KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – As power generation at the Jinja-based Owen Falls and Kiira power stations again reduced to less than 140 MW, compared to an installed capacity of well over 300 MW, power shortages once more grip the country.

The outflow of water in Jinja was reduced to comply with long term agreed (or should one say dictated) average water release rates, as is required under the present Nile Treaty. Egypt and the Sudan have a major say on this matter, as the East African countries are bound by the colonial treaties of 1929 and 1959 regarding the use of the Nile waters up to the original contributory rivers and lakes.

At the same time, diesel shortages and sharp price increases after the Kenya crisis took their toll, causing the reduction of thermal power output. Government, too, is struggling to find the funds for further subsidies of diesel used in thermal power stations and heavy duty industrial generators in view of the cost having risen beyond expectations.

Equipment for the new heavy fuel oil plants presently under construction was also delayed at the Mombassa port and in transit, as the roads at the time were not safe enough and the companies feared for the equipment, mostly transported on very slow moving extra wide low-loaders, to be vandalized or destroyed.

Hotel operators have already started complaining strongly again over having to use expensive in house generators, while the glut of hotel rooms in Kampala does not allow passing the extra cost on to their customers. The power transmission and distribution companies have gone back to the pre-CHOGM 12 hour load shedding schedules – speak power cuts – and the well known blame game is in full swing again.

Meanwhile, consumers, small scale industries and big industries again have to tighten their belts as they either have to sit in darkness and halt production or else use expensive generators to stay in business.

Charcoal has in the meantime become scarce and prices for the commodity have also shot up, proving the often vented opinion in this column right that lack of affordable electricity is accelerating deforestation across the country and leading to environmental degradation. Usage of charcoal and wood fuel has over the past two years increased many-fold, especially in the city and urban areas, following years of gradual decline, when electricity prices began to climb.

This happened when thermal energy production was injected to make up for the loss of hydro power generation in Jinja at the beginning of 2006 and once electricity prices had doubled and then some, much of the population began to return to wood based fuels for their kitchens and other domestic uses. Unless therefore hydro generated power and renewable sources of energy are once again taking the forefront, the assault on Uganda’s forests is bound to continue and an environmental disaster for coming generations all but assured.