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Proceedings of the Eritrean National Energy Policy Seminar


Semere Habtetsion and Zemenses Tsighe

The heavy dependence of Eritrea on unmanaged biomass energy carriers has contributed to a number of environmental problems like deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, etc. With increasing scarcity, the price of fuelwood and charcoal has increased five folds in the urban areas during the last 20 years. Current practices of biomass fuel usage are unsustainable, and if they are allowed to continue, the present stress on the meagre biomass resources will be increased. Urgent actions are required to combat the present fuel crisis, and arrest its further deepening. Over 75% of the Eritrean population lives in rural areas with practically negligible access to modern energy services. Access to electricity is, for example, around 2% in rural areas compared to over 80% in urban areas, the national access being 20.7%.

An affordable and sustainable supply of energy is a critical pre-requisite to rural development. Such a supply of energy enables rural economies to diversify and encourage the development of alternative systems of livelihood. Indeed, without energy, basic human needs cannot be adequately or satisfactorily met. Unfortunately, energy issues seldom figure out prominently in rural development programmes, and even if they are considered, the links between energy and socio-economic development are seldom treated in an integrated manner. Even rural poverty alleviation and/or eradication programmes do not seem to consider energy as an important dimension of their programmes. Due to such lack of policy and institutional support for rural energy supply, the opportunities for income and employment generation in rural areas are not adequately exploited.

The presently low income and employment generating capacity of MSMEs in rural Eritrea implies high untapped capacity for income generation provided they are supplied with sustainable and affordable sources of energy. Almost all MSMEs in rural Eritrea depend on human and other animate power as a result of which their products and services are of poor quality and hence unable to compete in the market. Seen from this view point, interventions in the form of appropriate energy policy/programmes as well as institutional mechanisms for energy delivery to rural areas could be an important step towards supporting the development and expansion of income generating activities in rural areas.

Many stakeholders are directly or indirectly involved in providing modern energy services to rural areas. These include Government Ministries (Energy, Local Government, Finance, Environment, Agriculture, Trade and Industry etc.), public or private utilities, developmental enterprises, financial and credit institutions, donors, NGOs, CBOs and above all the rural communities themselves. AFREPREN/FWD and its donors Sida/SAREC are organising and funding a common research proposal in Eastern and Southern African countries with the theme 'Renewables and Energy for Rural Development' during the years 2000-2002. An important component of the activities envisaged is to bring together the various stakeholders in a two-days seminar once a year. The first seminar in Eritrea was conducted 2-3 November 2000.

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