I was always taught that poverty was a selfish state. It was that “pick yourself up by the bootstraps…or else” mentality. But what if you couldn’t even afford boots?
As a young boy, I myself thought I was poor. While the other kids were sporting the new Air Jordans, I was wearing the Kmart special, as we used to say. I thought it was a very hard life but, it turns out, I was just lower-middle class and completely ignorant of what it was like to really be poor. To live without those everyday amenities like plumbing, fresh water, school, even parents. Now I am finally older, and more aware of my good fortune. Ah, to be born into an Anglo-Saxon family in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Instead of struggling to survive, I merely struggled to find a purpose.
And now, on this Blog Action Day, by way of a long and winding, but well-paved (Michigan excluded), industrial road, I find myself with a purpose; to write about poverty in the world.
Researching poverty is a sobering walk, and one I wish all of us would take. The numbers alone are staggering. The problem is monumental and, for lack of a better term, just sad; as much due to the scope of poverty as the relative ease of a solution should everyone get involved. Honestly, it really wouldn’t cost that much, considering what we spend on military and luxuries like cosmetics. Yet poverty persists. It is drinking filthy water. It is an overused, festering hole in the ground for a toilet. It is half the world living on less than $2.50 per day.
So, to put it into our present context, how could solar power contribute to the fight against poverty? Well, it already is. Look at organizations like Solar Aid, which has brought solar electric systems to schools in Uganda, Malawi, and more. Or the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), which installed solar on health clinics for several communities in Rwanda. Put simply, access to decent healthcare and electricity can make a huge difference. Solar has a very unique position in the fight against poverty. Solar energy, after all, is free energy.
Not to mention that some of the poorest areas in the world, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, also happen to be some of the sunniest areas in the world. Solar is especially beneficial in rural areas where panels can be used to power water pumps for clean drinking water, for clean and affordable lighting, solar ovens for cooking, and so much more. Just last week I wrote about solar powered refrigerators for rural India.
Again, the possibilities are overwhelming. I firmly believe that food, clothing, and shelter are inalienable human rights. That includes clean water, safe food, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Solar power can play a pivotal role in addressing every one of those needs. But the sun only provides the light and heat. We must harness its energy. The fact is there is no reason to keep solar power a secret from the developing world. In the future, I dare say, we will talk of energy as an inalienable human right.
What is lacking now for many in poverty is the necessary means. Anything that you or I can do would be beneficial, but the governments of the industrialized world can help out too. For every $1 in aid to a developing country, over $25 is spent on repaying debts. In essence, the existing system of loans which are supposed to help these countries get out from under poverty are, in fact, keeping them poor. Perhaps we need to rethink how the World Bank goes about lending. Perhaps it is time to see the developing world not as a loan, but as an investment.
Solar power is a long-term investment. It can help rural villages help themselves. Instead of dropping a bag of food on them, you are dropping 20 years or more of instant infrastructure. If you have the means to pump clean water, or at least boil water, then you need less water from outside sources. If you have the means to store food, to cook food, then you need less food. If a family can spend less time gathering water or searching for fuel for the fire, then the kids have more time for school. The parents have more time to rest. The overall quality of life is improved. All this thanks to the sun rising every morning and a few solar panels collecting its valuable energy.