In 2013, about 80 percent of American teenagers have cell phones and more than 90 percent have a computer or access to one at home. The digital economy alone in the United States requires a massive and growing amount of energy. This is in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, where 589 million — or nearly seven out of 10 — people do not have access to even the most basic electricity. It may be hard to discern, over the sound of the average American teenager complaining about how his or her iPhone desperately needs a charge, just how desperate the situation is in sub-Saharan Africa.
Close to 90 million students have no electricity at school in Africa; they learn in locations without air conditioning or ventilation. About 70 percent of businesses cite the lack of access to reliable power as a major constraint; small business owners are often forced to repair and replace equipment without electric tools. Almost 225 million people of sub-Saharan Africa rely on health facilities that are without electricity. After mothers give birth in the dark, there are seldom incubators in which they can place their babies for warmth, or respirators for people who cannot breathe on their own, or electrocardiography tests to find the source of unexplained chest pain. Families struggle to preserve food and cook without refrigeration and adequate heat, and many consume water that isn’t potable because it simply cannot be sanitized.
Education, medicine and economic development all demand access to electricity, and sub-Saharan Africa can’t be expected to progress without this access. It’s tremendously unfair for sub-Saharan Africans to have to contend with this burden solely because of where they were born. Hope for the future lies in the congressional enactment of the Electrify Africa Act, part of a bipartisan initiative called Power Africa, which will hold the United States responsible for creating a “comprehensive strategy to help increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa,” which, among other things, includes encouraging the U.S. Agency for International Development to use programs that are already in place, like loan guarantees, partnerships and grants, to increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, and inducing the World Bank, African Development Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation to prioritize and increase electrification and electrical sector investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
It goes without saying the Electrify Africa Act, which costs the U.S. taxpayer almost nothing and relies mainly on renewable energy sources, is a huge step toward attaining modern energy for sub-Saharans. It’s not, however, one large enough to fill the vacuum. In fact, without new efforts, almost half of the sub-Saharan population will not have access to power in 2030. Surely one of the richest countries on the planet can afford to take further measures to help supply the world’s poorest obtain what has undeniably become a necessity of life.
Sara Isaac is an LSA sophomore.