Sierra Leone solar push aims to bring electricity to all by 2025

- Sierra Leone aims to provide electricity to all of its 6 million citizens by 2025 in a push to boost the economy, expand crucial services such as healthcare, and reduce dependency on aid, officials said on Wednesday.

Less than 12 percent of people in Sierra Leone's cities have access to electricity, while in rural areas, where most people live, the figure is less than 1 percent.

Under an initiative launched this week, Sierra Leone plans to bring solar power to all of the West African country's 149 chiefdoms within the next 18 months and deliver power to 1 million people by 2020.

The initiative with Britain's development aid ministry DFID is part of the UK Energy Africa campaign, which aims to help African countries reach a global development goal agreed by U.N. member states to ensure access to energy for all by 2030.

"I am very proud to sign the first ever compact agreement on this campaign with the government of Sierra Leone to ignite the solar energy market - helping to power business, hospitals and homes, making sure the poorest people no matter where they live can access clean, reliable and affordable energy," Nick Hurd, DFID minister, said in a statement.

Lack of access to electricity is holding back economic development in many African countries. Only about a third of the population have access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some countries, like Zambia, only 5 percent of rural and 26 percent of the urban population have electricity.

"People end up spending a lot more money on electricity access just by using haphazard means such as kerosene lamps, firewood, candles, generators," said Aminata Dumbuya, Sierra Leone campaign director at the Power for All campaign.

"We are hoping that this new announcement ... will now accelerate the private sector to come in with quality, solar products," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leonean government also plans to eliminate import duties and Value Added Tax VAT on internationally certified renewable energy products.

The International Monetary Fund said in March that Sierra Leone's economy, battered by the world's worst recorded Ebola epidemic, was expected to grow by 4.3 percent this year after contracting by 21 percent last year.

Ebola has killed some 11,300 people in the West African country and its neighbors Guinea and Liberia since late 2013.

The outbreak raised fears that after more than a decade of peace and economic growth in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which brought hopes that the nations could finally reduce their dependency on aid, Ebola was undermining those achievements.


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