PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Over 1.3 billion people in the world live without electricity, and one billion people may still not have access to it by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. One of the areas most affected by this is Sub-Saharan Africa, which holds 95 percent of the people who lack electricity. Almost two-thirds of the population do not have access to electricity, and this is causing a stall in development. The United States’ Energize Africa Act could provide much needed assistance.
The U.N. Human Development Index indicates that the bottom 24 out of 25 ranked countries are in Africa.
A lack of power causes lapses in healthcare and education, among other things. Without electricity in hospitals, the maternal death rate spikes, as does the infant mortality rate. Infant mortality is as high as 10 percent in Somalia. In addition, hospitals and other care centers cannot refrigerate vaccines, which means preventable illnesses are still a factor in many nations.
Another health issue is pollution. The lack of electricity means a higher reliance on other sources of fuel, like diesel and kerosene. These are dirtier forms of energy, and their availability is also inconsistent.
Another form of pollution comes from indoor cooking. People burn wood, coal, charcoal and animal dung while cooking food. The smoke created from these fires causes lung damage, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Indoor cooking caused over 600,000 deaths in 2012.
Education also suffers without electricity. Children cannot study at night without lights. Students are sometimes forced to travel far from home to find a streetlight to study under. This poses a safety risk and impedes their learning. Women in particular cannot attend school because they are tasked with the job of finding fuel.
Finding fuel can endanger the environment. The scavenging required to provide energy causes deforestation, erosion, land degradation and water contamination.
What the environment provides does not last long. Without refrigeration, the harvests in many African nations suffer from a large proportion of spoilage.
Without electricity, whole economies suffer. Businesses cannot grow, and individuals cannot be as productive. Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the world, but 80 percent of its 175 million citizens live below the international poverty line. Over half of its population also lives without electricity.
The reason for the low electrification rate lies mainly in a lack of funding. The difficulty to expand the system in rural areas and the lack of infrastructure have also affected the electrification rate.
In 2011, the U.N. launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4ALL,) which aims to provide energy for the world. President Obama launched his own Power Africa initiative last year. Both initiatives work with the country’s private sector to supply energy. The issue is gaining attention. Right now, the Energize Africa Act is awaiting a vote in the Senate. The bill will provide a return on investment for both Africa and the U.S., since it will work with the private sector to make economic investments in the region and boost development.
ONE.org has a petition where people can show support for the bill. People can also call and email their senators to show support directly. More information is also available through ONE’s easy-to-follow infographic which outlines the problems caused by a lack of electricity.
– Monica Roth