1.6 Billion People Without Electricity

Over 1.6 billion people live without electricity

On March 27, 2010, an estimated one billion people around the world came together to send a clear message that we, the inhabitants of Mother Earth, demand leadership from our elected representatives to enact progressive climate change legislation. The orchestrated demonstration was simple but effective as lights went off around the world for one hour – Earth Hour. For those of us who participated in the event, turning off all the lights for an hour was a symbolic act of solidarity with the 1.6 billion people around the world who have no electricity in their homes.

That’s right. There are over 1.6 billion people in this world without power who must use wood, coal or even dung to heat their homes and cook — resulting in indoor air pollution that kills 1.6 million people a year. These numbers are not expected to improve within the foreseeable future. The International Energy Agency estimates that the Earth’s population will top exceed 8 billion by 2030, 1.3 billion will still live without electricity. Of those, 700 million will be in Africa and 490 million in South Asia.

A recent MSNBC investigative report on Ghana, West Africa reveals the severity of the problem. A decade ago, the Ghanaian government launched a campaign intended to deliver electricity to the rural north. The campaign, which is seldom mentioned outside of an election season, has failed and three out of four people in the north live without power. There is no power to refrigerate food, warm or cool homes, to study or to start a business.

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Watch the video report by MSNBC’s Peter DiCampo for a closer look at life without lights in Ghana — following residents into their darkness as well as their attempts to improvise. Mobile phones are widespread, and a growing local film industry allows northerners to see movies in a setting and language familiar to them for the first time. All of this exists despite the absence of a convenient outlet in which to plug basic electronic appliances.

You may be wondering if it is possible to provide electricity to the world, to bring light to those who live in the dark. The answer is yes and the cost is surprisingly low. According to the International Energy Agency, it would cost approximately $35-$40 billion a year from 2008 to 2030.

The United Nations has taken up the issue. A summit was hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on April 28, 2010. According to Ki-moon and the United Nations: “Energy services are essential for meeting basic human needs, reducing poverty, creating and accumulating wealth and sustaining advances in social development. Access to adequate, affordable and basic modern energy services is thus crucial to achieving sustainable human development.”

Sources: MSNBC, NYT