Drought cripples micro hydro energy project
BY SOFIA MAPURANGA
Clutching a plastic bag loaded with her books, 10-year-old Polite Mutsvetwa smiles at the camera, oblivious of the blistering heat.
It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon and together with her school mates, she has finished her daily classes at Chipendekete Primary School, 64km south of Mutare in the heart of Manicaland province.
She momentarily flinches and quickly glances at her shoeless feet before shifting positions to step onto the brown grass, which has also succumbed to the merciless heat.
Although the baking earth gives the minor a torrid time, Polite poses at the camera before declaring her ambitions.
“I am going to be a doctor when I finish school,” she says, her voice full of conviction.
“I have seen a surgeon helping sick people on television at my teacher’s house and that is exactly what I am going to do.”
Without waiting for Polite to finish what she is saying, her friend, Getrude Nyirenda, chips in, adding that they were together when they watched the movie.
“But that was a long time ago, sometime in July because since then, the electricity has not been switched on,” laments Getrude.
Another pupil from the same school, Excellent Shirimagidzi, changes the subject, expressing her longing for the rain.
“I wish there was a way we could bring the rains,” she says.
All the other children gather closer and nod their tiny heads in concurrence.
The minors are aware that climate change is affecting them. For the Chipendeke communities, the effects of climate change are visible.
The scorched earth and the depleted water sources has seen communities struggling for drinking water, while Chitora River, their major source of water for domestic use, has dried up to the extent that it can no longer irrigate their nutritional gardens nor sustain their micro hydro project.
The mini hydro project, which had changed the lives of communities in Chipendeke, with women and children being the major beneficiaries, now lies derelict, leaving the people dejected.
Recalling the benefits of the project for the school, the students at Chipendeke Primary School spoke of the day their headmaster demonstrated how to use a computer.
Danai Kanoyangwa, a Grade Three pupil, said this had been her first time to use a computer.
The school’s headmaster, Edmond Gova, said all this had been possible because of the establishment of the mini hydro project.
He said besides the enthusiasm brought by the prospects of using a computer, the school had managed to retain a good percentage of teachers, thanks to the availability of electricity.
A nurse at Chipendeke Clinic recalled the benefits brought by the projects since its inception 10 years ago.
“Storage of medicines was no longer an issue and we would store our own drugs instead of referring some of our patients to Sakubva in Mutare,” she said.
It costs $8 to travel to Sakubva and some of the people indicated that with the harsh micro-economic environment, they could not afford the trip, a development that made access to health a pipe dream.
The nurse said the availability of electricity in the area had enhanced quality care especially for expectant mothers.
“It was very easy for us to perform certain procedures during delivery at night because of the availability of electricity. We have reverted back to using solar lanterns and sometimes candles,” she said.
Carol Gwaze, who had just delivered a bouncing baby boy, concurred and said the availability of electricity gave the new mothers confidence in the health delivery system.
Lydia Njaigira, vice-chairperson of the project, said women in the community had benefited from the project, as it created spaces for interaction.
“Access to clean energy is good for the health of citizens and through access to radios and televisions, this community was connected to the rest of the world, but now we are back at that stage where we are detached,” she said.
A businessman at Chipendeke business centre, Godfrey Mukoko, spoke of how business had improved with the availability of electricity.
“We could store our perishables but since July, we have not had electricity and business has been very low,” he said.
The $75 000 scheme initiated in 2012 was a community project sponsored by a non-governmental organisation, Practical Action Southern Africa. The aim of the project was to enhance access to modern and cheap energy especially for rural communities.
With a capacity to generate 25 kilowatts of energy, the project currently connects less than 50 households instead of the targeted 400.
Zero Regional Environmental Organisation’s director, Shepherd Zvigadza, said communities should come up with environment-friendly practices that were sustainable for future generations.
“We all have a responsibility. There is need for collaborations across all sectors towards the provision of sustainable energy for all,” he said.
Energy expert, Edwin Zimhunga, who is also a member of the Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe, said setting up micro hydro projects in communities had the potential to transform people’s lives and reduce energy poverty especially in rural communities.
“This is one way of bridging existing gaps, where access to sustainable energy sources by rural communities is minimal. Communities can utilise their available natural resources and this translates to access to cheaper energy sources instead of connecting them to the national grid,” he said.
Water experts, however, called on rural communities to invest in water-harvesting techniques as a strategy to mitigate the negative impact of climate change.