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580m Africans without power

afrol News, 14 May - More than 580 million people in Africa - two-thirds of the continent's population - do not have access to electricity, especially in rural areas where electricification rates might be as low as 2%, findings of the African Development Bank Group study revealed.

The study attributed "the absence of regular and clean energy to the root cause of many health and environmental risks in the continent." In sub-Saharan Africa, air pollution from wood fuels in inefficient stoves or open fires is responsible for 1,100 respiratory tract-related deaths per day, especially among women and children who are the primary users of household energy.

Energy is critical to all development efforts across the globe, and the absence of its reliable supply could hamper development efforts, especially for struggling Third World economies, the study stated. It is also critical to improving the well-being of the poor who need it for several purposes, including cooking, lighting, production of goods and services.

"Access to energy affects quality of life as it contributes to better public services such as health care and education, as well as improving possibilities for income generation and employment, the study underscores," the study said, adding, "energy services can protect the local and global environment by helping curb deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions." It is also vital to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The use of renewable sources and cleaner applications of fossil-based fuels had been agreed at several international conferences, including those held in Johannesbury in 2002 and Bonn in 2004. During the Bonn Conference, several African governments, institutes, and organizations committed themselves to the introduction of renewable energy or a more efficient use of energy. Africa is the second largest initiator of renewable energy with 20%, ranking behind Europe.

Africa is endowed with vast unexploited renewable energy resources, including solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, biomass energy and geothermal energy.

Several factors, including the security of national energy supplies, drainage of foreign exchange reserves and increasing dependence on fuel imports and the high and volatile price of fuel have all posed potential threats to African countries.

The study however cautioned that by "simply improving access to energy is not sufficient because energy is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end." As such, "the development of sustainable energy systems must be integrated into larger development programs."

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