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Women must play key role in renewable energy: Kenyan experts

NAKURU (Xinhua) -- As Kenya focuses on increasing production and use of clean and renewable energy, women are prioritized as key agents to achieving the targets.

Women are primary managers of fuel for cooking in the households in Kenya. And for years firewood and charcoal has been the major source of cooking energy for millions of households in the country but which World Health Organization (WHO) considers a health hazard due to the loss of lives its costs families.

At least 2,000 people die annually in the East African nation due to air pollution contributing to the WHO’s global estimation of 1.5 million dying yearly from complications associated with the use of atmosphere impurifying biomass.

Daniel Wanjohi, Eastern African Regional Representative for Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) said women and children make up the largest percentage of those affected with use of biomass fuels such as firewood and charcoal.

They carry children while walking long distances through some unsafe paths to search for firewood and return to the kitchen to cook with it further exposing themselves to an additional danger of too much smoke, he said.

"If we empower women, we transform the whole household, from children to the husbands," said Wanjohi.

At least 40 percent of the household income is spent on energy, a consumption which would be reduced with empowering women to access cheaper and more affordable alternative sources of energy, he noted.

He said promotion of clean cooking practices was significant to addressing gender disparity in the Kenyan society and thereby fostering holistic development.

"We need to support women energy entrepreneurs to expand their businesses and benefit many people," he said.

He also emphasized on the need to mainstreaming issue of gender and energy in every department to improve lives of many Kenyans.

Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action Eastern Africa region said it is crucial to include women in energy planning and allocate resources to women led businesses because they are a major resource to delivering the ambitious target on energy in Kenya.

By 2017, total generation of power in the country would have reached 5,000MW based on the 2013 target set by the government.

This would include input from the hydro, thermal, geothermal, wind and solar sources.

However, by June 2015 the total generated electricity stood at 2,299MW according to the Energy Regulatory Commission annual report for the 2014-2015.

"We advocate for inclusion of women in energy planning at the county and national levels because lives of families change when you support women and they should not be just users of energy but also producers," said Muchiri.

She said involvement of women in energy planning included provision of support for innovative financial mechanisms that can help them access more affordable energy options such as solar, briquettes and improved cookstoves.

The gender specialist said modern cooking has been prioritized in the Kenyan energy national plans since large percentage of Kenyans use biomass fuels for cooking which exposes them to numerous challenges and dangers.

"Women economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic development," she said.

Muchiri said there was need to lobby and advocate for adoption and support for women economic empowerment approaches in delivering energy target at organizational, county, national and international levels.

John Maina, the Principal Renewable Energy Officer at the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum said women in Kenya played a vital role as energy producers and managers in their respective households.

However, despite their immense contribution in energy sector activities, women lack sufficient capacity and resources to undertake energy related projects, he said.

"Empowerment is key in increasing women’s access to renewable energy," he said.

He said women wasted not only too much time searching for firewood but were also vulnerable to safety and security challenges while collecting the fuel.

They spent up to five hours sourcing for the cooking energy often deep in the forests where their safety is unassured, he said.

He said over 2,000 Kenyans die annually due to the air pollution indicating urgency to increase access to modern energy in the households.

Sensitization of the Kenyan communities on enabling women to access clean and affordable energy was important to eliminate dangers associated with use of the air polluting fuel, he said.



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