End poverty cycles by tackling energy poverty

Closed Kobil petrol station at Kenya Flouspar mining company in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County on 26 September 2021. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Growing up in some semi-urban centres in Rift Valley seemed a prestige, especially when we returned to the village during school holidays and saw the life others lived there.

We were rich, at least according to some people, but we also knew wealthier families back in town who
could afford holidays. Besides the village trips, a typical treat by my father would be a crate of soda and some yellowish scones taken in a golf course somewhere in Nandi Hills.

A photographer would be within reach before we could call it a day, to take that one precious shot whose results would be out a month later. Those were memorable moments.

Somewhere along the way things changed, and we ended up in the village school. One day, as a mud walled classroom was brought down, my siblings and I, still new, watched in disbelief as every other pupil, some as young as six, rushed for wooden pieces, which they later carried home.

It was after we were thoroughly beaten by my mother when we got home for not grabbing the opportunity to pick the free firewood that we learnt to be more responsible.

Still, we were lucky that our parents bought charcoal and firewood, because in some poorer homes nearby, energy for cooking was the responsibility of children. The energy poverty in African rural areas has so many effects. Other than being exposed to in-house pollution and risks of fire incidences while using tin lamps and firewood, children are denied the joys that come with childhood. They come in handy when their mothers, who are responsible for ensuring food is cooked, usually need help.

It is easier for the mothers to leave older children taking care of younger ones as they go to markets, to fetch water or firewood. By the time such children are done with chores, they are either too tired to study, or it is already dark and they have to sleep early to save the energy for another day’s use.

Today, some of those who were very responsible children during our time are surviving on less than a dollar a day. While some made it in life through sheer grit, many did not go past Form Four. Some, in an attempt to escape poverty, especially girls, ended up in abusive marriages before poverty caught up with them again.

Since these villages mostly lack energy, there are no factories, institutions or other investments that can
employ so many locals. And so men and women, idle and lacking in skills, rot at home, wait for handouts, become alcoholics, and expose themselves to sexually transmitted diseases.

Unfortunately, women and children are still disproportionately affected by effects of climate crisis. Reports from Pakistan shows at least 528 children were killed in the latest floods, a result of global warming courtesy of fossil-fuels powered development. The future would be a lot more different for the more than 600 million people lacking access to electricity in Africa today if they were to have cleaner and more accessible energy.

Globally, religious and other communities participate in the Faiths for Climate Justice campaign this month, and just transition to renewable energy and end to new fossil fuels projects, as well as end to deforestation are the focus.

It is the responsibility of governments to increase access to cleaner and more sustainable energy, so that children can be children, and poverty is kicked out.

Lynet Otieno is the interim communications manager at GreenFaith. [email protected]