Renewable energy and children

child poverty

Jacquline Magwenzi Our Children, Our Future
When defining child poverty, conventional definitions based on household income for example, do not adequately convey the level of deprivation that children suffer.

This is because children experience poverty in their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual environment. Thus going to school without having had a meal, for example, will impact their physical, mental, emotional and possibly spiritual development. In this way child poverty is disempowering to children.

Energy poverty is one aspect of poverty that affects children and whose impact is far reaching as it relates to the development of children and subsequently our society in general.

Unfortunately, it is seldom measured when measuring poverty. Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy services and is fundamental to improving the quality of life and for economic development.

In 2013 the population was just over 13 million with over eight million having no access to electricity. Most of this population is in the rural areas where only 13 percent have access to electricity.

Forty-one percent of the population without access to energy is under the age of 15, which is significant. By looking at energy poverty in more detail, specifically in terms of energy for cooking and energy for lighting, we can get a clearer picture of what this means for our children and subsequently our economy.

The availability and source of energy for lighting impacts the health and productivity of a child. Children with no access to energy for lighting are disadvantaged in terms of the time they have to do school work which in turn affects their productivity.

The energy source used for lighting and cooking affects children’s health as they are more prone to respiratory diseases as a result of using dirty fuels.

This is because in Zimbabwe there is an 18 percent chance of children under five contracting respiratory illness in households where children are present in the room where wood or dung fuel is used during cooking.

This is confirmed in the Sustainable Energy for Children in Zimbabwe where over 90 percent of children recorded with ailments in ARI, asthma, TB, eye diseases and burns were from households that had poor energy sources for both lighting and cooking.

Unavailability of adequate energy for cooking hampers child development as they face the likelihood of having poorly prepared meals or going without some meals in some cases.

Children are also the ones tasked to gather biomass for cooking in households that use biomass. Thus more time is spent looking for firewood or dung and this time increases as the resources become scarce.

This is also becoming true for children in urban areas where more of the population is turning to wood for cooking. As the economy struggles it is unlikely that everyone will have access to energy using conventional sources anytime soon. Alternatives are therefore sought and one hope for our children is in the use of renewable energy.

Renewable energy is defined as energy that is generated from natural processes that are continuously replenished. As such it has the potential of not running out. This is unlike conventional energy sources which are finite and can run out with continued use.

Zimbabwe is fortunate to have options for getting our children out of energy poverty by investing in additional energy sources and technologies such as solar, hydro and wind.

The population is willing to invest in renewable energy, however, there are multiple barriers that hinder them.

Barriers include access to information on available and appropriate renewable energy technologies which is affected by availability of ICT infrastructure in turn dependent on availability of electricity. It is a vicious circle.

Other barriers are the lack of renewable energy services in the remote areas, as well as appropriate funding modalities for the poorer segment of the population.

It is hoped that the launch of the Renewable Energy Policy by the Government of Zimbabwe will solve some of these issues by ensuring that the environment is conducive to investment in renewable energy technology.

It is also hoped that institutions serving children such as schools and clinics will be prioritised in the electrification of the country. Lastly, it is hoped that those that have been left behind that is the children who make up 41 percent of the population without access to modern energy will be brought to the same level as other children in Zimbabwe with access to electricity.

This is because the future of Zimbabwe will be secured when every child is afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential through access to renewable and modern energy.

  • Jacquline Magwenzi works in the Social Policy and Research Section at UNICEF Zimbabwe
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