It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, you wake up to the smell of freshly cooked breakfast, you walk to your bathroom where you flip a switch to illuminate the reflection of yourself standing in front of the mirror. Taking a deep breath, you look at your reflection and appear healthy, well rested and not to mention well lit. Splashing your face with warm and clean water to wake yourself up, you brush your teeth, reach for a clean towel to dry your face. All these amenities and privileges are so second nature to us that it’s easy to take for granted. Do you consider yourself lucky?
The absence of electricity has cascading effects on the everyday life of those living in “Last Mile” communities. Living in this world of commerce and connectivity it might come as a surprise to many that there are communities that don’t have such necessities because of their geographical location. The isolation these communities experience cuts them off from modern advancements. Last Mile communities lack all the economic developments of the modern world. The absence of communication and infrastructure is painfully apparent and with the lack of commerce flowing in and out it leaves people disconnected and in a state of perpetual poverty.
1.2 billion people around the world lack access to electricity this number includes many living in Last Mile communities. In Africa alone Founder and CEO of Solar sister, Katherine Lacey sites Africa as having the “…lowest capita energy use of any continent. Over 600 million Africans live without electricity. In 11 African countries, more than 90% of the population lives without any power supply. Many of these people use what Kristine Pearson of the World Economic Forum calls the 4 fuels of poverty: Firewood, Charcoal, Kerosene or Candles. According to Kristine Pearson, her 15 years of working in the development arena have shown her that “Everyday challenges such as inhaling wood smoke from cooking or kerosene fumes from the rough-hewn tin lamps. Respiratory illnesses, children ingesting kerosene believing it to be clean water, and burns and deaths from fires hardly featured on the health agenda”. According to the CEO of Last Mile Health Raj Panjabi “6 million children still die each year for want of simple health solutions that cost less than a cup of coffee”.
It’s ironic, living in the age of medical and technological advancement where millions of people still die each year because of their geographical location and opportunity to access basic necessities like energy, clean food and water.
For a moment, imagine if these rural communities had access to renewable and clean energy? How could life and living standards improve? In regards to Africa, Rachel Kyte, special Representative of the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer, united nations – sustainable Energy for all says “…that it is technologically feasible to provide affordable, reliable, clean power to people who haven’t had access to power before.” We would see a reduction of hazardous situations and sharp increase in overall health of the native population. However, there are still many challenges in bringing renewable energy to these communities like lack of infrastructure and financing, political corruption, war and natural disasters. Luckily there are organizations out there that have found workarounds, particularly in the mobile technology arena.
According to the World Economic Forum, Organizations are using mobile tools to help Africa rapidly reinvent health systems. This is proactively empowering thousands of community health workers to provide home delivery services for life-saving products.
All that said, the long-term solution for last mile communities still lies with renewable energy.
Here are some innovative initiatives that are pushing the needle forward all around the world to support Last Mile communities and those facing energy access restrictions.
- “In Togo, where 16 percent of the rural population has access to electricity, a partnership with Desert Technologies has already seen 100 Solar Street lamps installed countrywide, through the community development program.”
- “The Africa Mini-grids Program (AMP) is a country-led technical assistance program for minigrids, active in 21 African countries today. The target is to expand minigrid opportunities to help establish connections for private investors to get involved to help fund and unlock opportunities to electrify off-grid communities at scale.”
- “TATA Power and the RockerFeller Foundation anticipates setting up of 10,000 microgrids through 2026 to provide power to millions across India and help eradicate energy poverty. Renewable Microgrid Ltd. represents important scaling up of efforts to provide access to affordable, reliable and clean electricity in India, and will serve as a model for expanding access to more than 800 million people who are without power worldwide.”
- “Let There Be Light International recently launched multiple solar projects in remote Amolatar, Uganda. These projects fit nicely into LTBLI’s mission to “serve the furthest first.” The projects included: the solar-electrification of an off-grid rural health clinic the launch of our maternal and infant health project, Safe Births + Healthy Homes (SB+HH) and the donation and distribution of solar lights to vulnerable students via our Lights 4 Literacy program”
Renewable energy would bring resilient, equitable and sustainable futures for everyone. According to UNDP “Access to Electricity is one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to unlock development benefits for the world’s poorest. It also has knock-on impacts on how communities can access information; On the ability of communities to provide healthy and disease-free cooked food; Access to education, health services and hospital facilities; Legal services and more, with myriad implications for a person’s future.”
These types of programs, large and small, are making a difference. If you are inspired, take a look at supporting these or other organizations leading the effort in solving energy access challenges in Last Mile Communities. This could entail donating, volunteering, starting your own non-profit initiative like Kevin Keene founder of Brighten Haiti, or simply having conversations with your friends, colleagues and/or your company to take steps to bring awareness and possibly create goals to support deserving people living in challenging conditions. We can all agree, when smart and compassionate people step up to help in their own way, amazing changes can happen.