By Eden Habtamu, Ezega News
Addis Ababa, July 13, 2009 (Ezega.com) -- In Ethiopia, the rainy season starts sometime in June. This year, Ethiopian cities are starting the season dark and cold. Many people are spending their after work times at various places: cafeterias, bars, restaurants, cinema halls, religious centers, and so on. They don’t have power in their homes to do whatever they used to do.
Even worse, people are spending their daytimes idle – unless they have generators to work on, or they are lucky to be on day’s ration. Many large-scale industries were forced to stop operating by order from Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) because they consumed large amount of electric power, which the EEPCo cannot afford. Many of them indicate that they are heading straight into bankruptcy which may lead into layoffs of thousands of employees.
Small-scale factories and businesses are facing a very challenging time as well. Due to the power shortage, many have cut their payroll. Some pay their employees according to the days and times their employees work, which can be about 50% of their normal salary or less. Elias Garment is among those terribly affected private companies that pay its employees according to power availability and times worked.
There are companies that gave their employee a forced leave as well. This may lead into unpaid leave if the scenario continues this way.
People are immensely affected by the power shedding which is supposed to be at 50% blackout nationwide. This is extremely bad in itself. However, in reality, the real power outage is greater than 50% – a real scandal by any measure.
Bekele Tekelu works at a barber shop. He earns 300 birr per month. Due to the power rationing, the shop could not even pay the increasing house rent because the shop income decreased by more than 50%. Bekele believes he is still employed because the shop belongs to his uncle. Bekele supports his two sisters and himself with his 300 birr salary, but now he is afraid that, if the power cut continues, he may lose his job very soon.
A well-known construction and consulting company co-owner expressed his dismay this way: “I cannot even start and comment on it. It is so clear we cannot perform according to plan. The construction sector is already burdened with various problems from different directions. On the top of that, we don’t have power that can meet our minimum needs. We may use generator as an alternative power for those areas that demand small amount of electric power, but for the rest, we cannot sustain the cost of fuel. We cannot work without cement, but how can we afford to buy 400 Br per quintal? If the power shortage continues this way, I am afraid we will have to cut our human resources as we are going into bankruptcy ourselves.”
Ezega.com tried to reach officials from the public sector and the EEPCo. One person we reached was Tadele Yimer, President of Employers Federation. Tadele said, “We did not hear much of layoffs related to power cut since March 2009. However, the power shortage is terribly affecting various industries and the service sector. As a result, the country will lose enormous amount of income which could have been obtained from taxes.”
Kassahun Follo, President of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, told Ezega.com, “We do not have much information about employee layoffs so far. We heard that Nas Foods Plc did layoff temporary workers. We really hope the dams will be filled with sufficient water soon and the power shedding adjusted for the better.”
Ezega.com reached EEPCo public relation officer, Ato Misker Negash, through the phone. Here follows excerpts from that interview:
Ezega.com: EEPCo told the mass media that it knew of the power demand and supply incompatibility. Did you inform the public?
EEPCO:First we should be aware of the cause of the problem, which is the power supply and demand gap. These days electric power is more than a basic consumption – it has social, economic and political implications. Due to the rapid growth of the economy, our consumption increased highly. In addition to this growth, the adverse effect of climate also contributed its part. The increased temperature of the climate that causes evaporation of the water is also a global phenomenon that played a role for the current power shortage.
We brought a generator with a 60 MW capacity that cost EEPCo $20,000/month for rent and another four million ETB/day for fuel to run the generator. Along with the generator, we brought 4.6 million bulbs with a cost of 45 million birr which we assumed will save 87MW. EEPCo expected demand to increase by 21% in 2001E.C. In reality, it grew by 24%. This was not what we expected.
Ezega.com: In addition to these measures, have you informed the public that they could face power shortage, so they can look for alternatives? Was it not your responsibility to warn the public and especially the various industries, which may touch on peoples’ lives directly and indirectly?
EEPCo: I am afraid I cannot say we provided sufficient information for our clients adequately. But we tried to inform them in different sessions. I can’t say we provided enough information.
Ezega.com: If the power shortage continues this way companies may end up in bankruptcy and layoff their employees? What is the plan to avoid such chaos?
EEPCo: I believe we are currently fighting with nature. The rainfall appears to be promising so far. If it keeps on raining like it is right now, we are optimistic that the problem will be solved soon. Gilgel Gebi II hydro-power with a 420MW and Tekeze hydro-power with 300MW installed capacity are finalized with around 98% of their construction and expected to come to production late this year, or early in 2002 E.C. These are expected to meet the growing demand of electric power in the country.
Ezega.com: EEPCo announced the current power shedding months ago which should have expired by now. Many expect better power rationing, but power rationing nonetheless. What is your plan going forward, and when are you going to announce it to the public?
EEPCo: I am afraid that this is not something that we can talk about now. As I said earlier, if we get adequate rainfall, we will surely improve the supply and bring in Gilgel Gibe II and Tekeze projects to full operation to meet the growing demand. We don’t have tangible information on hand at the moment to predict what we will be capable of in the near future.
Ezega.com: Thank you for your time
In his recent address to parliament, Prime Minster Meles attributed the responsibility for the power rationing to “Poverty”. EEPCo assured the rationing will remain until July 7, 2009. However, there is no solid promise unless the rainfall meets expectations to fill the dams.
Although public representative say there is no significant layoff due to this years power rationing, employers are suffering from unplanned expenses and various losses. Many businesses are on the verge of cutting back employees. No one can seriously believe that such massive power failure will have no impact.
If what happened in Ethiopia this year were to happen in almost any country, the consequences would have been very severe indeed, with repercussions to those in positions of authority who allowed this to happen willy-nilly. Many heads would roll at the very minimum, but not in Ethiopia.
This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega. If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com.