Addressing Global Fuel Poverty and Access Issues

This is a guest blog by Sally James; a mother and a world traveler!

One third of the world’s population lacks electricity and does not have access to either a gas or electricity supply that is sufficient to power their home.  Particularly, Africa is experiencing a significant energy crisis that seldom makes the headlines in the mainstream media, but has devastating consequences for individuals that are living with these issues.

Exploring Power Shortages

621m Africans, equivalent to two-thirds of the continent’s entire population, live their daily lives without access to electricity.  93 million Nigerians currently depend on firewood and charcoal for heat and light, despite the fact that Nigeria is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, instead of turning domestic oil into a usable energy source for their own population.

Human rights violations from a lack of electricity are obvious, but less obvious consequences are significant economic burdens, continuing to keep much of the continent in financial poverty.  As a result, investment opportunities are undermined by unreliable electricity access and economic growth is stifled without access to basis equipment and tools they need.

To add insult to injury, education levels of children across the continent are falling without adequate light to study, and health clinics are unable to keep live vaccination cooled and refrigerated.

Therefore, lack of electricity also means a lack of health. The toxic fumes that are released by burning firewood and dung (the only affordable source of warmth for many Africans) kills approximately 600,000 people a year – half of whom are children.

The problem doesn’t end in Africa

A lack of access to gas, electricity, or another affordable source of fuel is not just a problem that affects developing countries. Large proportions of the Indian population also struggle to access a reliable fuel supply, while the UK reports more than 2.3 million households experiencing some form of fuel poverty.

According to the UK’s Warm Home and Energy Conservation Act, ‘Fuel Poverty’ is defined as when: “a person is living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost.”  In other words, individuals might have access to a source of energy, but the tariff they are offered is so prohibitively expensive they cannot afford it. As a result, their power source is shut off and rendered useless.

Conditions don’t improve significantly in the US, despite the World Bank reporting that the States have “100% access to electricity.”  The financial prohibitions to electricity access are similar in America as they are in much of Europe, and ‘fuel poverty’ is a significant issue that makes access difficult for many.

Modest Steps to Change

Many countries have signed up to a targeted goal of global electricity for all by 2030, but upon looking at current rates of access growth, it seems very unlikely that that target will be met. The sheer scale of the global energy deficit, particularly in Africa, means that it can be difficult for authorities to know where to start to tackle the issue.  As a result, widespread confusion on national power issues has allowed some African government officials to take advantage of ignorance by committing internal theft.  The US’ $120m went missing from the Tanzanian state power utility last year, without answers.

While the undetected theft was transferred through a complex web of off shore companies, millions were denied power access.

In conclusion, electricity access can and should be available to all.  Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the world’s most abundant and least exploited renewable energy sources, (especially solar power), but the government lacks the desire and incentives to uncover renewable energy benefits to increase public access.



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