ARLINGTON, Virginia — Today, there are more than 1.4 billion individuals who are without basic access to energy and electricity. As such, one of the most vital elements to global development, now and in the future, is providing energy access to poor and rural communities.
Providing access to effective and affordable sources of energy to poor rural communities is precisely what the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association has been doing since 1942. In 1962 NRECA founded their International division and in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development began sending its energy experts abroad to assist rural communities in developing nations to create their own rural electrification programs.
All told, NRECA International has sent more than 400 rural electrification advisers to more than 60 different countries, donating materials and equipment, which have created rural cooperatives providing 110 million people with access to basic electricity to light their homes.
In an Op-Ed piece written for The Hill, CEO Jo Ann Emerson, describes the challenge NERCA International is facing in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“While most Americans have never known – and cannot imagine – life without electricity, in this region of Africa, seven out of 10 people don’t have access to electricity,” writes Emerson. “Likewise, 90 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are attending primary schools without electricity and 255 million are served by similarly challenged health clinics.”
In contrast, the tangible benefits from access to electricity are stunning.
NRECA International’s efforts to provide rural cooperative electrical programs in Sudan have seen student pass rates jump from 57 percent to 97 percent one year after the arrival of electrical lighting. In Kenya, access to health facilities saw a similar increase from 62 percent to 74 percent between 2004 and 2010—decreasing the neonatal mortality rate from 40 percent to 28 percent.
NRECA International’s method of achieving rural electrification involves a complex system of promoting economic prosperity through technical assistance and training to build local knowledge and cultures which are competitive and self-maintaining.
In Haiti, where environmental disasters have devastated local infrastructure leaving millions without access to electricity, NERCA International has worked tirelessly on the Pilot Project for Sustainable Electricity Distribution. The 10-MW power plant began distributing electricity in 2013 providing reliable 24/7 electric power for more than 1,260 households.
While 1,260 may seem like a small fraction of the power needs of Haiti, the project’s goal is to provide a self-sustaining system which promotes economic growth and provides local communities with the infrastructure to help themselves out of poverty for the long run.
By promoting a culture of knowledge and local work-based energy provision, the PPSELD is doing more than giving electricity—it is helping Haitians to electrify themselves.
“Reliable electricity in this region of the country will empower local entrepreneurs and community leaders to improve their communities and pave the way for new technology and economic growth.” As of April, 2014 the plant employs nearly 2,000 people, with those numbers only expected to rise in coming years.
– Pedram Afshar