Ministers says rural electrification a must in war on poverty

Energy ministers from countries in Central Africa said on Wednesday the provision of electricity must be part of their national strategic plans to end poverty.

Their appeal came at the end of a three-day workshop in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo, on providing electricity services for rural development. Cheap and reliable electricity would, they said, introduce or modernise clean drinking water, education, health, communication and agriculture systems for millions of their rural poor.

Four of the six countries represented at this workshop are oil producers and, presumably, should be able to provide basic services. Yet, their nations rank low on the UN's global Human Development Index of 2004.

"In spite of the enormous energy resources in our area, its rate of electrification hardly exceeds ten percent," Bruno Jean Richard Itoua, the Congolese minister for energy told his colleagues from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo.

The countries are members of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, also known as CEMAC, which organised the workshop with the European Initiative for Energy for the Eradication of Poverty and for Durable Development.

Itoua said region's electrification rate was the weakest of all subregions in Africa.

"This deficit in electric power constitutes a significant challenge," he said.

CEMAC countries are members of Central Africa Energy Pool, created in 2003 to ensure the production, transport, distribution and marketing of energy among its members. However, since its inception the Brazzaville-based body has not carried out a single project.