Firewood smoke kills

By Nhau Mangirazi


HURUNGWE–  Without energy, small and medium enterprises cannot function at maximum capacity. Without energy, industry cannot survive. Without energy, women and girls will continue to spend long hours looking for fuel sources, and will not have jobs – United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, Director General, Kandeh K. Yumkella April 2013.


When Yumkella made these remarks he had many of the rural women worldwide in mind, but the Zimbabwean scenario also fits into this situation.


This is the reality gripping most women and girls in both rural and urban areas due to lack of alternative clean renewable energy such as solar, hydro or biogas which forces them to rely on firewood as a source of energy.


For  granny Chiedza Mapanga who is asthmatic, deep chesty coughs that keep her awake at night and wreck her chest even when laughing, shortness of breath among other related signs, life has been ‘normal’ as a woman living in a rural area and surviving on firewood for energy.


For the past 30 years, Mapanga, who has been battling this health problem without any signs of recovery, says she has a duty as a ”mother and grandmother” taking care of her family that includes a 22-year old daughter and five grandchildren left behind by her eldest son who died a few years ago.


She coughs deeply as she blows into the fire to lighten the rather dark grass thatched hut in Mayamba outpost village under headman Chawora and Chief Chundu, 85 kilometres north of Karoi town in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province.


As granny Mapanga looks up to welcome her visitors, her watery eyes tells a story of how she has suffered in the three decades she has been holed here as a communal farmer using firewood as a source of energy for both cooking and lighting during the night.


According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, asthma is ranked at 21 among the top 50 causes of death in Zimbabwe where HIV and Aids leads.


The World Health Organisation says air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke and indoor mould and dampness make asthma more severe in children, elderly persons and people with compromised immune systems.


”In households without access to basic services, such as safe water and sanitation, or that are smoky due to the use of unclean fuels, such as coal or dung, children are at an increased risk of diarrhoea and pneumonia,” says the report released in March this year.


It further states: ‘‘Harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, when infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.”


WHO adds that every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under five years globally.


She is among several thousands of rural Zimbabwean women who have seen clean renewable energy eluding them since independence. Instead they carry the burden of health complications.


Her homestead situated about 10 kilometres from Mayamba business centre in Hurungwe, together with the majority of villagers in that area, relies on firewood as the only source of energy.  Only a few use small solar panels to charge batteries for radios and lights.


This is one business centre that was not on the cards of the government sponsored Rural Electrification Agency programme that was initiated at Chitindiva business centre about 25 kilometres away.


Mapanga says although she cannot afford medication for her condition, she still has to fend for her grandchildren.


‘‘I have endured these hard times with this asthmatic condition. Women must be strong against all odds,’’ she says her face contorting with the pain she has endured.

She is a silent victim of indoor pollution, killing millions of women and girls globally.


According to the International Institute of Sustainable Development, IISD, report in 2013, illnesses from indoor pollution result in deaths of more women and children annually than HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition combined.


The World Health Organisation, WHO says 4.3 million people die every year from exposure to household air pollution.

‘‘Of the estimated two million annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution generated by fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal and dung, 85% are women and children who die from cancer, acute respiratory infections and lung disease,’’ says the report.


Wellington Madumira of Zero Regional office says there is need to capacitate the rural populace in renewable energy use. ‘‘It is sensible that we must have sustainable energy as it props our livelihoods at family and the community at large. It further boosts businesses to grow and create jobs thereby securing a viable economy,’’ says Madumira.


According to the Ministry of Energy, the main sources of energy used in Zimbabwe are coal, fuel wood, electricity, petroleum fuels and renewable energy.

Blessing Jonga, the Principal Energy Development Officer in the Ministry of Energy says Government is promoting clean and sustainable energy that does not pollute the environment and is not a health threat.


He added that the Ministry is advocating for use of domestic biogas digester systems to provide energy for cooking, lighting and refrigeration, among other uses.


”There are institutional biogas programmes targeting institutions like boarding schools and hospitals for cooking energy as well as efficient wood stoves to construct this technology that uses less wood and directs smoke outside, leaving the kitchen clean’’ says Jonga.


He says that they are also promoting portable tsotso (twigs) stoves, a technology that uses less firewood, produces less smoke and enables communities to preserve trees.


However, the real challenge still remains that of  providing clean and modern energy to the remaining 67 percent of the country’s 13 million lives in the rural areas, according to the 2012 national Census.


Until then, for granny  Mapanga, renewable energy remains pie in the sky. As the case with many women and children among the country’s rural populace, she is being slowly smoked to death.

Post Author: Muaz Cisse

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