End energy poverty to save the environment

What you need to know:

Majority of Ugandans use firewood and charcoal for cooking, an indelible fact driving up deforestation in the country

Much as Uganda is making strides in embracing renewable forms of energy, there is still a huge gap between those who realize the urgency of this and those who are limited because of conditions beyond their control.

Majority of Ugandans use firewood and charcoal for cooking, an indelible fact driving up deforestation in the country. The rate at which trees are cut down is unmatched with the planting and replanting of more trees! Something has got to give to save the forests and in this case, it’s the relinquishing of traditional biomass for cooking in favour of alternative and sustainable options.

Energy poverty is the lack of enough or total absence of energy to make a difference in one’s life. Adequate energy is the engine of progressive development, therefore scarcity of it constraints both economic and social growth.

According to results from energy economics, 66 percent of Ugandans are multi-dimensionally energy poor while 33 percent are severely energy poor, putting the average deprivation score at 51 percent.

This is a large percentage considering that people need sufficient energy to thrive in their businesses as well as live comfortably in their households. Therefore, as we talk about boosting vital sectors for economic growth recovery after Covid-19 severe disruption, it should be noted that fair distribution of energy is key and is central to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal seven. (Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all)

There should be a deliberate effort to extend/generate clean and sustainable energy in rural areas.

With the Parish Development Model where the pillar of production, processing and marketing is projected to be one driving force to Uganda’s economic development, it’s crucial to go into communities and understand how much energy they need to thrive.

Additionally, understanding what productive activities each community is engaged in, is equally important. For instance, the people of Bulambuli are among the largest growers of Arabic coffee in the country.

This straightforwardly qualifies these farmers’ need of powered coffee processing machines. While across in Teso land, they require cassava, potatoes, millet drying machines and fruits processing plants. Provision of adequate and sustainable energy will foster creativity in rural youth, enabling them to fabricate such machines on a small scale but which ultimately will play a great role in the success of the Parish Development Model.

Nonetheless, ending energy poverty calls for a committed national effort, we need firm agreements, clear plans, and tools, allocated finances to hold the government accountable. The private sector,civil society and major initiatives all have to work together. It is all about raising ambition and showing people that collectively we can save the trees. The government’s main focus should be on creating an environment for the private sector to flourish and to develop local capacity. For example, the private sector ought to be incentivised to execute projects in decentralised energy solutions to meet local energy demands.

Embracing clean and renewable energy offers tremendous job opportunities, especially when systems and projects to develop these jobs are created. For instance a bio-gas plant in a local community has the potential to sustainably employ a number of youth.

However, training opportunities have to be availed to the youth, especially young women who have been locked out of some employable fields because of societal views, beliefs and culture. Women just like men are capable of so much output, more so if these energy projects are localised. We must challenge the norms to create opportunities that benefit all.

No doubt, some renewable energy companies are off ering training opportunities to fresh graduates but what about those rural youth who haven’t had a chance to study or graduate?

Majority of them are voiceless and thus, have no seat at the table staring at a blank future. It is paramount that the skilling programmes are tailored to real community needs to improve livelihoods and the overall economic development of these areas and the country at large.

When we talk about sustainable energy it is the diff erence between a mother or a baby living or dying. This has to be brought down to the grass-roots level, because the decisions we make always affect the most vulnerable people. Sustainability is about saving lives through preserving, conserving and protecting the environment. Conclusively, as long as people do not have access to affordable, adequate and clean energy, saving the tree cover is an empty pursuit.

It will also be a challenge for the country to realise climate and sustainable development goals and ambitions.

Katherine Nabuzale