Little Sun image (blue)
Little Sun

For many in the western world artificial light is a convenience - a flick of a switch on the wall.  But for millions of people, access to decent reliable light is the difference between life and death.  

Currently more than 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity, and a further 1 billion have intermittent or unreliable access.  These people are often forced to use dirty, low quality and expensive kerosene lamps to provide their only light sources in the evening. People need to sit very close to use this weak light, and so are even more exposed to its polluting effects.   

Decent, reliable, affordable light means:

  • hospitals can carry out lifesaving operations in the middle of the night; 
  • midwives and other community-based health workers can do more of their vital work;
  • children can study at night in order to pass exams and enjoy better employment prospects; 
  • small business can operate into the evening and help families make a crucial bit of extra income; 

Indeed, studies find:

  • maternal and child mortality can be reduced by 70% with the provision of even minimal lighting and medical device operating services; 
  • students in Sudan were able to improve their pass rates from 57% to 97% after 1 year with solar lighting;
  • after the initial upfront cost, solar lighting products can displace the majority of the cost of kerosene and batteries that poorer families in Sub-Saharan Africa have to spend on lighting needs. This makes a massive difference to a family who are often spending between 10 and 30% of their income on lighting costs[1].

For these people access to safe, reliable and affordable light isn’t a convenience, it is life changing.

In 2000 we signed up to eight ambitious Millennium Development Goals to tackle poverty and disease.  Too many people are without the decent, reliable, affordable and safe light sources they need to fulfil their potential, nor tackle their own poverty.  If the world’s poorest cannot maximise their chances to study, receive healthcare and earn a living, we as the world won’t achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

However, there are some fantastic solutions to address this:

  • Companies such as D.light, SolarAid, LittleSun and others are selling decent solar powered lights across Africa and Asia to some of the world’s poorest people.  Using new, appropriate, funding models these groups are expanding to reach markets and individual families with the lighting solutions they need.  In fact by 2030 D.light alone will provide access to clean, safe and affordable renewable light and energy to 30 million people in more than 40 countries by 2015.
  • Developing country government are also taking action.  For example in Sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of every ten people do not have access to electricity, governments have worked together to come up with the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa, which includes a pan Africa major energy infrastructure development plan.  Additionally over 50 countries (25 African ones) have supported the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative - which seeks, among other things, to spur action to achieve universal energy access by 2030.  Countries are now developing national energy access plans to turn this commitment into action.

An energy revolution isn’t needed because it is already taking place.  What we need to do now is support these solutions.  To shine a light on the work that is being done in order to ensure they are fully supported and thus able to get this light to those currently in the dark.

[1] These can reach $76.80 each year.

Jamie Drummond
Co-founder of ONE, strategist for Drop the Debt, Make Poverty History, Innovactivist, London, UK