“People in the villages had to walk around five kilometres every day to get water and there was absolutely no source of power,” says Peter Aron Kanyelele, who works in the Ikungi district in Tanzania’s Singida region. This is the reality for 16 percent of people in rural Tanzania who have no electricity. More than 70 percent of the country’s 57 million people do not have clean and safe water.
The UNDP-supported solar-powered Off Grid Box houses all of the hardware needed to produce electricity and clean, safe water in one shipping container.
“The box converts the sun’s rays into renewable electricity and can power commercial and local grids or it can be stored in power banks—a family kit—that can be transported to homes for later use,” says UNDP Project Manager Emmanuel Nnko. “The box can also capture rainwater and the electricity is used to filter and sterilize untreated water to provide up to 1,000 litres of drinking water per day.” The box is also carbon neutral.
Twelve Off Grid Boxes have been installed by UNDP in Tanzania in three districts of Bunda, Ikungi and Busega. They serve about 24,000 people who previously had no electricity. They’re also being used by health centres and schools, meaning, among other benefits, students can study longer.
Improving living standards
Safe, clean water will improve living standards and health. Around the world, waterborne diarrhoeal diseases, are responsible for two million deaths every year, the majority occurring in children under five.
The financial benefits are also very tangible. Before the Off Grid Boxes were installed, households were spending up to US$1.30 a day on bottled water. Now they spend between about 43 cents a week. Households that were spending 86 cents a week on kerosene for lighting now pay just 17 cents, which includes mobile phone charging.
Women, who shoulder a disproportionate responsibility for household fuel and water collection as well as food preparation, are also benefitting. “The project is changing lives as people had to walk so far to get water,” says Mr Kanyelele. “Now people do not have to waste so much time travelling, they can spend more time with their families, and they have more time to start a business.”
It is expected that the project will also stimulate a wide range of economic activity -- everything from the sale of electronic devices, to hair salons, to local cinemas, to poultry farming and crop processing.
And the potential for the Off Grid Boxes is huge given that the electricity generated is consumed at only 30-40 percent of their capacity. It is planned to deploy a ‘pay as you go’ business model in Tanzania, run by women entrepreneurs. Users will pay 9 cents to recharge batteries, get purified water and wi-fi. There is also potential for other community business models including the sale of the clean water generated by the box in local shops.
Tanzania’s Ministry of Health has also indicated that they are interested in deploying Off Grid Boxes to health centres throughout the country to provide a reliable source of clean, safe water and electricity to the centres.
Tackling climate change
The project will also help to address the impact of climate change, which has had a pronounced impact in the Lake Victoria region. “In the dry seasons, you have low flows in the rivers that feed into the lake, and a lot of drought. There is little water,” says hydrologist Pamela Agaba. “The negative effects of climate change disproportionately fall on marginalized and rural communities within the Lake Victoria Basin.”
“Thanks to the project, people are now much more comfortable. I hope that villages suffering from the same problems will be inspired to do the same,” says Mr Kanyelele.
The Off Grid Box project has been implemented by UNDP’s Country Office in Tanzania thanks to investment from UNDP’s Country Investment Facility. It offered UNDP County Offices the opportunity to make catalytic, innovative investments in new areas of growth and business development.