Energy crisis takes toll on Zimbabwe church

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For up to 18 hours each day, there is no electricity in Zimbabwe, and for at least six of those hours, the country is plunged into total darkness. The daily power outages are taking a toll on The United Methodist Church and its related ministries, including hospitals and schools.

The energy crisis began in January 2019 and is affecting Zimbabwe and Zambia, which rely on power generation from Kariba Dam.

“(The dam) is said to be at 24 percent generation capacity,” said the Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira, administrative assistant to Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa. “The persistent drought situation has led to low water levels in the dam, hence limited power generation and supplies.”

Gurupira said the church is determined to explore other forms of energy, such as gas, fuel generators, firewood and solar systems, to enable uninterrupted service at its mission centers. However, most have limitations, ranging from scarcity to exorbitant prices to harmful effects on the environment.

Fuel prices have jumped by more than 500 percent this year, with four increases since June, according to Nehanda Radio, as the country’s economic crisis continues.

“The effects on operational levels of institutions has been disastrous, very stressful, very expensive and a threat to the environment,” said Dr. Emmanuel Ufonna Mefor, district medical superintendent for United Methodist Mutambara Mission Hospital.

Mefor said load shedding — the deliberate shutdown of electric power in the power-distribution system to prevent failure of the entire system — is a national problem affecting individuals and institutions.

“(At Mutambara Mission Hospital), we are in total darkness most of the time. We had equipped the hospital with a solar system, but four of the batteries’ life spans have expired and are no longer fully functioning, affecting the maternity and labor wards,” he said.

The hospital has large and small generators for critical areas.

“The small generator is used for the kangaroo (pediatric) unit and surgical operations. We have installed only one bulb to light both the maternity and the kangaroo wards.”

He said laboratory testing is no longer taking place because of the electricity shortage.

“The hospital has acquired a large generator that can supply the whole hospital (with power), but because of a lack of fuel and its high cost, we cannot operate it. Most nurses use their phones, candles or torches (flashlights), even when called for an emergency. This has become very difficult, especially when using a suction machine,” he said.

Many workers have adjusted their hours so that they can utilize the electricity when it’s made available. Mefor said the nurses who handle sterilization at the mission hospital have been taking turns coming to work at 10 or 10:30 p.m. when the electricity comes back on.

He said they have to stay awake until 2 or 3 a.m. to sterilize the equipment, then sleep for two hours before returning back to work.

The Rev. Simbisayi Mwaita, pastor in charge and chaplain for the Munyarari Circuit and Clinic, said the load shedding is causing multiple challenges.

“Maintenance for drug cold chains (temperature-controlled supply chains) has been interrupted and is posing serious risk to immunization programs,” Mwaita said.

“The (church) borehole has a submissive pump, which is power equipped with a storage tank. When electricity is available, the 5,000-liter storage tank will be filled up to supply adequate water to the community, high school, primary school and the clinic for 15 hours, if occasionally refilled. Because (there is only) one refill, the demand has surpassed the resources available,” he said.

Rosemary Nyarugwe, principal at Nyadire Teachers College, said the blackout is drastically disrupting the learning environment.

“Normally, we use interactive boards and projectors … Students no longer have the liberty to research as they used to do because the (Wi-Fi) network is now erratic,” Nyarugwe said.

“We are using firewood to prepare food for 1,000 students, which is not easy and has its effects on the environment,” she said.

Nyadire Teachers College student representative Charles Chimutemba said the electricity shortage not only affects studies but also students’ general welfare.

“Without electricity, most students will go to sleep early waiting for electricity and some will fail to wake up when (it) is available around 10 p.m.,” he said.

“Everything that needs electricity will be done during these (six) hours … be it ironing, research work, communication, use of laptops and other electrical gadgets.”

For some classes, such as information and communication technology, it’s impossible to learn without power, he said.

Godwin Mupuro, deputy headmaster for Hartzell High School, a United Methodist school at Old Mutare Mission, said the outages are taking their toll.

“The studies, administration duties, cold rooms, Wi-Fi, laboratories and water pumping systems have been negatively affected. Teachers cannot work after hours at home. We are trying to use a generator, but with the current fuel prices and shortages, it has become very difficult,” Mupuro said.

Most circuits also are facing challenges.

Harare East District superintendent the Rev. Oscar Nyasha Mukahanana said communication has been drastically affected.

“When electricity is not available, communication is cut off,” he said.

“Most circuits are feeling the pinch due to the high cost of running a service. They need to operate a generator for four to five hours to enhance public address systems and to use automated teller machines (ATMs) and it has become very expensive.

“For those without power backup systems, there is a decline in remittances because the ATMs, which are recharged by electricity, will not be working. Only a few will be able to pay their tithes, thanksgiving and offering. Sometimes, the network will be cumbersome and frustrating and members will become impatient.”

He said the shutdown also is a safety issue.

“All meetings are scheduled during the evening and members who are not driving can easily succumb to robberies because of the darkness in the streets. It has become very difficult and dangerous to move at night,” Mukahanana said.

The district head office has installed a solar system and other circuits are following suit. The Cranborne Circuit is channelling the 2019 harvest proceeds toward that, Mukahanana said.

The Rev. Elisha Marange, pastor in charge for the Prospect Circuit of the Harare East District, said his circuit does not have a generator or solar system.

“We know that the work of God does not have a full stop, hence the use of candles during evening meetings to continue the ministry. The situation we are in — as a church and Harare East District — we need to find a lasting solution.”

Chingwe is communications coordinator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.