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Zim’s economic crisis drives it back into steam age

Zimbabwe announced it was moving back into the steam age on Wednesday by recommissioning 10 coal-fired locomotives to cope with the country’s economic crisis. Further indications of shortages came from hospitals, which are turning away patients because they do not have basic medicines and surgical equipment. In the courts, state witnesses said they were too weak from hunger to testify.

The announcement that steam engines would be put back into service was made by Fanuel Masikati, a spokesperson for the state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe, which has been plagued by breakdowns and cancellations due to fuel shortages.
Masikati told the government-controlled Herald newspaper that Zimbabwe’s lack of foreign currency prevented the railway from importing fuel and spare parts for the diesel engines.

The country has abundant coal and basic components to keep the steam engines running. About Z$2-billion (R497 000) is needed to refurbish the steam engines. Coal-loading machines required to run a fleet of steam engines are being checked. Many water towers, needed to fill the locomotives’ boilers, are still intact along railway lines.

In another example of reverting to old technology, Zimbabwe has begun using ambulances pulled by cattle in rural areas because there is no fuel for motor vehicles. The country’s hospitals admitted on Wednesday that they could not test patients for HIV infection because of a lack of laboratory chemicals.

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