Sustainable Energy for Children


Situation Analysis of the energy status of institutions that support children in five districts of Zimbabwe

Access to energy is fundamental to improving the quality of life and is a key imperative to the development of children.  Lack of access to energy services dramatically affects and undermines health, limits opportunities for education and development and can reduce a family’s potential to rise out of poverty. Access to energy for cooking is important for children’s nutrition and disease prevention and the choice of energy for cooking also determines the frequency and adequacy of meal preparation of households. 

zimmap_unicefproblems_unicefIn Zimbabwe access to electricity is low, especially in rural areas where only 19% of the population have access to electricity. Children are severely affected by shortages as 59% of primary schools and 39.5% of secondary schools lack access. In Zimbabwe, 73.9% of households use solid fuels as the primary source of domestic energy to cook. There has been an increase in incidences of school children missing classes in rural schools because of having to fetch fuel wood. This fuel wood, used by the majority of rural households is commonly used to cook in kitchens without proper ventilation and/or improved cook stoves where children may spend long hours making them vulnerable to indoor air pollution and its impacts. The choice of energy for lighting and space-heating also has a bearing on the vulnerability of children to respiratory related diseases; eye diseases as well as risks to burns.

These challenges can be overcome by promoting the use of alternative technologies such as solar, micro-hydro, biogas and biomass. However, the key question is how can we enable a transition to cleaner energy in urban and rural areas? and how would such modern energy interventions impact children? It is against this background that UNICEF Zimbabwe Country Office commissioned a study aimed at understanding children’s access to energy in households where they live and in institutions which support their well-being such as schools and clinics.

The project aimed to gather evidence on energy access barriers and innovative energy solutions present in Zimbabwe, and to use this information to address some of these challenges through the reporting and dissemination of the findings. The study was carried out in five districts of Zimbabwe namely Chiredzi, Gutu, Hurungwe, Nyanga and Tsholotsho using both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

Questionnaires were administered to 1,547 household heads and 751 children in a school setting.  The school questionnaires were specially designed for children. Qualitative methods included focus group discussions with community people, mothers at health institutions, school teachers and with school children. Key informant interviews were conducted with district and community leaders and as well as staff at schools and clinics and suppliers of energy. Technical energy audits were carried out at 16 primary and 15 secondary schools; 18 clinics and 93 households.  The audits identified and quantified the energy mixes being used by the institutions and households; shortfalls of the energy required; resources available for alternative energy; cost of the alternatives; and ability of the institutions to invest in  alternative energy.


Main findings
There are high energy poverty levels among rural households that invariably affect children. Among the conclusions of this study, some of the most urgent findings related to Health, Education, and Access to Information were as follows:


Energy deprivation for cooking is leading to inadequate food preparation and limited choice of what to cook resulting in nutrition deprivation. Women and children are disproportionately affected by the opportunity cost of time lost due to fetching wood and they also suffer the most from Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) from these dirty fuels because traditionally they are responsible for household chores. Poor quality of lighting remains a critical issue in all rural health institutions which compromises quality of service delivery especially to delivering mothers in the maternity wards during the night.

Inadequate light at home to read at night leading to education deprivation. Lighting was observed to be poor in most of the schools. Natural light provided lighting in the classrooms in schools which were not connected to the national grid, but it was not adequate for afternoon learning.

Access to Information
88% of households interviewed use firewood, paraffin, torches, solar and cell phones for lighting chosen largely due to their accessibility.  18% of households interviewed use solar to charge their phones and 4% use solar for entertainment however the quality of the systems is poor and they do not last long.

Implications and Recommendations
Many root causes and barriers associated with energy access in Zimbabwe were identified which include: limited awareness; lack of technical knowhow; financial resource constraints; and lack of reliable and secure supply of power for institutions connected to the grid. Opportunities and key considerations regarding the adoption of cleaner energy include the following:
Over 40% of sample households were willing to change from the energy source they were currently using for lighting while approximately 65% of the fuel wood users wanted to change to using cleaner fuels for cooking. Households were prepared to pay to change from the use of fuel wood for cooking in particular for grid electricity, liquefied petroleum gas and paraffin.
It was indicated that a market based approach to the dissemination of cleaner energy technology could gain momentum if the technologies were readily available at an affordable price and able to mimic grid electricity in terms of end user applications.

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  1. Dear Amy Wickham,

    I have read you article and its an interesting one. I believe there are ways our organisation can co-operate with you in coming up with market based approach to the dissemination of cleaner energy technology at affordable price.


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