Recently in Food Security Category
“Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by; the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs. And it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy. You’ve got to have power. And yet two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to power -- and the percentage is much higher for those who don’t live in cities.” – President Barack Obama, Remarks at the Uni. of Cape Town, June 30, 2013
The satellite image of earth at night says it all: except for a few urban areas scattered here and there, essentially the entire continent of Africa is shrouded in darkness. In many sub-Saharan African nations, as much as 90% of the rural population lacks access to electricity. No lights. No refrigerators. No computers. Nada, Zippo, Zilch.
When I read that President Obama had introduced his administration’s new Power Africa initiative I was excited at the prospect of more lights being turned on in Africa, more children being able to go to school and access online resources, more patients being treated and vaccinated at rural health clinics, more farmers finding ways to ensure their own food security, and more small entrepreneurs launching new businesses.
Power Africa will commit more than $7 billion in financial support over the next five years from the U.S. Import-Export Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation. An additional $9 billion will be leveraged in private sector commitments from initiative partners that will support the development of more than 8,000 megawatts of new electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa.
For those of us in the international development community who have been fighting energy poverty, this initiative is a big deal. Combined with the U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative – whose primary goal is to ensure universal access to modern energy services for the world’s poor by 2030 – Power Africa can help make a significant contribution to the challenge of providing electricity to those who have none.
Although the bulk of the initiative seems to be focused on developing electricity services for those that live in or near urban areas, it is important to note that the vast majority of people who suffer from energy poverty live beyond the reach of a traditional power grid. These folks are not likely to have access to grid electricity anytime soon due to the exorbitant cost and logistical difficulty of extending power lines to remote parts of the world. Solar and other renewable energy‐based power systems offer the best solution in meeting the current and future energy needs of off-grid communities as they can be installed in very remote locations and do not have to be tied to a utility grid.
Solar electricity may be used to power stand-alone applications such as household lighting systems and appliances, or alternatively, to power larger facilities such as schools and health centers. It can also be used to pump and purify water, irrigate crops, run computers, and power small businesses. When combined with wireless communications, solar energy can also put the world’s ever-expanding database of knowledge at the fingertips of every child on the planet, no matter how remote or isolated he or she may happen to be. And now, thanks to recent advances in inverter and smart metering technology, solar microgrids are quickly becoming a cost-effective solution for powering entire villages or even clusters of villages in the developing world.
Achieving the goals of the Power Africa initiative will require creative thinking, innovation, expertise, and cooperation. Working with government, private sector and non-governmental organization partners, SELF has built a track record of successful solar electricity projects in more than 20 countries around the world, enabling us to develop innovative applications of solar energy to assist those living without electricity in their economic, education, health and agricultural development. By working collaboratively to develop innovative approaches in providing energy solutions for people living in energy poverty, we can put them on a path of self-reliance and prosperity.
I believe that energy is a human right. Without it, there is no way to light homes, pump water, store vaccines, run computers, operate machinery, or communicate with the rest of the world; it is a cornerstone of modern civilization.
For many communities that lie beyond the reach of a conventional power grid, solar energy offers the greatest hope to provide the power they need to improve their lives. I believe that SELF’s approach in implementing solar energy systems to power virtually every aspect of community life can be replicated around the world to help lift people out of poverty and secure a brighter future for themselves and their children.
It's time to declare energy to be a human right.
Without energy, there is no way to light our homes, pump water, store vaccines, run computers, operate machinery, or communicate with the rest of the world.
Energy is a cornerstone of modern civilization, yet 1.5 billion people still have no access to electricity. This is unacceptable.
But progress is being made. Earlier this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while attending the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, announced that 2012 has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.
For those of us who have been fighting energy poverty, this is a big deal. In fact, this is a big deal for anyone and everyone who cares about clean water, food security, women’s empowerment, healthcare, education, poverty alleviation, and the protection of our global ecosystem, for energy access is a prerequisite for all of the above.
For far too long, the role of energy in meeting basic human needs had been overlooked by the international development community. Energy access was not included as a Millennium Development Goal when the MDGs were first announced by the U.N. in the year 2000. Ever since then, however, there has been a growing consensus that none of the MDGs can be achieved without access to modern energy services. And now, with the declaration of the Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the United Nations has elevated the importance of energy access to the highest level of political discourse. The U.N. Secretary General is calling upon governments of the world, along with the private sector and civil society, to join forces in a global campaign to end energy poverty by the year 2030.
The UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative is focused on three mutually reinforcing goals: 1) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; 2) doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and 3) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
I am happy to see this campaign get underway. But we can do more. We can assign legal status to the notion of energy as a human right. We can make it official!
On what grounds, then, can access to energy be considered a human right, and secondly, to what extent might a human rights platform help to accelerate progress towards the goal of universal energy access?
To find justification for the concept of energy as a human right, one need look no further than to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which has its roots in the same process that led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In 1945, the newly established United Nations began drafting a “Declaration on the Essential Rights of Man”, which was split early on into a declaration setting forth general principles of human rights and a convention containing binding commitments. The former evolved into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was adopted on December 10,1948.
Drafting on the convention continued, but due to ongoing differences among member states on the relative importance of “negative” civil and political rights versus “positive” economic, social, and cultural rights, the convention was eventually split into two separate documents: 1) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and 2) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both drafts were presented to the UN General Assembly for discussion in 1954, and adopted on December 16, 1966. As of July 2011, the Covenant had 160 parties.
A quick review of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reveals just how essential energy access is to a wide range of socio-economic goals upheld by the ICESCR. Article 11 of the Covenant, for example, lists a number of rights that are essential to achieve a decent standard of living, including access to “adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement in living conditions”. Article 12 confers the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant establish the right to work, while Article 13 establishes the right to education.
While not identified as such, it may be argued that the right of access to modern energy is implicitly conferred by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as it is essential to the fulfillment of many if not most of the articles contained therein. This is precisely the case with the Millennium Development Goals: access to energy, though not included itself, is an absolute prerequisite for achieving each and every one of the MDGs.
With the launching of the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, the timing could not be better for the assigning of legal status to the right of access to modern energy services. Doing so would impose obligations on States, both at the national and international level. A human rights approach to energy access would also help to mobilize the entire structure of the UN human rights apparatus, and empower organizations fighting for rights in other sectors to champion energy access as a key component of their respective agendas.
Let’s take women’s rights, for example, which are not only the focus of Millennium Development Goal No. 3 (“promote gender equality and empower women”) but which are also embodied in a number of international treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, CEDAW is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.
The Convention provides the basis for achieving equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life as well as in the areas of education, health and employment. According to Article 3 of the Convention, “States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measure, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women.”
In light of the above, the question is: how will women’s rights ever be safeguarded if they are the ones who have to walk miles every day to fetch water and fuel? Or inhale the noxious fumes from indoor cooking fires and kerosene lamps? Or give birth in the dark?
Women surely bear the greatest burden when it comes to energy poverty, and unless and until modern energy services are made available to them, women—especially those in rural areas—will continue to suffer from gross inequalities in their health, education, and economic opportunity.
Water is another issue that is tightly interwoven with that of energy, but in terms of rights, water has made greater progress. In fact, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. In adopting the resolution, the UN General Assembly expressed deep concern that almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water, and called upon member states and international organizations to help poorer countries scale up efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.
And yet, access to clean water itself depends upon energy. For example, the MDG target of reducing by half the number of people without access to clean water will require one million electric pumps. Many types of water purification systems also require electricity to operate. So in the final analysis, the right to clean water—which underpins a number of other social and economic human rights—is itself dependent upon having access to modern forms of energy.
The same argument can be extended to other sectors as well. Healthcare is an obvious one. Without access to energy, especially electricity, it is not possible to store vaccines and other vital medicines, or operate a modern healthcare facility. The concept of health as a human right has made great strides in recent years, and is now championed by a growing number of visionary leaders such as Dr. Paul Farmer, who recognizes and has publically spoken out on the critical importance of modern energy in delivering healthcare services to the poor.
The list goes on and on. Whether it be in terms of gender equality, clean water, healthcare, or any number of other priorities not discussed here (such as food security, poverty alleviation, or protection of the environment), energy access—or the lack thereof—invariably factors into the equation. Since all the Millennium Development Goals, and many of the rights upheld by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ultimately depend upon having access to modern forms of energy, it is time that we declare energy itself to be a human right.
In light of the fact that 2012 has just been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, I cannot think of a better way to strengthen the resolve of the global development community in its efforts to achieve universal energy access.
A human rights platform would provide a strong moral basis as well as an authoritative legal structure by which to pressure governments to provide basic energy services to their people, especially those living in rural and remote regions. It’s not just about investing government resources, which in the developing world can be quite limited; it’s about creating an enabling environment—in terms of laws, policies, and regulatory frameworks—that will encourage creative partnerships between local governments, civil society, and the private sector to increase energy access for the poor.
Energy is essential for life. It is essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. And it is essential for safeguarding a broad range of basic human rights. The right of access to energy is, in fact, implicitly conferred by a number of international treaties and conventions, but now the time has come to make such an assumption explicit and formally declare—with the full backing and authority of the United Nations—that access to modern energy is, and shall henceforth be deemed, a fundamental human right.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. In some cases, though, it may also begin with a visit to the district capital to obtain a copy of one’s birth certificate.
As mentioned in a previous post, access to modern energy—while omitted from the initial group of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched by the United Nations in 2000—has gained growing recognition as being a prerequisite for achieving the MDGs. Indeed, the United Nations has even gone so far as to designate 2012 as the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.
Last month I was invited to participate in “Energy for All: Financing Access for the Poor”, a high-level conference that took place in Oslo, Norway. I was asked to present a case study on our solar-powered drip irrigation model in Benin that has enabled women farmers in the arid, northern part of the country to grow highly nutritious food year-round.
The organizers of the conference also asked if I could bring with me to Oslo a member of the local community in Benin so that he or she could provide a first-hand account of how village life has been tranformed as a result of our project.
I immediately thought of Ms. Ganigui Guera, president of the women’s farming cooperative in Dunkassa—one of two villages in northern Benin where SELF’s Solar Market Gardens have been in operation over the past four years.
Ms. Guera, whom we affectionately refer to as “Madame La Presidente”, was my first choice for two reasons: 1) as president of the women’s farming cooperative in Dunkassa, she is a natural leader who can speak authoritatively on behalf of the other women in the community, and 2) she is a strong, dignified woman who carries herself proudly. Such dignity was all too palpable when Madame was featured two years ago in Vu du Ciel, a French documentary about our project in Benin.
Unfortunately, this invitation came with precious little time remaining before the conference. Madame would need to apply for a visa to travel to Norway, a process that normally takes two weeks. But getting a visa, as I found out, was the least of our problems. Madame didn’t have a passport, nor did she have a national ID card, or even a birth certificate. So in order to travel to Norway, she would have to obtain a birth certificate, then a national ID card, then a passport, and finally a visa—all within two weeks!
Against all odds, Madame Ganigui was able to obtain her birth certificate, national ID, and passport in one week, and with support from the Norwegian government as well as Danish embassy in Benin, she was issued a visa just one day before her scheduled flight to Oslo (via Brussels).
Madame had less than 24 hours to prepare for her trip to Europe. Fortunately, our solar technician Zacharie had traveled to Cotonou with Madame, so he was able to assist her with the purchase of essential items such as a suitcase and carry on bag, shoes, and of course, a warm jacket since Oslo would be significantly colder than what Madame was accostomed to.
I arrived to Oslo several hours before Madame, so I was able to pick her up at the airport. Needless to say, I was relieved to see her arrive safely, but I was also dismayed to learn that no one from the airlines had greeted her in Brussels, as agreed to, and escorted her to her connecting flight. I can only imagine how disorienting it must have been for someone who had never traveled abroad or flown before in an airplane. But Madame is a resourceful woman who managed to find the gate on her own.
After checking in to our hotel, we had a buffet dinner and retired for the evening. At dinner, and during subsequent meals in Oslo, it was very interesting to observe Madame experience certain foods for the first time.
The next morning Madame and I attended the opening plenary session which led off with introductory remarks by the Prime Minister of Norway. Thanks to the simultaneous interpreting that was available throughout the conference, Madame was able to listen to everyone’s remarks in French, a language she speaks fluently in addition to Bariba, an African dialect that is spoken widely in the north of Benin.
Later that afternoon I arranged for a brief tour of Oslo. While waiting in the lobby with Madame for our French-speaking tour guide, we had a most fortuitous encounter. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon walked through the revolving front door of the hotel, and suddenly there he was, right in front of us. I siezed the opportunity and quickly introduced the Secretary General to Madame, and told him about the solar-powered drip irrigation model that she has championed in Benin. As Madame La Presidente shook hands with Ban Ki-moon, one of the UN staff photographers took pictures.The next morning, I gave a talk on our work in Benin. After my remarks, I invited Madame on stage for her to share her thoughts with the audience. A bit nervous but resolute, Madame walked up to the podium and began to speak. Her voice was quiet and measured. Everyone listened intently as Madame explained who she was and what she has been doing to help her community improve its food security and climb out of poverty.“Solar energy, Madame affirmed, “has transformed our village”. “Thanks to our new-found ability to pump water from rivers and underground aquifers, we are able to grow food year-round. Not only are we feeding our families, we—the women of Dunkassa—are also earning extra income from the sale of fresh produce, income that we can use to pay for school fees and medical treatment.”
When Madame concluded her remarks, the moderator of our panel captured the general mood and reaction of everyone in the room when he said, “If ever we needed a clearer reminder of why we’re here, I think we’ve just heard it.”
Indeed, Madame’s personal testimony was the perfect way to conclude this two-day conference in Oslo. Through her presence, energy poverty suddenly took on a life-like quality that could never be conveyed through a rehearsed speech or powerpoint presentation. Madame was the real deal and everyone knew it. And though Madame’s journey to Norway had been a long and arduous one, it was worth it. Her words, gentle but powerful, will continue to reverberate in the hearts and minds of people who care about energy poverty long after she returns to her native Benin.
Madame is now back in her village, helping to prepare for the dry season which begins this month. But unlike before, when virtually nothing could be grown from November to April, Dunkassa’s drip-irrigated fields will soon be sprouting all kinds of leafy green vegetables—for both consumption as well as sale to market.
And now, Madame knows that her voice has been heard on the world stage, and that the example she is setting in Benin will light the way towards a brighter future for thousands of villagers like her elsewhere in Africa—and beyond.
Walt Ratterman—one of the most dedicated and intrepid solar pioneers that I have ever had the honor of knowing—was tragically killed last month when the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th leveled the Hotel Montana in which he was staying. The world has lost a truly great man, solar professional and global humanitarian.
I had heard about Walt for years, but didn’t get to meet him in person until the summer of 2006 when I traveled to Rwanda to check out the first of five solar electric systems that SELF was in the process of installing at rural clinics run by Partners In Health (PIH). Aside from Walt’s deep technical knowledge and experience installing photovoltaic (PV) systems around the world, one of the things that struck me most about Walt was his tireless work ethic. He never seemed to take a rest. Typically up by 4:00am, Walt would spring into action with a series of calisthenics, followed by a checklist review of everything he aimed to accomplish over the next 24 hours. And after a long, grueling day in the field followed by a quick supper, instead of relaxing over a beer or two, Walt would inevitably fire up his laptop and respond to a string of emails and/or do some additional planning for his next project.
A couple of other attributes come to mind when I think about Walt. First, he loved to teach and always took special pleasure in training local technicians and villagers in the basics of PV installation and maintenance. One of my favorite photos of Walt is the one below, which features him and a couple of Rwandans wiring the back of a solar panel.
Second, Walt had a profound sense of kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate and treated everyone with the utmost respect and dignity. He also possessed a fierce sense of social justice, which no doubt helped to fuel his passion to provide solar electricity to some of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged peoples.
Third, Walt was an avid reader and student of history and world religions. One conversation that I remember fondly was about our common experiences with Tzu Chi, a Buddhist relief organization founded by Master Zheng Yan in Taiwan. Having lived in Taiwan for six years, I had met Master Zheng Yan on several occasions and was familiar with Tzu Chi’s humanitarian outreach in Taiwan and overseas. You can imagine my surprise and delight when Walt informed me that not only had he met Master Zheng Yan but that he had been appointed by her as a commissioner of Tzu Chi in connection with humanitarian work he had carried out in Afghanistan!
Which brings me to Knightsbridge International (KBI), the organization under whose auspices Walt traveled to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to provide aid to people who were fleeing from the Taliban. As a member of Knightsbridge, a humanitarian and medical aid organization founded in 1995, Walt had journeyed to and provided relief in far-flung places such as Burma, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Sudan, and the Philippines. Some of Walt’s humanitarian feats in the first few years of the new millennium were beautifully captured in Adrian Belic’s 2006 award-winning documentary Beyond the Call about Knightsbridge International.
After completing the electrification of PIH's health centers in Rwanda, SELF asked Walt to assist with addtional projects in Rwanda, as well as to continue working with SELF on the solar electrification of PIH clinics in Losotho and Haiti. Walt also helped us solar electrify a new hospital in Burundi that had been built by PIH's sister organization, Village Health Works.
Walt was, without doubt, the most dedicated and hardest-working project manager Jeff Lahl and I have ever worked with. We would have gladly brought him on full time, but Walt preferred to work independently, to many organizations’ benefit.
He established SunEnergy Power International (SunEPI) to serve as a vehicle for all the humanitarian renewable energy projects that he undertook in remote, rural parts of the world. Since 2007, Walt and SunEPI had been working with USAID to assess healthcare energy systems in Haiti, an initiative which dovetailed nicely with our plans to assist PIH in Haiti. He oversaw our 10-kilowatt installation at the PIH-run clinic in Boucan Carre, helped secure a donation of PV equipment, and involved USAID in the project
For a long time after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, Walt’s family—along with many of his friends and colleagues, myself included—continued to believe that he had survived the collapse of the Hotel Montana and was patiently waiting for the rubble to be cleared away so that he could refill his water bottle and get back to work. Within days of the disaster, a special Facebook page had been set up by Walt’s family to serve as a conduit for information about search and rescue operations at the Montana, as well as to provide a communications platform for anyone who knew or knew about Walt and wished to contribute personal thoughts and reflections about him or others who were also missing.
Even before the tragedy in Haiti, Walt was a hero to many people around the world, a fact that is clearly evident from reading the hundreds of impassioned prayers and well wishes posted on his Facebook page by people in faraway places whose lives were blessed in one way or another by Walt’s grace, compassion, and goodwill.
It wasn’t until a few days ago that we finally learned Walt’s remains had been found in the rubble of the Hotel Montana. While saddened beyond words by the finality of this news, I am comforted knowing that Walt’s spirit of adventure and dedication to making this world a better place will live on in the thousands of people that he has inspired, and in the dozens of organizations that he has worked with and supported.
One such organization is Solar Energy International (SEI), a nonprofit group based in Carbondale, Colorado that has trained more people in photovoltaic design and installation than any other group that I know of. To honor Walt, SEI has just established the Walt Ratterman Scholarship Fund to support people from developing countries to attend SEI workshops. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to Walt and his lifelong commitment to social justice and the provision of sustainable energy access across the globe.
Woods Institute for the Environment to evaluate the impact of our Solar Market Garden in Benin's Kalalé district.
I blogged about the our involvement in Benin in an earlier post titled - Food Security: Using Solar Power to Transform Rural Agriculture in Benin's Kalalé District - noting how we were first contacted by Dr. Mamoudou Setamou, a native of Kalalé. Our hopes for Benin were also documented by Yann Arthus-Bertrand in the The End of Oil, a recent episode of his "Earth from Above" series.
While the results of the project are very encouraging, I want to emphasize that they are just one part, an important one, of course, of SELF's Solar Integrated Development Model.
The Solar Integrated Development (SID) Model developed by SELF is based on three principles:
Solar electrification projects are chosen by the people in rural communities as full participants, acting on their own behalf. The villagers determine priorities as well as the project scope.
Solar systems are purchased by villagers through micro-credit financing. Each family pays for its own system and participates in the ownership of community systems, spreading development funds further to help more people.
Villagers, both men and women, are trained to install, maintain and replicate their solar systems. In addition, a store of spare parts is provided as part of the initial project funding. Local partners are assisted in establishing a supply chain for continuing purchase of spare parts.
Each project flows from the needs and leadership of the community. The community is committed to and empowered by full participation in all project phases including design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
SELF partners with government, corporations and non-governmental organizations to develop and promote additional technologies and systems such as solar-powered micro-irrigation, crop-processing equipment, internet connectivity, telemedicine and commercial applications to help broaden the scope and impact of solar-generated electricity.
A solar electric system provides 20 years worth of energy at a fixed cost. Utilizing the latest technologies, projects are implemented with the most reliable and cost-effective equipment.
Beyond providing the electrical energy source, our Solar Integrated Development Model provides targeted applications, tools and hardware such as LED lights, sewing machine motors, oil expellers, vaccine refrigerators, water pumps, and computers, often through microfinance loans, so that community members have the tools to turn electrical energy into economic empowerment . The goal is not simply that people have electricity; it is that they immediately benefit from having electricity.
SELF's solar installation has made a dramatic impact on the health and quality of life for the people of Bessassi and Dunkassa in northern Benin. But there is much more work to be done. While the immediate next step is to drill wells in each of these two villages - ensuring access to clean, safe drinking water - there are 42 more villages anxiously waiting for solar-powered drip irrigation. SELF conducted site assessments in August 2009 and the wells were drilled in December 2009, with solar-powered pumps scheduled to be installed in March 2010. But we still need to raise money for drip irrigation systems for the additional villages.
Last, but certainly not least, SELF has promised to provide whole-village solar electric systems to each of the rural farming communities in Kalalé. By bringing solar energy to power their schools, homes, health clinics, street lights and microenterprise centers, we can empower Beninese women and their families to lift themselves out of poverty, ensuring a brighter future for all.
Please help us continue empowering the women of Africa, and bring hope to them and their children.
- Saving Sub-Sahara Africa a Drip at a Time Miller-Mccune