We are a ferociously adroit species. We recently landed a spacecraft on the surface of a comet. Self-driving cars are on the roads. We’ll soon be able to print human organs. Yet despite all our ingenuity we still live in a world where 1.3 billion people lack access to electric light. That’s 20% of the population.
Like food and water, light is a basic necessity that no human being should live without. The time for the world to recognize this is well overdue. It’s time to end light poverty.
We depend on artificial light. Without it, hospitals aren’t able to treat people, pupils cannot study and shops cannot do business. Without it, we cannot move safely at night. Without it, community life is stifled by the sunset.
Communities without electricity put themselves at serious risk by having to rely on candles and kerosene lamps. 1.5 million people die every year due to fire or respiratory illness because they are forced to rely on kerosene lamps. This is unacceptable, particularly as we already have the solution. We already have the technology that can end light poverty: solar powered LED lighting.
Understanding that the sustainable development of communities and economies is severely limited by inadequate access to light, the United Nations has named 2015 the Year of Light. This year will see governments, scientific bodies and private sector partners converging with one aim: to promote light-based technologies as a solution to global energy, education, agriculture and health challenges. This focus on technology is fundamental.
The reliable generation and distribution of electricity in countries suffering from light poverty could, of course, be guaranteed with investment in power plants and electric grids. This could be a viable solution if the cost for implementation were not so great and the geographical area needing to be covered so large. If developing countries embrace the latest generation of lighting technologies, these prohibitive barriers could be leapfrogged.
One innovation that could eradicate light poverty is solar-powered lighting. Not only are solar powered lanterns cheaper (they can provide a single room with clean light for USD 10-20 per year, compared to USD 50 for kerosene), they also result in virtually zero carbon emissions.