It is an undeniable fact that the relationship between energy and poverty is one that is often ignored until fuel shortages, blackouts and price increases remind us of the link. This is particularly a common phenomenon in most African countries.

I do not know what view you may hold on this but energy is central to reducing poverty. Whether poverty is seen as material deficiency measured in terms of income or consumption, or quality of life, measured in terms of exposure to risks.

Taking a look at crude oil prices soaring on the world market, many African oil-importing countries are starting to think more seriously about ways to lessen their dependence on the fuel. They fear that continued high spending for imported oil may jeopardize the economic growth they have registered in recent years.

As a result, alternative forms of energy are starting to look more attractive. I wish to state here that Africa, however, does not need to rely solely on oil. It has rich reserves of natural resources which can allow it to run its economies without depending on oil for decades.

Some African countries have already begun switching to non-oil energy sources, such as biofuels, natural gas, solar power and hydro-power. All of these produce less pollution than oil does. Although natural gas is, like oil, a fossil fuel, it does burn more cleanly. It is also easy to transport over long distances through pipelines.

Natural gas is also under-utilized in Africa. It can be captured and used for commercial and domestic purposes like cooking and heating. It can also be used to create electricity for lighting and other purposes. Currently, much of the gas released from deposits of oil or produced when oil is processed, is burned off as waste.

Africa has more known gas reserves today than ever. Building factories to capture and liquefy natural gas is costly and this fuel is also more expensive to transport and store than oil. I believe that which form of alternative energy a country develops will depend on its particular circumstances.

One thing is clear if global oil prices remain high, more of Africa’s poorer oil-importing countries will have to face the fact that it is more expensive to do nothing than to live with stalled economic growth and even more poverty.


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