Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Zimbabwe raises electricity rates as outages continue

RAMPANT INFLATION The Harare city council also increased charges for most services, from rentals to garbage collection, by 30 percent to 300 percent

AP , HARARE

A Zimbabwean woman chips away at a tree stump in a forest area of Beatrice on the southern outskirts of Harare on May 30. Most Zimbabwean urban dwellers are turning to using firewood for cooking and warming their homes because of the frequent power cuts.

PHOTO: AFP

As Zimbabwe suffered a third day of chronic electricity outages on Tuesday, the state power utility increased its consumer charges by 50 percent.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority said in a statement the charges will be reviewed every month and adjusted upward in line with the nation's rampant inflation -- 3,714 percent, the highest in the world -- in the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980 that has led to acute shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods.

The Harare city council also increased its charges on Tuesday for virtually all its services from rentals to garbage collection by between 30 percent and 300 percent.

The independent Consumer Council estimates an average family of five needs about 2 million Zimbabwe dollars (US$130) a month to live modestly and not be classified as living in poverty.

Average incomes are less than half that amount and a varying scale of new household charges added to the burden of homeowners struggling to pay routine costs, including monthly power tariffs for a small house or apartment starting at about US$10 and rising with usage.

Businesses and long-suffering householders across the country -- already plagued by pothole-ridden residential streets, broken traffic signals and most street lighting out of action -- have faced repeated power outages of up to 14 hours since Saturday.

The power utility blamed the latest blackouts on a breakdown at the western Hwange coal mine that stopped coal deliveries to its main generating station nearby.

Three other smaller coal-fired power stations have been shut down for more than a year by breakdowns and shortages of spare parts and replacement equipment.

Zimbabwe imports up to 40 percent of its electricity from the region but is facing an acute shortage of cash to pay for imports.

Regular power cuts of a few hours known as "load shedding" and water outages occur daily, creating a boom in sales of generators and inverters, a power storage device using a rechargeable battery that runs computers, lamps and a television, and water storage tanks and pumps.

But the cheapest alternatives cost around the equivalent of US$1,000 to install.

Earlier this year, authorities in the city of Bulawayo asked householders without power who were cooking on wood fires in the garden or indoor hearth to stop scouring their pots with sand and soil, as is traditionally done, as this was leading to blocked drains.

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