'Energy poverty hurts women'

Women's participation should be considered while making policy on access to energy and management, says an expert

By Linda Davis
Published: Thursday 31 May 2018

Linda Davis

If we talk about Sub-Saharan Africa, the challenge posed by energy poverty is quite serious. Of 1.2 billion people living without electricity across the globe, 0.8 million are in SSA. What does it mean? It means that these many people are relying on inefficient way of lighting. For instance, they use kerosene which is detrimental to health and environment and also a drain on the finances of the family. When it comes to cooking, the same unhealthy ways are followed. People use charcoal and dung which are again harmful for health. So, power shortage is a big crisis impacting human life in big way. And it exist in 2018, when the rest of the world has made significant advances to provide electricity, LPG and other cooking gas solutions that have no negative health impact on people.

The biggest victim of this energy poverty are women who are engaged in a number of works that require energy. Other than cooking on inefficient fuel, they are the victim of another sort of energy crisis. For example, if there is light in one room only, the room will be used by the male members of the family. So we need to create awareness about the impact of energy poverty on women and also their participation in the whole energy access debate. Women’s participation should be considered while making policy regarding access to energy and management.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

I live in Kenya where the statistics are quite troubling. Around 1,500 Kenyans die every month due to indoor air pollution. Any big disaster attracts our attention but if one compares these deaths with those reported during disasters, we will realise this is a bigger crisis. Thus we need to get our priorities right.

As far as energy transition is concern, it is happening. Countries are leapfrogging towards solutions, especially off grid solutions, and moving towards renewables like solar energy. When it comes to electrifying Kenya, hydro and geothermal energy play significant role. People are also realising the importance of renewables. So the transition is there but it is not happening on a big scale.

Governments’ policies are the main culprits behind Africa’s energy crisis. These governments should also prioritise energy crisis with similar eagerness as they are prioritising health and education for the masses.

The second big challenge in energy transition is funding. And funding needs to be done for the set target keeping efficiency in mind. The third big challenge is the conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries are witnessing conflict and it is a big hindrance. Take the example of South Sudan. We had an understanding to establish 20 MW solar power plant in the country but just when we were about to begin the work a war broke out that has continued for five years. Our investments were lost.

Conflict also creates barrier for foreigners to come to the community and bring solutions. However, this cannot be an excuse because the conflict in South Sudan does not mean Kenya, Uganda or Namibia cannot prosper. Why is there no investment in these countries for energy transition? Diesel generator is the most common off grid solution but it is not a solution we can continue to rely on.

The author is Strategic Partnership Director, wPOWER, partnership on women’s entrepreneurship in renewables

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