Energy Poverty: A Threat Multiplier?
“When you have half of Caironese in slums, when you don’t have clean water, when you don’t have a sewer system, when you don’t have electricity, and on top of that you live under one of the most repressive regimes right now… Well, put all that together, and it’s a ticking bomb. It’s not of a question of threat; it is question of looking around at the present environment and making a rational prognosis.”
— Egyptian Vice President Mohamed El Baradei
Energy poverty, or the lack of reliable access to electricity, impacts nearly half the world’s population, though its effects are disproportionately felt in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Energy poverty is often classified as a development issue, but it can also impact security within a country. Some argue that energy poverty can be a threat multiplier: It exacerbates conditions thought to enable terrorism and violence, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tension. Energy poverty can also breed power theft and “electricity cartels” that illegally divert electricity from the grid to areas that power companies do not service.
Illegal electricity connections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Alicia Nijdam/Wikimedia Commons)
New oil and gas technologies could either alleviate or exacerbate energy poverty in particular countries, depending on the impact they have on each country’s oil and gas production levels. For many countries, new technologies enable new opportunities for production, yielding greater financial and energy resources with which to combat energy poverty among local populations that otherwise had little access to power. Better access to power supply reduces the frequency of brownouts and blackouts for many at-risk communities, improving their quality of life.
However, some countries have seen foreign investment and interest in their energy sectors migrate elsewhere with the advent of these new technologies, resulting in lower levels of production than they may have otherwise enjoyed. It is possible that under such circumstances, lower energy production and revenues could exacerbate energy poverty — and consequently, social tension and instability — in some countries by reducing access to energy inputs and the financial resources needed to maintain electrical grid infrastructure.