Improving livelihoods and reducing environmental degradation through alternative energy in Somalia

03 Jan 2013

The Hawd Plateau is like many areas in Somalia. The landscape is arid. The sun, relentless and blinding, scorches the earth. Riverbeds are almost always dry, and livestock, the lifeblood of this country, seek cover from the heat under the thin shadows cast by Acacia trees.

But this fierce sun, which makes parts of Somalia such an unforgiving environment to inhabit, is also a potential source of energy that, if harnessed, could significantly reduce the practice of charcoal cooking and its devastating environmental impact in Somalia.

Solar power was one alternative source of energy that could be applied in Somalia, along with fuel-efficient cook stoves and wind power, discussed at the Puntland launch of UNDP’s Human Development Report 2011: Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All on 2 January 2012. The report calls for broader efforts to foster equitable human development by reducing gender imbalances and expanding opportunities for marginalized communities. It also confronts climate challenges with calls for a shift to renewable, or alternative, energy sources, concurrently ensuring Somalia makes strides towards attaining the globally agreed upon Millennium Development Goals 1, 3 and 7.

Officially launched in Puntland by Hon. Daud Mohamed, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation at a workshop attended by representatives from government, civil society, private sector, youth/women’s groups and academic institutions, the report identifies Somalia as among the countries with the gravest inequalities as measured in the report’s Human Development Index (HDI). It shows that 65.6 percent of the Somali population is in severe poverty, but when additional factors such as access to education, health care, and standard of living are considered, a startling 81.2 percent of the population are considered to be in poverty.

In Somalia, the poor – and especially women – are the most affected by environmental hazards. They rely on natural resources, such as wood fuel for their livelihoods and are more likely to be affected by extreme weather events. In addition, changes in environmental conditions often restrict access to vital sources of energy.

The protracted political crisis in Somalia has meant that environmental protection has not been prioritized in the country’s development plans. However, competition over natural resources is now emerging as one of the most serious threats to conflict escalation and to the human development of future generations.

Therefore, the government, communities and private sector need to identify and invest in alternative – and renewable – sources of energy for Somalia. For areas like the Hawd Plateau, solar cooking, wind power or energy-efficient cook stoves could not only increase access to sustainable energy, it could also reduce environmental degradation, and improve the livelihoods of those that inhabit this region.