Biofuel and other renewable energy sources may hold the key to Africa's energy crisis. Without intervention, this crisis is set to grow. Southern African cities such as Lusaka in Zambia, Harare in Zimbabwe, Gaborone in Botswana and Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania will be affected.

"The continent is rich in renewable resources which can benefit the majority of people within a few years," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said in an address at the ministerial meeting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) which ended in Nairobi yesterday (March 23).

TICAD was initiated by Japan in 1993 to address threats posed to the environment. Since then the United Nations (UN), the Global Coalition for Africa, the UN Development Programme and the World Bank have joined the initiative. Steiner warned that the continent is in danger of being locked into a development path that will always place it behind the rest of the world. African countries should look at their own resources for their developmental needs and strategies. Steiner added that if the global powers were serious about meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) it was necessary to re-think expensive energy proposals. Although he had praise for the New Partnership for Africa's Development, a continental economic restructuring plan, he pointed out that some of its energy proposals will only benefit the poorest people in the next 20 to 30 years.

To harness hydro-electricity, as NEPAD proposes, means dams have to be built which could lead to the displacement of communities and which often have negative environmental effects. More than 80 percent of Africa's population are without electricity. This means that human development suffers as schools, hospitals, businesses and computer networks all rely on electricity.