Ethiopia rationing electricity as water levels in hydroelectric dams drop

Signal of change / Ethiopia rationing electricity as water levels in hydroelectric dams drop

By Jennifer Revell / 21 May 2019

A drop in water levels in Ethiopia's Gibe III dam has led to a deficit of 476 megawatts, or more than a third of the country’s electricity generation. As a result, the government has started rationing electricity for domestic and industrial consumers.

Additionally, it has suspended electricity exports to neighbouring Djibouti and Sudan, which earns Ethiopia $180m a year.

Domestic consumers will now face blackouts for several hours a day, while commercial industries will operate fewer shifts, with impacts for both domestic and export markets.


So what?

Ethiopia, formerly referred to as the Water Tower of Africa, due to its abundant natural freshwater resources, is facing increasing shortages due to a combination of climate change and over-utilisation

But it isn't the only country impacted here. Already, the construction of the Gibe III dam threatened the food security and local economies of more than half a million people in southwest Ethiopia and along the shores of Kenya's Lake Turkana, as well as restricting the flow of water through Sudan and into Egypt. Now, the restrictions of exports will further impact water availability in Djibouti and Sudan.

What risks does the region face, for health, nutrition, trade and security, if water shortages continue and worsen? 

For Ethiopia, the economic consequences that will occur from the ration could have significant consequences. Commercial industries that are integral to Ethiopia's economy such as cement and steel firms will slow production with fewer working hours, leading to a potential drop in revenue.

Additionally, the human problems that the country will face is a concern. Power outages cut supply of transport, food, internet and reduce quality of life. The damaging social consequences due to blackouts was seen in Venezuela in March 2019 in the form of mass social unrest. If Ethiopia’s electricity rations continue for a prolonged period, we could see the same effects there.

Can other countries that rely on hydropower expect blackouts? How else might climate impacts affect energy availability? 



What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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