Universal energy access is fundamental to achieving Haiti’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as greater access to energy facilitates progress in education as well as poverty and mortality reduction. The dynamic development strategy embodied in the MDGs is ineffective unless accompanied by affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy services provided by a capable electricity distribution grid. Haiti is lagging behind in its progress on almost all of its MDGs, and much of this is due to a lack of reliable energy access in the country.
Haiti’s population has the lowest levels of electrification in the Western Hemisphere, with an estimated 70 percent of the population not connected to the grid. Many areas that have access to the grid only have limited access, such as in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, where power is available for only 10 hours daily to most power consumers. Implementing the use of sustainable energy in the form of solar, wind, or hydro power will work to close the development gaps created by a lack of electricity services through several dimensions.
Reducing dependency on expensive fossil fuels by transitioning to renewable energies in countries like Haiti, which has no oil reserves of its own, increases domestic revenue streams that can be channeled into other sectors such as healthcare and education. The use of renewables also diversifies Haiti’s energy portfolio, which reduces the country’s vulnerability to oil price fluctuations. According to Haiti’s Energy Sector Development Plan 2007 – 2017 “Haiti’s petroleum products subsector, which represents only 20-25% of the national energy supply, uses more than 35-50% of external receipts of the country.”
The progress in achieving the MDGs in Haiti has been slow. According to the United Nations Development Programme in Haiti (UNDP/Haiti), before the earthquake, 78 percent of Haitians lived on less than US $2 a day, while 54 percent of the population lived on less than US $1 a day. Approximately 58 percent of Haitians also had no access to water and sanitation. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti served to heighten the levels of economic and social desperation already existing in Haiti. Accompanying this extreme poverty in Haiti are some of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as high rates of HIV/AIDS infection. Unfortunately, not all signs point towards improvements in the immediate future, as half a million children presently have no access to schools and a formal education.
Harnessing renewable energy paves an avenue for achieving the MDGs and a better Haiti. Extensive electricity coverage of the population can be sustained through renewable resources that are clean and affordable. In the case of MDGs 4, 5, and 6, targeted at health and well-being, greater access to electricity means more modern medical services can be employed, particularly in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Maternal and child care also benefit with the availability of medical imaging, medical monitors, and surgical machines, all of which are technologies that require reliable access to energy.
In the case of MDG 2, lighting of school buildings and homes allows for learning beyond daytime and further ensures a safer environment for young children. Evening classes give educational opportunities to individuals employed during the day, allowing them to invest in their futures. Integrating electronic learning tools such as computers and televisions into Haiti’s educational sector gives people the ability to gain knowledge outside the classroom by attending teaching sessions over the Internet and watching educational programs on television. These investments in human capital stimulate economic development by enabling a skilled and capable workforce.
Poverty and hunger reduction, major themes of the MDGs, are tackled by ensuring a healthy and educated citizenry, which ultimately relies on access to energy. At the recent Bloomberg New Energy Summit, Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator and Under Secretary General, remarked, “…energy, as a driver of development, plays a central role in … fighting poverty …”