What: Dam providing energy to charcoal mine
Where: Rumphi Phoka, Malawi
After a night of camping in the wild, we make a cup of coffee alongside the track, enjoying the amazing views of the Malawi inland. A car drives past – the first car we see in two days time – and we meet Wolfgang, an Austrian from Klagenfurt. He passionately starts explaining to us what he has been working on the recent years.
Not far from our breakfast spot, there is a charcoal mine. This mine provides coal for the national energy plants, sugar factories, tobacco factories and beer breweries. There is only two mines like this in the whole of Malawi we are told.
Before 2011, up to 26.000 liters of diesel per month was used to supply the mine itself with energy. Using machinery from Germany and Switzerland – in top condition and well maintained over the years – a dam was build. This is the only one of its kind in the whole of Malawi. This dam now provides the whole mine of energy, saving many liters of diesel each month, educating local staff in the field of engineering, sustainability, maintenance and providing jobs.
We were impressed by the efficiency and sustainability of the dam and the way the mine seemed to be run. We don’t know much about mining and wondered about health issues that come with the job and social implications of having the workers stay in hostels at site, leaving family and wives in distant villages. This creates the opportunity for diseases – such as HIV – to spread more easily.
We ask Wolfgang about this and he explains there was an outbreak of Typhoid amongst the miners a couple of weeks ago. Within days, over 100 miners were infected. With hardly any health services in the area it seemed impossible to provide medication. Management took it up to government levels and within days all miners were on treatment. It is not easy but with persistence and commitment, a lot is possible.