WASHINGTON — On May 8, the Electrify Africa Act was passed in the United States House of Representatives. Now, before it reaches the President, it must pass in the Senate. This critical bill will provide power and power services for impoverished Sub-Saharans and is imperative for poverty relief. It is now being called the “Energize Africa Act.”
Poverty relief advocates believe this bill is necessary, in part, because of the abject, powerless conditions in which approximately 589,000,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa live. That’s 68 percent of Africa’s population. Here are a few more facts and statistics about the area, as found on the official description of the bill:
Without electrical power to cook, heat or light anything, people living in Sub-Saharan Africa often use inefficient and polluting methods, releasing toxic fumes into the environment. Worse yet, this results in over 3,000,000 deaths from respiratory disease annually.
Having no access to power is generally worse for women than it is for men. Women are tasked with finding alternative energy sources, such as dung, wood, or charcoal and suffer from fatigue and other potentially deadly conditions.
It is impossible to store vaccines and anti-retroviral drugs, both lifesaving medications, without power. It is also impossible to use lifesaving medical equipment. Alternatively, having access to power will lower the number of preventable deaths per year.
Without power to properly process food, food can be sketchy and disease-laden. With power, however, post-harvest processing, pumping, irrigation, dry grain storage, milling, and refrigeration, all food improving methods, become viable.
These are statistics that the Energize Africa Act strives to reverse. Specific objectives include supplying electrical power to 50,000,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa and installing 20,000 additional megawatts of power. Both of these initiatives are supposed to be completed in six years, by 2020. To do this, U.S President Barack Obama would propose a multiyear plan to aid African countries in finding solutions to their own power deficits, emphasizing the importance of renewable energy for its sustainability, job creation, and economic value.
There are, however, skeptics. According to Darius Mans in the Huffington Post, The United States and the private sector will provide, in total, around $16 billion to pump into the Energize Africa Act, not necessarily enough to have the impact noted in the bill description. “Even if those projects are executed properly,” Mans writes, “Africa’s power gap will require $300 billion of investment and will take decades to fill. The rural poor, who are farthest from existing grids and comprise the vast majority of Africans without power, will be the last reached.”
To glean as much from the Energize Africa Act as is possible, there are a few other intended strategies, albeit less concrete ones. These include flexibility, responsiveness to technological development (the President should remain flexible and responsive to “technological innovation in the power sector”) and accountability (reports are required to insure the efficacy of the project).
Because of the potentially huge benefits this bill initiates for much of African’s poor population, it is an important one for organizations like the Borgen Project to support. This means getting it passed in the Senate.