Durban, November 8
The third day of Civil Society Organisations’ meeting to consolidate thoughts before this year’s African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) saw a variety of ideas and eye opening thoughts about the African common man.
The meeting that focused on energy access sought to encourage African governments to heavily invest in renewable energy technologies. This was due to the fact that Africa does not lack sources of clean energy, but is only lacking technologies to exploit the resources.
The meeting in Durban, South Africa, also outlined the suffering of African women that emphasises the need to shift to clean energy and where there is none, provide access to only clean energy.
According to Chinenye Anekwe, Business Development Manager at Solar Sister, Nigeria, the burden on women when clean energy cannot be accessed is overwhelming.
“Women are the hugest sufferers whenever disasters occur, not because they are weak. A recent fire incident in Nigeria left a woman and her child dead. The rest of the people escaped,” Ms Anekwe said before outlining what her organisation had achieved so far in their effort to help communities shift from fossil fuels to cleaner, cheaper, renewable and more reliable energy.
Melania Chiponda for Centre for Alternative Development (CAD), in Zimbabwe, gave a picture of the sorry state of the access to energy in her country.
“Between 66 per cent and 70 percent of Zimbabweans live in rural areas. Up to 80 per cent of these are women. The women have so many back problems because they have to walk long distances carrying heavy loads. The distances have become longer because the forests that used to be near their homes were cleared, yet they still need firewood.”
She said a lot of such families depended heavily on forests for fruits, medicine and several other things.
But there is another problem in Zimbabwe: So many deaths are occurring as a result of in-door pollution.
According to Ms Chiponda, those who cannot access all they used to get from the forests go for the cheaper fossil fuel that is “killing them”.
But why, when in some cases connectivity to electricity has increased.
“A Rural Electrification Act does not work because poor people and those living in the rural areas cannot afford to pay electricity bills. This is because they harvest once a year, and that’s their source of income,” Chiponda, who is also a lecturer at a Zimbabwe university, told the meeting.
“The country is devastated with drought. Politicians do not sound real, like when they tell you poor people can just connect to transformers brought near their homes. Where is the money?” she posed.
The dilemma, Chiponda said, has been that there have been no rains after the Cyclone Idai that killed 400 (recorded) and many more that are to be declared dead in six years because now they are only declared missing (and not dead).
“There is no longer a Victoria Falls. It’s going, just drips. The rain forest is gone.”
She said there was no certainty that the energy access needs of Zimbabweans were going to be met, especially considering that the country shared many of its rivers with other countries and that there was no clear roadmap on how other sources of clean energy could be exploited.
Even with connectivity of rural areas to electricity, a panellist at the conference said, there was no guarantee that households would tap the resource.
“Many people are connected to electricity but do not use the power. This can be scary to investors. Consumer education is very key. This is where Governments and CSOs come in. Productive power use of power needs to be achieved,” said Geofrey Kimiti, the Regional Programme Manager, Renewable World East Africa.
Elbusaidy Swaleh Ahmed of the Old Is Gold Empowerment Forum – Takataka Foundation, drew the attention of the forum to the need to push for the repealing of the law legalising sourcing and use of coal, hence legalizing the contentious coal powered projects at the Kenyan coast.
“This is the cry of Lamu people. Yes, the National Environment Tribunal discontinued the Lamu power project, but that was just on the basis of inadequate environment assessment and involvement of the people. If these two are done better, the courts will be obliged to allow the coal powered project to go on,” he said.
He outlined the dangers of having a coal project on over 800 acres, saying the biodiversity, from humans, fish, birds, animals and insects would suffer, as the movement of dust would not be restricted. He told the conference how their organisation, that is now working under PACJA, had been busy, and what they had achieved, saying even the community had already realised that they were initially being duped with the “job creation for the locals” theory.
But even with calls for investment in technologies to achieve the shift to cleaner energy, there was a reminder that some pre-existing machinery could be put to use.
“Existing home grown technologies that have been working and are tested even at the national level must not be forgotten in this effort. They will come in handy in the effort to shift to cleaner energy,” said Rose Mensah-Kutin, the Abantu for Development Director.
The CSOs meeting on energy has been organised by PACJA and its partners in preparation for the AMCEN 2019 starting Monday November 11, 2019.
There were more presentations from the African Development Bank, who stated their resolve to achieve their goal in the renewable energy discourse.
Several other CSOs and PACJA partners continued to share their thoughts, with UNEP starting the fourth day.
Influencing of policy was found to be key in enabling the big shift.