Ranked 185th out of 189 countries on the 2019 United Nations’ human development index, Burundi is one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Approximately 65% of Burundians live below the poverty line. Furthermore, 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. This article will highlight challenges relating to accessing energy in Burundi and the early successes of some solutions.
An Unsustainable Lifestyle
Most Burundians live an agrarian lifestyle; approximately 80% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector and more than 87% of the population lives in rural areas. Of the 11.7 million people, only 3% have access to electricity and 90% of energy access in Burundi is dependent on biogas via the burning of firewood. Unfortunately, 50% of the population remains food insecure and the country’s total annual food production only covers 55 days per person each year. 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:
- Education: Many children opt out of school to help source firewood. In fact, only 32% of Burundi’s children complete a lower secondary education.
- The Environment: Sourcing firewood contributes to deforestation and increases carbon dioxide levels. The resulting carbon emissions decrease air quality and damage the ozone layer, causing climate change.
- Family Health & Nutrition: Burundi has the highest level of malnutrition in the world. About 56% of Burundian children endure stunting and the median age of the population is 17.3 years. Preventing malnutrition in Burundi would cost $102 million per year.
The SAFE Initiative
Thankfully, the Burundian government joined the World Food Programme in 2017 as a part of the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) initiative. The initiative introduces fuel-efficient stoves to more than 18 countries in the region, promoting energy accessibility for impoverished communities in Burundi.
So far, this development has sparked great progress in Burundi:
- Currently, 485,000 persons have received and benefited from fuel-efficient stoves.
- Institutional stoves that have reached 100,000 children and 147 primary schools.
- Fuel-efficient stoves have significantly reduced air pollution. The utility of each batch of firewood increase by up to fivefold, decreasing each family’s firewood intake by about 11.5 kilograms per day.
However, the country is still primarily dependent on biogas from firewood. Fortunately, the location and climate of the country lend themselves to the renewable generation of energy in Burundi, mainly through hydroelectric and solar energy. The government of Burundi partners with energy investors to build its private sector. Hopefully, this partnership will boost Burundi’s economy, sparking expansion in the commerce, health, education, tourism, fisheries and transport sectors. Ultimately, expanding beyond an agrarian society will lift Burundians out of poverty.
Hydroelectric Power Energy in Burundi
Burundi has only utilized only 32 MW of its 1700 MW hydroelectric energy potential. The country is located in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes region and is surrounded by potential energy sources such as the Malagarasi river (475 km). With only 29 of 159 potential hydropower sites already explored, hydroelectric power technologies only serve 9% of the population. But, Burundi is making strides with its new development projects:
- The Rusumo Falls Hydropower Project: This Run-of-the-River system has an 80MW capacity and three generating units. The Rusumo Power Company developed this system with financial support from multi-national developers and 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.
- Ruzizi III: With a capacity of 147 MW and an energy production goal of 675 GWh, the Ruzizi III greenfield hydropower project is a part of an existing hydropower cascade fed by the Kivu Lake. Ruzizi III is 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.
- Ruzizi IV: This project is another partnership with Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda. The Ruzizi Hydropower Plant Project IV will have a capacity of 287 MW. Additionally, the African Development Bank Group has approved an $8.9 million grant to support the development.
Access to Solar Power Energy in Burundi
Burundi also holds unique potential for solar power energy development. The country is located on the equator, with temperatures ranging from 17 to 23˚C, altitudes varying from 772 meters to 2,670 meters and extremely sunny weather. The Burundian authorities look forward to exploring this option soon.
With success, millions of households and industries will soon have accessible energy in Burundi. Reliable and widespread access to electricity is improving the quality of basic services including health, education and security services. Additionally, there will be a reduction in carbon emissions. Hopefully, with help, more Burundians will escape the cycle of poverty.
– Rebecca Harris