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Breath of fresh air: e7, an NGO with a grassroots approach
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa •• Sept. 2, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• On Sunday the 1st September, a meeting of the e7 organization was held. Developments and contributions made to the reduction of electrically sterile areas (and other energy issues) were discussed.

The meeting was mainly Francophone, with the French Prime Minister opening proceedings with the following remarks:

He stated that electricity helps decrease extreme poverty, and that on a global scale, focus should be on providing access to rural areas in Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America. He claimed that the action of e7 and the goals of the Summit should run in parallel - the aim of energy provision for all was achievable if coalitions existed between organizations, and between public and private enterprise. He stressed the point that the proper management of fossil fuels was vital to the sustainability of energy resources and the environment. The French Prime Minister closed by stating that the e7 had the full support of the French government in all its endeavours.

The floor then turned to François Roussely, who is involved in Electricity of France, the largest electric company in world. M. Roussely began by saying that electricity has now become the centre of attention, for it symbolizes the modern way of life. He also stated that is was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, and that the WSSD offered the opportunity to focus world attention on electricity. He claimed that the e7 has been interested in poverty alleviation, and working towards environmental and social sustainability for the last decade, and e7 goals should be made global goals for global citizens.

The next presentation on the agenda was Jacques Laurent from Hydro Quebec, and he examined how the e7 has provided access and expertise in developing countries, through the application of Agenda 21. He claimed that e7 has built its good reputation through concrete, capacity-building projects around the world. There are 30 some such projects, and example being in 2001/02, where a partnership in Thailand between the Science and Technology agency and the World Bank facilitated the transmission of technical assistance to this ministry. An example of capacity building was shown through the scholarship program for Masters or PhD study; these have been awarded to: Masters - a Ugandan, Israeli, Canadian and PhD - a Chinese graduate.

The floor was then given to a representative from Scotland, Ian Russel. He believed that the most important aspect of providing services was to understand the needs and aspirations of the local communities one is working with. After saying this, he continued to make explicit the e7 commitments to communities and the globe:

1) human capacity building: it is not only more technology that is needed, but skills are important too.
2) The role of new technology: success is not possible without smaller scale operations at a local level. This belief was seen in action in a project in the Galapagos islands that incorporated the use of wind turbines and solar power.
3) maintenance of skills acquired: this gives e7 the opportunity to build a relationship with a community and thus ensure full participation.
4) Stakeholder partnerships: co-operation is the lifeblood of such projects as the e7 undertakes
5) Education and public awareness was the last point made. The reasons for it are clear!

The podium was then passed to Faith Birrol of the IEA, who gave statistics on electricity and energy distribution which brought home the consequences of continued misuse of our energy resources. He claimed first of all that a lack of electricity access and the use of traditional biomass fuels were the cornerstones of poverty. He went on to say that 1.6 billion people live without electricity, and with the current rate of change by 2030, still 1.4 billion will be without a power source - 80% of these inhabit Sub-Saharan Africa and India. 4 out of 5 people without access live in rural areas - it is clear where the path to development should lead.

M. Birrol gave implications and outcomes of continued biomass fuel usage in rural areas:
He began by saying that the wood collection time in India took 7 hours out of a day - clearly this is an unproductive use of time and energy. Health problems (respiratory illness) associated with the burning of fossil fuels were a clear issue, and the gender division that is created (fuel collection being "women's work") is causing a widening gap between the sexes. Above all, however, fossil fuel emissions are detrimental to the environment. Thus investment in the rural areas is crucial to ensure the provision of power to all - here the point that not just electricity but all forms of energy should be implemented, was made. Interestingly, M. Birrol made the distinction between renewable and non-renewable energy on the basis of location: he claimed that renewable energy usually worked better in the rural areas, while non-renewable energy was seen in the more urbanized areas. My explanation for this is that renewable energies are usually (for now) fairly small scale initiatives, thus working better in a small community.

The final speaker at this meeting was Cahit Gurkok, representing UNIDO. He made announced the signing of a co-operative agreement with the e7: this agreement aimed to fight poverty by providing access to energy sources in the rural areas. This is seen as a Type II initiative of UNIDO, and this delegate offered a "to do" list to the audience:
Firstly, the co-ordination of bi- and multi-lateral agreements and efforts to forge co-operation and help fight poverty. Secondly, the creation of realistic financing for rural schemes and thirdly, the promotional support of companies to facilitate capacity building.

Although the meeting was dominated by Northly, first world speakers (to be expected at an e7 meeting), I found that the delegates spoke well and had an unusual amount of insight into the plight of rural areas deprived of access to power.

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