Zambia comes up with a solution to hydro-power problems

Zambian energy minister Matthew Nkhuwa.

Zambia, burdened by growing government debt and a crippling drought, believes it has come up with a solution for its hydro-power problems – they want to dig a canal that will siphon water from the Congo River to the town of Mwinilunga.

But the source of the Zambezi in the north-western Zambian village is higher than the Congo River and assailing such elevation issues will require exorbitantly expensive engineering.

When an associate at the University of Stellenbosch’s Institute for Futures Research, Arthur Chapman, was approached for comment about the idea, he summed it up in a word – “unfeasible!”

Zambian energy minister Matthew Nkhuwa, however, clearly believes in the power of possibility - so much so that he has eschewed initial cost calculations for the sake of dreaming that Africa’s second-longest river, situated in the DRC almost 100 kilometres away from Mwinilunga, can be used to push Zambezi levels higher.

That river at the moment is running extremely low, 22% from 84% a year ago, and hydro-power facilities at the world’s largest man-made reservoir, the Kariba dam, may have to be switched off if the level keeps dropping.

Such a move will plunge Zambia and northern parts of Zimbabwe into darkness, but although the government in Lusaka can ill afford yet more international borrowing for ill-fated projects, Nkhuwa believes that the Zambezi has a lifeline in the Congo.

“If we can just dig canals and get the water from there, with permission from the head of state of Congo, it will benefit both Zambia and it will also benefit Zimbabwe,” he said.

Chapman though insists that it’s “absolutely not feasible. I have no idea what the relevant minister could be thinking”.

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