Over the next 35 years Africa’s population is set to double. To provide a decent standard of living for that many people, an estimated 18 million jobs a year will have to be created.
But that huge effort on jobs requires huge amounts of electricity, and so far the world is falling short. A former UK aid minister recently said that progress on electricity access has been ‘painfully slow’. Indeed, in parts of Africa the number of people without modern power is rising.
Thankfully, the UK Government has woken up to this fact. In its new aid strategy, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is putting access to energy front and centre.
Following detailed analysis of 28 target countries, DfID admit that they now need to “step up efforts on energy”, as well as key sectors that are heavily reliant on electricity, including manufacturing, farming and infrastructure.
The challenge is to ensure that Britain’s aid plans actually deliver. Because too often in the past DfID have have tried to meet energy targets with small-scale solar projects that can power a lightbulb for a few hours a day but can’t run the factories and hospitals that a country needs to develop.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, recently made a passionate plea for the right to use cheap and reliable conventional fuels, telling a panel in Davos:
“We have to provide energy to our people because I have to develop our country…We have to ensure food security. We have to give them job opportunities.”
If DfID are really serious about delivering “sustained job-creating growth” in the world’s poorest countries, they need to listen to leaders like Sheikh Hasina and make all the latest technologies available, so they can have modern, affordable, round-the-clock power.
Failure to do so will mean more poverty, hopelessness and instability, with direct consequences for the developed world.