Why energy should play a crucial role in Africa’s development
Recent studies on energy use in Africa indicate that promoting cleaner, more efficient technologies for producing charcoal in Africa can save millions of lives and have significant climate change and development benefits.
The African continent is dependent on both wood and charcoal for cooking and heating homes. It is estimated that in 2010, nearly 550 million tonnes of wood were consumed in homes in sub-Saharan Africa in the form of firewood and charcoal. This is more wood per capita than is used in any other region in the world.
However, more than 1.6 million people, primarily women and children, die prematurely each year world wide and nearly half a million of these are from sub-Saharan Africa.
These people die from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution from such fires, according to previous studies by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The conclusion made in a recent study by the said two Universities says that by 2030, smoke from wood fires used for cooking will cause about 10 million premature deaths among women and children in Africa.
By 2050, according to the same study, smoke from cooking fires will release about 7 billion tonnes of carbon in the form of greenhouse gases to the environment – that’s about 6 per cent of the total expected greenhouses from the continent.
The much talked about Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be reached unless the developed world invests in the continent so that we can transit to the use of clean charcoal without increasing pollution and decimating our endangered and diminishing tropical forests.
The many vehicles that ply our streets, highways and roads emit gases that are equally hazardous to the health and safety of the people of Africa. Our factories, many of which are located in urban centres, Kigali’s Gikondo, for instance, add air pollutants which have negative health and environmental effects when emitted into the atmosphere in large volumes on a continuous basis, as is the case.
We seriously need stringent mechanisms in form of legislation or self-regulation to monitor and control emissions.
The said legislation must involve the investigation of all the factories and where available refineries that produce emissions so that a detailed emissions inventory is established.
But first we must be ready and equipped to implement the legislation and to monitor the new legislation once implemented. Weak economic performances by government monopolies led to institutional reforms, with privatisation and competition replacing government monopolies. It was assumed that these changes would result in lower prices and better power supplies. But just a few years after the implementation of these reforms, the outcome clearly failed to meet these expectations, particularly for low-income communities in the developing countries.
There is a correlation between energy availability and poverty. Desired by all and achieved by only a few, sustained economic development will be attained only when it is possible to offer decent living conditions to one-third of the world’s population, with 90 per cent (around 1.6 billion people) living in the developing countries with no access to any type of commercial energy.
These people still depend on energy generated inefficiently by burning fuel wood, dung and plant wastes in devices using primitive technologies. Energy obtained under such conditions is expensive and insufficient to meet even basic human needs for nutrition, heat and lighting, with nothing left over for productive uses that would offer a way out, helping breach the cycle of poverty.
In rural areas, energy supplies are used mainly for cooking purposes, with only small amounts allotted to food production, processing and conservation. Despite all the technological and administrative advances to hand, humankind has proven unable to deal with this challenge. Other than in China, where significant progress has been achieved with rural electrification, only one-third of the rural population of the developing countries has access to electricity: a figure that has remained unchanged for the past 20 or so years. In Rwanda, for instance, access to rural electrification country-wide stands at less than 10 per cent of the entire population. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the entire country has access to electricity.
Rwanda’s current inadequate and expensive energy supply constitutes a limiting factor to sustainable development. Rwanda’s development will ultimately need increased energy production and diversity into alternative sources if we are to achieve our much cherished national development goals, mainly Vision 2020, the blueprint for Rwanda’s development.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk