Fighting poverty with electricity

In conversation about fighting global poverty, energy rarely comes up as part of the problem or the solution. The fact is, however, that half the world’s population has no access to modern energy, and 1.5 billion people (22 percent of the global population) do not have any electricity. Lack of access to electricity deprives impoverished people of the ability to meet their basic human needs, such as access to fresh foods, lighting, and heating / cooling at home.

In 2011, almost three billion people still cook with biomass (wood and plants burner as fuel) and coal. These traditional methods require women and children to collect fuel and then work over a cooking stove that produces lots of smoke. In total, smoke from traditional cooking methods kills 1.4 million people each year—that’s 50 percent more deaths than those caused by malaria.

Now, think about what it would be like to live without electric lights—something those living in poverty deal with every day. Productive work is limited to the hours the sun is shining. Without light bulbs or reliable electricity, people in many poor regions resort to kerosene lamps. Ironically, high-efficiency light bulbs are a more affordable light source than kerosene lamps, yet limited and unreliable electricity in poor, rural areas, keeps electric lights out of reach.

Given that most developing countries lie in the world’s hottest regions, they face additional challenges due to lack of electricity like keeping food and medicine cool. Food processing, safe storage, transportation, and sale, along with the preservation of blood, medicine, and vaccines, all require refrigeration—without it, these life essentials spoil, leading to more safety and health hazards.

All of these pieces—no refrigeration for preserving foods and medicines, no electricity to keep the lights on, ancient cooking methods—are part of the problem of poverty because they perpetuate the cycle. The truth is that in today’s globalized world, a lack of electricity doesn’t just mean limited connectedness to the rest of the world, but also limited survival.

Fact: the United Nations’ Millennium Global Development goals will not be reached without a 50 percent global increase in access to energy by the world’s poorest people. The large percentage of our world population that suffers due to lack of electricity impacts us all and is an issue we should all be concerned with.