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Access to fossil fuels decides life and death in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Are you an Anti-Vaxxer or a Pro-Vaccine person? Well, it makes little difference in Africa where people do not have that choice to make. You see, hundreds of millions of Africans do not have access to cold storage facilities for lifesaving drugs and vaccines.

A primary reason for this dismal state of health care is the lack of access to electricity exacerbated by anti-fossil fuel policies of donor organizations and governments. Even where hospitals are available, many have undependable electric service for life-support equipment, lighting, and air conditioning.

Access to electricity is the determining factor for “health capital,” which is measured by the incidence of malaria, mortality rates of children under five, and crude death rates. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone lack of electricity denies 600 million people living standards — including modern health care — taken for granted in developed countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) says “one in four health facilities has no access to electricity, and only a third of hospitals have reliable electricity access.”

Authors of an Africa Development Forum report lament the state of electricity access in the Sub-Saharan region: “Not only is the 43 percent access rate much lower than that in comparable regions (as well as the global access rate of 87 percent), but the total number of people without electricity has increased in recent decades as population growth has outpaced growth in electrification. Furthermore, the access rate is much lower in rural Africa (25 percent).”

A 2020 study (Falchetta et.al.) showed that a vast majority of fast-growing populations in Sub-Saharan Africa are unlikely to remedy their electricity deficits in the near future. At the current rate of progress, less than 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa will have access to electricity by 2030. The Falchetta research says that electricity access is much worse than previously understood and that the pace of electrification must more than triple to fulfill the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 7.1.1, which calls for universal access to energy services by 2030.

Image: Hotspots of Growing Populations without Access and Future Latent (Unmet) Electricity Demand. Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590332220301433

The U.N. goal can be achieved in Sub-Saharan Africa only through the unrestricted use of fossil fuels and the large-scale development of fossil fuel-powered energy plants. Coal is the cheapest electricity source.

Studies have shown that “deeper governance and institutional problems hinder universal electricity access” in Africa. This is not a surprise as the climate-change lobby wants a global ban on the use of fossil fuels. Many nations like India and China have helped African countries in recent years after traditional funders from Europe and the Americas stopped financing fossil fuel projects. The African Development Bank (ADB)—the key financial route for development projects across Africa—has declared that it won’t fund fossil fuel projects. It’s a bizarre move, considering how millions of Africans are still in dire poverty.

Leaders in the West now want Africa to transition to primitive and less-reliable energy sources like wind and solar. Yet, besides being expensive, these sources are inherently intermittent and incapable of providing reliable electricity. Imagine a doctor in the middle of surgery when the backup battery for solar panels runs out of power.

Research shows that for rapidly growing populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, “grid extension and densification tend to be the most cost-effective solutions in areas with a high population density.” There is not a single documented case where wind and solar have supported the operations of a city without the help of other sources like coal, hydro and nuclear.

The cost of providing reliable electricity through a grid is much lower than providing short-term solutions that are inadequate and intermittent. And though significant investments are required for grid expansion implementation of fossil fuel plants, scientists show that this cost is less than the damage from the intermittent and unreliable electricity supply.

The hidden costs of electricity failure (on health and human capital) can be “as much as 10 to 10,000 times the traditional electricity costs.” When hospitals depend on intermittent electricity supply (predominantly from wind, solar and hydro), “the risks to patients due to electricity failure is between 3 to 105 deaths per 1,000 patients.”

Reliable electricity for Sub-Saharan Africa must come from conventional energy sources, the cheapest among them being coal. Nevertheless, political leaders of the West devise plans to block funding for fossil fuel projects in Africa while millions suffer from a lack of electricity.

Would it be too harsh to say that that the blood of Africans is on the hands of those who want to ban fossil fuels?

Vijay Javarai

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