Energy access: a tool for poverty alleviation in rural communities

Energy access: a tool for poverty alleviation in rural communities

By Oluwatobi Soyombo

This afternoon, we read with huge concern the article published on VoxDev about the limitations of rural electrification. While this study isn’t based on datasets from rural communities in Nigeria, we consider it important to respond to some of the points in the article for the benefit of the sector across Africa since the article cited statements from African leaders.

First, we admit that rural electrification is not cheap, but so is every other tangible intervention to alleviate poverty. With this basic assumption, we establish a common platform for a meaningful conversation about how the over 1 billion people without access to electricity are going to be electrified.

Based on an 18-month study, the article recommends prioritization of investments in other areas such as transportation, education, health, water, sanitation and other sectors, as against rural electrification. While it is true that these other sectors are important to make a meaningful impact on rural dwellers, unfortunately, the majority of those interventions cannot be achieved without access to electricity. This is the basic principle upon which our operation as a company is based. We consider electricity as the basic infrastructure upon which other services and interventions can thrive. For instance, how do you provide access to modern and clean water infrastructure without electricity? How do you provide quality health services without electricity, when the majority of vaccines and drug need to be stored at a minimum temperature? The list continues. Electricity is a platform. This is why rural electrification is important irrespective of the cost (in the short term) and the short term data gathered.

Rural Electrification is a long term investment, so is impact.

Rural electrification is not a short term game. Meaningful impact (economic, social etc) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Therefore, it is myopic for conclusions and policy recommendations to be based on short term datasets, especially in a sector like this. Dropping a 100kW power station in a community that has never seen electricity is not going to change the lives of the dwellers overnight, but it is the necessary platform upon which that change can happen. Even with a reliable grid, it is difficult to change human behaviour. For people who have never consumed electricity, it could take time to form new patterns of consumption and complete reliability on a new way of life. This is why our company and others in this space create other interventions such as appliance finance, microloans and the likes to help rural dwellers make this transition easily. Despite these important interventions, patience is still an important virtue in this game.

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What is Energy Poverty?
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Energy Access: a tool for poverty alleviation in rural communities 

All-Inclusive Intervention

Conclusively, electricity (energy access) is not the only equation in poverty reduction. To witness a lasting impact in rural communities, schools still need to be built; roads need to be constructed; community health infrastructure need to be set up. Other parts of the equation still need to be worked out in order to see a meaningful impact. It is hard to imagine a society where only access to electricity changes everything. This is not true for urban areas, especially in developed countries. It is equally not going to be the case for rural communities. Therefore, access to electricity needs to be seen as just a part of the equation in alleviating poverty.

It is not an easy thing to do, it is not cheap, but it is the infrastructure upon which civilization can occur.

While we understand the impact of studies like this, especially in “misinforming” the public and distorting the premise of this “cause”, we remain convinced and resolute in the mission of accelerating energy access in rural communities.

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