By DOROTHY CHISI –
MEMORY Soko was, until recently, unable to spend extra time on her studies to prepare for Grade Nine examination.
But following a project carried out by the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) to install electricity in Luangeni Constituency in Chipata District, Memory managed to spend extra hours on her studies, even at night, in preparing for the examination.
Memory’s family was among households that have benefitted from the REA project.
The project has lit up several grass thatched houses in Memory’s community which includes her parent’s house.
Memory, who never imagined that her parents’ house could ever be electrified, was thankful to REA for redeeming the community from darkness by connecting the village to the national grid.
The 15-year old girl, who attends Chipikula Basic School in Luangeni Constituency, expressed gratitude that her dream of becoming a nurse would be realised through the additional hours she spent on her studies.
Mathews Chisha, a teacher at Kampepa Basic School in Chinsali, said he no longer regretted living in a rural area because electricity had been installed and that made it easier for him and other teachers to get information as much as their counterparts in urban schools.
He noted that installation of electricity had inspired him to open up a barbershop to provide local people with haircut services.
Previously, the local people travelled considerable distances just to shave their hair.
With continued benefits of having electricity in the rural area, Headman Lupoko of Luangeni Village said electricity installation in grass-thatched houses had reduced incidents of houses catching fire.
He said electrification of the area had also provided employment to youths who had taken advantage to open up businesses that require electricity.
The traditional leader said cases of deforestation would also reduce because people in the area had electricity.
Milenge District Commissioner Emmanuel Kunda said his district had never had electricity from time immemorial.
Mr Kunda said the Government had made it a priority to install electricity in all rural areas so that people living in such communities also experience development.
Mr Kunda said the hospital in Milenge could not work without electricity, but now that electricity was there, more lives were going to be saved.
He said people would receive medical attention without being referred to other health facilities for minor ailments.
Indeed, the local people stand to derive many benefits from the REA project which has made it possible for the people in the rural area to enjoy some of the facilities which only urban people have had access to.
REA Corporate Affairs Manager Justine Mukosha said there had been increased electricity access from 3.3 per cent to 4.4 per cent across the country since the inception of the REA projects.
Mr Mukosha said 1,217 villages were expected to be lit, which would translates into an increased access rate of about 51 per cent in rural areas.
Projects under REA are 90 per cent funded by the Government of Zambia while seven per cent is provided through donor aid.
The remaining three per cent comes from Electricity Levy.
Mr Mukosha explained that despite the challenges which the project faced, the authority was determined to make sure it met its mandate and provide solar and hydro energy to villages in order to accelerate development in rural areas.
Since the inception of REA, public institutions such as schools, health centres and chiefs palaces in rural communities have been connected to electricity.
REA Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Musonda said between 2006 and 2015, a total of 3,524 households comprising 2,803 at schools; 358 at Rural Health Centres (RHC’s); 42 at chiefs palaces and 321 at other public facilities, were electrified.
Further, 3,853 private households comprising 813 under the intensification programme in Chavuma, Mwansabombwe and Luangeni; 430 households under the Mpanta Mini-Solar Grid projects, as well as 2,610 households under the World Bank Increased Access to Electricity (IAES) project were electrified.
Under a Five-Year Rolling Plan (FYRP), a total of 413 Rural Growth Centers (RGCS) would be implemented from 2017 to 2021 at a total cost of K1,3 billion (K1,302,435,000) using various technologies like GEPs, Mini-Solar Grid, SHS, mini hydro projects and other renewable technologies such as biomass and wind.
It was hoped that in its continued efforts to increase access to electricity by exploiting the abundant renewable energy resources available round the country, more and more areas would be reached in the electrification projects in order to fulfil the country’s desire to attain development.
It was hoped that more and more investment in various electrification projects would help to develop sectors like agriculture, tourism, commerce and trade, mining and communication.
Through the electrification projects, improvement in the standard of living in rural areas would be achieved besides the communities having well equipped rural health centres, improved agriculture production and food security.
It is further hoped that electricity in rural areas would boost growth in agribusinesses.
There would also be an increment in employment opportunities and improved socio-economic development in various sectors of the community and the country at large.
As the task for REA becomes more and more extensive, the participation of the private sector in partnering with the authority is key in generating additional benefits of electricity.
It is hoped that increased accessibility to electricity will increase from the current 4.4 per cent of the people who are connected to the national grid and the 7.4 per cent of those relying on solar power.