Too Much Debt, Too Little Water Worsens Zimbabwe Power Blackouts

Blackouts that left Zimbabweans without electricity for 18 hours a day for the past 10 days were exacerbated by the state utility’s struggle to repay debt and as low water levels in the world’s biggest man-made reservoir cut hydropower generation.

Zesa Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. owes Hidroelectric de Cahora Bassa SA about $80 million and is “battling to pay,” Julian Chinembiri, managing director of its Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Co. unit, said in an interview May 23.

Water levels in the Kariba reservoir shrank to 48 percent, from 70 percent at the same time last year, according to the Zambezi River Authority, with low rainfall in its Angolan and Zambian catchment areas.

Zimbabwe generates and imports 1,105 megawatts a day on average, seen rising to 1,244 megawatts in 2016 after upgrades to Kariba, Chinembiri said. Kariba is the biggest man-made reservoir by volume, according to the Paris-based International Commission on Large Dams.