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Zimbabwe District Calls for Renewed Government Effort on Solar Energy

In Zimbabwe, residents of Chihota - about 50 kilometers southeast of Harare - have expressed concern about authorities' seeming lack of interest in establishing solar energy projects in their area. They say politicians should avoid making empty promises while campaigning. Instead, the residents want office-bearers to work with them to resolve the energy crisis. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Safari Njema visited the area and says Chihota is one of the country's districts hardest hit by deforestation and environmental degradation. Only a few indigenous trees remain, while the vegetation includes mostly scattered thorn bushes and short grass. Erosion has set in and gulleys dot the landscape.

Residents now travel long distances to resettled farms to fetch firewood; others use cow dung for cooking. Cutting down trees, including indigenous species, incurs heavy penalties. But locals avoid fines by felling trees under the cover of darkness.

Thirty-two-year-old Sandra Tunha from Materera village says locals are aware the area's threatened by desertification. The mother of two says politicians have focused on flimsy issues rather than tackling more serious issues like solar energy. She says she's convinced officials believe rural communities don't have the capacity to contribute to the national energy debate. She says "They must provide us with solar panels rather than lie to us. I think we can use solar, since in Africa we have got a lot of sunshine. We can use that sun as an alternative rather than lying to us telling us about other political issues."

Seventy-two-year old Dasbom Chadya is a retired school teacher from Samuriwo. He says rural residents obtain information on solar-powered energy when they travel to towns, adding they're aware it can transform their lives. Dasbom -- who now grows tomatoes and other vegetables for sale in Chitungwiza – explains many can no longer afford paraffin or candles.

School children -- who still need to do their homework and prepare for exams – are affected too. Dasbom says while it's a blessing the government hosted the World Solar Summit in the 1980s authorities should be working more closely with residents to explore ways of harnessing this resource, "We once had some solar summits and all that and we look forward to the government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to come together as a nation to find out how best we can use solar instead of electricity."

Forty-four-year-old Gilbert Teburu is a vegetable grower in the area. The father of three says he's heard solar energy is clean technology which requires low maintenance. He feels government should work with residents to help implement solar energy sources in rural households. Teburu argues future generations are under serious threat if the current rate of deforestation continues.

Chemist Gondo sells groceries from his home in Chipitiri. Although he's managed to put up solar panels at his homestead, most of his neighbors cannot afford to buy either the panels or batteries which cross border traders bring here from South Africa. He concurs the only way is for government, the private sector, NGOs and beneficiaries to work together to develop a cost-effective method of providing such infrastructure.

Meanwhile the energy and power development ministry acknowledges more needs to be done. It says between 1993 and 1998 it received financial support from the Global Environmental Facility, to distribute solar lighting systems. The Ministry says this resulted in the installation of 9-thousand solar home systems in rural households and institutions.