Thursday, May 18, 2006

Energy: As regional dams run dry, lights go off in Togo

Seasonal rains are flooding the streets of the Togo capital Lome but low water levels at hydro-electric dams across West Africa mean that residents are increasingly without power.

Togolese businesses are grinding to a halt in the middle of the working day as the electricity cuts out and students are taking their books out under the street lights or are studying by candlelight ahead of end of year exams.

Lome is feeling the first effects of a regional squeeze on electricity resources that will extend to Cote d'Ivoire, Benin, Ghana and Togo.

"In two to three years all of these countries will be having similar power problems," said Theodule Zanou, head of communications for Togo's electricity provider Togo Energy and Electricity Company (CEET). "And here in Togo, it’s just going to get worse."

Togo needs 90 megawatts of power to meet national demand, but the country is only getting 51.5 megawatts, or just over 40 percent of the electricity needed as water levels run low in dams across the region, explained Zanou.

Much of Togo's power comes from large hydro-electric dams in neighbouring Ghana and nearby Cote d'Ivoire. But at Akosombo in Ghana, water levels have dropped so low that it would take three years of rain – and no consumption of water – to get the levels of the world's largest manmade lake back to normal, said Zanou.

As thirst for electricity increases across the region, more and more water is being forced over the turbines to meet demand and water levels at the dams are dropping further. As a result, Togo’s only hydroelectric dam at Nangbeto near the central town of Atakpame, is not producing any power at all.

Demand in Ghana, for example, has increased at 8 percent each over the last 10 years according to the World Bank. As a result power breaks, known locally as "lights off", have long been a regular problem.
Over the past month power-outs have left pockets of Lome without electricity for prolonged periods of the night or day, too. The electricity company is attempting to share out the power available.

"Due to these power shortages we are obliged to limit daily consumption until the dam situation is resolved," Zanou said.

One night it will be residents of one quarter of Lome who are without lights, fridges and fans to cut through the soaring humid heat, the next it will be the people across the street.

As the day and night temperature hovers around 30 degrees many residents have opted to sleep under the stars. "Me, I’ve been sleeping out on the terrace but the kids sleep inside with the door open," said Kokouda Shardey, who admitted that he didn't sleep too well as he worried all night about burglars sneaking into the house.

Lome residents can take heart that hospitals and essential services will be protected from the power outs, according to CEET, but it could be a long time before a sustainable solution to the shortages can be found.

Construction began in 2005 on a 700 km gas pipeline that will supply gas power to Benin, Ghana and Togo. The first consumers will benefit from the multi-million dollar project, which has been largely financed by the private sector but backed by the World Bank, before the end of 2006. But widespread use of the gas could take years.

Students cramming for end of year exams can't wait that long.

"Around here there are power cuts nearly every day," said economics student Dela Akakapo who lives in an area of Lome known as 'forever'.

"When the cuts come during the evening, I have to study by candlelight even though I know that it's bad for my eyes."

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies