Continuing my report from Wednesday’s (September 24th) closing plenary session of the Clinton Global Initiative.
With all the big dreaming going on at the Clinton Global Initiative and all the great schemes for tackling so many of the world’s most pressing problems, this one almost slipped by me.
Wednesday, Chelsea Clinton announced that Zimbabwe-based Econet Wireless International is donating 5,000 solar-powered lanterns “to support relief teams working to treat, contain and prevent the Ebola outbreaks in some of the most affected areas, particularly the rural areas which currently have limited access to ongoing consistent clinical care.”
It seemed like such a small, simple, and banal next thing to everything else---airlifts of 500 tons of medical supplies to West Africa, training programs for 250,000 new teachers in the developing world who will improve the lives of over ten million students, a million dollar prize for a plan to “combat non-communicable diseases in urban slums around the globe,” talk of vertical farming in big cities, robots on Mars and aboard the space station, protecting the rights and health of women and children everywhere---I barely registered it.
But when I went back over my notes, it struck me that this was one of the most practical and most likely to be immediately effective plans I heard laid out.
Patients need to be cared for around the clock. The lanterns are needed where they’re headed right away so that the doctors and nurses and other caregivers treating patients at night can see what they’re doing.
That sounds too obvious to need to be said. But look at this map. (Click to enlarge.)
That’s what the world would look like from space if it was night everywhere all at once.
You probably noticed something about Africa right away.
According to Scientific American, in 2009, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, one and half billion people, have no access to electricity, nearly eighty percent of them living in the world’s fifty poorest nations.
The problem is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, with several entire nations there effectively nonelectrified. In 11 countries, all in Africa, more than 90 percent of people go without electricity. In six of these -- Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone -- 3 to 5 percent of people can readily obtain electric power.
Liberia and Sierra Leone are two of the nations where the latest outbreak of ebola is most virulent and spreading fastest, with new cases doubling in Sierra Leone every thirty to forty days, every fifteen to twenty in Liberia, and that’s where, along with Guinea, the lanterns are going.
And they’ll be providing more than light. You can charge cell phones off of one.
They even come with FM radios.
Actually, I kind of want one myself.
Note: The Scientific American article I linked to above was written in 2009. In an article from 2013 at the Atlantic’s CityLab, Emily Badger puts the number of people living without electricity at 1.2 billion.
Map courtesy of NASA via CityLab at the Atlantic.