If you’ve ever experienced a power outage, you know how challenging the most simple tasks can be without electricity.
1.2 billion people live without any access to electricity at all. In areas without safe and reliable access to electricity, children struggle to find light to do homework, families cook food over smoky open fires, hospitals can’t power life-saving equipment or refrigerate medicines, and businesses can’t operate at full capacity.
Sustainable and reliable access to energy enables people to work their way out of poverty, and not just by powering basic services. It also allows people to connect to mobile networks and the internet, which unlocks many more learning and business opportunities. In Africa, the current generation of youth needs electricity to finish school, access good healthcare, and enter the workforce in a meaningful way.
Without electricity, even the smallest of tasks can require significant amounts of time and effort to complete. Tasks and services that we take for granted become arduous and far from guaranteed without access to electricity. Children struggle to do homework after dark; health-clinics don’t have proper storage for medicines and struggle to provide healthcare after dark; and business owners watch profits dwindle as electricity outages hamper productivity. The lack of electricity also puts women and girls in harm’s way– as the caregivers at home, they spend hours cooking over smoky flames each day, putting their health at risk. For millions of people around the world, the lack of electricity access equates to a cycle of poverty, limiting opportunity, hope, and potential. Tackling the lack of electricity access will be one of the biggest challenges for all African countries over the coming decades; it will also be one of the biggest opportunities to finally alleviate extreme poverty. It is now time to seize this opportunity. Nearly one billion people in sub-Saharan Africa are projected to gain access to electricity by 2040, but because of rapid population growth, 530 million people living mainly in rural areas will remain without electricity access.
The good news is that there is growing political will to help Africa realize the potential that will come with universal electricity. In 2015, after two years of working with Congress, President Obama signed the Electrify Africa Act into law on February 8, 2016. This law ensures that supporting electrification efforts in Africa is a development priority of the U.S. government. Through programs like Power Africa and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. government continues to empower sub-Saharan African countries to modernize their power infrastructure and increase their access to electricity. Initiatives like this one, along with several other UN efforts, mean that the hope for electricity across Africa can be realized.