Regular readers of the ONE blog will be aware that well over 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have any access to electricity. This situation has huge economic and social implications for the continent: it restricts education and life-saving healthcare provision, limits business growth and leads to regression in job creation.
Zimbabwean student Tawanda Moyo 15 years of Seke 2 Secondary School, in Harare doing his homework at home using candlelight due to shortage of electricity, which the country is facing. Photo credit: practicalaction.org
The reality is, poverty is exceptionally unlikely to be eliminated when such an endemic energy deficit exists. I’ve often argued that this situation is ridiculous and urgently needs to be addressed. While I meet few people who disagree with this assessment, there are some people who think the challenge is too great, that it will be impossible to provide affordable electricity to all these people.
I strongly disagree (as I will explain below) but still feel it’s important to acknowledge this concern. The challenge is great: We’re not talking about providing a solar light to each household thinking that will solve the problem. What we are talking about is providing the reliable and affordable electricity access needed for African citizens to live the same productive lives available to us. Providing this electricity access to the 590 million people on the continent who do not have it is not going to be easy but – I want to be clear – it IS very much possible!
“How is that so?”
“Why do you think it will be possible?”
I expect you are now asking questions that look a lot like those listed above. There are essentially two reasons why energy poverty is possible:
1. Africa has the energy resource to provide for its people: As of 2010, Africa had exploited only 0.6 percent of its geothermal energy, less than 2 percent of its wind energy and only 7 percent of its hydropower potential. Additionally, Africa has hardly even scratched the surface of its solar or gas potential. These natural resources, if harnessed, would easily provide for Africa’s people. Globally, there are technologies that exist that can harness these energy resources – it is simply a question of working together to deploy these technologies on the continent.
2. Countries have rapidly expanded electricity access before: In the last two decades more than two billion people have gained access to electricity. Brazil, Thailand, China, Laos and Morocco, for example, have all dramatically increased electricity access to their populations over short timeframes. Regulatory and financial assistance, coupled with political prioritization, will bring about huge leaps in electricity access.
One example of harnessing Africa’s power resources. Photo credit: ONE
The fact is, the conditions that should allow Africa to dramatically increase electricity access to her people are already there. It is possible – we just need to work together to ensure it happens!
To explain this in more detail over the coming weeks, ONE will run a series of articles looking at examples of countries that have dramatically increased electricity access to their populations. We will look at the conditions that allowed this and see how African countries can or already are applying such approaches. These examples will emphasize that significantly increasing electricity access on the continent is possible with the right actions. Because as we say here at ONE: ACTIONS. SPEAK. LOUDER.
Take it one step further and sign our petition asking world leaders to make our next set of poverty-fighting goals transparent, accountable and representative of the people.