Around the globe, more than 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity, and even 2.7 billion people still have to rely on wood, animal dung or kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting. Energy poverty is often considered as a rural problem but, according to the World Statistics Center, around 220 million people globally are living in cities without access to electricity in spite of the fact that the grid is so close.
Since 1980, Zimbabwe has seen many people moving to the urban areas in search of greener pastures. This has led to a rapid growth of the urban population, which has led to high pressure on the electricity grid leaving communities experiencing extended load shedding. In addition, Government policies and programmes have focused on rural electrification and those in urban and peri-urban areas have been neglected, especially those that live in informal settlements.
The alliance of Dialogue on Shelter for the Homeless in Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation is carrying out a project, ‘ The Renewable Energy Initiative for the Urban Poor,’ aimed at helping the poor people in urban areas have access to solar energy as an alternative clean energy. The project, running under the banner ‘ENERGY JUSTICE FOR THE URBAN POOR,’ seeks to address the injustices faced by the urban poor who, due to many different reasons, are denied access to energy.
Dzivarasekwa Extension settlement
The alliance work is mainly focused on individuals and families who reside in informal settlements who, as a result of them not having access to electricity, have to spend a sizable percentage of their income in trying to have an alternative source of energy. There have been instances of fire that have led to loss of life and belongings due to the use of candles and kerosene lamps in slum settlements where structure like cabins and shacks are built from materials that are prone to fires. In addition to the dangers of fire, as they burn, kerosene and firewood produce smoke that consists of chemicals that have long-term respiratory effects.
During installations in Cowdray Park, Bulawayo
The Renewable Energy Initiative has installed solar systems in communities in Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo. In Harare, installations have taken place in Dzivarasekwa Extension. As part of Harare Slum Upgrading Programme, beneficiaries who acquired land in Dzivarasekwa extension who have not yet have access to electricity are the ones that this project is targeting. To date, the project has managed to install over 250 light and home entertainment systems. This number has continued to rise on a daily basis as demand for alternative energy sources continue to rise and the project scope is going out of the traditional federation members to also cater for those that need energy but aren’t members of the federation.
As part of the project in Dzivarasekwa, training programmes were also carried out to train the solar technicians who were going to be responsible for the installations. Of the group that was trained, a sizable number of them were women, and just like their male counterparts, they are the personnel that the project used for the installations on the solar systems.
Training session in Dzivarasekwa
Outside Harare, installations were also carried out in Cowdray Park and Victoria Ranch in Bulawayo and Masvingo respectively. In these areas, members of the federation's respective saving schemes applied for loans and had their solar home systems installed. Many of the beneficiaries of the project now have the capabilities to light their homes and also charge their mobile phones, which they had to travel long distances to have their phones charged.
Systems are installed on a credit system through financing by ‘Gungano Urban Poor Fund,’ a finance facility managed by Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. The loans given by the fund are repaid within a period of between 6 months and 24 months depending on the amount disbursed. The loans are also interest free.
Beneficiary of the Solar project (Dzivarasekwa resident)
The project is well received and demand keeps rising because of the affordability of the packages available. Since the pilot was a success, efforts to secure more funding for the expansion of the project are underway so that the project can be available in other places. Areas where residence can benefit have been identified and hopefully many people will have access to clean renewable energy that is affordable and sustainable.