The forgotten fifth

Imagine not being able to turn on a light, boil a kettle, or keep food safe to eat. Think of your child walking home at night without street lights, or having surgery by torchlight.

This is a world without electricity and it’s a world that 1.2 billion people – 20 percent of humanity – are living in today.

They are the forgotten fifth, living overwhelmingly in India and sub-Saharan Africa. They are just like you, they work hard and want the best for their families. But without electricity their lives are darker, more dangerous and insecure.

Without electricity it’s much harder to make water safe or pump it into the family home. Poor sanitation is a major cause of diarrhoea, killing 800,000 children under the age of 5 each year.

Lack of power also means they can’t use a stove to cook essential staples like rice. Instead they have to burn charcoal, wood or dung. The smoke is toxic – breathing it for  just one hour is the equivalent to smoking 400 cigarettes. Mothers and young children inhale it on a daily basis. Heating and cooking like this kills more people each year than AIDS and malaria combined.

Lack of electricity – lack of the basic infrastructure of survival – is one of the underlying reasons why so many people are now migrating in search of a better life and security for their families.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Give people access to cheap and reliable electricity and you give them the power to escape poverty; the power to transform their lives.

Businesses can grow because they don’t have to rely on expensive diesel generators. Public services can continue to work after dark and more efficiently during the day. Cutting the endless hours spent fetching wood or building fires frees millions of women to study or get paid work – one of the best routes out of poverty we know.

If nothing changes...