Fatima Haffejee – Cii News | 14 Safar 1436/07 December 2014

Load shedding season isn’t anybody’s favourite time of year, even for the most passive of us. Our conversations are often riled with complaints of power outages to the point of blasphemy and ‘I can’t. No lights’ became an acceptable excuse for, well, just about anything really.

Blackouts (on a roll)

Rolling blackouts, which are an intentionally engineered power shutdowns where electricity delivery is stopped for periods of time over different parts of the region, are proving to be a common daily event in many developing countries where electricity generation capacity is underfunded or infrastructure is poorly managed.

But whilst South Africans deem this ill fate as evidence of a rapidly deteriorating public service, the corruption that presides in our country, and Nkandla (because for so many millions, how can it NOT be used it as a scapegoat), we can be rest assured of one thing, we aren’t worse off.

Yes, there is a brass, probably stolen, lining.

Rashida Ahmad Esat responded to our Facebook poll, ‘How often do your experience turbulent electricity supplies in your Country? by saying that power cuts were a given in Zimbabwe. For approximately nine hours every single day they are without lights and sadly, this has become much of a norm.

Zimbabwean energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire said the country must brace itself for power cuts until 2018, when most of the current power projects would be completed. China’s Import-export bank is providing Zimbabwe with a $1.17 Billion which would hopefully see the expansion of an additional two units to its thermal power station, providing a combined generation capacity of 600 megawatts (MW).

Nigerians however, seem to be worse off than most. Ibrahim Abba Gana responded saying that ‘it is more a question of how often are their lights?’ and it seems many Nigerians are in agreement with this. Sanusi Hammed Oyewumi jokes that they probably stand more of a chance at winning the jackpot than they do at having electricity. Whilst this may add hilarity to an ongoing plight, the seriousness of the situation remains to be addressed.

According to a data compilation released by the United Nations Development Programme, an estimated 79 percent of the people in the third world, the 50 poorest nations, have no access to electricity, despite decades of international development work. The total number of individuals without electric power, mainly in Africa and southern Asia, stands at about 1.5 billion, a quarter of the world’s population.

Pakistan too, is no stranger to power outages. M Rizwan Abbasi, a former resident of Pakistan, says that they experienced rolling blackouts on an almost hourly basis at some point in recent history. In the summer months many parts of the country are without electricity for 20 hours a day. In fact, the country’s electricity problems are so severe that violent riots sometimes take place in some regions, including Punjab the country’s most populated province.

Electricity shortage in India is a perpetual bane, adversely affecting the country’s potential for economic growth.  Rural areas, it seems, are more susceptible and the 44% of rural households who actually have access to electricity are immune to the lack thereof.

And in Occupied Gaza, years of Israeli siege and reccurent conflict has served to only exacerbate an already tenuous power situation.

Since 2012, electricity in the Gaza Strip has been operating according to a rotation system; it works for six hours in some areas and cuts off for another six hours to provide other areas with power. Among the factors that exacerbated the electricity crisis in Gaza are problems with the strip’s infrastructure, shortage of industrial fuel required to generate electricity, as well as technical issues with Gaza’s power plant. During the latest Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip – which lasted for 51 days and left 2,160 Palestinians dead – the strip’s sole power plant went offline after its main fuel tank was targeted by Israeli airstrikes. Even though the plant remains functional, it has stopped running due to Gaza’s chronic fuel shortage. The Gaza Strip requires 360 megawatts of electricity – of which only 200 megawatts are currently available – to meet the needs of its roughly 1.9 million residents.

So we know the problem, but now what?

Renewable energies such as wind, solar or biomass come in small units – solar cells or wind turbines.

According to theguardian.com some countries have already made significant progress in distributing renewable energy technologies. In Bangladesh, over 80,000 solar home systems are being installed monthly and there are already a total of over three million in use in rural, off-grid areas, benefiting over 20 million people. This has had a positive economic and social impact in the country. Since 1996, the renewable energy sector in Bangladesh has created jobs for over 150 000 people.

The light (or lack thereof) at the end of the tunnel

Having lived in Canada for the last 15 years, Shabir Mia says he has not once experienced a power outage, neither has England confirmed Muhammed Jada. And if you’ve ever needed reason to move to Saudi Arabia, Shanaaz Jogee says that they have never experienced a power cut. In fact, there are so many lights in usage that you can’t even see the stars.

Oh well, in that case, I’m not feeling so unlucky after all. I prefer stars over artificial lighting any day.