About seven million of the Pacific region’s ten million people still do not have access to electricity.

Rural Melanesia in particular faces the exceptional challenge of achieving universal electricity access in an area where the cost of electricity and petroleum are among the highest in the world, averaging around 20% of total household income.

This year is the beginning of the United Nation’s Decade of Sustainable Energy for All. Acknowledging that access to clean and affordable energy is crucial to economic development in the post-2015 agenda, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Energy Programme is working on a project titled Melanesia’s Million Miracle Programme (M3P).

M3P is aimed at bringing the miracle of electricity to one million people in the Melanesian countries of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu by 2020.

For Vanuatu, M3P aims to provide electricity to 26,625 households or 159,790 people by 2020. To start with, based on current funding, the project will bring electricity to 200 households (1,200 people) in two rural communities, thereby helping to bridge the gap between the urban and rural areas in terms of access to modern energy services .

A team from SPC’s Energy Programme was in Vanuatu last week to consult and collect baseline data from local communities. The team, in partnership with Vanuatu Department of Energy and the NGO Alternative Communities Trade in Vanuatu (ACTIV), identified the two communities that would be beneficiaries of the project, namely, Port Resolution and White Sands.

The SPC team was able to gather and collate data on access to basic lighting, type of cooking fuel used, and household income and expenditure. Results indicate that the majority of the households in the two communities still rely on traditional fuel such as biomass, candles and kerosene for lighting.

To counter this, the project proposes the use of solar energy, which will reduce the carbon intensity, as well as the reliance and spending on kerosene.

Breaking traditional barriers, the project also sees women playing a key role as agents of change. It proposes the creation of markets and a business environment. Women’s groups have been identified and will be trained to manage their own micro businesses, injecting thousands into the economy while improving the quality of life of their families.

‘The SPC team met with women’s groups in the two communities. This project will empower them to effectively manage community-based micro businesses. They will run solar shops that serve as charging stations for solar lights. The solar shops will be coordinated by the women’s council in the two communities,’ said Kuini Rabo from SPC’s Energy Programme.

In Vanuatu, only 28% of the population has access to electricity. The government estimates that around 26,219 households – 55% of the rural population – use kerosene for lighting.

BizClim, a programme of the African Caribbean Pacific Secretariat funded by the European Union, will provide approximately EUR 200,000 in the form of technical assistance via a consultancy to the Melanesia’s Million Miracle Programme (M3P).

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