West African villages

UNDP GhanaDiesel and biofuel engines are relieving women and communities across West Africa of the most difficult household tasks. Photo: UNDP Ghana

Poor access to modern energy services is a reality for too many African villages. While this limitation generally constrains development, it especially affects the situation of women in rural areas. A typical day for a wife and mother starts before dawn and finishes long after dark, by the time food has been prepared, children cared for, animals fed, crops tended and sufficient water brought from far away sources.

Modern energy services are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 585 million people lack access to electricity and a majority of them live in rural areas.

Three and a half million rural dwellers in West Africa have access to a range of energy-related services thanks to a regional energy programme sponsored by UNDP and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The programme uses diesel and biofuel engines to relieve women and communities of the most difficult household tasks, such as generating electricity for lighting, pumping water from wells, de-husking crops and charging phone batteries. The scheme has helped to free a daily average of two to four hours for women in targeted communities and their annual incomes have increased by an average of US$ 55. The women have then spent on education, childcare, improving their health conditions and generating additional sources of revenue.

The programme has boosted development in communities across Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, with thousands of new jobs created for millers, welders, installation engineers, repairpersons and manufacturers.

In addition, the engines provide light for literacy centres, allowing women to attend classes after dark, when their household chores are finished. In reducing the time required for processing agricultural outputs, women farmers have also had less need for their daughters to help with household tasks, resulting in increased school attendance. An evaluation conducted in 14 villages in the Eastern region of Burkina Faso shows that the literacy rate has risen from an average of 29 percent to 39 percent after the installation of the generators.

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