By Sayiko Mtika
For decades, Likoma and Chizumulu islands have been left behind in almost everything. But, in their own right, they are places apart.
While, the two isles cannot separate themselves from the fate of humanity as a whole, in a fast-changing world, they lacked the energy to power them forward.
And tourism—one of Malawi’s priority areas in revenue collection—has faltered with time, in spite of all the natural beauty and amazing ambience that these places exude.
Today, a problem that kept holidaymakers away has been solved.
“This is one the best gifts of the 21st century the Malawi Government could give to the people of Likoma and Chizumulu islands, and probably the best gift in recent memory,” says Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bintony Kutsaira.
He is standing right in front of the newly-commissioned hybrid power plant expected to significantly ease power challenges on the two islands.
The plant forms part of the diesel-powered generators Creck Hardware and General Supplies has just installed after signing a contract with the Malawi Government through the Malawi Rural Electrification Programme.
On the two islands, electricity solely comes from diesel-powered generators and Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) has to run periodic fuel deliveries to keep the engines on.
And according to Kutsaira, the installation of the heavy-duty diesel power plants will not only improve access to reliable power supply, but also attract tourists and investors to the islands.
“The Malawi Government recognises sustainable tourism as a driving force of job creation, economic growth and development. With the installation of these diesel-powered generators, we expect that more investors will now be willing to come and open their businesses here thereby creating jobs for our youth,” he says.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that tourism is a major contributor to employment creation particularly for women, youth, migrant workers, rural communities and indigenous peoples and that it has numerous linkages with other sectors.
ILO says as a consequence, tourism can lead to the reduction of poverty and to the promotion of socio-economic development and decent work.
The potential of the tourism industry to contribute to economic and social development has even been recognised in a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.
Goal 8 seeks governments’ commitment to promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.
In 2015, tourism directly created over 107 million jobs globally, which is 3.6 percent of total employment representing 3 percent of the total gross domestic product (GDP).
The industry also supported, directly and indirectly, a total of 284 million jobs, an equivalent to one in 11 jobs in the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The council predicts that by 2026, these figures are expected to increase to 370 million jobs, representing one in nine of all jobs worldwide.
And Egenco Chief Executive Officer William Liabunya discloses that the company is undertaking a number of initiatives to incentivise the local tourism industry to help accelerate the shift towards renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to innovative energy solutions in urban and remote areas and provide reliable energy for guests.
Liabunya says the installation of the hybrid power plants and the soon-to-be commissioned solar power plants on Likoma and Chizumulu Islands are some of the initiatives to promote the tourism sector on the isles.
He adds that Egenco is taking into account island-specific characteristics and particularities and assesses the compatibility of renewable energy technologies with sustainable tourism development in mind.
“Developing factors that can lead to sustainable tourism in islands through the use of renewable energy is a priority issue for us because we want to address the problem of the relatively high cost of power as a result of the high cost of transporting fuel from the mainland,” Liabunya states.
Creck Hardware and General Supplies Managing Director, Clifford Kawinga, says the hybrid power plants they have installed on the islands have the capacity to supply the islanders with power 24 hours every day.
“We bought these machines right from the manufacturer, Perkins. Perkins is a leading supplier of reliable and durable engines and I wish to assure the islanders that they will not regret with these machines,” says Kawinga.
He adds that his company will be providing free maintenance services on the engines for the next two years.
However, Kawinga concurs with Liabunya that there is need to provide the islanders with solar power, saying the system will not only provide a solution for poor families, but also to pass on the know-how about renewable energy.
A resident of the islands, Shamuda Drake, who was born and raised here, admits that life has been difficult for his family due to various non-communicable diseases which could attack them from the incessant use of candles and paraffin lamps.
He says with the reliable power supply at the islands, residents have already started establishing businesses such as welding, mechanics’ garages, carpentry workshops and several others that require refrigerators.
“Now that we have electricity, we can do whatever we want. Children come home from school and study and do their homework without any problem. The reliability of the power supply is also likely going to boost economic activities here,” Drake says.