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The Secondary Benefits of Electricity

In this article, we want to explore why access to affordable and clean energy is so important. Clean energy projects in developing areas have a specific effect on children, providing them with education, safety and health.

It’s pitch black; Joyce can barely see her hand in front of her eyes. She wishes she was already at home. Being alone in the dark street scares her. A noise behind her snaps her out of her thoughts. What was that sound? Is someone following her? Joyce freezes for a second before she quickly continues on her way. She lives in a village in Malawi together with her brothers and sisters. The family is poor, so Joyce is proud to be able to attend school. She’s a good student and wants to become a doctor one day. Unfortunately, on most days, like today, it’s already dark when she reaches home. The family’s house is not connected to the power grid, and they cannot afford an external power source. Hence, the evenings are spent without light and so without a way for Joyce to study.

Joyce is a fictional character, but her fate is exemplary for what is reality for far too many children in developing countries every day. In Malawi, only 9.8% of the population had access to electricity in 2017 [1]. Shockingly, Malawi isn’t even the country with the lowest access to electricity. A change is essential. Access to power can help communities in developing countries combat poverty; It’s an enabler for education, nutrition, health and safety.

Education

Especially children suffer the disadvantages from not having electricity access. Education forms the foundation on which children build their future. Research shows that children from electrified households have on average 274 more school days than children from non-electrified ones [2]. More school days has numerous advantages of social and economic nature. In this sense, electricity access can even reduce the gap of gender inequalities: Girls, who traditionally help more in the household get the opportunity to study in the dark hours of the day.

But also schools gain from improved access to power in quantity and quality. Lighting allows the extension of teaching hours or to shift them to very early or late times in the day. The use of media tools based on electricity, including the internet, enriches the subjects and makes learning more stimulating.

An additional consideration is that houses in developing countries aren’t well insulated. Studying in too hot or too cold surroundings makes the process even more daunting.

Safety

Modern cookstoves allow moving away from hazardous kerosine, which in the long term is cheaper and healthier. Traditional cookstoves are associated with indoor air pollution.

Also, some studies show that enhanced street lighting can help to decrease urban street crimes [3]. Girls especially are victims of on street harassment and assault.

Health

Access to electricity improves the ability to provide adequate health care. Approximately 1 billion people rely on non-electrified health facilities. There are even more people who only have access to facilities with unreliable power access [2], making it impossible to use medical devices and equipment in health centres. Without electricity, doctors and nurses aren’t able to provide sufficient health care at night or in emergencies. Also, the cold-chain storage of refrigerated drugs and vaccines can’t be maintained.

The exposure to television and the internet that comes with the electrification of households also significantly improves access to health information [4] — also increasing the utilisation of health services in a second step.

Local energy projects can benefit a whole community and provide people with a stepping stone out of poverty. Therefore, investments in such projects are not just a one-off aid but offer a real chance for a better future.

Ensuring access to affordable, sustainable and modern energy for all is the objective of SDG 7.

SDG stands for “Sustainable Development Goal”. They were adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015. The core objective is to reach their targets with an agenda until 2030. There are, in total, 17 goals that combine into a blueprint for peace and prosperity for all people and the planet. The goals aren’t limited to developing countries but also challenge developed countries to take action for a better world. [5]

There are no predefined ways to reach the targets because locations, local circumstances and challenges differ so much from one another. Yet, the main objective is to solve problems for the long term.

Each goal is split up into several targets, which are monitored with set indicators. SDG 7 has five targets. For example, Target 7.1 is “By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.” with the indicators to measure progress: 7.1.1 Proportion of population with access to electricity and 7.1.2 Proportion of population with primary reliance on clean fuels and technology [6].

In this way, the SDGs have become guidelines that governments, local authorities, businesses and project leaders need to transform into actionable projects. The Musi River Project is one of these projects. Local circumstances and challenges were considered in establishing the project to provide the region with clean, renewable energy. It’s now benefitting the whole village of its location with more than just electricity access but also with social and environmental progress.

Sources

[1] World Atlas (2017) | https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-lowest-access-to-electricity.html

[2] Unicef | https://www.unicef.org/media/64346/file/sdg7_2pager_final.pdf

[3] Chalfin, A., Hansen, B., Lerner, J. and Parker, L. (2019) | https://urbanlabs.uchicago.edu/attachments/e95d751f7d91d0bcfeb209ddf6adcb4296868c12/store/cca92342e666b1ffb1c15be63b484e9b9687b57249dce44ad55ea92b1ec0/lights_04242016.pdf

[4] Chen, Y., Chindarkar, N. (2019) | https://jhpn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41043-019-0164-6

[5] United Nations 2021 | https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda

[6] United Nations 2021 | https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal7

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