Dadasaheb Vidhate is 45 and lives in a village in rural Maharashtra, 150 miles east of Mumbai. Four years ago, he tragically lost three of his children when an overturned kerosene lamp burnt down the family’s thatched roof hut.
“Neighbors rushed to help douse the fire, but we couldn’t save anyone,” Vidhate says. “My children were burned alive before my eyes.”
With no electricity, the one-room mud shelter only had a single kerosene lamp for light. This is not uncommon for India, where 240 million people still lack access to reliable power. Vidhate believes that if their hut had been connected to the grid, the fire would never have happened. He and his wife Anita only survived because they were sleeping outside that night to guard their cow and goats.
An estimated 1.3 billion people around the world still depend on kerosene lamps for illumination. Not only does this present a terrible fire risk, the fumes from the lamps are a silent killer, equivalent to smoking four packets of cigarettes a day. Respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and lung cancer affect tens of millions of people who are forced to rely on kerosene for light.
The lamps are also expensive to run, with the average person in Rwanda spending up to 15 percent of their income on kerosene and candles, according to the World Bank.
Compare that to a single 100W incandescent light bulb: no fire risk, no fumes, 145 times brighter than a kerosene lamp, able to provide 20,000 hours of light before needing to be replaced. It’s yet another example of how electricity access really is a matter of life or death.