Poverty Eradication in Burundi
Ranked 185th out of 189 countries on the 2019 United Nations Development Program’s human development index, Burundi is amongst the world’s poorest countries with 65% of the population living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, Burundi has the second lowest GDP in the world and the highest hunger score across the globe according to the 2018 World Food Security Report. However, poverty eradication in Burundi is possible through the granting of energy access.

Burundians live a very agrarian lifestyle with 80% of the population having employment in the agricultural sector and more than 87% of the population living in rural areas. Of the population of 11.7 million people, only 3% have access to electricity. Meanwhile, 90% of energy access in Burundi is dependent on biogas via the burning of firewood. This is not sustainable as 50% of the population remains food insecure, and the country’s total annual food production only covers 55 days per person each year.

The Challenges of Burning Firewood in Burundi

Burundian families spend on average four hours each day sourcing firewood for basic tasks like food preparation. However, this practice comes at the expense of:

  1. Education: Many children opt out of school to contribute to the sourcing of firewood. Only 32% of Burundi’s children complete a lower secondary education.
  2. The Environment: Sourcing firewood contributes to deforestation, and thus increases carbon dioxide levels. Resulting smoke contributes to poor air quality.
  3. Family Health & Nutrition: Burundi has the highest level of malnutrition in the world. In fact, 56% of Burundian children are stunted and the median age of the population is 17.3 years. The cost of malnutrition in Burundi is recorded at USD$102 million per year.

The Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Initiative

For a more sustainable program, the government joined with the World Food Program (WFP) in 2017 as a part of the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) initiative that introduced fuel-efficient stoves to over 18 countries in the region, promoting energy access for poverty reduction in Burundi.

So far, this development has sparked great progress in Burundi in the following areas:

  1. About 485,000 persons and counting have already benefitted from the fuel-efficient stoves.
  2. The SAFE program has implemented institutional stoves that have already reached 100,000 children and 147 primary schools in Burundi.
  3. The stoves now allow for each batch of firewood to have up to five times the utility it had before, with each Burundian family having an 11.5 kg daily reduction in the need for firewood.

Still, the country remains primarily dependent on biogas from firewood and this initiative has only lessened its costs to society rather than eliminating firewood dependence. As a result, the Burundian government has now turned towards alternative innovations to promote energy access for poverty eradication in Burundi.

Fortunately, the location and climate of Burundi lend well to renewable energy generation mainly through hydroelectric and solar energy. The government of Burundi is actively partnering with energy investors to build its private sector and grow its other industries, commerce, health, education, tourism, fisheries and transport sectors. Expanding beyond a primarily agrarian society promises substantial growth for the economy of Burundi, providing a framework to lift Burundians out of the poverty cycle.

Hydroelectric Power Energy Access in Burundi

Located in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes Region, surrounded by far-stretching rivers such as Malagarasi (475 km) and the Ruzizi (117 km), Burundi has only utilized only 32 MW of its 1,700 MW hydroelectric energy potential. With only 29 of 159 potential hydropower sites already explored, Burundi is still relying on outdated hydroelectric power technologies that can only serve 9% of the population. Moving forward, Burundi has begun to make strides in energy access for poverty eradication in Burundi through the following hydroelectric power development projects:

  1. Rusumo Falls Hydropower Project: This Run-of-the-River (RoR) system has an 80MW capacity and three generating units. The Rusumo Power Company (RPCL) developed it with financial support from multi-national development leaders along with the governments of Burundi, Congo and Tanzania. The plant is located on the border of Rwanda and Tanzania with transmission lines interconnecting them with Burundi. Its production began in January 2017.
  2. Ruzizi III: With a capacity of 147 MW and intended 675GWh of average energy production, the Ruzizi III greenfield hydropower project is a part of an existing hydropower cascade that the Kivu Lake feeds. One of the largest infrastructure development projects in the region, Burundi, DRC and Rwanda each have 10% ownership of this partnership with a private investor.
  3. Ruzizi IV: A partnership among Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda, the Ruzizi Hydropower Plant Project IV has been commissioned to be a 287-MW capacity hydropower project. The African Development Bank Group has already approved a USD$8.9 million grant to support the development.

Solar Power Energy Access in Burundi

Being located on the equator, with temperatures ranging from 17 to 23˚C, altitudes varying from 772 meters to 2,670 meters, and an average 2,000 kWh/m2.year of sunshine, Burundi holds unique potential for solar power energy development. The Burundian authorities look forward to exploring this option soon.

Granted success, millions of households and industries in the region will have energy access for poverty eradication in Burundi. Reliable and widespread access to electricity should improve the quality of basic social services like health, education and security services in the region. Additionally, there will be a reduction in carbon emissions, lessening of deforestation from lower dependence on firewood and thereby an increase in the living conditions of the regional population, breaking the poverty cycle in Burundi.

Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr