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scrap metal

Hunger for Scrap Metal Derails the Services of Key Utility Firms

A wave of theft and destruction is sweeping across Kenya leaving key sectors of the economy in dire straits.

Energy, transport, communication, health and security, all key to the well-being of the nation, have been left at the mercy of a ruthless cabal of thieves, businessmen, politicians and security officers who will do anything to turn in other people’s metal into their own profit.

Particularly badly hit are the communications and the energy sectors.

Last week, the Kenya Power company released shocking figures of losses it has suffered as a result of vandalism. In April, for example, the company says it lost 196 transformers to vandals.

“These were either stolen or damaged,” said KP spokesman Migwi Theuri. “This affected over 150,000 customers.”

A rising demand for steel, copper and other metals has led to a flourishing but unregulated trade in scrap metal countrywide.

The demand is fed by small-scale dealers who are scouring the country for anything metallic.

In some places, a kilogramme of steel, bought for Sh40 in whatever form, could fetch up to Sh100 at smelting companies.

As a result, road barriers, bridge rails, railway lines, metal reflectors on road surfaces–– all are fair game.

The effects of these acts of vandalism are felt on a much larger scale than the more immediate gaping hole on a bridge.

Annuals losses

Data from power company indicates that in 2001, the firm lost an average of 92 transformers a month.

With each valued at Sh800,000, the resulting cost to the company in terms of repairs stood at Sh73 million every month.

Last year, annual losses came close to Sh300 million, a figure that will pale in comparison to this year’s loss.

“In April, we lost 196 transformers. That’s more than Sh156 million in one month,” said Mr Theuri. The actual loss associated with a lost transformer is, however, much greater.

He says losses associated with vandalism of transformers and conductors––which includes the cost of the transformer and conductors, loss of sales and cost of labour––are about Sh1 billion from July 2011 to April 2012.

“At this rate, we will hit the Sh1.2 billion mark in losses by the end of our financial year in June,” he said. A vandalised system will affect the customers directly fed by the said unit and all those connected to the main line.

“Once the transformer fails, our systems automatically register that as a fault and isolate the whole line.” The said main line might have hospitals connected to it.

“You can imagine what happens when power goes off when you are in theatre.

“Granted, the hospital may have a generator, but that single second lost when transmission shifts from the mains to the generator may be all that separates you from life and death,” said Consumer Federation of Kenya secretary-general Stephen Mutoro.

Trade in scrap metal, he said, now more than ever directly endangers lives. “We have no bridge rails in some of the most dangerous sections of our highways.

“Manholes in this rainy season are booby traps. In the rural areas, people are even stealing barbed wire fences,” says Mr Mutoro. “This is all because of weakened legislation from years past.”

Although Kenya Power operates as a monopoly, there are plenty of buyers for their infrastructure.

According to the company, copper wire found inside the transformers and transformer oil are the main items vandals seek.

The copper is sold to scrap metal dealers who in turn sell it to a cartel that exports it to countries such as China, India and several other Asian countries where there is a high demand for metal.

Transformer oil is sold to unscrupulous traders who package it as engine oil or brake fluid and pass it off to unsuspecting motorists.

“In 2009, police and our security personnel made a dawn raid on two godowns in Kariobangi North and found stolen transformer oil in drums being transferred into smaller containers bearing logos of two major international oil companies operating in the country for resale,” Mr Theuri said.


Credit: Daily Nation Africa