Failing energy system, more poverty for Gambia

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By Moses S Bass

The escalating poverty rate in The Gambia has now reached 53.4% nationally, according to a World Bank report, with an estimated 21% of the population living in its extreme form, less than $2.15 per day. Though the study linked this to the Covid-19 pandemic, the undisputable point is that the country’s energy system has been wriggling for the longest and unless it is fixed, chances of the poverty rate shrinking will be extremely slim if not impossible. Poverty is multidimensional and, in this article, focus will be directed towards energy poverty as a way of indicating its role in the overall poverty index.

Energy signifies the engine with which economies flourish, it enables the poor to survive, creates opportunities for the middle-class to excel and allows the rich to enjoy luxury. Due to this heterogeneity, it is also recognized as one of the most important factors for the achievement of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals by 2030. The sad reality is that millions of people still live in a state of energy poverty globally, meaning, they are simply in a situation in which they are unable to afford adequate energy service for wellbeing.

Energy poverty creates a sense of vulnerability to the individual, widens the inequality gap in society and causes many deaths annually. From a macroeconomics perspective, it reduces the international competitiveness of nations, promotes unemployment, and discourages innovation and technological advancement. A country with a high rate of energy poverty will in essence struggle to develop and the Gambia is not only a victim but a prime example of this phenomena.

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Apart from 90% of the population’s dependency on unsustainable biomass for cooking, close to 40% of the population are without access to electricity and as the poverty rises, those not yet connected to the grid would find it difficult to do so due to limited funds to cater for the fees and bills. Amidst this challenge, the power sector is so shabby that keeping the lights on for households and businesses is a dream farfetched and not even hospitals are spared from this menace. Given this unfortunate situation, potential investors are also deterred as it is obvious that except with the wherewithal for captive power, no energy intensive industry can survive under such state of affair. To turn things around, energy ought to be prioritized and made affordable and accessible to all for inclusive growth and development but as it appears, recent attempts by the government to revitalize the sector have failed.

When the Barrow administration came into force, a national development plan (2018-2021) was framed and operationalized and embedded in it is a goal with these optimistic words, “Sustainable and improved energy, petroleum and transport sectors for a revitalized economy and wellbeing”. Perhaps writing this article wouldn’t have been necessary if the goal was achieved but it is safe to emphasize that what happened by the end of the plan’s period is the reverse and the results are there for all to see.

Firstly, the expected 250 MW installed capacity failed to be met and what is presented is an electricity system incapable of meeting the rising demand, hence the daily disruptions in power supply. Secondly, the transport sector is in disarray, and wellbeing not guaranteed as evidenced by the rising poverty rate. To sum it all by borrowing the words of the honorable member for Serrekunda West constituency, the economy is sick. Consequently, frequent power cuts, expensive fuel prices and transport fares have become daily burdens faced by many Gambians and things could only get worse if the status quo persists.

Moses S Bass is a PhD Candidate in Renewable Energy and Sustainability at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Email: [email protected]