Access to Energy is Essential for Development

September 9th, 2011

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.

One on one learning how to make fireless cookers

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.

Make the Call – Energy for All now

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