A Need for Energy

Sun, 08/29/2010

A Need for Energy

Only 1% of households in rural Ethiopia have access to electricity. Rema, a village 150 miles north of the capital city of Addis Ababa, is an exception: every household – that’s more than 5,500 residents – has electricity. The Solar Energy Foundation, with support from other donors, has installed solar panels on more than 2,000 rooftops.

The project started in 2006 with a $2.7 million grant from the Good Energies Foundation. Rema was selected on the basis of its ability to demonstrate the potential of solar power to transform its community of poor families. Since the solar panels were installed, children have been able to do their homework by lamplight and it is possible to store medicines that require refrigeration. A solar-technician training program has been established, and it is able to operate in the evenings thanks to the solar energy generated during the day.

Energy is a vital tool for development. The International Energy Agency estimates that around the world, 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity. Slightly more than 1 billion people are chronically hungry. It is no accident that these numbers are not far apart. Many of the world’s poor fall into both categories. Underdeveloped areas suffer multiple deprivations, and one of the most significant is lack of energy sources.

In a world where technologies make it possible for someone to communicate with another person far away in a split second, the lack of access to a basic commodity like electricity underscores how marginalized some groups of people remain. Energy opens up new economic opportunities for technological advancement and market access. Communities can then build schools and health clinics, diversify their food supply, and attract outside investment. Provided that demand is met by a sustainable supply of energy, everyone stands to gain as energy use increases in poor countries.  Energy, poverty, and hunger are joined together in a tight knot. Unless the world develops new and renewable sources of energy, the entanglement could begin to seem more like a noose.By the beginning of 2009, developing countries accounted for three-quarters of all the mobile phones in use around the world.

Climate change is pressuring rich countries to produce cleaner forms of energy. Countries that can afford it are already replacing fossil fuels with solar, wind, and other clean forms of energy. The promise of clean energy is that it could allow all countries to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change that are associated with reliance on fossil fuels. Another promise, less publicized, is that clean energy provides marginalized communities like Rema with a way to spur their own development: they can leapfrog over technological barriers that may have appeared intractable only a short while ago, opening up the possibility of renewed progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. It will be a major challenge to expand the remarkable progress in Rema as the world is struggling to recover from the worst recession in more than half a century. But it needs to be done in order to reduce poverty and greenhouse gas accumulation and to contain the effects of climate change.


Bread for the World Institute
HUNGER 2010 – 20th Annual Report on the State of World Hunger
A Just and Sustainable Recovery, chapter 4