Sun, 18 Feb 2018 11:58:21 +0000

WHEN asked for any opinion about the future of Zambia, one would feel compelled to deliver a message of hope, opportunity and responsibility. Hope, because there is a positive change happening throughout the country;

opportunity because the demand for Zambia’s natural resources should provide greater income and investment in structural change; and responsibility because we collectively – athe people and our leaders – still need to create more than 100 thousand jobs a year for the youth, and lift the over 60% of our peoples who still live in abject poverty.

As we have already got set on the start lines for the Seventh National Development Plan(7NDP ) and Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), it is clear that much progress has already been made. But have we really confronted the fact that to achieve the targets – especially on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger – we need decent jobs for the rapidly growing, urbanized, and youthful population of Zambia? And that this in turn, requires annual Gross Domestic Product(GDP) growth rate in excess of 3%.

A national conversation is underway that will lead to new national development objectives beyond the completion of the7NDP in 2021. The creation of the post-2021 agenda provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Zambia to ensure that its economic needs are recognized as a matter of national concern. It is imperative that Zambians take the lead to define what the next set of development goals are. More importantly, we should ensure that private sector wealth and job creation are at the core of the new agenda.

What is required is nothing less than a paradigm shift in economic development policy, as well as international cooperation beyond 2021. We must embrace structural change and push for the diversification of Zambia’s productive base away from overdependence on raw materials and mining. One of the key measures needed to enact this structural change is a massive increase in the level of access to energy. It is a shocking fact that hundreds of thousands of people in Zambia live without access to modern energy services. Across rural Zambia, eight out of every 10 households rely on solid biomass – charcoal or wood – for cooking.

Energy services have an effect on health, education, safe water and communication services. Health facilities, schools, pumping stations, computers, mobile phones – none can operate without electricity. Energy allows for the refrigeration of perishable agricultural products and the increased value added that propels the first steps of industrialization. Therefore, it is no surprise that access to energy has a strong correlation to social and economic development.

For Zambia’s women, the issue of energy access is paramount. The unpaid work that they perform each day searching for firewood and other energy sources rob them of time to engage in more productive activities. That, in turn, deprives poor families of much-needed income. Access to modern forms of energy is one of the most pressing challenges facing our country, and is central to the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity.

The obstacles to energy access are well known. The barriers, while complex, can be overcome, and international cooperation can help. There are no fundamental technical barriers: we know how to build power systems, we know how to design good cooking stoves, and we know how to meet energy demands efficiently. What is required is a political prioritisation. Energy access must become a central priority. And the PF government has just done that.

Now more than ever, Zambia needs to ensure that the benefits of modern energy are available to all and that energy is provided as cleanly and efficiently as possible. This is a matter of justice, first and foremost, but it is also an issue of urgent, practical importance – and this is the impetus for the Ministry of Energy’s sustainable energy for all initiative, to be achieved by 2021 hopefully.

Undoubtedly, the initiative ought to focus on three linked objectives: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; doubling the share of renewable energy in the national energy mix. These are mutually reinforcing. Increasingly, affordable renewable energy technologies are bringing modern energy services to poor rural communities where an extension of the conventional electric power grid would be prohibitively expensive and impractical.

More efficient devices for lighting and other applications require less energy. Increased efficiency in the production and use of electricity relieves strained power grids, allowing them to stretch further and reach more households and businesses. Ministry of Energy through Rural Electrification Authority (REA) and ZESCO are already testing the technologies and policies needed to bring energy to rural areas, newly established districts and growing cities.

Suffice to say, the government is determined to provide more stable and low-cost power supply to businesses and communities through the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFiT) Strategy in collaboration with private investors.  It is focused on transitioning Zambia away from a nation experiencing load-shedding to providing more electricity to citizens through private sector investments. By all accounts, now more than ever, Zambia needs modern energy.

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