“Our clinic is now able to treat people at night and store medicines,’’ said William Chanakira, an official at Chipendeke Clinic in Mutare district, Manicaland Province.
“The biggest problem we used to face was with women who gave birth at night. They had to provide their own candles or lamps.
“Children’s schoolwork has also improved as they no longer have to use paraffin lamps to study and do assignments at night.
“When I complete my education, I would like to become a lawyer,’’ says Privilege Mapeno, a student at Chipendeke Primary School.
“We can now study at night at the school and our schoolwork has improved significantly.”
These voices are from villagers who are participating in a five-year regional micro-hydro project being facilitated by Practical Action, an international charity. The project
generates an estimated 25 kilowatts of electrical energy which can light about 400 homes.
There is no more travelling to buy or recharge batteries for lighting, radios or television.
Chipendeke Micro-hydro Scheme Management Team chairperson Lazarus Matare (50) previously used paraffin for lighting, but now micro-hydro power means that savings on fuel can go towards other essential family budget areas, especially his children’s education.
The project seeks to remove the policy, technical and institutional barriers that limit the development and use of renewable energy sources to meet the energy needs of poor, off-grid communities.
Access to electricity in the rural areas of Southern Africa remains low (Malawi 0,05 percent, Mozambique 0,7 percent and Zimbabwe 19 percent).
Access to energy offers communities simple yet life-changing opportunities such as education, sanitation and healthcare.
But poverty remains the main barrier to access for the people who currently lack energy services and supplies. Lack of access to energy is also one of the main contributing factors to poverty. Without the ability to use adequate, reliable, and affordable energy — enterprises of all types and sizes cannot thrive.
For example, Mary Kamwendo employs five people in her salon in Budiriro high-density suburb, Harare. She uses electricity to power lights, blow dryers, electric fans, to listen to music and charge her clients’ mobile phones whilst they get their hair done. Kamwendo, however, is forced, by lack of official supply and land tenure, to get her electricity from an illegal connection to the grid. She faces jail if caught by the police.
Households need energy for basic services, but they also need to earn an income and whether that takes place in the household, in a field, or in an office or workshop — that enterprise activity also needs energy.
In September 2010, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon launched the target of universal energy access by 2030.
Business leaders in Southern Africa have described the lack of a reliable supply of electric power as perhaps the biggest burden on the region’s firms.
Farm power is a significant factor in the amount of land a farmer can cultivate and hence, productivity. A donkey and plough enabled Mudhonga Chariga, a mother of three from the Omay communal lands in Kariba district, to double the area of land she cultivated to five hectares. She now grows and sells enough to buy 12 goats for her family and can send two of her children to school.
Information communication technologies are important tools for sharing of knowledge about farming techniques and market information.
Sheba Majoka, a 53-year-old small-holder farmer in Guruve, in Mashonaland Central Province, is one of the 50 000 farmers from the two districts of Guruve and Bindura who
have benefitted from a digital extension project in which MP3 players are complementing traditional methods of distributing knowledge and information.
The project has captured the knowledge content of veterinary health and agricultural experts, and put such technology onto MP3 devices using local languages and voices — a particularly suitable technique for areas with low levels of literacy.
Whilst productive use of energy plays a role in enabling poor people to enjoy a better living, the supply of energy itself represents an important employment sector with potential for growth if access to energy supplies and services is increased.
But there is a sombre atmosphere. Over 1,6 billion people out of the estimated global population of seven billion, have no electricity. The energy situation in Africa is characterised by lack of access to sustainable energy services, which leads to a self-perpetuating vicious cycle of poverty, poor health, low productivity and food shortage.
The need to accelerate development in Africa, for example, is widely recognised and access to clean reliable energy is vital to that task.
To attain the Millennium Development Goals set by world leaders in 2000, Southern Africa, for example, would have to cut that figure by half.
Without concerted efforts and initiatives to meet this challenge, almost 67 percent of the region's population will still lack access to electricity by 2015, resulting in curtailing progress on the MDGs targets.
To those people without access to energy, the above situation presents a life and death scenario. Take this scenario: Indoor smoke from traditional cook stoves causes 1,4 million deaths annually. This is 50 percent more than worldwide deaths from malaria.
National energy planning stakeholders still regard the formal energy sector as the principal means to ending energy poverty.
A book called Poor People's Energy Outlook 2012 clearly outlines and presents the case of energy poverty from the perspective of poor people.
The book was produced by Practical Action, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and GIZ, a German development agency for international co-operation. This report draws principally on research and contributions of statistical data, project case studies and human testimonies from around the world.
Also, the book, whose first edition was published in 2010, reports in unprecedented detail the experiences of energy use and deprivation of people living in poverty. It advocates increased focus on energy access as a priority for development.
Ernest Mupunga, regional director, Practical Action Southern Africa, said: “The 2012 edition of this annual report is timely because its launch coincides with the beginning of the
UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
The report shows that energy access has a critical role to play in tackling global poverty and, specifically, providing people with energy to earn a living.”
Mupunga adds: “A third of the world’s population has no access to modern energy services and “business as usual” projections predict that the situation will be exactly the same in 20 years’ time. Efforts to close this gap have so far been insufficient in scale and scope.
The Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2012 is a vital source of information to support progress of the UN’s goal of universal energy access by 2030. The report helps to define energy access and set out the policies which need to change to achieve energy for all, with this year’s theme centred on energy for earning a living. It also calls for a movement for change on energy access.
Energy access is not just about fulfilling basic needs and keeping people alive — it is about escaping poverty and participating in the modern world.
It can help people earn a decent living so they can work their way out of poverty. The report, to be launched in Harare on March 28 2012, was also launched in the United Kingdom last January and took place as the UN Year for Sustainable Energy for All had just commenced, highlighting the difference that energy could make to people’s lives in the developing world.