SENEGAL: As fuel prices soar, oil lamps becoming a luxury product

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Surging petrol prices in Africa usually weigh most heavily on the emerging urban middle class, making it a struggle to put fuel in cars or motorbikes every day and to pay home electricity bills.

In Senegal, the energy shock is starting to filter down to the most isolated rural areas, where, far from electricity grids and roads, illiterate parents hoping their children will have a better life through education are worrying about how to put fuel in oil lamps so their children can do their homework.

“It is very difficult, because at night, we need to make light but there has not been any petrol in the area since last year,” said Abba Diallo, president of the Parent-Teacher Association in Thiancone Boguel, a town in northeastern Senegal, some 690km from the capital, Dakar, in the Matam region.

Senegal has been confronted with serious energy supply difficulties for the last three years. Several times, the 12 million-strong West African country, one of the region’s most stable economies, has simply run out of gas, petrol and electricity.

Alioune Badara Ndiongue, director of the village school in Thiancone Boguel, says that is hampering education.

“I was very surprised the first time I saw 20 of my students squeezed into the corner of a room in one of the very few houses in the village which is equipped with solar energy,” he told IRIN.

“I’m worried about the school results, taking into account the conditions that students have to live with when they do homework.”

“We cannot teach in these conditions,” said Yerim Sy, a teacher at the school, who warns results are already slipping – he says because of the high cost of lamp oil.

In 2005, 100 percent of the students received a certificate for having finished elementary education and all of them went on to college, he said. “It was the only school in the department to have obtained these satisfactory results,” according to Sy.

The results of 2006 show that just 60 percent got the certificate and only 20 percent of children went to college.

“Because of the fuel problem students are obliged to go and look for pieces of wood around their village to make fires to be able to see by,” said one former student, comparing the task to work performed by Talibes – students at Koranic schools who are forced out on the streets to work as beggars between their religious lessons.

People are also starting to use other more dangerous products to fuel lamps in the villages. “We use diesel which creates a lot of smoke and gas which is very dangerous,” said Abass Niang, a student, who has himself used these fuels to help him study.

“When we prepare our courses, we actually use torches lit with things other than petrol,” confirmed Sy, the teacher.

Coumba Daff, a cleaner, was shocked to learn that she could not find lamp fuel even at a shop 10km from her village, Séno Palèl. She was obliged to go and visit her sister 30km away, where she hoped to find someone with some fuel. She said she expected to be able to buy one litre for around 2 kilograms of rice.

At Bokidiawé only one shop was selling lamp oil at a price of 400 CFA francs per litre, almost double what is costs in Dakar.

“Electrification and building up sustainable development pose a problem in this region where the most important needs are water and health,” said Hamady Dieng, a local politician.

The primary source of energy in almost 50 percent of Senegalese households is wood. A quarter use charcoal, according to government data.

Source: IRIN