By Mantoe Phakathi
The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Eswatini, His Excellency the Rt. Hon. Cleopas Sipho Dlamini, today officiated at the sod-cutting ceremony to mark the start of the construction of a $2.17 Million solar plant at the RFM Hospital. This event was a culmination of a partnership between the governments of the Kingdom of Eswatini and the Republic of Italy.
The Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM), which is one of Eswatini’s major the largest hospitals based in the Manzini Region has 350 beds occupying 7 000 square metres with clinical buildings and 2 300 square metres with support buildings. During the last financial year (2020), the estimated coal consumption was at 157.5 tonnes, electricity was at 1 668 KWh and diesel was at 11 660 litres.
Therefore, the commissioned Green Energy investment at the hospital is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 200 tons of CO2/year and increase renewable fraction by 72% the hospital while also reducing its energy bill by $176,714 per year.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Prime Minister said, considering that the country has pledged to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel energy sources by close to 50% by 2030, the Greening of the RFM Hospital Project will therefore provide a great opportunity to pilot and demonstrate the benefits of access to clean energy systems. He said these can be replicated in other public and private institutions with benefits of reduced energy demand, reduced energy costs while contributing to reducing GHG emissions.
“As a developing country, the Kingdom recognizes that access to renewable forms of energy plays a significant role in improving the livelihoods of its people and economic growth. This contribution by the project will also reduce the energy sector’s Green House Gas emissions,” he said.
He said, in its National Development Plan and Vision 2022, the government has prioritized climate change as a development concern and is committed to taking urgent and long-term actions to reduce the vulnerability of its people and risks to national development associated with climate change.
“This project is, therefore, one, amongst many, of the country’s national response to climate change that considers both development needs and climate change obligations under the Climate Change Convention and its Paris Agreement which we are a Party to. We indeed are doing a lot on for climate action on the ground to ensure that we meet our part as a nation under SDG13,” said the Prime Minister.
He challenged the responsible government departments as well as the beneficiary institution to ensure that the solar plant is fully maintained. He further expressed the government’s gratitude to its Italian counterpart and supporting institutions, as well as UNDP for providing coordination and technical support to the project.
Speaking at the same event, UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Rose Ssebatindira, reported that some project inception activities have been initiated in collaboration with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the University of Eswatini. She said solar energy technicians have been trained to ensure sustainability of operations and maintenance. These technicians are expected to be part of the scale up and replication of this green energy model to other health centres which UNDP has initiated in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
“A second component of this partnership is on strengthening climate information and early warning systems,” said Ms. Ssebatindira, adding: “USD 1 million has been invested to install 10 automatic weather stations; 08 hydrological stations and High-Performance Computing technology.”
Ms. Ssebatindira said the UNDP Administrator – Mr. Achim Steiner – has made a global commitment to walk the talk on climate action, by reducing emissions from UNDP Operations by 25% by 2025, and 50% by 2030. On that note, UNDP Eswatini Country Office is leading a UN-wide initiative to install a 115kWh solar system at the UN House.
“Switching the UN House to renewable energy use is projected to result in 56 tonnes of CO2 emissions annual reductions, effectively reducing the UN carbon footprint and burden on the environment. We are hopeful that this will inspire others to adopt similar solutions,” she said.
She further announced that UNDP, in collaboration with African Development Bank has been working with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, and Eswatini Environment Authority to access $3.6million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) towards sustainable management of healthcare waste and circular economy - in support of the Kingdom of Eswatini’s COVID-19 green recovery efforts.
“The final proposal awaits GEF council decision in December 2021,” she said.
She also expressed UNDP’s gratitude to the partnership to the two governments and the Ministries of Health, Natural Resources and Energy and Tourism and Environmental Affairs, all of which are working together to implement the project.
The Italian Consulate to Eswatini, His Excellency Roberto Russo, said the project is a landmark and very instrumental in strengthening our bilateral relations between Italy and Eswatini.
“I can assure you, you have a friend in Italy,” said Russo. He also commended the partnership with UNDP saying the work has been carried out despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19.
Addressing the gathering, the Minister of Health, Senator Lizzie Nkosi, said RFM has already positioned itself for such a project because the hospital administration had approached the Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy seeking support to respond to its energy challenges.
“RFM is one of our oldest and busiest health facilities,” she said. “This health facility is still using old methods of generating power, which contributes to global warming, thus this greenery project is a step in the right direction.”
Her counterpart at the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Moses Vilakati, said six concepts were developed. Of these, the Italian Government prioritized two key projects namely; “Greening of the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital” with a view to making the RFM Hospital operate on a 98% solar PV energy and Strengthening Early Warning Systems and Climate Services capacities at the Meteorological Station were the first to receive a total sum of E56 Million.
“I must confirm your Excellency that I have heard it directly from the Italian Ministry of Environment in Italy that indeed this project is the first and of its kind in the SADC region,” said Hon Vilakati.
The National Board Chairperson of the Church of Nazarene, Rev. Bheki Kunene, said he was grateful for the implementation of the project because energy demand at the hospital has increased because most services have gone digital.