Friday Messenger: Community energy is the key to better health and education in rural Malawi

Community Energy Scotland is helping to kick start 43 renewable energy projects in rural Malawi, the country often called the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.

 

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The people from Community Energy Scotland  were more used to helping Scottish communities realise their own renewable energy projects until they got involved with international support for Malawi through the Scottish Government funded Malawi Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme (MREAP). 

Faced with widespread low income levels, only 9% of Malawians have access to their national electricity grid.  Over 90% of the 15 million plus population rely on fuel wood or charcoal on open fires for their cooking and heating.  Strong demand for fuel wood has resulted in high rates of deforestation in Malawi.

With only 1% of the rural poor accessing modern energy services (such as electricity), Malawi also faces complex challenges in attracting and retaining qualified personnel in rural schools and clinics.  The lack of power has an effect on the ability of staff to deliver health and education services in these areas too.

Based on past experiences and with funding from the Scottish Government, Community Energy Scotland designed and coordinated a strand of the MREAP programme (the Community Energy Development Programme – CEDP) that focuses on delivering support to communities to develop community-managed renewable energy solutions for schools and clinics.

Scotland has a long standing relationship with Malawi which continues to be based on partnership and Malawian identification of need. 

The work of MREAP chimes with wider support for renewable energy projects in developing countries, in particular with the UN’s Sustainable Energy4All Programme.  The work carried out by the CEDP with communities in Malawi reflects a continuation of the ongoing partnership between Scotland and Malawi as part of the wider MREAP programme.

Carola Bell, Chair of Community Energy Scotland said:

“By the end of March 2014 we had released funds to build 43 renewable energy projects across 12 rural communities in Malawi.  Our partners and local Malawi workers have been part of the mix that has proved a success.”

She continued:

“Once projects are installed, schoolrooms will have power for lighting from photovoltaic solar panels so pupils can study at night, teachers can prepare lesson plans in the evenings and  they are able to recruit and retain good teaching staff.

“Communities can manufacture their own fuel efficient cook stoves which greatly reduces the amount of wood fuel needed for cooking which in turn reduces the need for further deforestation which is a significant issue in Malawi. Through using fuel efficient stoves the amount of smoke produced by indoor fires that can lead to poor health is also reduced so it’s a double win.”

Community Energy Scotland’s Chief Executive Nicholas Gubbins said:

“The Scotland Malawi Partnership, University of Strathclyde, Sgurr Energy and IOD PARC are our partners in Scotland.  In Malawi, we have used a community led approach to assess the needs of the communities and introduce an appropriate energy solution.

“We have worked through community based organisations to do this. In the longer term, we hope that the embryonic Community Energy Malawi (CEM) and local universities will be in a position to support the sustainability of the projects.”

Nicholas added:

“We have already begun installing our 43 projects, it is a challenge to roll out this scale of project but rainy seasons, dirt roads and fluctuating exchange rates are no obstacle when you have a committed bunch of folk with a clear aim in mind.”

Edgar Bayani, the CEM National Coordinator said:

“We are geared to help communities solve their energy needs. The approach we have taken is unique as it places emphasis on empowerment.  I can’t wait to see the longer term benefits to the communities of these 43 projects in the development of Malawi. Community Energy Malawi has a solid foundation.”

Mavuto Kambochola Banda, the Development Officer for the Southern Region said:

“There is anticipation in one community to see expectant mothers give birth even at night without complications due to lack of light, in other communities a rural school pupil excelling because of light for reading, we have collectively invested in our future for a healthy and educated rural population.”

 

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