Life without electricity. Can we even begin to imagine it?

The more you try to truly consider this eventuality, the more you will realize how impossible the reality of a non-electrified existence is for us. Electricity is an intrinsic and essential element not only in our personal lives, but also in the world we live in. There are the lights in our houses to our ever-present need to both power and charge our computers, smartphones, kindles, cameras, microwaves, televisions, music players, electric clocks, cookers, vacuum cleaners, irons, sat-navs and so on. Even if you personally think you could go a few days without electricity, the world you live in could not. Consider for a moment how our internet, mobile phone masts, satellite television, banks, shops, local businesses, and infrastructure including hospitals, streetlights and motorway warning signs would function without it. They simply wouldn’t

It isn’t love that makes our world go round, as we are told by many a terrible pop-singer, it is electricity.

Now consider this. 589 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack even basic electricity (that equates to 7 in 10 people). This is a fact cited by all sectors of sub-Saharan African society as one of its most urgent needs, and its effects are wide-ranging and diverse:

Poor Healthcare: Life-saving hospital services, such as the refrigerating of vital vaccines and blood, as well as powering incubators and x-ray machines, are compromised.

Stifling of economic growth: Business growth is restricted by such things as reduced opening hours, organizational logistical problems and opportunities for networking. Survey data of African businesses shows that reliable energy access is more of a concern than access to capital, corruption, or sufficiently trained labour.

Limited education: Not only do 90 million children in sub-Saharan Africa attend schools that lack electricity, hindering their education in many ways from lack of access to resources to lack of lighting to study at night, but a large number of girls spend hours each day searching for fuel at the expense of their education.

Lack of safety: no electricity means no streetlights or telephone and so increased risks for women, girls and children in particular.

Toxic fumes: in order to provide heat and light in the home, many places without electricity use open indoor fires and burn kerosene. The affects of this equates to 3 million premature deaths worldwide per year. That is more than from malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.


ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization that has started the “Electrify Africa” initiative and is aiming to increase modern electricity access to sub-Saharan Africa. They have already played a key role in the forming and gaining of support for some important policies in pursuit of this goal, Obama’s recent Power Africa initiative and Congress’ bipartisan Electrify Africa Act in particular. Together these aim to: mobilize the US private sector to achieve the aims of adding 10,000 MW of cleaner more efficient electricity generation capacity; increasing electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities through a combination of on-grid, mini-grid and off-grid solutions; a new $7 billion U.S. commitment to the energy sector in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania; and promoting first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.

The provision of this energy is likely to come from non-renewable sources, such as oil and coal. There have been many reservations about this but, studies have shown that, the environmental impact of providing easy energy to over 500,000,000 people in Africa would mean an increase in global CO2 of only 1%. This, some would argue, is 1% too much and I would tend to agree. However, how can we deny this most basic provision to some of the poorest and lowest emitting countries in the world when we in the developed world, who have far more freedom and choice, are not willing to change to cleaner energy? Moreover, in the formation of policies of how best to implement this programme the provision of renewable energy is a serious consideration that will, most probably, help to make up a significant degree of the energy increase goals.

Find out more about the ONE Electrify Africa initiative here. These resources will also help to answer any further questions you have. And should you want to help add weight to this initiative, you can sign the ONE petition.

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