|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Bringing Energy to World’s Poor
Existing modern energy services failed to meet the needs of half the world’s population — some 3 billion people — hampering the ability of poor countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, but an innovative micro-hydropower project that supplied electricity to remote, rural communities in Nepal held lessons that could be applied and scaled up elsewhere, Olav Kjørven, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said at Headquarters today.
“We have little time left,” he said at a press conference, stressing that only five years remained until the 2015 deadline to reach the Millennium Goals. Two million people died annually from problems associated with burning such solid fuels as coal and traditional biomass indoors. Another 1.5 billion people lived in darkness, 85 per cent of them in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. “We have to meet these needs at the lowest cost and in the most sustainable way,” he said, adding that doing so would translate into progress in fighting climate change.
Mr. Kjørven, who is also Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy, said that efforts to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030, as called for by the Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, must start immediately. While that was a daunting challenge, it was one that could be achieved, he said, noting that early and high public investment in capacity development was crucial to helping markets take shape and changing a pervasive energy poverty scenario.
Accompanying Mr. Kjørven in discussing Nepal’s success were Gyan Chandra Acharya, that country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Kiran Man Singh, Project Manager for the Rural Energy Development Programme of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre in Nepal’s Ministry of Environment.
Discussing the benefits of the micro-hydropower project, Mr. Man Singh said more than 250,000 people in 300 rural areas now had lighting and mechanical power for agro-processing and other activities. Social capital had also risen, he said, describing the experience of one woman who had launched a business that provided grains to households in her area and employed two people. She had recently travelled to India to share her story. Another single woman had started raising chickens and could now meet the costs of educating her children.
More broadly, Mr. Acharya pointed out that Nepal had surmounted the challenges facing least developed landlocked countries and succeeded in managing the provision of energy service in an affordable, sustainable manner. That was a huge feat, given that more than two thirds of Nepalese people lived in rural areas, he said. A new rural energy policy provided subsidies for micro-power systems and community-based rural energy efforts. One hydropower system, introduced in 1996 jointly with UNDP, had improved the livelihoods, health, education and lifestyles of many rural people, especially women, he said, adding that other biogas and solar projects had also been launched.
Asked about the funding breakdown of the micro-hydropower project, Mr. Man Singh said it had been built by local communities involved, who now also owned and managed it, adding that UNDP and Government funds had supplemented the community contributions. About 50 per cent of the total financing came from donors and the rest from a bank. The Government was now working to connect the project to the national power grid, he said.
Mr. Acharya added that the project had distinguished itself from others launched in the 1970s in that it was a national-level endeavour.
Mr. Kjørven also noted that the project had been a “learning by doing” experience. Working together, participants had drawn lessons about what was required to establish sustainability and scalability, even in very difficult topographical circumstances. For the first time, the project had put a price tag on the elusive challenge of capacity development, he said, pointing out that most other projects emphasized technologies and public works, whereas this one required that about half the costs be associated with local communities.
As to whether the private sector would take control of the infrastructure, Mr. Man Singh said it had been difficult to attract private investors in the initial stages of the project, as rural areas were not connected to the national power grid. It made more financial sense for them to enter the micro-hydropower project at a later stage. Government assistance was for the community, but the private sector — in this case, a business started by a community household — could access a Government grant, he explained.
Mr. Kjørven clarified that the companies involved were not large, Western-style firms, but small-scale enterprises that would not ordinarily have had the opportunity of providing services.
Asked about Brazil’s experience in achieving access to energy, Mr. Kjørven said the country had undertaken “interesting policy innovations” before the current President had taken office, and those had intensified under his leadership. Brazil’s social policies targeting poor households, especially those involving cash transfers, had met with success, he said.
In that context, he called attention to the International Poverty Centre, launched by UNDP and the Nepalese Government, which drew lessons from what had worked in Brazil, among other countries, and shared that knowledge. While it was not “a sunshine story across the board”, the lessons learned would contribute to the fight against poverty, he said.
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