Zimbabwe is the last place you would expect to find ‘Himalaya’ – that famed mountain range in Nepal, home to some of the highest peaks in the world. But nestled in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands is an area known as Himalaya for its mountains with peaks so high they seem to be kissing the sky.
The name of the area may be a copy, but something unique with potential to transform lives and livelihoods is happening in this rugged area.
A 300 metre-long canal snakes around a mountain shaped like the back of a bald man’s head that is approximately 1,500 metres above sea level. The canal carries water to a settling tank perched high up. A penstock that draws water from the settling tank drops steeply for about 100 meters to a powerhouse where turbine engine blades convert gravitational energy from the falling water into electricity. Transmission cables from the powerhouse then carry electricity to selected buildings in the area.
Micro hydro, or small-scale hydro, is one of the most environmentally benign energy conversion options available. Unlike large-scale hydro power, it does not interfere significantly with river flows.
Hivos Southern Africa Hub, in partnership with Practical Action, Oxfam, ZERO and Zimbabwe Energy Council (ZEC), conducted a tour of the mini hydro projects to show media professionals the benefits of sustainable energy to marginalised communities.
The project is being implemented within the scope of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative that seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, enhance energy efficiency and increase uptake of renewable energy.
Media has a key role to play in increasing awareness of the numerous benefits of micro hydro plants among policy makers and the public.
Twenty journalists from selected media houses visited the micro hydro project, located approximately 35 kilometres away from the nearest national grid substation. For this remote but verdant village, it would take years or decades to connect to the national electric grid. But micro hydro power plants can bridge the gap.
The micro hydropower is providing water to approximately 14 hectares of land. This is helping 60 small scale farmers who have an estimated 0.2 hectares of land each to plant and harvest throughout the year. The Himalaya community have taken things a step further, establishing a grinding mill, a sawmill and an energy centre, but more work needs to be done to generate new businesses.
Overall, the main objective of the media trip was to foster greater understanding among media professionals that sustainable development is not possible without access to energy.
“This is training and capacity building. It encourages us to write about sustainable energy issues. Most journalists want to write about these issues, but they have little to no understanding of the issues,” said Tatenda Chitagu, one of the journalists who participated in the media familiarisation tour.