Bringing sustainable energy to rural communities in Malawi

September 12th, 2014

Five weeks into working at Practical Action and I’ve just returned from Malawi to see some of the areas that we will soon be starting a new project, which will introduce solar-power to remote and rural communities in the Chikwawa and Nsanje Districts. This energy will be used to power clinics and water pumps for irrigation systems and schools, enabling local people to access electricity for the first time.

20140907_114735The communities we are reaching out to are living in extreme poverty. Blighted by frequent flooding which devastates crops, coupled with extreme lack of access to water and electricity means that they are not able to lift themselves out of poverty. I visited a school and clinic which had no access to water or electricity. Horace Chimwaza, Health Surveillance Assistant at Kampata Health Post said ‘the challenge we face at this health post is when we have patients suffering from cholera or diarrhoea, we fail to assist them because we do not have lighting. Since cholera patients need to be given Intravenous therapy (IV), this is difficult to do if we have no light, especially at night.’

They currently rely on candles and kerosene lamps to light the clinic. The nearest water source is also 2km away which makes it difficult and time consuming to ensure they have enough water.

Agriculture is also severely affected due to the limited access to water. Deep underground water is readily available but currently remains out of reach to communities in Chikwawa and Nsanje. Solar-powered water pumps will be able to turn this situation around, ensuring that farmers will be able to irrigate more of their land and produce enough crops to feed their families and even earn an income from the production of more crops.

In contrast to this, I also had the opportunity to visit a project that is up and running in Mulanje. Mulanje is a beautiful place and is the home to Malawi’s tallest mountain. The micro-hydro project which was set up by volunteers in the local communities is having a huge impact on the lives of local people. Micro-hydro power is the small-scale harnessing of energy from falling water, such as steep mountain rivers. This project is generating electricity to nearby schools and clinics and more recently to power machinery such as maize mills, meaning that people can now run businesses and earn an income.

Electricity is empowering, it moves families beyond day to day survival.  They are more prosperous, they are able to do more and earn a living and schools and clinics are able to run well. In Mulanje, people are even choosing to move to the area and build homes because they see a better future there.

I’m really excited to see the impact that the solar-powered project will have on the communities in Chikwawa and Nsanje, and look forward to sharing the news with you.

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