Decentralized energy management brings changes in power and poverty struggle in Africa
Local councils and development groups are working together to overcome the economic challenges of carrying out solar-powered water supply projects in rural Africa.
As climate change brings more flooding, water shortages and other crises that aggravate poverty in African communities, many are embracing innovative solutions, including decentralized energy management, in order to become more resilient to threats from climate change.
Following a shift in energy management policy in many countries, especially in Africa, multiple efforts are being made to harness power for food, health and education in an effort to bring dramatic change to the fight against poverty and climate change.
“Decentralized management helps to catalyze societal action in many development spheres, including those of energy and the environment,” says Chris Henderson, head of Lumos Energy, an non-governmental organization working to promote clean energy in rural communities in Africa and in First Nations in Canada.
The problem is that many decentralized local administrations in African countries don’t have the financial means to carry out big energy projects, experts said at the OpenAccess Energy Summit in Waterloo, Ont., which ran from April 24-27, 2016.
But there was a consensus among these experts that the benefits of decentralized management and partnerships between local councils and other development actors can make a significant impact.
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Small steps bringing big changes
Over the last decades in many African countries, there have been increased investments in small-scale hydroelectricity and renewable energy projects, thanks to public-private partnership initiatives and a decentralized energy management policy.
Using an abundance of sunshine to power energy projects provides portable water systems in local communities, availing families with water they desperately need for their health and business opportunities and rendering cases of water-related diseases a thing of the past, according to the experts.
They agree that the dawn of renewables is driving transformative change in the lives of vulnerable communities in many regions in Africa and the world at large.
“We have seen the multiple life-changing benefits of energy access, especially to rural communities. We need to create an enabling environment for thousands of energy access opportunities to bloom,” says Billy Yarro, West Africa Energy Lead at Practical Action.
“But we have to start from somewhere, with some action and collaboration with partners, no matter how small,” Yarro adds.
In Cameroon’s far north, some six neighbouring villages — Mindif, Larie, Katchel, Dir Irlagare, Mayo Bahehel and Ouro Dole — are reaping unexpected benefits from a solar-powered water supply scheme, thanks to collaboration efforts between the government and the Centre for Environment and Rural Transformation (CERUT), an NGO in Cameroon.
Before the project, many herders had lost nearly all their animals — their main sources of income — as a result of the region’s drying groundwater supplies.
The new water supply system uses a 2,500-cubic-metre water tower, built into the hills 15 kilometres from Mindif. Using power from solar panels, the water is pumped up from an underground reservoir and distributed through a network of pipes to Mindif and the other villages.
In the villages, more than 40 water storage containers collect the supplied water, which is delivered into household containers using a low-maintenance hand pump. Just one year after the project, clean drinking water is available to 80 per cent of people in the villages.
Likewise, in Zimbabwe a solar-powered water supply scheme is helping women farmers improve their livelihood and those of their families.
Villagers contributed passion and labour while Pro-Africa, a local NGO, provided training and technical advice. Rotary International helped secure funds to enhance the capacity of the Matope Dam, which is a major source of water supply in the community.
Djimingue Nanasta, program manager of Enda Energy in Senegal, has worked in Zimbabwe and says the Irisvale resettlement area in the Umzingwane District, 70 kilometres southeast of Zimbabwe's second largest city of Bulawayo, has suffered in the past from hunger and poverty each time there is a drought. But things have changed for the better since the construction of the solar-powered dam.
Nanasta adds, “Water limitation regularly affected the rural community accessing markets for their produce, but that is now changing because of the water supply scheme.”