What is energy poverty? | Energy poverty & health | Energy poverty & education |
Energy poverty & climate change

What Is Energy Poverty?

Living with energy poverty means living without access to modern sources of energy. Every day, more than 1.5 billion humans live where they lack access to household electricity and 2.6 billion people lack clean cooking fuels. More than 95% of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa, developing Asia, or other international rural areas.

Energy poverty impacts every area of a family’s life: health and wellbeing, opportunities to achieve educational success, access to the political process, and ability to raise themselves out of poverty. Energy poverty is so important for those living with extreme poverty, in fact, that The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include structures for eradicating it. Consider the following confirmations of this important point:

"None of the Millennium Development Goals can be met without major improvement in the quality and quantity of energy services in developing countries"
~The UN Development Programme

"To implement the goal accepted by the international community to halve the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day by 2015, access to affordable energy services is a prerequisite."
~The Commission for Sustainable Development, 2001

International development agencies, governments, and non-profits alike recognize that without eliminating energy poverty, none of the other MDGs can be solved.

Overcoming energy poverty is possible. Though challenges such as climate change add complexity to the issue, with clean technologies like that offered by WakaWaka, energy poverty is an entirely solvable problem.

Energy Poverty & Health

Energy Poverty Creates Significant Health Risks

These statistics outline just how deadly lack of access to modern energy sources is for the human population:

  • 2 million people die annually by breathing in toxic fumes from wood, coal, charcoal, and animal waste cookstoves
  • 800,000 children die annually because of exposure to open fires and outdated cookstoves


Injuries and fatalities related to the use of unsafe fuels are incredibly tragic for the families who must walk through the grief of losing a loved one. Yet the consequences of energy poverty-related health challenges often impact families for years to come.

Consider, for instance, if the income-earning parent becomes injured or killed because of a fuel-related accident. These individuals may not be able to return to the same income-generating level after they have healed. Many more cannot work at all while still others tragically dire in accidental fires. As a result, energy poverty can capture and hold entire families in the cycle of poverty for a generation or more.

Energy Poverty Diminishes the Effectiveness of Existing Health Care Services

Not only are families that live with energy poverty exposed to greater health risks because of their inability to access clean sources of energy, when they do become injured or ill, energy poverty at the community level further endangers their wellbeing.

  • 1 billion people worldwide are served by health care facilities that lack electricity.
  • 800 women die daily of preventable pregnancy complications due to lack of access to adequate health care facilities.
  • 50% of vaccines in developing countries are destroyed due to poor refrigeration services.


Functioning health care systems are a cornerstone of the fight against poverty, yet lack of access to energy in health facilities greatly impedes the ability of medical professionals to improve peoples’ lives. Consider all of the important roles energy plays in health care facilities.

  • Uninterrupted electricity is needed to run refrigerators to keep vaccines, blood samples, and medications cool.
  • Light is required for emergencies after dark, accurate diagnoses, surgical procedures, childbirth services, and physical examinations for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Incubators, which run on electricity, are needed for HIV/AIDs testing and newborn care.
  • Energy is needed for sterilizing medical instruments and surgical tools as well as water pumps and purification devices
  • X-ray machines, microscopes, ECGs, ultrasound machines, respiratory flow meters, blood glucose meters, and centrifuges all run on electricity.
  • Electricity is required to energize communication systems used in emergencies.


Like people, when health care facilities must operate without electricity they rely on dirty fuels such as paraffin lamps and candles, further endangering the lives of their patients.

Clearly the connection between energy poverty and health care goes well beyond the illness and injury dirty fuels cause. Energy poverty also leaves entire communities without proper facilities to treat medical conditions of all kinds.

Energy Poverty & Education

Anyone close to the issue of extreme poverty will tell you that education is essential for overcoming the worst effects of living with less. Children who receive a quality education are generally healthier, go on to higher-paying jobs, have fewer children, and contribute to the political progress in their towns and cities.


Education can transform entire communities, but energy poverty holds families and villages hostage by preventing them from achieving even the most basic levels of school. Energy poverty impacts nearly every facet of the educational experience for children living in developing countries:

  • Conventional lighting needed for homework at night or evening classes relies on electricity or is provided by burning dirty fuels such as paraffin and oil.
  • Electricity is needed for computers, multi-media equipment (music, video, etc) and for charging phones used in emergencies.
  • Energy is needed to heat, cool, and ventilate classrooms to help them avoid fatigue, heat stroke, and other temperature-related illnesses.
  • Electricity is required to pump and purify water to help children stay hydrated and free of water-borne diseases.
  • Fuel is needed by schools to cook nutritious meals for students to help them achieve better learning outcomes.
  • Fuel is also required for transporting children to and from the classroom.


Energy poverty in schools is a huge global problem, with 50% of all children attending a primary school without electricity. In some regions it is much worse, such as in Burundi where only 2% of primary schools have electricity. In India, 27% of village schools have electricity, compared with 76% for schools in towns and cities.

The good news is that when classrooms and homes have access to energy, they are able to provide the right tools for children to complete and excel in their educational endeavors and beyond.

  • 85% of children with electric lighting said it was easy to read in the evening, compared with 41% without electricity.
  • Classrooms that operate outside of daylight hours offer children and adults educational opportunities that fit their employment and domestic work schedules.
  • Children who received 12 years of education in India were able to earn 1.6 times more than those with only 6 years of school.


If education is the foundation on which people build lives free of extreme poverty, energy empowerment is the fuel that makes education possible. We can make energy poverty history through innovative solutions such as the WakaWaka Solar Lamp and the WakaWaka POWER, as well as other renewably powered, clean sources of light and energy.

Energy Poverty & Climate Change

Tackling the twin problems of energy poverty and climate change simultaneously is a daunting challenge. While every human being has the right to modern sources of energy, as we increase availability to energy for the global south – the 1.5 billion people currently without access to electricity – we may also inadvertently see a spike in climate-changing emissions if dirty forms of fuel like coal, oil, and natural gas make up the majority of added energy capacity. In fact, if 100% of added electricity capacity and fuel for cookstoves comes from fossil fuels in the coming decades, global greenhouse gas emissions could increase 2% as we solve energy poverty – a significant jump in the fight against climate change.

Denying developing countries the opportunity to increase their demand for energy is not the answer. As such, we need to develop solutions to the challenge of energy poverty that provide affordable modern energy without the environmental burden. Of course, alongside innovative energy poverty solutions such as the WakaWaka Solar Lamp and the WakaWaka POWER, we need policies in the developed to curb greenhouse gas emissions generated by those already living free from energy poverty.

Clean, environmentally-sustainable energy technologies including solar, wind, geothermal, and clean biofuels are the solution. Consider the potential renewables offer our world:

  • Solar can supply 100s of times more electricity than current total consumption.
  • Geothermal can provide 15x more electricity than humans currently use.
  • Wind energy has the potential to provide 9% of the world’s energy needs by 2030.
  • Biomass, when sustainably grown, could generate 4x more electricity than we currently require.


In addition to solving energy poverty, by developing renewable energy sources we can create jobs (such as those created by WakaWaka micro-enterprises, foster economic growth, and ensure energy security for entire regions at a lower financial and environmental cost.