This doesn’t just mean that residents have to use battery-powered lights to go about their daily lives. The lack of power reduces educational opportunities, connectivity to benefit from outside information and networks, and ultimately impacts standards of living, health and well-being.
“Can you imagine living in a community that has never experienced electricity-produced light? There are several villages like that around here.”👤 Babah, one of Evelyn’s customers.
There are, in fact, hundreds of villages in the surrounding area that have never known any kind of electricity.
In the whole country, only 63 percent of households have access to the electricity grid. This decreases sharply in the far northern regions, where only 10–22 percent are connected.
Imagine that: no electricity for your lights, your stove, your radio, your phones, your washing machine, your TV. What would you use instead?
If you were a Cameroonian living in the northern regions of the country, you would probably look for the nearest alternative . . . the surrounding forests, from which people extract fuelwood to meet more than 95 percent of their energy needs. The resulting deforestation, however, leads to its own set of problems, including global heating, soil erosion and reduced fertility, landslides, flash floods and increased likelihood of pests and diseases of crops owing to a lack of habitat for birds, bats and insects that attack agricultural invaders.
But there is hope for a brighter future. Communities off the electricity grid in Cameroon’s North and Extreme North regions have been benefiting from renewable energy solutions as part of UNESCO’s Scaling-Up Rural Households’ Use of Renewable Energy and Energy-Efficient Technologies project.
The project is funded by the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, managed by the United Nations Office of South-South Cooperation. It includes a partnership with India’s Social Work and Research Centre, widely known as the Barefoot College. Five illiterate women from three rural villages in northern Cameroon underwent a four-month training at the Dakar, Senegal campus of the College to learn both about the technology and to pass this knowledge onto others upon their return to their villages. These Solar Mamas will also maintain and repair the photovoltaic solar systems and train others in their use.
This great example of South–South Cooperation, whereby developing countries share knowledge, skills, expertise and resources to meet their development goals, has advised that each partnering community forms a village solar committee, the members of which are trained to manage the community’s solar energy project.
Besides selecting the Solar Mamas that received training, the committee hosts a rural electronic workshop, oversees budgeting, and ensures community engagement to care for, budget and plan for management and upkeeping of the systems.
The project takes a comprehensive approach toward enhancing people’s livelihoods and ensuring sustainability. The project team introduced the community to various environmentally friendly energy sources, ranging from the highly technological to the artisanal, namely, photovoltaic solar equipment to be installed in public buildings, efficient cook stoves produced with local material, and biodigesters for biogas and biomass production. Through the introduction of these renewable energy systems, the project also benefits community members, leaders and government officials, including 6,000 women and youth.
The local University of Maroua, in cooperation with the communities, designed and constructed three demonstration sites that host the project activities. Each site has a biodigester, ecological briquette production and improved cooking stoves.
These sites provide practical and experiential training to villagers. To date, more than 1,000 households in the northern towns of Bibemi, Poli and Zina have visited and participated in their learning activities.
The project was launched in April 2021 by the Government of Cameroon, UNESCO, the Indian High Commissioner to Cameroon, and representatives of the communities.
“These two locales [North and the Far North] experience the ill effects of low access to electrical power because just 20% of families have access to electrical power.”👤 Salah Khaled, UNESCO’s Director for Central Africa.
The over-reliance on non-environmentally friendly sources of power, such as firewood and charcoal from the forests, has led to increasing deforestation and threatened ecosystems in the region, making them more vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with a corresponding kick-on effect on the communities involved, creating a vicious cycle.
“Cameroon is facing a very serious problem of energy deficiency and this gets worse in the northern part of Cameroon. So this project enables us to use our natural energy potential, which is the sun. Renewable energy is at the heart of most development projects, justifying why the education sector is also supporting this project.”👤 Mohamadou Alidou of the National Advanced School of Engineering of Maroua.