The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Power, water to all homes top social goal


THE need to have at least a reasonable basic electricit­y supply in every home, rural as well as urban, is a critical requiremen­t that addresses a lot of the issues of quality of life, the things that make life significan­tly better, easier and happier even if they do not add much to the wealth of a household or the gross national product of a country.

Zesa has plans for distributi­ng around 3 million home lighting systems across the country over the next three years, which basically means every household will have a basic minimum power supply.

Formal research in several countries, and the anecdotal research in this country, show that when a family is connected to the grid or when it can buy solar panels and batteries, the first call for the new power supply is light, followed by charging a phone and often a better phone, and then gradually adding a list of products, starting with the television and a fridge.

But just having a decent light in the dark makes a huge difference to how families live.

There is a modest economic gain, of not buying candles or paraffin or batteries, but very often a major readjustme­nt of life, from children able to do homework properly, to new social and other lifestyle changes, and even new sleep patterns freeing up more of the day.

This is one reason why there is increasing stress on social goals these days, rather than just economic goals.

A second major social goal affecting quality of life far more than economic growth is the Presidenti­al Borehole Drilling Programme, an ambitious programme to get a borehole with a solar-powered pump into every one of the roughly 35 000 villages in Zimbabwe, along with a perhaps 1 000 or so extra in urban areas where water supplies are dubious.

Here there is an economic element, the large communal village vegetable gardens that take around 10 percent of the water from the borehole, making sure that the village families have a higher-quality diet with some surplus for sale.

But the main gain by those living in the village is not so much economic but social, and here there is a huge jump in the quality of life, having an adequate supply of clean, safe water literally “on tap”.

The social revolution over the next three years of having every family and every home in Zimbabwe with access to decent lighting and a decent water supply makes a fundamenta­l change in how we think about life and how we live our lives.

The amazing thing about modern technologi­es, and applying the latest technologi­es, is that while this huge social surge in the quality of life does require capital investment, the actual sums are affordable for a country like Zimbabwe.

This sort of investment does have to come from domestic tax sources.

There is not much gain for a commercial investor so the spending comes out of social spending, but the amazing thing is that we can pay the bills, at least when they are spread over three years.

Of course these fundamenta­ls of power supplies and water supplies also have economic gains, and often the economic gains and the social gains can be matched.

As Zesa chairman Dr Sydney Gata noted last week, the Rural Electrific­ation Agency was set up to use the small surcharge put on power supplies to fund an extension of the national grid.

The idea was simple. When you have a dispersed population, and that is how people live outside cities and towns, it costs a lot of money to extend the electricit­y cables to the next school or the next business centre, without a lot of big customers when you do get there.

Unfortunat­ely the economics work by demanding that there must be a lot of larger customers to justify the extra extension, and that in any case there must be customers already there when the wires arrive, although the businesses cannot grow until the wires do.

The agency was set up to get round this, by using a regular source of funds to extend the grid of users into rural areas, allowing the build-up in business as well as social needs.

Dr Gata was disappoint­ed that at some stage the connection between Zesa and the Rural Electrific­ation Agency appeared to have been severely damaged, and the two were often at cross purposes. That is sad and needs to be fixed.

This is because we need both the expansion in meeting the social goals, getting homes with basic power, and the expansion in the economic sphere, more businesses connected and able to create more wealth.

Large solar arrays are not really an option for a new business, including a new rural businesses, and businesses that draw heavy currents are not really ideal for private solar.

So why solar can do a lot for radically upgrading the quality of home life, so long as people are not cooking much on it, it still needs grid power for business centres and rural industrial centres.

At the same time village boreholes make another dramatic difference in the home life of those in the villages, and in ordinary homes in a lot of suburbs, it needs larger flows of water for industrial and farming activity, probably supplied by dams.

The two can also be melded. In almost any even modest town there is a full street grid from Zesa, so ordinary houses as well as businesses and factories can be connected, and a full piped water supply, both for the modest amounts a house needs and the larger supply a business requires.

But if we already have the essential home power and borehole water, we are then working on upgrading and expanding, using the most appropriat­e technology in each case.

But we also need to remember that to move from nothing to the essential basic supplies of water and power covers a far larger gap and makes a far larger improvemen­t than moving from the essentials to what is in effect an unlimited supply.

So we need to push the two schemes to meet the social goals very hard over the next few years, but at the same time make sure that all the work we are doing can be fitted together in the larger picture.

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