If you’ve heard of a ‘slum’ chances are it’s Kibera.
‘Home’ to anywhere between 750,000 – 1 million people, Kibera is the largest informal settlement in East Africa (and yet it covers less than 2 miles).
The Kenyan authorities refuse to recognise Kibera and the people who live there, even though it’s one of the first things the decision-makers see in the morning from their grand houses on the hill over-looking the expanse of tin roofs. To acknowledge Kibera would mean that they have a responsibility to provide basic services; water, sanitation, education and electricity – which they won’t commit to.
And so the people exist without them. I use ‘exist’ purposefully. Kibera is, without question, the most miserable and maddening place I have ever visited.
I’m writing this blog late at night as I can’t sleep. Can’t quite process what I have seen. Can’t quite understand how and why families are forced to try and survive in such circumstances.
How is it possible that on this planet of ours, such poverty can exist alongside such plenty?
All that you have heard about Kibera is true … and ten-fold. Free-flowing faeces, huge mounds of waste, homes made from cardboard. No space, no privacy, no dignity. And, amongst all of this, hundreds and hundreds of children and hundreds and hundreds of ‘howareyou’s – an image I just can’t seem to shake.
And yet, there is also an underlying dynamism, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s not life as we know it (and not, in my opinion, life as anyone should know it), but here businesses are established, families grow and people will fight to improve their lives.
But that’s despite, not because of, their circumstances.
I’m humbled, enraged and overwhelmed by Kibera, but the one thing I’m clear on is the need for solutions, however small.
… and thanks to Practical Action and other NGOs there are some. I’ll share them in my next blog (once I’ve had some sleep).
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There is an emerging stream of discourse on access to energy today. One discourse is the failure to recognise and act on the fact that energy and development are intricately linked. It is also true that in as much as development and progress are collective responsibilities, they are also personal ones.
These discussions emerging around the possibilities and potentials of equitable access to energy sources now, more than ever, give cause to pause and examine the assumptions that surround this, among them, that society is a homogeneous collective constituency waiting to be mobilised to take action to address the challenge with support from government with development agencies and communities as conduits and agencies to effect it. This notion is something I wish will be kept in mind in discussions about the impact of energy poverty especially among the poor in remote areas as well as those in urban informal settlements on national development policies and strategies.
Our visit to poor rural households in Kisumu, western Kenya; Kerugoya, Central Kenya and Nairobi this week, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa, put the discussion into focus. The delegation comprising of three Members of the European Parliament (MEP), local partners and colleagues from Practical Action UK observed the magnitude of the problem. Apart from joining women on their tough mission to collect firewood, the MEPs also had a chance to interact with energy entrepreneurs, especially women groups producing improved cook stoves in Kisumu. The reality on the ground and selected interventions being implemented in the area spoke volumes of what needs to be done by different stakeholders to address the issue at hand. Summarily, the visit underlined that fact that increased access to energy is essential for growth and human well-being.
I hope the visit has provided the MEPs an opportunity to reflect on some of the assumptions, presumptions and misconceptions they had on the subject and its extent that is the challenge of the new era. The challenge should be presented as parts of, not separate from, the collective aim for all-inclusive long-term development.3 Comments » | Add your comment
Energy is a critical development issue. Just like access to water and other basic services, access to energy is a condition for social and economic development. But as the country’s population grows and energy demand rises, the obstacles to its availability and use loom larger today than ever.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, 1.6 billion people in the world lack access to electricity and over 2 billion people depend on biomass fuels for cooking and heating. This has been worsened by the rising demand for energy that has exploded since the beginning of the 20th century, in tandem with the world’s rising population and economic growth. Energy issues are particularly challenging for rural communities and the urban poor where high energy costs are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on families a majority of whom depend on natural resources for their livelihood. The challenge at present is to supply clean and safe energy in sufficient quantity to everyone while limiting the environmental effects.
Our visit to selected energy actors in Kisumu, Nairobi and Mai Mahiu with a visiting delegation of three Members of Parliament from the European Parliament revealed the energy poverty levels among poor communities living in the areas. The case stories observed made clear the fact that development targets such as the Millennium Development Goals which, though they do not explicitly include energy, are reliant upon energy for their fulfilment.
This is not to say there is no future in attaining the goals. The reality is more needs to be done to realise the required change. Numerous initiatives have been piloted and are being scaled up by different agencies in the energy sector. Practical Action’s energy projects over the last two decades are good examples. Working with communities in rural and informal settlements in urban centres, the organisation has not only pioneered initiatives to light up villages from small micro-hydro and pico-hydro schemes in Central Kenya but also provided alternative and efficient energy saving technologies used for cooking in western Kenya. These initiatives have accentuated the fact that the poor have a legitimate right to and need for increased energy services which are affordable, healthier, more reliable and more sustainable.
They have also highlighted the skewed distribution of energy – with the richest people consuming the largest percentage of energy supply and the poorest using the least – that must change if significant change is to be realised in the sector. Developing and implementing sound national energy development policies together with the right use of technology are areas that have been emphasised over the years. They are areas that require transparent processes that provide for equitable participation from all stakeholders.No Comments » | Add your comment
Naomi is one in a million. Well, to be more specific, one in 3,917.
That’s how many families that have improved their lives (and homes) through a Practical Action energy access project in Western Kenya.
Specifically, we are working with women across Kisumu to introduce ‘fuel-efficient stoves’ (which require 50% less wood), ‘smoke hoods’ (which remove toxic smoke from the kitchen – which more often than not doubles as a bedroom) and ‘fireless cookers’ (which, as the name suggests, cook food without fuel).
… and one of these women is Naomi. I could tell her story as one of sorrow and struggle – widowed young, 6 children (3 adopted), a basic existence. But that wouldn’t be true. Naomi is a tenacious, self-made, magnificent woman working as a local mobiliser with Practical Action.
Under Naomi’s watch, 200 local women have been trained to make and install simple and effective technologies to reduce wood useage and remove smoke from the home.
I guess that doesn’t sound so dramatic if you’re reading this back in the UK. But, I promise you, having spent time today in a home cooking on an open fire (which brought tears to my eyes, in both senses), it’s life-changing.
But more than that, it’s life-saving.
With 1.4 million lives lost to indoor smoke each year, no wonder Naomi and the Practical Action team are so passionate. If you had a solution to such needless loss of life, wouldn’t you be too?No Comments » | Add your comment
Today I learned a new word – ”Siany” – this is the Swahili word for the communal land located on the outskirts of the village where local women are permitted to gather fuelwood for their household energy needs.
It is early morning on the first day of our week long fact finding visit to Kenya together with our delegation of three MEPs keen to know more about the reality of energy poverty in Sub Saharan Africa and to witness the numerous initiatives underway that are successfully delivering energy access to those who need it most.
We set off at sunrise from a small village on the outskirts of Kisumu, Western Kenya, together with a group of local women eager for us to understand exactly what it takes to provide energy for cooking for their families; for many of these women this is a daily task.
Our guide on this 3 Km hike is Naomi, a middle aged widow and mother of six (three her own, three orphans she has taken in) and one of the most inspirational women I have had the pleasure to meet.
While taking down branches and whole tree trunks with large machetes, Naomi and her fellow women fuelwood carriers describe the various problems associated with gathering fuelwood (tiredness from having to walk so far, the risk of injury and the added threat during the rainy season of leeches and water borne diseases when standing ankle deep in the swampy terrain).
This hazardous task falls solely on the women and children – mothers and daughters – as does the task of cooking with the fuelwood, often on 3-stone fires which emit toxic, health damaging smoke into the home.
We learned that in the local language, if a woman marries, people say that she is “cooking” – if you are a woman and you marry, then you cook – end of story.
In the next breath the women are singing about the wonderful “Upesi”, an improved wood burning stove which they now use to reduce fuelwood consumption and indoor smoke. They still need to collect firewood, but with the improved stove, at least it lasts a bit longer and the kitchen is less smoky.
The following day we have the chance to meet the exceptional women’s cooperative that makes the Upesi stove and hear about the challenges of running a thriving business in Kenya – no mean feat given the already heavy workload ofwomen who cook in Kenya.No Comments » | Add your comment
I never imagined that a 5am start, for a 3km trek, ankle deep in leech-infested water would make for one of the more memorable experiences of my life.
It’s day one of our fact-finding visit and today we are in Kisumu, Western Kenya. Here we are learning about energy poverty and simple energy solutions for rural communities.
… and what better way to do that than by collecting and carrying wood for the family fire.
The entire community of Kadibo, Kisumu live without electricity and, like half the world’s population, cook on traditional open-fires in their homes.
Fuelling that fire is gruelling work … and it’s also women’s work.
We meet Philshongo, Dorothy and Joyce who each spend a day per week collecting, cutting, stripping, drying and carrying firewood.
It’s no easy task, and not just for me as a ‘novice’. Even for the ‘experts’ felling trees with machetes and head-loading 15kg of wood breaks a sweat.
One small tree (of say five years), once stripped and cut, equates to just a couple of days firewood.
But these women have no other option – there is so little firewood to forage that they have to jeopardise their tomorrow – i.e chopping down trees, to meet their needs today – i.e feeding their families.
As the least domesticated female I know (I’m no ‘Nigella’) I’ve never felt any association with the phrase, ‘A woman’s work is never done’ but here in Kadibo it’s the most true of truisms.
I can’t wait to see the Practical Action’s giving these, and thousands of other women, the opportunity to make their lives that little bit better.
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With the final tweaks made to the itinerary, the briefing packs sent and Members of the European Parliament on their way to the airport, we are ready to embark on our fact-finding visit to Kenya.
Five intensive days, four diverse locations, three Members of the European Parliament, two huge rucksacks each and one objective – to provide key decision-makers with the information and inspiration to take action on energy for development.
With the formal preparation complete, last night I set about preparing myself for the delegation:
* On-line check in …
* Print boarding card …
* Shower …
* Dry/Straighten hair …
* Iron clothes …
* Charge phone …
* Last-minute Lonely Planet reading …
… none of which could have been completed without the power being [ON].
A simple and telling ‘note to self’ that i couldn’t live my life without access to energy and nor should women and men across the developing world.
In Kenya, where 2 out of 3 families live without electricity, Practical Action is providing communities with the skills, technology and power to challenge their poverty.
The solutions exist. We can achieve Energy for All in the next two decades, but not without political will and international financing.
Let’s hope this visit convinces the decision-makers that it’s a challenge worth tackling.
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