Shocking lack of access

As I mentioned earlier, I’m hanging out at this Humanitarian Tech Challenge conference today and tomorrow.  The overriding purpose is to define challenges and set up a framework for building solutions, first tackling reliable electrical power, data connectivity for rural health offices, and patient IDs tied to health records.

Perhaps its the latent bureaucrat in me, but I love this stuff. People sitting in a room debating the fine points of building an abstract framework…seriously and sincerely, I love it.  Unfortunately, I could only hit one of three, the breakout session on providing reliable electrical power for developing countries. Fellow UNFer Mitul Shah promised the discussion would be “shocking.”

Maybe not, but the lack of access to electricity worldwide and the human toll are staggering. Forty percent of the developing world doesn’t have that access, which equals roughly 350 to 400 million households.  The problem is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, where access stands at more like 2 to 5 percent. Just a taste of the consequences: severely cut agricultural productivity, lack of access to basic medical services that require electricity, and less efficient learning technologies. And, the most devastating in my mind, in sub-Saharan Africa, 10 percent of children under the age of five die every year due to water-borne illnesses that could be eliminated by filtering the water and using ultraviolet disinfection, both of which require electricity.

All of this is part of the new energy economy that we try to discuss with equal weight as climate change here at UN Dispatch. Access to clean, reliable sources of energy is both integral to efforts to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals and also to meeting the challenge of climate change. Black carbon is just one thing that comes to mind.

Most of the debate on the framework document is centered around how specific to get, which is probably always the issue with documents like this. How to be abstract without being completely useless?

Either way, the framework has been accepted.  We’re breaking for lunch and then coming back for the fun part, brainstorming solutions.