A "magical box" providing clean energy and safe water to rural communities

March 19, 2020

Rebecca 13yrs, has to trek more than 4kms four times a day to fetch water for household usage

Rebecca 13 years old just like any other adolescent girl in rural Tanzania, has to trek more than 4kms four times a day to get about 8 buckets of water for household usage – cooking, drinking, showering, washing cloths and utensils. There is no water pump in her village, she has to fetch water from a ditch which is dug beside the almost dried up river bank. Rebecca’s biggest wish is to have water access near her home. “The day that I can fetch water near our home, I will dance with joy!” Watch video 

Rebecca’s wish will soon be granted UNDP is supporting a project to install OffGridBox technology not only in her district, but nine other districts in Tanzania. The multipurpose OffGridBoxes will provide safe water and clean energy as well    

Magnitude of the problem

Tanzania’s vast potential renewable energy is largely untapped. Sun hours per year ranges between 2080 to 3500, with global horizontal radiation of 4-7kwh per square per day. But still a majority of rural population rely on firewood as the main source of energy. The same applies to safe and clean water, despite being surrounded by five major Lakes and other water bodies on land mass i.e. small lakes, dams, rivers etc only a fraction of the rural population have access to clean and safe water. If only these sources are tapped it will improve the lives of the rural population tremendously.

With a population projection of 54.2 million people (2018 NBS projections) out of which 70.4% of the population live in the rural areas; yet only 16% have access to electricity and more than 70% have no access to clean and safe water. 

Providing people with clean source of energy and safe water will remarkably improve their living standards and health. The burden of waterborne diseases especially in rural areas is appauling. Diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera from drinking unsafe water is one of the major causes of death for the under-fives. 

Trekking for water is also another cause of truancy and school drop out for many adolescent girls like Rebecca in rural area. A lot of their time is spent trekking long hours in search of water, especially during the dry season. 

A solution in place

UNDP is working with the Local Government Authorities in three districts of Bunda, Ikungi and Busega to pilot OffGridBox technology, which will spill over to eight  villages of Mtavira, Makotea, Mungaa, Mwamigongwa, Mkula & Busami and Three Islands of Sozia, Buyanza, Namuguma. The villages and Islands have different topographical dynamics in terms of environment, culture, energy and water sources.

In all of these villages and Islands they either have to buy water, which does not come cheap or walk more than 4kms back and forth to fetch water themselves.

Three out of the eight  sites  are islands situated in Lake Victoria, the other three are close to Lake Victoria and the remaining three are situated in a very dry area and are highly populated by both humans and cattle.

The project is unique in its entirety, taking an example of the three islands of Sozia, Buyanza and Namuguma. These islands have never had running tap water since independence, they have always largely depended on water from the Lake and of late bottled water, which pose a risk of polluting the Lake with the plastic bottles. Even though they draw water directly from Lake Victoria, it is still not safe and clean for human consumption. Increased usage of motorboats, which dock at the shores often spilling oil in the Lake poses danger to anyone drinking that water. A majority of the islanders use the Lake to relieve themselves, again this one of the major causes of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the island. 

The OffGridBox technology project aims to improve access to clean, safe and affordable water and energy services to these marginalized communities. It is envisaged that this project will impact close to 4,000 households with an estimated population of 28,000. The box brings more potential to improve horticultural productivity, education, health and livelihood in general. 

One of the OffGridBox is installed in Buyanza Island

 Benefits that come along the OffGridBox technology include; clean and safe water, solar power which will simplify their daily activities and improve their earnings. For example, barber shops, hair salons, ice making business especially in the three islands, milling machine, powering hospital equipment, computers for schools, fishing lights, irrigation among other things. The social impact of this project is even better – reduced waterborne diseases, improved literacy and school completion by lighting, wifi connectivity for villages with smart phones, reduce CO2 emissions.

“Before the OffGridBox project, we used to get cholera and bilharzia outbreaks in our island,” confesses the Sozia Island Chairman, Yusuf Masolwa. He further said, “the water we used to drinking was not clean and safe at all. As you can see, we are surrounded by water, we dock our boats everywhere, so the water is always polluted by the spill over of oils from the boats. Some of the island dwellers are not hygienic they do their business in the Lake; this is also a major cause of polluted water in the Island.”  Chairman Masolwa and Islanders are happy with the project, because now they have access to clean and safe water. Watch video

In December 2019, two OffGridBoxes installed at Mtavira district, Singida region were inaugurated by Dr. Kitila Mkumbo, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Water and Irrigation. Access to clean and safe water in Mtavira was in dire situation. The villagers used to fetch water from ditches and shallow dug wells, the water was cloudy and, on many occasions, very dirty mixed with soil and sometimes human and cattle used the same well to get water. In Mtavira alone two OffGridBoxes have been installed, six water distribution points and one well built. 

In his opening remarks, Dr. Mkumbo applauded UNDP’s efforts and valuable partnership with the Government in ensuring Tanzanians residing even in the furthest corner of the country get basic services like clean energy and safe water.

“UNDP is our valuable partner and we appreciate their continued support. UNDP has been at the forefront in supporting the Government and they often reach the remote places first even before the Government. We thank them for supporting this highly needed project for bringing clean energy and safe water to the people of Mtavira.” Commented Dr. Mkumbo. Watch video

“We have been facing water problems for a long time, I have never seen clear water here since I was born. The water that we used before we shared with our cattle. Commented Yona Rogers Malugu, Mtavira resident. He further adds, “The water that we were using is cloudy and brown, not safe and clean at all. We just drunk it since we had no alternative, and sometimes by God’s Grace we don’t get sick. We asre very grateful to UNDP for its support in the OffGridBox project, we now enjoy clean and safe water. Watch video

Yona Rogers Malugu, shwoingthe dirty water they used to drink before and the clean water they have now

What is OffGridBox technology and how it is operated 

The OffGridBox system is a compact, all in-one solution that fits entirely inside a 6x6x6 ft shipping container and is equipped with all the hardware needed to produce electricity and water. The box can charge up to 130 power banks per day, provide up to 1,000 litres of drinking water and can connect to TVs, Fans, refrigerators etc. The box also contributes to reduction of carbon emission into the atmosphere thus reducing the cost of using fuel as a source of energy.

The box is operated by trained village members who are identified by the village authority. They might be two or three members per box. Their responsibilities range from box management, sales, customer care and daily reporting.

Ali Rajabu, one of the OffGridBox keepers is delighted to assume the responsibility as the box keeper. "I am very delighted for being selected as one of the box keepers. This box has really transformed our lives in many ways. We used to buy a litre of water for 1,000Tshs, now with this offgridbox technology we pay 200Tshs per litre, and the water is clean and safe this is indeed amazing!" Comments Rajab happily. Watch video 

Hamida Rajab, Mtavira boxkeeper is happy with the technology because they are now profiting a lot with the OffGridBox in operation. “We provide phone charging services, we sale family kit powerbanks, we sale clean and safe water for drinking and general household consumption. On a normal day we charge 20-30 phones and during market days we charge up to 300 phones for only 200 TShs. Honestly the villagers and I are really happy with all the services that this box can provide,” explains Hamida. Watch Video