- Tue, 05/22/2012 - 20:12
- 1 Comment
It is hard to believe that nine years after the end of more than a decade of civil war, less than 1 percent of Monrovia residents have access to electricity. The bulk of the capital city remains in the dark, except for the noisy generators here and there pumping smelly diesel-powered electricity into the air from some of the more affluent homes. Before the war, Liberia's energy supply relied heavily on the hydropower plant at Mount Coffee, 30km northeast of Monrovia. It was destroyed in the fighting, and what little remained was looted, along with the country's entire transmission and distribution equipment.
The operations of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) ceased completely. By 2010, LEC was up and running again, fuelled by huge generators using expensive high-speed diesel oil. The cost – 54 cents per kWh, one of the highest in the world – and lack of money for new connections are part of the reason it has been so difficult for people to access it. Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke of the need to "bring back electricity" when she became the continent's first female president in 2006. Six years on, during her first annual message of her second term last month, she claimed her government had indeed "restored electricity to Monrovia". It is true. There are streetlights in parts of the city. Government buildings, NGOs, hospitals, some schools and the UN all have electricity.
However, the average Liberian is still in the dark. Just 0.6% of Monrovians have access to electricity, marginally higher than in the rest of the country. This all begs the question, how is Liberia going to meet its energy targets to connect 30% of the country's urban population and 15% of the rural population to the national grid by 2015? According to Liberia's 2009 national energy policy, nine out of 10 Liberians rely on biomass, wood and charcoal for their daily energy needs.
The government's energy targets also propose a rapid shift away from biomass. The aim is to have 40% of traditional-energy-using households to have access to modern cooking facilities by 2015. The cost of cooking with kerosene, LPG or electricity is up to six times more than charcoal, of which Liberia has one of the lowest prices in Africa, so the idea of the average Liberian being able to afford such a shift is doubtful.
However, the lack of electricity and its affect on Liberia's development is high on the agenda for Sirleaf. In last month's message she announced that the reconstruction of the Mount Coffee hydro plant would start this year. "The only way to create a robust economy is to supply access to … electricity," she said. She talked about how she is "… determined to build the infrastructure of the next generation", in the next six years.
Work has already begun to connect 21 low-income communities in Monrovia to the national grid. In the next two years, a $10m World Bank grant will help to increase the capital's access to electricity to 8%. The LEC estimates bills would be around $20-$25 a month, a big proportion of a family's salary, considering official statistics claim the average Liberian lives on less than a dollar a day. The high unemployment situation in the country does not help matters.