Removing the stigma of solar heaters in SA

November 9, 2010

Solar heaters are sometimes seen as a stigma in South Africa. Image Credit: Kuyasa CDM project

The second day of the ASADI meeting kicked off with a passionate speech from Dipuo Peters, South Africa’s energy minister.

She brought up an interesting, and somewhat saddening, problem in South Africa. The South African government has been investing in solar water heaters for poor households. This has been a great success in Kayelitsha, a township near Cape Town, where researchers have verified the social benefits of such interventions.

But the roll-out of such technologies in poor areas has had an unintended consequence. Poor South Africans often assume that non-standard technologies distributed to them are inferior to those used by the majority. This has resulted in a distrust of unconventional, experimental, non-grid energy generation technologies such as solar heating.

Renewable energy – in particular solar energy – therefore needs an image boost in South Africa. The minister urged people who can afford it to invest in solar panels on their houses to stop them being a signifier for being poor.

We have not heard whether this is a problem in other African countries. In Kenya, for example, a 14-year-old boy’s home-built windmill became emblematic of African innovation a few years ago.

A stronger sense of technology ownership is clearly crucial to improve its acceptance in poor communities. Khayelitsha’s solar heaters are a badge of success for the government of South Africa and residents alike. It would be a shame if prejudice limits the uptake of solar heaters elsewhere.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

How’s your IBSA?

October 21, 2009


Last post of today I think…

This conference has been dominated by voices from a small number of countries. As they are the host, it is not strange that South Africa has taken a prominent role. But many talks have also come from India and Brazil.

In a way, it’s not surprising. There are more scientists in South Africa and India than in, say, Mali. But it is putting a slightly weird spin on things.

For example, we are not hearing enough from the poorest of the poor—except in the third person when delegates from the countries above talk about wanting to boost South-South cooperation.

And that they do, constantly, which is really encouraging. The financial crisis has opened up avenues for them to rally and try to plug the gaps left by the worse affected developed countries, who foot much of the bill for science and technology support for the poorest countries.

The governments of the ‘big three’ are also pushing strongly for collaboration with each other. The IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) partnership is still evolving, but speaking to South Africa’s science minister it seems like it is going well. Each party has put $1 million into a central pot for 2009/10.

Perhaps one of the outcomes of this conference should be some sort of gentlemen’s agreement between the better off developing countries and those who are really struggling for closer cooperation, perhaps plugging some of the gaps left open by Western donors cutting funding due to the financial crisis?

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

A hope for equity

November 17, 2008

Bamako 2008 opening ceremonyBringing together various ministers of health, science, research and higher education along with researchers, nongovernmental organisations, civil society representatives, funders, the private sector and others for a three-day conference in Mali’s capital city of Bamako was definitely a Herculean task to begin with.

Add to that an Air France pilot strike the exact weekend the conference began, and it’s a wonder that the organisers didn’t have a collective nervous breakdown.

But despite the potential logistical chaos for delegates travelling via Paris and an hour’s delay in the opening ceremony, there was no confusion whatsoever among the organising partners of Bamako 2008 on what they feel needs to be done in research for health.

While research into the prevention and treatment of diseases is a no-brainer, there was an equal emphasis on research into health delivery systems so that governments have the scientific evidence on which to make informed decisions on health policies.

The next challenge, as stated in WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan’s speech, is to get these political leaders to pay attention to these research results and incorporate them into all governmental policies and departments (not just health) to achieve health equity.

So will the ministers at least aim to listen more to researchers? We await the Bamako Call to Action on Wednesday.

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

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