At 3:00 pm the lights go out at the hospital and university in Junqali, in central South Sudan; These are the only two spaces where the electricity provided by the Government reaches. And it does it for just six hours and weak and intermittently. The almost 1.2 million residents of the department do not even know what it is to have electricity in their homes. Mayen Mayol Juuk, a nurse at Bor Hospital, says that it is “common” to see patients die who were deprived of oxygen due to lack of energy. “For electrocardiograms, complicated deliveries, emergency surgeries … It is essential to provide a quality service and we do not have it,” he laments by phone. This 45-year-old man is part of the third of the population that suffers from energy poverty. “We are the disconnected from the world.”
Although several studies show that access to this service on the African continent has improved at an increasing rate in the last decade – and that it increased in all but two countries, Libya and Mauritius – the figures are still very alarming: 600 million citizens still they do not have electricity, according to the latest IIAG indicator, a consolidated thermometer of the reality and quality of African politics and its rulers, prepared by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
This population is almost 80% of the total estimated in the latest report by Doctors of the World. The entity reveals that there are 759 million people without electricity and that about half of them live in fragile and conflict-affected areas. For Nieves Turienzo, president of the NGO, the seventh Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – to guarantee universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services by 2030 – is “unattainable”. “What’s more, we are moving away. The pandemic has increased this gap. These countries should be given a huge push to develop. If we continue in this line, we will not even arrive in 2050 ″, he explained by calling.
The expert stresses that energy poverty is closely linked to social exclusion. And that it is not present only in the countries of the global south. In Spain, it affects 6.8 million people, according to updated data from the Doctors of the World study (which has also launched a campaign to help this group entitled The positive electricity bill). This is a type of relative poverty, which is related to the general level of income of the country. The main affected are the elderly in situations of extreme vulnerability, families who have lost their income or migrants who, due to their irregular administrative situation, live in precarious conditions or settlements.
Many have required health, social and psychological support as a result of the lack of light. “This leaves more deaths annually than traffic accidents in Spain, but nobody talks about this,” he criticizes. According to data from the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), 1,370 Spaniards lost their lives in a car accident. Deaths related to the lack of light are about 7,100 a year, according to estimates by the Environmental Sciences Association, which shows the inequality that prevents many citizens from being able to turn on the light or maintain the appropriate temperature in winter at home
Energy poverty leaves more deaths annually than traffic accidents in Spain, but nobody talks about it
Nieves Turienzo, president of Doctors of the World
And is that the lack of thermal comfort of the home or supply (and the risk of non-payment or disconnection), causes people to develop diseases that in the most serious cases can lead to premature death. A 2011 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office for Europe estimated at 38,200 annual early deaths associated with energy poverty in 11 European countries. The main associated ailments are cardiovascular, respiratory, flu or asthma. “In addition to injuries derived from combustion such as firewood or charcoal,” adds Turienzo, “The health of thousands of people is at risk.”
Energy is the first step in transforming the economies of Africa. Without your access, progress is not possible. On it depend, in addition to the reduction of mortality rates, the possibilities of bridging the digital divide, improving infrastructure and the quality of education and even the fight against climate change. Leaders and experts agree: you cannot talk about an energy transition without first providing electricity. “Africa first needs to address this type of poverty before we can talk about the green turn,” Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, said at the end of the year. in their social networks.
For the first line of health workers who day by day do the impossible to serve patients with the best possible quality and in adverse circumstances, frustration is a constant. Lamin Marah, an anesthetist and community health officer at Kabala Hospital, Sierra Leone, knows full well the danger that her neighbors face on a daily basis. He has been serving them for a decade. He has attended the Ebola crisis, complex deliveries, complicated surgeries … And what continues to affect him the most are the preventable deaths and unnecessary transfers to the capital. “We are trained, we have the experience and we can do it, but we only have a generator that runs regularly and for a few hours a day. So, how can you take care of your people? ”He wonders. Marah is critical of his government: “We depend on foreign humanitarian aid.”
The stories, he says, pile up for him. “This same week, we lost two patients that we were having laparotomies on. They died because we were left without electricity until the next day ”. Mayol, from South Sudan, has already lost count of the newborn or elderly children who died because they were left without oxygen. “We ourselves sometimes buy batteries or install solar panels. But it is not enough and we cannot do everything, “he says. “The question I keep asking myself is why don’t our governments take care of us,” laments his colleague.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.