Malawi is foregoing a potential 1009 megawatts (MW) of hydro-electricity for not harnessing water from running rivers, a Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development official has indicated.
In a response to an inquiry on the volume of water the country is losing for failing to develop water harvesting infrastructure, the ministry’s director of water resources Prince Mleta said Malawi can generate up to 1 009MW of electricity, triple the current total installed generation capacity, on six rivers with the right infrastructure.
He said studies have shown that the Lower Songwe River Dam in Karonga has the potential to generate 180MW, Mpatamanga and Kholombidzo dams, both on the Shire River, 308MW and 219MW, respectively.
Mleta said the studies also show that lower Fufu on South Rukuru River in Rumphi would generate 261MW while Mbongozi Dam on Bua River has the potential to produce 41MW of hydro electricity.
Currently, the country’s installed hydro-electricity generation capacity is 350MW against a demand of about 351MW.
In an e-mailed response, Mleta said: “It is highly envisaged that the development of large multipurpose dams can boost the country’s economy by enhancing tourism, agriculture [food production] and hydro-power development, preserve and protect the environment from degradation and help increase water supply coverage for the rural and urban areas.
“The dams can also promote income generating activities in the project areas, thereby alleviating poverty which is the country’s national policy objective.”
In early March this year, Malawi received incessant rains that resulted in flooding of several rivers, displacing about 200 000 families and killing 56 people. The impact of the natural disaster, largely attributed to tropical cyclone Idai, also affected Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
On Saturday, our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation, quoted some energy experts as having warned that power generation challenges that resulted in prolonged hours of rationing could return to haunt the country once the dry season sets in.
While some of Malawi’s neighbours are making strides in harvesting rainwater for various purposes, Malawi Institution of Engineers (MIE) president Wilson Chirwa said failure by the country to utilise its potential puts the nation in a tight spot.
He said: “We are losing improved groundwater levels. We are
losing water that could have been stored to help us in electricity generation. Some of the infrastructure that can be part of that is road infrastructure. Percolation pits can be positioned at the end of road drains.”
The African Review in 2016 reported that with a $50 million loan from the World Bank, Zambia invested in a project to construct 15 dams and 300 exploratory boreholes to harvest water.
According to www.undp.org similar initiatives had been implemented in Tanzania where the UNDP was supporting initiatives to construct dams especially in the dry region of Kilimanjaro.
The website www.brandsouthafrica.com also reported about a breakthrough by Mozambican engineers in a bid to harvest water to deal with effects of drought in the neighbouring country.
While not much has been done in the country in terms of water harvesting, the 2017 National Water Resources Master Plan confirms the availability of a number of potential large multipurpose dam sites along major rivers. The plan mentions Shire, Ruo, Bua, Linthipe, Diamphwe, South Rukuru, North Rukuru, Dwangwa, Mzimba, Kasangazi and Songwe rivers.
Head of Agricultural Engineering Department at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), Grivin Chipula, said Malawi needs large-scale water harvesting infrastructure to keep pace with its neighbours.
He said the country requires several dams of the stature of Mulunguzi Dam which was constructed on Zomba Mountain. The project started in June 1997 and the dam started operating in 2001 with a storage volume of 3.4 million cubic metres. n