Lives at Risk over Poor Access to Safe Food, Medicines

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 November 11, 2019

A new report, which was launched at the weekend in Rome, Italy, calls on governments, industry and development partners to urgently work together to reduce the number of people at risk from lack of access to cooling for comfort, safety, nutrition and health needs, Assistant Editor BOLA OLAJUWON writes.

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The National Electricity Transmission System, also known as the power grid, experienced a total collapse twice in four hours at the weekend.

The system, which is being managed by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), has continued to suffer collapse over the years amid a lack of revolving reserve meant to forestall such occurrences.

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One of the nation’s distribution companies, Eko Electricity Distribution Plc, confirmed the collapse on Saturday. It explained that the grid collapsed at 11:15 p.m. on Friday and 3:15 a.m. on Saturday.

There are many causes of power failures in an electricity network. Examples of these causes include faults at power stations, damage to electric transmission lines, substations or other parts of the distribution system, a short circuit, cascading failure, fuse or circuit breaker operation.

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The collapse is coming as temperatures hit record highs globally. According to a report released by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), entitled: ‘Chilling Prospects: Tracking Sustainable Cooling for All 2019’, which was released at the weekend, significant African populations are at increasing risk from lack of cooling access to tame the high temperatures.

The Chilling Prospects report, made available by African Media Agency (AMA), shines a light on the growing ‘cooling access challenge, a spike in global energy demand, and profound climate impacts. It indicated that public safety, health, safe medicine and food supply for 1.05 billion people in poor rural and urban areas are now at risk from lack of access to cooling.

The report, which was launched during the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP 31) in Rome, Italy, takes stock of progress made over the past year, highlighting new solutions to sustainable access to cooling and calling on governments, industry, and development finance to urgently work together to reduce the number of people at risk from lack of access to cooling. It also provides a new tool, The Cooling for All Needs Assessment, for governments, NGOs and development institutions to accurately size the market for cooling demands based on comfort, safety, nutrition and health needs.

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A challenge for Nigeria and 11 other African countries

The report, which is the second in the Chilling Prospects series, serves as a follow-up to the inaugural report’s wake-up call and call to action. The findings outlined in this year’s report, which was made available to The Nation, shows that 1.05 billion people face serious cooling access risks, especially in the area of availability of cold chain, which is temperature-controlled supply chain, consisting of a sequence of refrigerated production, storage, and distribution activities, along with associated equipment and logistics, which maintain a desired low-temperature range. It is used to preserve, extend, and ensure the shelf life of products.

The report was produced in partnership and supported by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP). The Chilling Prospects research is part of SEforALL’s Cooling for All initiative, which developed the report along with contributions from the Global Panel on Access to Cooling.

In 52 high-risk countries, 365 million people in rural areas and 680 million people in urban slums are at risk due to poor rural areas without access to safe food and medicines and poor urban slums with little or no cooling to protect them in a heatwave.

In Africa, the rates of growth for those at high risk, the rural poor and the urban poor, have increased beyond the rate of population growth (5.7 per cent), with increases of 28.7 per cent and 19.1 per cent. According to the report, more worrying is the concentration of countries in Africa that exhibit high concentrations of populations at risk.

Of the African countries identified as high impact, the report indicated that 12 have over 60 per cent of their populations at highest risk and they are Nigeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Togo. Overall, of the high impact countries in Africa, 47 per cent of their total population is categorised as the highest risk, up from 40 per cent in 2018.

The Global Panel on Access to Cooling said urban poor might have some access to electricity, but housing quality is likely to be very poor and income might not be sufficient to purchase or run a fan. “They may own or have access to a refrigerator, but intermittent electricity supplies may mean that food often spoils and there is a high risk of food poisoning,” the report indicated.

To show that the report was not meant to attack African countries only, it indicated that 2.2 billion people present a different risk, a rising, lower-middle-class in developing countries, who are only able to afford cheaper, less efficient air conditioners, which could spike global energy demand and have profound climate impacts.

Tackling the challenge

The panel noted that addressing unreliable, energy-inefficient cold chains for life-saving medicines and safe food key to delivering sustainable cooling access without exacerbating the climate crisis It called on governments, industry and development finance to urgently provide sustainable cooling solutions for high-risk groups.

The report finds that the growth rate of the high-risk countries in Africa is significantly greater than the rate of population growth. While population growth across Africa averages at 5.7 per cent, the expected growth rate for those at high risk from lack of cooling access is 19.1 per cent for the urban poor (those living largely in urban slums) and 28.7 per cent for the rural poor (those living in rural areas and largely without access to electricity).

This increase in risk seems to be driven by rapid urbanisation, drawing people from poor rural settings, placing more and more pressure on urban slums to support them, and a lack of electricity access gains.

António Mexia, Chairman of the SEforALL Administrative Board and CEO of Energias de Portugal (EDP) said: “As the world rapidly urbanises and temperatures only grow, we risk a significant increase in the number of people without access to sustainable cooling.

“By 2030, the cost of productivity losses will be $2 trillion, and it will be the developing world that suffers the greatest ‘productivity penalty’ as they deal with record temperatures and lack of cooling, stunting economic growth and further exacerbating global cooling inequity.”

Also, Brian Dean, Head of Cooling and Energy Efficiency at Sustainable Energy for All, highlighted the need to see cooling access as a right.

“In a warming world facing ongoing deadly impacts from climate change, we cannot view cooling as a luxury. In a heatwave, it can be a matter of life or death for children and older people. It ensures that workers are productive, that families can store nutritious food securely, and that infants can receive an effective vaccine in a rural clinic. Delivering sustainable cooling is an issue of equity that will enable millions to escape poverty and help to realise the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The way out

According to the panel, many countries do not have national cooling plans that will invest in infrastructure to provide residential and commercial cooling, address damage to the climate by inefficient cooling systems and establish cold chains that support food security and medical security.

Among series of action-oriented recommendations, complete with resources, to allow policymakers, development financiers and industry to accelerate access to cooling are: Government policymakers should develop and implement comprehensive national cooling plans that protect the vulnerable, using the Cooling for All Needs Assessment to measure demand and aggregate solutions.

It urged donors, development practitioners and financiers, to prioritise the most vulnerable. To do so, they must harness a diverse set of financing tools to deliver universal cooling access. There is also a clear need to track financial flows directed towards access to cooling for at-risk populations.

Industry and business firms were asked to ensure efficiency and affordability at the ‘Base of the Pyramid’, accelerating action through skills development, maintenance, and technician training. In addition to supporting policy planning at the national level, cities and local authorities were urged to use the Cooling for All Needs Assessment to identify priority actions to protect their most vulnerable populations.

The panel noted that the National Cooling Plan is a plan developed by a national government that can take different forms, but often includes components such as outlooks on how cooling demand will evolve and grow over time, strategies that promote sustainable and smart cooling practices across the nation, roadmaps and timelines to adopt and increase the stringency of MEPS, and identification of potential to use financial mechanisms.

It also called on governments to accommodate Heat Action Plan, which is a plan developed at the municipal or the regional level that includes several measures to address extreme heatwaves through the implementation, coordination and evaluation of activities aimed at avoiding and reducing the negative health impacts on the population.

However, the solutions to tackling the challenge, the report indicated, must be done through needs assessment – a systematic process for determining and addressing needs or gaps between current conditions and desired conditions. The discrepancy, according to the panel, must be measured to appropriately identify the present need.

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