Sub-Saharan Africa is changing rapidly. New infrastructure, economic development and urbanisation are transforming society. Poverty is declining and the middle class is growing. Yet two-thirds of the population – more than 600 million people – still lack access to electricity, and more than 700 million cook with traditional biomass: wood, charcoal, dung and agricultural residues. With population growth, the number of traditional biomass users is expected to rise to 880 million by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
How is this possible? To some extent, it reflects a broader struggle to meet Africa’s energy needs. As of 2013, the total power capacity installed in Africa was 147 GW – about the same as in Belgium, or what China installs every year or two, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). But governments have also prioritised energy for mining, industry and other large-scale investments. Thus, even with massive electrification efforts under way, the AfDB still expects half the population of sub-Saharan Africa to lack electricity in 2030. And although many countries have promoted clean cookstoves and off-grid household energy solutions, the scale of these efforts is much more modest.
It is time to recognize that modernizing household energy is central to Africa’s development – and that means bringing women to the table.
Women and girls collect most of the firewood, spending an average of 2.1 hours per day on the task. They also do most of the cooking – a task that consumes about 1.6 hours per day, according to World Bank estimates. This is time that could be spent on education and income-earning activities, costing sub-Saharan African economies as much as US$29.6 billion per year, the World Bank estimates. Combined with health, environmental and other economic impacts, the cost is close to US$60 billion.
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation, UK