In early February this year I had a week out of our little Brighton office and headed over to Dakar, Senegal. It was a pretty exciting few days, not only because it was my first time in West Africa, but because I was representing Renewable World at the BRACED Annual Learning Event.
The BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters) Programme, funded by DFID, is one of the world’s leading resilience programmes which responds to the most immediate impacts of climate change – extreme climate events such as droughts, floods and cyclones. Running through to 2018, BRACED aims to benefit an estimated 5 million people through 15 project consortiums in the Sahel, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The BRACED project consortium in Nepal, which is aptly named Anukulan, meaning resilience in Nepali, is led by International Development Enterprise (iDE) UK, and aims to help half a million poor and vulnerable people in Nepal build resilience to climate change impacts through the use of climate-smart agriculture techniques such as drip irrigation, conservation agriculture, and solar water pumping. Renewable World is proud to be a consortium partner in the project, brining our expertise in developing sustainable community owned clean energy systems through the installation of our tested solar powered water pumping systems and clean-fuel bio-gas systems. BRACED is an exciting project to be involved in because if there’s one thing that we believe, it’s that access to power can help lift people out of poverty.
It was my first time attending an international conference of this sort, and since I knew no one other than some of the Anukulan consortium members who were flying in from Nepal, I was a little apprehensive about how I’d get on. So, I was quite relieved to find myself sitting across the aisle from a rather jolly group travellers on the plane from Madrid to Dakar who it turned out were heading to the very same place as me. Getting into the airport shuttle bus, lots of introductions were made and I started to feel at ease and excited for the days ahead.
The next morning the conference began. It brought together representatives from all 108 partner organisations across the 15 projects. Never before have I so desperately wanted to be able to speak French; over half the delegation was from Francophone Africa, but I tried not to let the language barrier limit conversations. It was an interactive three days, with the opportunity to connect with other project partners, share ideas and exchange knowledge around the themes of resilience and climate change.
What became clear to me through the course of conversations around ‘resilience’ was that access to energy is an overlooked tool for resilience building in the current rhetoric. I found myself sharing our experience of working in Nepal following the devastating earthquake last year. How by repairing clean-energy water pumps and restoring access to water families could concentrate on rebuilding their homes and growing crops at a time of desperation. And how by providing basic access to power and communication through solar lanterns, phone chargers and solar radios families could feel safe at night, talk to their loved ones and find out about support and relief coming their way. I feel that while sometimes access to energy could be seen as a luxury, we have proven experience that access to energy also provides access to essential services and allow households to develop the cushion they need to withstand shocks.
Those I spoke to could see the correlation between energy and resilience and yet it appears to hardly feature in the BRACED programme. To summarise a point made by Magareata Wahlstrom – Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction at her key note address – building resilience is about building people’s ability to anticipate, adapt and absorb shocks and disasters, it is the key to sustainability and survival, but in order to do this they need to have the tools to cope. As far as I could tell, Renewable World is the only organisation with a focus on clean energy involved in the programme and Anukulan is the only project which incorporates clean energy as tool to build resilience and increase household income and security. I couldn’t help feeling like there needed to be some more cross sector discussions around resilience to bring in real and tangible change.
Attending the conference was a hugely exciting opportunity. I’d never before been in quite such an energised environment, and never before did I come away with such a strong belief in what we do at Renewable World. I realise there’s a lot for us to learn, but also, there’s a lot of learning for us to share, particularly keeping in mind that 1.2 billion people still don’t have access to power globally.