Provision of energy to rural communities in the County has proven to be a very big challenge, with electricity infrastructure (particularly in Mwingi) covering a very small percentage of the rural population. This coupled with a County poverty index of 66%, (Source: 2008-2009 Kenya demographic and health survey) means that, 2 out of every 3 people live on less than a dollar a day, and thus, only an extremely small number of those living in the urban centers can access power from the national grid for economic activities.
However, with the ongoing drought in Country, the little power available from the national grid is also characterized by rationing and outright black-outs. The use of paraffin is the other available option, but given the high incidence of poverty, in the area, this is completely untenable. For example, an average household, with an average family size of six spends about Kshs.300 on paraffin for lighting alone. Assuming that the family has a monthly income of Ksh4, 000/-, the paraffin bill will translate to about 8% of its total income. And in addition, the family has also to cater for other basic amenities like food, clothing, shelter, education, health care among others.
Thus, the vast majority of these people depend on traditional fuels (wood-charcoal, crop residue maize stalks, cobs and dung), often using primitive and inefficient technologies (open fires). For many, this combination barely allows them to fulfil the basic human needs of nutrition, warmth and light.
Regrettably, the open fires used have very low efficiencies of less than 10% resulting in a consumption of more than 2tons of fire wood for an average household per year. On other hand, cooking on open fires also comprises a very serious health risks for users with emission comprising of numerous products of incomplete combustion like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, diverse hydrocarbons and suspended particulate matters .
The concentration of those components very often exceed the values of health standards by far .For example, in any one given day, an average rural woman is exposed to the quantity of benzo-alpha –pyrene (BAP) which equals to smoking of 450 non-filter cigarettes. These noxious gases cause respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis and lung or throat cancer. Other health effects of open fire emissions are severe eye diseases like blindness. Charcoal burning and selling in many parts of the region is causing heavy pressure on the forests and tree resources and this situation remains, arguably disproportionately, the main concern of government authorities and policy makers at County, and national levels.
Education Status in the Greater Mwingi area
According to the 2009 population census, the greater Mwingi region, with a total population of 329,280 people, a total of 201,931 ( 61% of the population) has completed basic primary education, 27,254 (8.3% of the population) has completed secondary school education and only 1,213 ( a mere 0.4 of the population) had ever seen the inside of a University lecture hall.
Research elsewhere has shown that, there is a close correlation between the level of education one acquires and poverty. This sad state of affairs has further been compounded by the fact that, over 80% of the slightly over 400 primary schools and about 50% of the over 100 secondary schools are not accessible to the national grid and are likely to remain so for a very, very long time.
This, coupled with the high cost of paraffin as an alternative source of lighting, means that, the teacher –student contact hours are likely to remain low, hence further contributing to the low student performance in national examinations, unemployment /underemployment and cyclical poverty. On the other hand, there are quite a number of organizations willing to donate computers to start ICT programmes in school but are discouraged by lack of lack of power in such schools.