By Amin Kef Sesay
Hon. Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella on the 24th July 2020 reminded participants at a virtual conference including representatives from international organizations, public and private sectors, and civil society about the devastating consequences of COVID-19 including the off-grid sector.
“COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the healthcare infrastructure in many countries. It has also accentuated the link between energy services and effective healthcare delivery, access to water and sanitation,” he said, in his opening keynote remarks to over a thousand participants at the two-day virtual Energy Access COVID-19 Relief Summit.
Speaking about the economic impact of COVID-19, Hon. Yumkella noted that the off-grid sector has not been spared either.
“The sector is experiencing a decrease in investments in renewable projects and poses a challenge for small and medium enterprises and energy companies – specifically their viability and profitability,” he underscored. There is also the impact on the demand for energy services by industries and small businesses as well as the inability of customers to pay for energy services.
As participants discuss opportunities and challenges of the energy sector over the next two days, Hon. Yumkella offered a few suggestions for rebuilding a sustainable and resilient sector that he stressed must be backed by the right narrative to gain political attention from the right people. His suggestions included: Ensure practical measures to safeguard the gains we have made in achieving access over the last decade; ensure access to electricity remains a political priority in developing countries, especially in COVID-19 recovery plans and strategies; organize a strong lobby to ring-fence or increase donor funds for renewable and off-grid energy projects and programs; advocate and lobby for direct financial assistance for off-grid companies and subsidies for off-grid consumers especially in mini-grid communities and push for innovations in public policy to build back better for resilience.
Despite the challenges, Hon. Yumkella noted that he is hopeful that the sector will not be neglected as he knows different taskforces that working hard to ensure the energy sector is included in recovery plans.
Specifically, he noted the work of the IRENA – UNDP review of INDCs, the Europe-Africa Alliance in cooperation with Friends of Europe, the SEforAll Compact Summit in 2021, the One Sun-One World – One Grid – an Indian initiative under the Solar Alliance among others.
Founder of the Energy Nexus Network (TENN), Hon. Yumkella represents Constituency 062 – Samu Chiefdom in Northern Sierra Leone. Prior to his election as a Member of Parliament, he was UN Under-Secretary-General. He holds the unique distinction of being the first Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and founding CEO of the same organization. He served as Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization for two four-year terms.
The summit was organized by the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) and GOGLA – the voice of the Off-Grid Solar Energy Industry with support from GET invest and in partnership with AMDA, ESMAP, GDC, SEforALL and the Clean Cooking Alliance.