Earth Day has come and gone, but it's a fact of daily — and especially nightly — life that 1.6 billion people around the globe have no electricity in their homes. Instead, most use wood, coal or even dung to heat and cook their homes — resulting in indoor air pollution that kills 1.6 million people a year.
It's not expected to improve much, and in Africa it's predicted to worsen.
By 2030, when Earth's population will likely top 8 billion, 1.3 billion people will still lack electricity, the International Energy Agency estimates. Of those, 700 million will be in Africa, and 490 million in South Asia.
Case in point: Ghana, in West Africa, where most of the northern half of the country lives without lights.
A decade ago, Ghana's government launched a campaign to electrify the rural north but, except for periodic jumpstarts during election season, it has languished.
As a result, three out of four Ghanans in the north are without electricity to refrigerate with, to cook with, to study with, to start businesses with.
Like most others around the world in the same situation, these Ghanans use traditional fuels (wood, coal, dung) to meet their cooking needs. The World Health Organization estimates that using those fuels, which also releases greenhouse gases, is responsible for 1.5 million deaths per year — most of them children and women.
What would electricity for everyone around the globe cost? The International Energy Agency, which is made up of 28 member countries, figures it would run $35 billion a year from 2008 to 2030 to reach that.
The United Nations has taken up the issue, organizing a summit on April 28 hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"Energy services are essential for meeting basic human needs, reducing poverty, creating and accumulating wealth and sustaining advances in social development," it said in announcing the summit. "Access to adequate, affordable and basic modern energy services is thus crucial to achieving sustainable human development."
Watch the video report by Peter DiCampo for a closer look at life without lights in Ghana — following residents into their darkness as well as their attempts to improvise. Mobile phones are widespread, and a growing local film industry allows northerners to see movies in a setting and language familiar to them for the first time. All of this exists despite the absence of a convenient outlet in which to plug basic electronic appliances.
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