World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative
West Africa consists of 16 countries with a population of 419 million people. West Africa’s access to electricity is one of the lowest on a global scale, with “only 42% of the total population and only 8% of the rural population having access to electricity.” The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed heavily to West Africa’s energy poverty. More recently, the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has significantly contributed to the rising food, oil and energy costs throughout the world and Africa has experienced the brunt of these consequences with high electrification costs, food crises throughout the region along with adverse effects of changing weather patterns.

However, with the World Bank’s introduction of the Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE), the solution to sustainable and cost-effective and reliable access to electricity throughout West Africa will be more transparent with the introduction of solar and hydroelectric power along with answers to the issues that Africa is currently facing. Here is some information about the World Bank’s RESPITE initiative.

What is the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative?

The World Bank in collaboration with the International Development Association (IDA) introduced RESPITE in December 2022 as a response to West Africa’s energy crisis through the introduction of renewable energy. The IDA is financing the initiative. The project has the approval for $311 million coupled with an additional $20 million in grants “to help facilitate future regional power trade and strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of West Africa Power Pool (WAAP) to undertake its regional mandate.”

The initiative involves the nations of Chad, Sierra Leone, Togo and Liberia. RESPITE’s main objective is to “rapidly increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity and strengthen integration in the participating countries.” RESPITE involves the “installation and operation of approximately 106 megawatts of solar photovoltaic with battery energy and storage systems, 41 megawatts expansion of hydroelectric capacity and will support electricity distribution and transmission interventions across the four countries,” the World Bank reports.

RESPITE’s Necessity

RESPITE comes as a necessity since West Africa suffers from the lowest access to reliable electrification, which has resulted in millions being unable to live in comfort as food is unable to be refrigerated and fans or air conditioning does not function, and children are unable to do their homework. The gravity of the energy crisis that all of Africa not just West Africa, faces is dire because, by 2030, there will be only three countries in West and Central Africa that will have the capability to supply their people with stable electricity, which means that more than 263 million people will be unable to have access to electricity by 2030, according to the World Bank.

RESPITE’s necessity also comes from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic that adversely affected Africa’s development within the energy sector. The pandemic caused more than 100 million people to lose access to electricity and slowed the region’s progress toward affordable accessibility. Furthermore, with the rise of supply chain issues beginning in 2021, when countries began to recover from the pandemic, costs for batteries, solar panels and other essential parts increased significantly.

Furthermore, access to energy is detrimental to daily activities, including but not limited to education, health, hygiene and food. With the pandemic disrupting the affordability and access to electricity, by 2030, more than 2.4 billion people in Africa will be unable to access clean cooking, according to Energy Monitor. Remedying Africa’s energy poverty comes with its challenges. However, the solution to this is introducing off-grid renewable energy. Access to energy is critical to the region’s economic development.

Benefits of the World Bank’s RESPITE Initiative

RESPITE helps to create a path towards providing electricity to every person in West Africa that it is a part of because it answers the current power supply crisis that it is currently facing and simultaneously solves issues such as changing weather patterns through renewable energy and the food crisis. According to the World Bank, RESPITE was introduced as an emergency measure to address West Africa’s energy poverty by introducing renewable energy. In addition, the introduction of RESPITE in the nations of Chad, Libya, Sierra Leone and Togo creates the foundation for establishing a stable power trade since these four countries are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

According to Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Director for Regional Integration for sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Northern Africa, RESPITE helps enhance the existing regional integration with ECOWAS members within the energy sector. At the same time, the initiative helps “create economies of scale, increases the potential for regional trade through investments in transmission and generation infrastructure to integrate the markets physically, and develops regional public good by facilitating knowledge sharing and capacity building,” the World Bank reports.

Forward Thinking

The IDA, also known as the “World Bank’s fund for the poorest,” has supported the development of more than 113 countries. On average, it has contributed more than $21 billion, which continues to increase. More than 61% of the funds have gone to Africa alone. In addition, the World Bank over the last three years has “doubled its investments to increase electricity access rates in Central and West Africa. We have committed more than $7.8 a billion to support 40 electricity access programs, of which more than half directly support new electricity connection,” the World Bank stated.

– Arijit Joshi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons