How solar power is improving maternal health in northern Tanzania

By Alfred Zacharia


  • Women in the remote village in northern Tanzania are no longer giving birth in darkness.

Korogwe. It was around 6pm in July 2015 when Rahma Hamza (39) was about to give birth at Mpale dispensary, about 40km far from Korogwe district, Northern Tanzania.

Ms Rahma Hamza, a resident of Mpale and mother of four. Photo Alfred Zacharia.

Mpale village is in the remote and mountainous Mpale ward in Korogwe district, Tanga Region, with a population of more than 3,000 inhabitants and 730 households.

“I can’t forget that day,” she said, recalling the night she fought to give birth to her twin-sons in the dark.

The dispensary had no electricity, so she was told to carry a ‘lamp’ for light. Suddenly, her lamp went off in the process of giving birth.

“I was in pain after giving birth. A midwife was busy receiving a first baby boy who was coming out. Then kerosene got finished and the lamp went off,” she said.

It was already 9pm, the whole village was dark and silent with all shops closed. Her husband, Hussein, walked here and there, knocking on the doors of shop owners to get kerosene but in vain.

She finally gave birth to her twins in the dark. The midwife used his phone-light to cover-up the babies and Rahma.

“That day was hell. But thanks to God that nothing bad happened to my sons and me,” she said.

In 2018, Rahma, a mother of four, got a daughter with different experience. The light was enormous as the dispensary was already accessing solar power.

Since its establishment in 1972, the village has never had electricity until a local company, Ensol Tanzania, installed a solar micro-grid with capacity of 48KW in 2017.

Solar panels installed by Ensol Ltd in Mpale village. Photo| Alfred Zacharia.

A total of 256 houses are currently accessing the electricity as well as the village’s dispensary, primary school and churches, according to Ensol’s director of projects and business development of Prosper Magali.

Ibrahim Liston (32), is the one who attended Rahma before and after the village was electrified.

“I remember the scenario. For me it was common, since I have witnessed many women passing through the same state,” he noted.

He was stationed at the dispensary as an ‘Enrolled Nurse’ in 2012 and he left in 2019, after being shifted to another area.

The place was too challenging that he applied for a leave three times, but in vain.

“During night; it was too dark and dangerous for me to walk, helping a mother to give birth and during the day it was even hard to boil the equipment and charge my mobile phones. It was a total hell,” he said.

He had to travel 40km from the village to Korogwe town to give the operational reports to district authorities and print the documents.

He paid up to Sh30, 000 per trip until the village and dispensary were electrified in 2017.

Unlikely to Rahma, Elestina Peter (21) gave birth in 2019, experiencing the best moment since the electricity was there.

“It was 8pm at night, but it was a nice moment for me,” she said.

Dr Hellman Magembe has been a clinical officer in charge at Mpale dispensary for 10 years now.

He says, the solar micro-grid has decreased operational costs and increased women who give birth in a dispensary instead of their homes, than before.

The dispensary, he said, has been spending Sh70, 000 to buy Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for boiling medical devices per month before the installation of solar energy. It is currently paying only Sh36, 000, monthly, half of the initial costs.

At least 400 women gave birth at the dispensary in 2019, higher than an average of 100 pregnant women who used the facility before.

“Villagers have found a better reason to give birth at the dispensary than before because the facility provides vaccines, it operates day and night and it is safe since the light is there,” he noted.

Solar electricity is among the renewable sources of energy of which the government is currently promoting.

Minister of Energy Dr Medard Kalemani said when reading his 2020/21 ministerial budget in the parliament that the government has so far awarded Sh16.88 billion to 14 private companies, enabling 102 villages to get electricity.

The funds will help the companies to distribute renewable energy in areas outside the national grid system like Mpale as well as islands.

Tanzania’s total installed capacity of electricity generation stands at 1,601.84 MW as at the mid of 2020.

Though investors are continuing to invest in mini-grids which has shown great potential, some locals are crying with larger tariffs which sometimes goes five times than Tanzania National Electric Company (Tanesco) rates.

As of now, the Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority (Ewura) is working with the ministry of energy to set guidelines for electricity tariffs for mini grid electricity.

The government established; Electricity (Development of Small Power Projects) Rules of 2019 which gives power to Ewura to regulate the tariffs.

Ewura’s communication and public relations manager, Titus Kaguo said the authority started to collect information from the mini-grid companies in September and it is currently analysing them.

“We are in final stages of the process. When completed, the companies will follow them to set electricity tariff,” Commissioner of energy at the ministry of energy, Innocent Luoga said.

Currently, the investors are setting their own tariffs basing on the investment and operational costs.

In Mpale, electricity tariffs range between Sh11, 000 and Sh36, 000 per month, regarding to uses.

With a total investment of Euro 400, 000 (Sh1.02 billion), the company charges Sh1, 000 per unit, according to Magali.

This is according to Mr Malogo Maungo (29), a resident of Chang’ombe village in Manyara and supervisor of the company who spends more than Sh35, 000 per month just for lighting up two bulbs and charging mobile phone devices.

Government’s goal, according to Mr Luoga, is not to set a price cap, but to control the tariff ratio between those that use public supplies and those that use private company’s electricity.

“Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (Tanesco) charges Sh100 for domestic users in rural areas and Sh292 in urban areas. We want to minimize the price gap between the users,” said Luoga.

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