Think of what a home provides for 87% of the world’s population: shelter, safety, food storage, and at least supports basic electricity needs. The other 13% of families around the world are impacted when faced with the challenges of day-to-day life without access to modern, safe, and clean electricity. According to Lighting Africa, energy poverty makes people rely on expensive, hazardous, and polluting sources of lighting such as candles, kerosene lanterns and dry cell battery torches. People living in these conditions are significantly impacted in ways that impede the opportunity to live above the poverty line. The simple idea of experiencing a solar light in one of these off-grid dwellings could create opportunity to advance their position and greatly increase their safety.
This is why the United Nations along with other forward-thinking entities are giving global energy access such high priority. Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) calls for affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030. Principles include affordable access, increased renewable energy adoption, and doubling the global rate of energy efficiency. From job creation to economic development, from security concerns to the full empowerment of women, energy lies at the heart of Sustainable Development Goals, according to Sustainable Energy for All.
Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest percentages of individuals living without access to electricity. Sarah M. Baird, founder and executive director of Let There Be Light International, shared her NGO experience working with these communities specifically in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi for our last blog post. Their organization is devoted to educating these families and aiding in transforming their lives. One of their key programs offers a solar light as a solution for the local homeowners, in particular new mothers through their Safe Births and Healthy Homes program.
What Difference Does One Solar Light Make?
- Read or study at night improving grades, test scores, and educational outcomes for the opportunity to escape a cycle of poverty. This also can improve the chance of a young female achieving success, helping to make progress with gender equality.
- Enhance the ability to care for an infant or growing children.
- Offer more time to be productive with cooking, family time, and entrepreneurial activities.
- Many families could save about 30% of their income that is spent on alternative, dangerous lighting sources. According to Ms. Baird, this high cost of lighting significantly contributes to families living below the international poverty line – $USD1.90 a day – continuing a cycle of poverty that is challenging to break. These conditions are typically inherited and passed on, creating generations of poverty if things don’t change.
- Improve safety in a multitude of ways:
- For the family, young and old, to safely get to a restroom after dark (restrooms in many of these communities are typically outside of the house).
- Help avoid contracting malaria by using malaria insecticide-treated nets safely. In our interview, Ms. Baird explained that open-flame lighting is a potentially fatal hazard when used in a dwelling with malaria insecticide-treated nets due to the highly flammable nature of the treated nets. So, families often choose to use open-flame lighting instead of a mosquito net because the lighting is more important. Simply put, they can’t put their family members or dwelling in danger of burning. So, they’d take possibly contracting malaria when given this impossible choice.
- Save the family from breathing toxic fumes daily. “The World Bank estimates that breathing kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day and two-thirds of adult females with lung cancer in developing nations are non-smokers. Ms. Baird said that families using alternative lighting sources such as paraffin or kerosene wake up with soot at their noses, highlighting how toxic this indoor air is to breath.
- Better health by allowing for saved funds that were spent on lighting alternatives to go toward other health needs that would have been ignored due to previous financial limitations. Studies indicate that low-income households in Africa spend up to $17 billion annually on expensive but low-quality, unsafe lighting alternatives.
- Better quality of sleep and safety from pests. Ms. Baird has been told by families that turning their solar light on at the ‘nightlight’ level, all night, reduces bites from rats, snakes, and pests during their sleep.
- Improve local environmental conditions when stopping the use of dangerous, inefficient, and expensive alternative lighting options in favor of a sustainable energy source such as a solar light.
Solar Lighting in Homes is a Good Start
Offering solutions for people living with energy poverty is critical to improve their conditions and potential opportunities to have a better life on so many levels. It is great news, Ms. Baird offers, that there are no cultural barriers for solar light adoption in homes. The power of what one simple solar light can do to make a transformative impact for these families is inspiring. It doesn’t have to be as hard as one might think when more people and organizations get informed and involved. Many agree, there is an opportunity for governments, private sector actors, other stakeholders and the people themselves to explore decent alternative sources of energy that not only deliver on basic needs but also support the habitability of the earth for generations yet unborn