Without electricity people and society struggle. Basic needs such as hygiene, public health and life expectancy falter. Yet this is the daily challenge faced by more than half of the world’s population – an astounding 3.5 billion people – who lack adequate access to electricity.
Within this group, almost a quarter of all human beings – roughly 1.3 billion people – have no electricity at all. That means that five times the population of the United States suffer from extreme energy deprivation. Their struggles are an existence deprived of fundamental human necessities including heat, light, medicine and clean drinking water.
“…Electricity really is life,” says Barbara Thompson, Deputy Minister of Energy for South Africa. Without it we struggle to do so many things that others take for granted… Electricity is therefore one of the basic essentials we need to live a more qualitative life,” she says.
“…Electricity really is LIFE! Without it we struggle to do so many things that others take for granted … Electricity is therefore one of the basic essentials we need to live a more qualitative life.” Barbara Thompson, Deputy Minister of Energy, South Africa
South Africa is a model for creating energy access from coal: From 1990 to 2011, coal provided more than 90 percent of the incremental increase in South Africa’s power. During that period, access to electricity more than doubled (from 30 percent to 75 percent), while GDP tripled, per capita income rose and illiteracy decreased sharply.
The United Nations specifically links improvement in health, life expectancy and economic development to energy use. And as the Global Energy Institute reported last year, “every single one of the United Nation’s Millennium development goals requires access to electricity as a necessary prerequisite.” Further highlighting the improved health aspects afforded by electrification, as many as 4 million people, primarily women and children, die prematurely every year simply from breathing fumes from biomass cooking and heating stoves.
Society’s progress is inextricably linked to our ability to meet the critical energy challenge of our time: providing electricity to the 3.5 billion people who currently lack adequate access, while also keeping pace with a global population that is growing at unprecedented rates.
Electricity is life. Creating energy access must be our greatest priority to drive dramatic improvements in global health, hygiene and life expectancy.
Sources include: International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook (2013), World Bank 2012 data; CIA World Factbook 2012; dosomething.org; World Bank World Development Indicators 2013; UN Human Development Indicators 1992, 1993; Gautam Yadama, "Fires, Fuel, & The Fate of 3 Billion," Oxford University Press (2013)