The connection between energy, poverty and environmental degradation
by Rasheed Bisiriyu
Despite the advent of modern energy services, fuel wood (otherwise known as firewood) is still a major source of
energy in Nigeria, which regrettably accounts for a high rate of deforestation, soil degradation and loss of
bio-diversity. This situation is said to be largely responsible for the impoverishment of the people.
Latest studies from the Millennium Development Goals Report, for instance, indicate that over 70 % of the population live below the international income poverty line of $ 1 a day.
Professor Umar, I.H., Director-General of Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), taking a look at the disturbing
scenario at a seminar organised in Lagos by Friends of the Society (FOTE), revealed that currently, the consumption
of fuel wood in the savannah region alone is about 34.85 mm cm for 2,000. According to the DG whose keynote address
to the event is entitled: Energy needs and sustainable livelihoods, "fuel wood production in excess of 75 mm tpy (as
witnessed in Nigeria) in the last decade, giving a net deforestation rate of 0.3 mm hectares per year, is not being
environmentally friendly (at all)."
Even as the Professor, ably represented at the workshop by his special assistant, Dr Esan noted that some efforts had been made globally and nationally to develop and make available to the people modern energy services such as electricity and gas.
Dr Tola Adebayo, a former boss of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), in his contribution, pointed out that
less than 20 % of households in Nigeria are connected to the national grid, let alone having access to gas that is
the LPG. Besides, the don expressed worry that with the erratic nature of electricity supply in Nigeria, half of
those connected still use kerosene and fuel wood for lighting, cooking, drying, heating and agricultural or
industrial activities especially in the urban poor areas.
The resultant environmental degradation and pollution may not be limited to Nigeria. According to Dr Adebayo, "there are about 2 bn people across the world with no regular access to reliable and environmentally acceptable energy services."
To address the problem, a global research is reportedly being sponsored by Department of Funds for International
Development (DFID) in Nigeria and two other developing countries- Brazil and Philippines, under a theme, "Enabling
Urban Poor Livelihoods Policy making; Understanding the role of Energy Services”. According to Mrs Joanna
Maduka, an engineer and FOTE chairperson, her non-governmental organisation which was empowered to carry out the
research in Nigeria decided to organise the workshop to signal the commencement of the global effort.
"We therefore intend to use this workshop to kick-start the project, which comprises both primary and secondary survey in Abuja, which is a relatively new settlement, and Lagos -- a mega city with diverse urban and peri-urban settlements. The survey is intended to highlight the impact of energy on their livelihoods and contribute to theeradication of urban poverty by making pragmatic policy recommendations for formulating strategies for addressing bottle necks in accessing energy services by the urban poor," she stated.
All the experts at the event, including Prof. Anthony Imerbore who chaired the occasion, in their different
submissions agreed that the availability of sustainable and affordable commercial energy is central to any solution
aimed at addressing poverty and environmental degradation in Nigeria as in other parts of the world.
But the real challenges in this area, as observed by Prof. Umar, lies in "how to develop cleaner combustion technologies and how to cover the real cost of fuels and energy services”. Recently however he disclosed that ECN through its energy research centres in Sokoto and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, had used modern and efficient technologies "to develop and adopt devices for the utilisation of renewable energy resources."
According to him, about 90 % of the raw materials used for the devices were sourced locally.
"Some of these appliances include solar crop dryers, which can be used to process agriculture products such as rice, maize, pepper, tomatoes, cocoa, tea and coffee, solar water heaters for providing hot water in hotels and hospitals for bathing and washing, solar cookers, solar chick brooders for producing day old chicks, solar water distillers for producing distilled water for batteries, solar PV water pumping for clean portable water," among others things developed.
Even if the vast number of people are aware of these technologies which can bring about sustainable livelihoods, their present level of poverty remains a major hindrance in accessing them.
This position was the kernel of Dr Adebayo's presentation who spoke on, Financing Energy Services and Income
Generating Opportunities for the Nigerian Urban Poor. He however recommended credit loan facilities by government to
the people at little or no interest rate. Citing the Bangladesh example, Adebayo recounted how the Grameen Bank of
Bangladesh popularised renewable energy resources in 1996 when it established Grameen Shanti (GS) or “Rural
Energy.” The GS has been providing numerous households in Bangladesh with sustainable energy.
"The solar energy is environmentally friendly. Grameen Shakti offers two financing options that involve a down payment and monthly payments spread out over a period of time," he said.
To boost the provision of modern energy services and make them sustainably available for the urban, Prof. Umar also
called for active participation of the private sector and cooperation between the non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) and government agencies.
Happily, the experts noted that the latest initiative of the African Union (AU) under the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is looking in this direction. They however called for more commitment from African leaders.