Governments in the Eastern Africa region have been urged to urgently increase investment in renewable sources of energy to reduce the dependence on wood fuel and foster development.
"Energy sector development if we are to reach the middle income status, which many of our member states aspire to. But this cannot be achieved if we don't address all the constraints related to energy," Antonio Pedro, the director of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) sub- regional office for Eastern Africa, said in a statement recently.
Energy experts asserted that access to energy was also a vital prerequisite for economic growth.
"Energy sector is key to ensuring production which leads to ensuring a sustainable and inclusive economy," noted Maria Kiwanuka, Uganda's finance minister.
"Without power we cannot talk about industrialisation or sustainable economic growth and transformation. We would be depriving our citizens their basic rights," she added.
The officials were speaking during the 17th session of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE) in Kampala Uganda recently. It was sponsored by the Economic Commission for Africa and brought together 250 experts and opinion leaders to reflect on the issues of energy access and security in Eastern Africa.
The number of people with access to electricity in Eastern Africa is among the lowest in the world. In South Sudan, for example, just one per cent of the population access power. In Burundi, the figure is at two per cent, while it is 11 per cent in the DR Congo and 12 per cent in Uganda.
"Eastern African states need to reduce their carbon foot prints and gas emission by ending their dependence on fossil fuels," the experts urged.
They also called on governments to strengthen their regional energy infrastructure and pursue greater regional co-operation and trade in energy.
This as it was discovered that a huge percentage of the population in the region relies on biomass for 90 per cent of its energy needs, leading to the destruction of 400,000 hectares of forest annually and the cutting down of 79 million cubic metres of forest per year.
"Energy trade with neighbouring countries and regionally is an untapped opportunity in Eastern Africa," said Yohannes Hailu, anenergy expert at ECA.
"Countries in the region which have the capacity to generate more power, given their energy resource potential, should look at regional energy trade opportunities that would mutually benefit all the economies of the region," he added.