By Timo Shihepo
Pretoria – The 37th SADC Summit of heads of state and government has directed the SADC Secretariat to facilitate the establishment of a regional Natural Gas Committee to promote the inclusion of gas in the regional mix and in the promotion of industrial development.
Southern Africa is estimated to be sitting on natural gas reserves of about 600 trillion cubic feet, which could reduce a heavy reliance on biomass energy once it’s developed. The proposed inter-state natural gas committee would look into the exploitation of the gas reserves in the region.
Only South Africa and Mozambique have so far developed some of the natural gas reserves. Botswana and Zimbabwe were also believed to have vast quantities of gas and plans were underway to exploit these.
But the reserves in most countries in the region remain almost untapped due to lack of capital, gas feasibility studies and plans to extract these natural gas resources.
Speaking at the summit in Pretoria, South Africa, last week, SADC’s new chairperson and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said the discovery and exploitation of natural gas within the region should constitute the backbone of SADC’s regional economic integration.
He urged the region to develop the natural gas reserves as soon as possible to accelerate the region’s development.
The discovery of significant natural gas reserves in the region, both off-shore and on-shore, needed to be pursued and exploited to mitigate the region’s energy problems, President Zuma said, adding that Africans needed to benefit from the resources on the continent.
“This is what we need to do and I am hoping that we do not need a lot of processes to establish this committee.
The committee will be given user-friendly tasks. The inclusion of gas into the regional energy mix will facilitate increased universal access to energy,” he said.
President Zuma said the summit had “emphasised the need to have concrete outcomes so as to leverage our natural endowments to change the structure of our economies and promote value-addition with the focus on agro-processing, mineral beneficiation and pharmaceuticals”.
Zuma added that since Africa is the richest continent with the poorest people, the heritage and endowment must be used to drive economic development for the benefit of all Africa’s citizens.
He said there is convergence among SADC member states on the importance of working with the private sector in this regard. He cited energy security as a critical input to industrial development adding that this was an indication of SADC’s resolve to practically implement the Industrial Strategy and Roadmap.
In order to address the critical constraints of financing the work programme, SADC has emphasised the need for resource mobilisation, including the operationalisation of the regional development fund. In this regard, Zuma said, the SADC integration agenda was important for the family of the region’s nations.
“The vision of a connected and prosperous African continent, the Continental Free Trade Area should find in the work of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area. As such, we should continue in earnest with our engagements,” he said, adding that there was a need to move forward with the plethora of issues on the region’s agenda.
Zuma then said the region welcomes the solidarity displayed by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as well as the African Development Bank’s commitment to support SADC’s programme of action.