Climate and energy
Working paper

Internal migration and energy poverty in South Africa

Leonard le Roux and Johanna Choumert-Nkolo
February 2021

Despite recent progress, energy poverty remains pervasive in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This challenge is generally more severe in rural areas. However, rapid urbanization adds a significant challenge to often under-capacitated urban local authorities that struggle to provide services to new urban dwellers. In the case of South Africa and other SSA countries, this has resulted in a proliferation of under-serviced informal urban settlements on the urban periphery, where a lack of energy access is compounded by a lack of access to other services and job opportunities, resulting in sites of concentrated and multidimensional deprivation. This paper presents the first analysis of the relationship between rural-urban migration and energy poverty in South Africa, and to the authors’ knowledge in Africa, using a nationally representative panel dataset. Using a difference in differences approach, energy poverty changes for both migrants and non-migrants is tracked over a ten-year period. It is found that, on average, moving to urban areas results in reductions in energy poverty for migrants themselves, with especially dramatic reductions in the use of traditional cooking fuels. However, roughly one in five new urban arrivals moves into informal shack dwellings where the gains from migration are negligible from an energy poverty perspective, given the rapid increase in grid access and access to electrical appliances taking place in South African rural areas.