EASE stands for Enabling Access to Sustainable Energy. The EASE partnership aims to bring modern energy products to the rural poor in developing countries, by facilitating the upscaling processes in the rural energy sector and local energy markets.
EASE partners do not believe that the energy problems of the poor can be resolved with a mere technological breakthrough or through large scale financial support.
Instead, EASE projects start by better understanding the realities of the energy needs of the poor, and their local energy markets of shopkeepers, technicians, promoters and (micro)financiers.
By presenting the bottlenecks in these local markets, EASE partners design and implement projects with a lasting impact.
Why Energy and Poverty?
Energy remains a fundamental challenge to the poor. We know this from studies, from policy documents, but most of all from listening to the poor.
Energy is a problem for the rural poor in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Although in the modern world electric light and clean cookers are considered essential, most of the rural poor know that they are not part of their reality. Modern energy technologies are not available in their communities, and in the cases where they are, the energy products are ill-adapted to their specific demands and affordability. As a consequence, worldwide, nearly 2.4 billion people use traditional biomass fuels for cooking in health threatening traditional fireplaces, and nearly 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity.
In international meetings, the nations of the world agree that enhancing modern energy access is essential for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. This political will on international level has hardly been translated to improvements on the ground. In fact, the situation seems to be getting worse.
Many rural energy access projects have failed because they were not able to reach the poor target groups in an effective let alone sustainable way. They have come to realize that the rural poor live far away in dispersed settlements, where roads and electricity do not easily reach. They have also found that the rural poor live in a very different cultural and social context, distant from the urban based companies, NGOs, and development agencies. The distance makes it difficult to listen to the poor, understand their language, recognize their energy practices and better understand their energy market context, and to identify what would be priorities for development projects to focus on.
The rural poor in their turn have learned to depend only on themselves and their communities. The market channels that link them to the national and world market are few, fragile, and mostly informal.
Access to proper energy services will contribute to:
Improvement of health
Inefficient cooking or space heating with biomass fuels creates indoor air pollution, which is a major cause of death for many of the poor, mostly women and children. Access to improved cooking services will dramatically improve this situation.
Transport to clinics, and lighting, sterilisation and refrigeration at clinics are essential for the treatment of ill people. These services cannot be provided without access to appropriate energy services.
Empowerment of the poor
Modern information and communication tools such as telephone, television, radio and computers enable people to become better informed and thus more independent. It allows them for instance to educate themselves, to influence decision-making, to be informed on current price levels, to communicate with friends and family. These information and communication tools all depend on a reliable and affordable energy provision.
Better quality of life
Most poor people currently meet the majority of their energy needs by collecting biomass (e.g. fuel wood, agricultural residues, and dung) for cooking and heating and by using additional resources like kerosene and batteries for lighting or radio. Generally, these types of resources cost a lot in terms of both time and money. Collection of biomass energy takes women and children between 2 and 7 hours a day, while kerosene and candles are often far more expensive than more modern energy services, like electricity. Access to reliable, modern energy services could therefore seriously reduce people’s time and money spent on their energy needs.
Increased productivity and income
Access to energy, be it lighting or other services, is a pre-requisite for many micro and small-scale businesses. Local restaurants, small kiosks and agricultural businesses are in need of proper energy services for e.g. cooling, cooking and processing of agricultural products. Productivity can be increased by extending the working day with lighting and by mechanisation, for example, of irrigation and processing crops and raw materials.
Improved local and global environment
Energy is strongly linked to the environment. Energy sources are drawn directly from the environment and improper or inefficient energy use causes environmental problems. The conversion of biomass in cooking or lighting equipment is often very inefficient causing emissions of toxic materials and greenhouse gases. Furthermore, the poorest people often live in the most ecologically sensitive and vulnerable physical locations, which makes them even more vulnerable to environmental problems like deforestation, desertification and climate change.