The Power of Electricity


WASHINGTON, D.C. — 1.6 billion people, a quarter of humanity, live without electricity. This breaks down to:

  • 706 million in South Asia
  • 547 million in sub-Saharan Africa
  • 224 million in East Asia

Imagine a day without electricity. Most might think of the comforts that electricity provides, such as Internet and fast food preparation. However, electricity provides much more than just comfort and convenience. Without electricity, people in South Asia, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are unable to access modern hospital services, refrigerate their food or find relief from fatal heat.

In many cases, electricity means the difference between life or death for millions of people. For example, respiratory illnesses – caused by indoor air pollution from cooking stoves – kills approximately 3.5 million women and children every year. Comparatively, 1.2 million deaths are attributed to malaria and 1.5 million to HIV.  Although kerosene is available, electricity is viewed as the preferred and safer alternative to wood and biomass stoves.

According to the World Bank,  an additional $35 – 40 billion a year would need to be invested in energy services in order to deliver universal electrical access by 2030. Comparatively, $663 billion of the U.S. federal budget is allocated towards military spending. Electricity for all is attainable; it is just a matter of political will.

“Access to energy is absolutely fundamental in the struggle against poverty,” said World Bank Vice President Rachel Kyte. Therefore, providing electricity to the world’s poor has been an area of focus for the last several years. Progress has been made and many more people have electricity. So why do over one billion people still live in darkness?

First, the work has not kept up with population growth. In the time it took to reach 1.6 billion people with electricity, the world population grew by another 1.6 billion. Second, the countries facing the largest electricity poverty, China and India, have both delivered electricity to their people very quickly and have made significant strides. However, since their populations are so large, many more people still lack electricity. Finally, the oil-rich country of Nigeria and the coal-exporting country of Indonesia face electrical poverty due to the lack of appropriate infrastructure and the inability to utilize their resources.

To put it simply, bringing electricity to the world is only achievable with more time and more funding.

Worried about the potential environmental ramifications? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), providing electricity to over one billion people will only increase carbon dioxide emissions by about 0.7%. To put this in perspective, this alone is the annual rate for the state of New York!

Ultimately, affording electricity to everyone will result in improved health, education and economic growth. Government actions as well as substantial investment from the private sector can achieve the necessary funding.

Eliminating electricity poverty is possible.

– Caressa Kruth

Sources: Global Issues, World Bank, The Borgen Project, The Guardian, National Geographic
Photo: Social Earth


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