Expat View – Power cuts and water rationing

Anyone travelling to (or planning to relocate to) Botswana needs to understand and appreciate the situation regarding water and electricity. Water in Botswana is scarce and the country relies on Mother Nature to fill the numerous dams across the country. The water situation was quite bad in 2015 and water rationing was implemented across most parts of the country. At its worst point, I experienced two weeks without running water in my taps, people in villages suffered longer periods.

Botswana does generate a small amount of electricity, but not enough to satisfy the demand and so relies on South Africa to provide the majority of the country’s electricity. Unfortunately, South Africa also struggles to satisfy its own demand and so has to exercise “load shedding”. As a result of power shortage in SA, supply to its customers is also affected and therefore Botswana also has to implement load shedding too. Load shedding is the practice of cutting power supply in order to save what power is available and/or to avoid excessive load on the generating plant.

Although it’s highly frustrating and inconvenient, it is what it is and part of life in Botswana. What I find frustrating (and makes matters worse) is the lack of communication and planning, specifically by Botswana Power Corporation (BPC). It doesn’t matter what time or day it is, you can be watching the television, working on your computer, cooking an evening meal and suddenly the power is switched off. You can be doing literally anything and without warning you are suddenly plunged into darkness.

I fully understand and accept the need for power cuts, but I do not understand the absence of logic by not communicating with their customers during times of extreme measures – SMS messages, email, even setting up automated messaging when people call hotlines. Admittedly most of the utility providers have a social media presence, but notifications don’t always cover your area and any queries are left unaddressed.

Taking aside the inconvenience, the practice of cutting power without warning is reckless and dangerous. I dread to think of how many accidents occur in those initial moments when the power is cut. I imagine repeated switch offs can also be detrimental to electrical appliances, not forgetting wasteful as food can spoil or frozen foods defrost. Another issue with random and indefinite periods of power loss is compromised security. Most properties use electric fences as a means of security, which are rendered useless during prolonged periods of load shedding.

In terms of water rationing there is always a plan B, albeit short-term as reserve water can only last so long. You can stockpile water in bottles and various other containers. Most people these days invest in jojo tanks, which (depending on the size) can hold enough water for anywhere between a few days to a week, depending on how economical you are with the water. The only plan B for no power is a backup generator of some sort, but a generator large enough to power your entire house is very expensive.

Water rationing has only occurred once in the few years I’ve been here. You can predict the need for water rationing by observing the amount of rainfall during the wet season. Load shedding is consistent and occurs randomly throughout the year, but mainly in the summer and I’m not sure why. Power cuts become worse over the wet season as rain in Botswana comes with thunder and lightning, which strikes the electrical lines and power is lost until the problem is fixed. Power lines in Botswana are not buried underground, they are above ground like telephone wires and therefore exposed to the elements.

In my opinion it would make sense to condition people and promote the benefits of being energy conscious. This could include importing and promoting energy efficient appliances. Far too often you see houses with lights left on, people who visit me can use the bathroom and leave the light on when they’ve finished. It’s these habits that need to stop, every little helps. I would make load shedding a regular practice and create a countrywide schedule. Losing power on a specified day for an hour or two every week is better than losing power on any day for anything between four hours to an entire day.

A regular planned schedule is easier to prepare for and less of an inconvenience. At the moment you’re almost living in fear because the power can go at anytime.

11 months ago