Hydro power proves life changing for people with HIV in Zimbabwe

Shupi is an unemployed widower with three children, living in a remote village. She is also living with HIV and a new hydro power project has helped change her life.

Every dawn, Shupi*, from Mutare in Zimbabwe, goes to inspect her crop. She plucks green beans, vegetables, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and fresh maize cobs to be sold before taking some home.

Shupi is an unemployed widower with three children, living in a remote village, and not so long ago she could not afford to eat a nutritious meal. As Shupi is living with HIV a nutritional, balanced diet is essential, especially to ensure the life-saving antiretroviral drugs she takes will be effective.

Previously, when her CD4 count was tested (which determines the stage of HIV infection) the result was not good, despite being on antiretrovirals for close to eight years. “At one time I thought I was dying, only to realise that I was lacking a proper balanced diet,” Shupi says.

Hydro power supports vegetable gardens

Thanks to Simbengadzibve Cooperative, the nutritional garden that Shupi and others run, Shupi now eats well and her CD4 count has improved. The four hectare garden is irrigated all year round, thanks to the introduction of hydro power, which pumps water from the nearby flowing Chatora River, generating electricity as it does so.

Growing up in this remote area, Shupi never imagined that one day it would be ignited by electricity, harnessed from the perennial water that flows from nearby rivers and mountains.

“The project has benefited me, my family and the whole village in a number of ways. Rather than waiting for donors to feed us, especially us people living positively, we can do more by ourselves. Right now I can boost my health through eating healthy, natural food, which we grow on our own, and at the end make some extra cash when we sell our produce at the market,” says Shupi. “With the state of my body now, nobody recognises that I am HIV positive.”

Villagers benefit from food security

However, Shupi says the state of the roads that are used to transport their produce to the local market remains a challenge. For the 65km distance from the nearest city one can take more than two hours trying to negotiate through the bendy stretches between the rocky terrains.

“We wake up early in the morning, the only mode of transport we have is one lorry that transports our goods to the city because buses cannot use this area,” she says.

Shupi adds that besides eating healthily, she is now well informed by listening to health programmes on their radio sets.

Shepherd Masuka, a project engineer at the Himalaya micro hydro project, says: “The villagers are benefitting a lot from the project, they are now able to plant their crops throughout the year through irrigation. It is boosting food security.

“Our power house has a main power station, generator and turbine which generates 80 kilowatts and of this, the saw mill uses 4.5 kilowatts, grinding mill 4.5 kilowatts and fowl run uses only 0.2 kilowatts. So our power house generates a lot of electricity and there are plans to connect to the nearby school.”

Marketing produce

However, Masuka said poor marketing of the villagers’ produce has been a problem, so the project is now engaging food and seed coporations Seedco and Cairns to help.

Eutious Chirara, secretary for administration at the Himalaya micro hydro project, says: “We started using our electricity in 2012 and it has helped us a lot. We are now able to grow crops throughout the year without waiting for the rainy season and no longer are we hustling to pay our children’s school fees.”

The Himalaya micro hydro project is funded by the European Union to the tune of USD$ 2.2 million under the five year programme Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa, which in Zimbabwe is being delivered by Hivos, Zimbabwe Regional Environment Organization, Practical Action and the Zimbabwe Energy Council.

Improving life in remote villages

Shupi says she hopes the presence of electricity will bring further improvements to the village.

“We walk for over 30km to the nearest clinic in Chipendeke, but now that we have electricity we are also appealing to government to construct a clinic in our own village so that we do not have hustles in seeking medical treatment,” she says.

Lynnete Chivambo, sister-in-charge at Chipendeke clinic, which has also benefited from a hydro power project, says hydro power has been of huge benefit.

“Now we are able to work during the nights, especially when we do our deliveries, thus reducing infant mortality rates. We are also able to boil water for pregnant mothers and use heaters for new born babies.”

Chivambo says the clinic is also able to refrigarate drugs and vaccines and the existence of well-lit waiting rooms means they are able to encourage pregnant women to come in prior to delivery rather than walking for long distances while in labour.

Both hydro projects are part of the United Nation’s sustainable-energy-for-all initiative, which aims to mobilise urgent global action in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Goal 7 is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

For Shupi, and many like her, hydro power has been life changing.

*Name changed to protect identity

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