and forth from the term to the page it is referenced on.
    A comprehensive list of online tools and resources which can help NGOs effectively use social media and stay engaged with the social good community around the world.
    Six case studies at the back of the guide highlight different tools used by NGOs to achieve a particular goal. The case studies are also referenced throughout the guide, when applicable.
    Highlighted sections and links which feature helpful tips and tools for users seeking even more information about a certain topic.

The guide also includes interactive features such as links to multimedia content, websites, and workouts to help civil society organisations engage and share information.

source: http://www.comminit.com/africa/content/global-social-networking-guide-strengthening-civil-society-through-social-media?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=SoulBeat259&utm_content=global-social-networking-guide-strengthening-civil-society-through-social-media

 20 
 on: November 05 2015 
Started by Peter Kuthan / AZFA - Last post by Peter Kuthan / AZFA
By Ignatius Banda

BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE, Nov 3 2015 (IPS) - Zimbabwe’s planned Batoka Gorge power project on the Zambezi River is expected to generate 2,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity, upward from an initial 1,600 MW, but the worsening power cuts that are being blamed on low water levels have renewed concerns about the effects of climate change on mega dams.

In the past two months, the country’s energy utility has increased power rationing, with rolling power blackouts being experienced for up to 20 hours across the country per day.

Zimbabwe has for years relied on hydroelectricity, and is one of a number of African countries that are banking on hydropower to spur economic growth, with multibillion dollar dams expected to generate thousands of megawatts.

While there is no timetable of when construction of the 3 billion dollar Batoka Gorge Dam will commence and whose eventual economic dividend will only be realised after a decade of construction, it will add much needed energy in Zimbabwe where power generation stands at around 1,600 MW against a national demand of 2,200 MW.

Officials say on completion of the Batoka hydropower plant, the country will be a power exporter.

However, the long running power crisis has stalled economic expansion and has in fact forced the closure of major companies, the latest being Sable Chemicals, which was this month switched off the national grid in what energy minister Samuel Udenge said was part of short-term strategy to avail energy to other sectors.

But the switch-off forced the country’s sole fertiliser plant to shut down operation and left more than 500 employees jobless, company officials say.

The company owes the power utility 150 million dollars.

According to Minister Undenge, 80 per cent of Zimbabwe does not have access to electricity, and the Batoka Gorge hydropower plant, a joint project with Zambia that will draw water from the Zambezi, a transboundary water body shared by eight countries, is expected to boost power production and bring electricity to remote rural areas.

Early this month, Minister Undenge told parliament that the Zambezi River catchment area was affected by rainfall the patterns of other countries.

“Water is still flowing into the Zambezi River from the north, but we are drawing more water than what is flowing in, hence the continued decline in the water level,” Undende said, explaining the reduced power production.

It is these concerns about low water levels that have experts worried, with questions being raised about whether mega dams are viable investments in the long term, citing climate uncertainty and concerns about reduced run-off that would affect dam water levels and ultimately reduce power generation.

In fact, the worsening power crisis in both Zimbabwe and Zambia is being blamed on low water levels at the Zambezi river.

Researchers at International Rivers, an organisation that looks at the state of the world’s rivers and how local communities can benefit from them, warn that the big dam projects could be rendered useless in the long term because of climate change and reduced run-off.

They favour smaller dams for localised power generation, but smaller dams also cost money which Zimbabwe does not have.

Last year, the climate ministry announced that the country will be constructing more dams to cushion the county against climate uncertainty, at the same time advising heavy industrial electricity consumers to construct their own power generating plants.

In the absence of these private power generators, the Batoka Gorge Dam is being touted as the ultimate solution to the longstanding energy deficit despite warnings that the project could present its own problems as it does not address climate-related future realities.

Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, says the Zambezi river basin, the location of the Batoka Gorge Dam, has one of the most variable climates in the world which will increase the dam’s hydrological risks.

“The (UN’s) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the river (Zambezi) may suffer the worst potential climate impact among eleven major African river basins,” Bosshard told IPS.

“Multiple studies have estimated that streamflow in the Zambezi will decrease by 26 to 40 per cent by 2050,” he said, adding that “in spite of these serious predictions, the proposed Batoka Gorge Dam has not been evaluated for the risks of climate change.”

But Hodson Makurira, a senior hydrologist at the University of Zimbabwe does not agree.

“That would be an oversimplification of a complicated and highly uncertain projection of future events,” he told IPS.

“The same climate change predictions are forecasting an increase in extreme events, droughts and floods. You would (then) want to capture as much flood water as possible through increased storage. That would cushion you against periods of low flows,” Makurira said.

“Nobody knows the exact magnitude of reduction in flows due to climate change so it may still make economic sense to build dams,” he told IPS.

Bosshard said the dam project’s feasibility study dates from 1993, “and climate change considerations have not been integrated.”

“The project is based on historical streamflow data, which do reflect future realities. Investors, financiers and tax payers should be aware that the studies for this multi-billion dollar project seriously over-estimate its economic viability,” Bosshard said.

But for Minister Undenge, who is increasingly under pressure to solve Zimbabwe’s energy crisis, neither financing nor climate change will stop this ambitious mega dam.

source: http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/zimbabwes-mega-dam-project-could-flounder-in-the-face-of-climate-change/

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