World Bank Report: access to electricity is key to tackling rural poverty, but it has to be reliable

A new World Bank report has found that when the poorest communities in Bangladesh – and particularly women and girls – gain access to electricity it boosts their incomes, their job prospects and their time spent in study. However, the report also finds that many of these benefits are lost if the electricity supply is too unreliable.

The World Bank study looked at households in rural Bangladesh which gained electricity between 2005 and 2010. It found that after obtaining access to grid electricity, these households saw their income rise by 17 percent on average. According to the paper, the rise in income comes mainly from non-farm related activities, suggesting that the arrival of electricity gives communities the chance to set up new businesses or work their way into better paying jobs.

An immediate benefit of gaining electricity is not having to spend a large proportion of the household budget on dirty and dangerous kerosene lamps. The study found that households with a grid connection saw their spending on kerosene fall by 73 percent.

Longer term, the World Bank found that access to electricity has an outsized impact on women and girls.

With electricity, the time girls spend in study increases by 0.47 hours a day on average, with electric lighting meaning they can do more homework after sunset. Further down the line this feeds through into better job prospects for women. For each year a community is connected to the grid, the number of women in paid work rises by 2.3 percent.

However, the study also warns that many of these development benefits fail to materialise if households only receive a few hours of electricity a day. Every extra hour of power outages a day reduces a household’s income by 0.3 percent, according to the World Bank. And this all adds up. With reliable power, these communities would have seen their non-farm income rise 34 percent over the five years examined in the study.

This highlights the importance of having reliable, 24/7 power. It’s no good suggesting that these communities can make do with rooftop solar panels that only work for a few hours a day. Instead what’s essential is a grid connection that allows electricity to generated whenever it is needed. This is what allows communities to rise out of poverty, create new businesses and offer a better future for women and girls.