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20% of world live in dark without electricity—UN

First Posted 07:25:00 09/22/2010

NEW YORK, United States?Swaths of the world inhabit a modern dark age, with lack of electricity and modern cooking facilities condemning billions to deep poverty, the top United Nations energy body said Tuesday.

According to the International Energy Agency, more than 20 percent of the global population, or 1.4 billion people, lack access to electricity, while about 40 percent rely on the likes of wood stoves for cooking.

"This is shameful and unacceptable," the IEA said in a report released at UN headquarters in New York during a summit on world poverty.

The ability to flick on a light switch, something taken for granted in the developed world, is utterly out of reach in many countries?and so are all the economic advantages that come with modern power.

For example, New York state's 19.5 million people consume as much residential electricity as all the 791 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding more developed South Africa.

The issue goes far beyond inconvenience, feeding into deep-rooted social and economic problems that this week's UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals is trying to target.

"Lack of access to modern energy services is a serious hindrance to economic and social development and must be overcome if the UN Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved," the IEA said.

Current projections by the IEA show that 1.2 billion people will still live without electricity in 2030, nearly all of them living in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, India, and other developing Asian countries.

China is one of the bright spots, with universal electricity availability expected in 2015, followed by Latin America in 2030.

According to the study, many people have been driven back to using wood, charcoal, animal dung, and other traditional fuels for cooking because of rising liquid fuel costs and the global economic recession.

Most of those are in sub-Saharan Africa and India.

The allure to the very poor of seemingly cheap fuels is misleading, the report pointed out. For example, the cost of light from fluorescent tubes in Bangladesh is actually less than 2 percent the cost of the same amount of light from old-fashioned kerosene lamps.

"Access to electricity accordingly can reduce total household energy costs dramatically, if upfront costs related to the connection are made affordable."

Another cost from unclean fuels is damage to health and the environment, two issues that again reinforce poverty.

In a country like India, where 90 percent of people in rural areas use biomass for cooking, simply a clean-burning stove "would yield enormous gains in terms of health and socio-economic welfare," the report said.

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