Electrifying Development

BY TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 May 2018

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

14 May 2018 – It is hard to believe that there are still some regions in the world that are without electric power. But there are actually several regions without it. According to a recent report of the Washington Post, there are several countries in Africa and Asia which have either no electricity or suffer from electricity hunger.  The latter expression signifies that some regions get electric power for only a few hours every day – six or eight because of shortage of electricity generation.

According to this report about 1.3 billion people of the world are living without a regular source of electricity. Of these, about 600 million people belong to Africa. A dismal situation of 38 of the African sub Saharan countries is that about half their populations are without electricity. These countries are Chad, Liberia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Niger and others and have only a limited access to electricity. Some of these countries have lowest access to electric power – ranging from about 10 % to about 13 % in rural areas.

In Asia, large number of people living in rural regions of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar etc. have limited access to this essential utility. As an example, in Bangladesh and Myanmar only about 40% and 32% populations respectively have electricity in their homes.

It is surprising to read that some East European countries also suffer from electricity shortage although the situation is much better than the countries of Africa and Asia.

Electricity is a commodity or utility that is essential in everyday life – be it industry, agriculture, domestic use, education, sports and cinema etc. As a result, most governments are trying to increase electricity generation and distribution to people even in remote areas. It is also indispensable in promoting necessary development to bring prosperity and wellbeing among people.

In India there were hundreds of villages that did not have electricity connection even till a year back. But due to the government’s efforts, peoples’ active participation and the contributions made by some corporate houses all villages in India now have electric connection. The last village to get this distinction is a village named Leisang in the eastern state of Manipur. This was the last village where the electric poles and wiring were installed just a week back by the government of India. Of course this does not mean that all households have been electrified. But the first step before this genuine need is met, electric poles, connected to an electric generation unit have been installed.

One need not elaborate on the indispensable benefits of electric power for a western audience. It is indispensable in education, industry, agriculture, running of trains, mining and for domestic use. But just a generation back even some major towns in India did not have electricity in their homes. I remember a senior officer of Delhi University telling us many years back that he used to study for his examinations in the light provided by street electric poles since his home did not have this facility; or even if there was a connection the electric power was erratic – it was there for some time and not there after a few minutes—what is called load shedding in ordinary parlance. The street poles were more dependable for studying at night.

About seventy years back and more when my family moved to Delhi (capital of India) as refugees from Lahore that became part of Pakistan, we rented a small home where electricity played hide and seek. How we survived in the hot and humid summers was a horrifying experience that better remains unsaid. But even today Delhi and other major towns of the country have slums where thousands of people survive under inhuman conditions without a regular supply of electric power and lack of clean water and absence of toilet facilities.

These conditions are not unique to India but are present in several other countries of Asia and Africa.

Industry needs electric power on a regular basis. One cannot think of starting any industrial plant – small or big, for production of steel or cement, household products or whatever without a regular source of electric power. A small unit producing computer parts or smart phones must have regular supply of electricity in addition to other essential items.

Similarly, agriculture today is based on a regular supply of power both at the time of sowing or when pesticides or herbicides have to be sprayed; or at the time of harvesting. Of course, sometimes a sprayer or a mini truck is used but without a dependable source of electric power these gadgets would not function properly. Earlier water used to be drawn from a village well by means of a rahat – a contraption that was driven by a bull to pull water from the well to the surface. Such contraptions have largely been replaced by electric or diesel motors but sometimes in an old Hindi film one can see this means of drawing water while a melodious song is also being sung by an actor of the film.

Electricity demands generation of electric power. Usually the generation is done by coal driven power plants almost in all parts of the world. This causes a lot atmospheric pollution. There are other means of generation – hydel, wind or tidal and nuclear plants. Of course, now the emphasis is on solar power generation that is clean and does not lead to environmental pollution like coal powered plants. Efforts are also being made to generate electric power from biomass and even from waste products but the technologies are in a nascent stage and produce only a limited amount of power.

Atmospheric pollution is caused not only by coal powered units but also be vehicles. Again cleaner fuels are being used in automobiles to reduce pollution; battery powered cars and bikes are also being introduced worldwide to limit pollution.

Thus electricity has not only become indispensable in agriculture, industry, in driving trains or cars, tractors and bikes but is essential for everyday use. Can we imagine a home without lights or power for charging our smart phones or laptops and countless other items of everyday use?

And yet many village households have yet to be electrified in India although electric poles have reached the remotest villages. Efforts are on for electricity to promote development and it is hoped that within the next two or three years all households in India will have access to electric power and accelerate its development.  In short there will be electrifying development.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 May 2018.

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