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Human Capital: Electricity Matters

by Elaine Schwartz    •    May 30, 2013    •    831 Views

After Hurricane Sandy struck my NJ area, a physician friend told me that, with no refrigeration, her vaccine supply spoiled.

Imagine her temporary problem as a permanent condition in the developing world. Lack of dependable electricity affects vaccines and the ability to sterilize supplies. It jeopardizes emergency room treatment and everyday operative procedures.

Affecting 580 million people, almost one half of all health facilities in India lack electricity. For sub-Saharan Africa, the numbers are similar. Close to one third of all medical facilities and 255 million people.

Perhaps just as important, reliability issues are a big problem. In Kenya, only 25% of medical facilities have consistent power. Others average blackouts 6 times a month for 4.5 hour increments. In the US, back-up generators are lifesavers but elsewhere they are prohibitively expensive.

Beyond health, electricity has a profound impact on learning. In sub-Saharan Africa, with 65% of all schools lacking electricity, food prep, reading and comfort are compromised. Looking at comparable statistics, 48% of schools in South Asia are electrified and 93% for Latin America. And, we have not even mentioned the lights they need to read at home.

Percent of Primary Schools That Can Access Electricity: Selected Countries

Education is affected by

Lack of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa and black-outs in India are about a lot more than businesses not being able to function. Diminishing health and learning, they take us to the human capital that is crucial for economic growth.

From The Economist

From The Economist

So, where are we?

Currently, 1.2 billion people do not have electricity access. The UN’s goal is to have all of us, everywhere, have electricity by 2030. However, according to an International Energy Agency report, the goal will probably not be achieved.

Yes, we have made progress. Since 1990, an additional 1.7 billion people have electrification. But population is growing too fast for an electrical infrastructure to catch up. As a result, the current projection is that 12% of the world’s population will lack electricity in 2030.

Electricity Access From the UN

Sources and Resources: We seem to have a dichotomy between the reality in less affluent nations and organizational goals. Articles in The Washington Post and the Guardian and the above graph from The Economist’s “Graphic Detail” describe the status of electrification while IEA and UN papers outline the world’s goals. There is a big difference. However, do continue onward to this NY Times blog and this Washington Post article where optimism and reality converge.

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