Wednesday, February 3, 2016

#ElectrifyAfrica Act Passes the House & Senate!

Did you hear? The Electrify Africa Act passed in the House of Representatives! Because it already passed in the Senate in December, this means the next stop is President Obama's desk. When he signs it, it will help sub-Saharan African countries to increase modern electricity access, which will save lives, boost education, alleviate extreme poverty, and accelerate economic growth. Hooray!

I first wrote about Electrify Africa in July of 2014. Yep, you read that right. A year and a half ago. And that certainly wasn't even at the beginning of the life of the bill, which started out with a self-dating name of "Electrify Africa Act of 2013." The bill took on the thorny problem of the lack of consistent electric power in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, 589 million people do not have access to electricity. In 20 African countries, endemic power shortages - at all economic levels - are a way of life. This lack impacts lives in profound ways with disproportionately negative effects on women and girls. For example:

  • Poor healthcare: 30% of health facilities do not have electricity to store vaccines, operate medical equipment like incubators, or even provide consistent light during childbirth.
  • Toxic fumes: Every year, over 3 million worldwide premature deaths occur from exposure to toxic smoke of indoor open fires and kerosene for cooking, heating, and lighting. That's more deaths than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
  • Limited or no education: 90 million kids in sub-Saharan Africa attend schools without electricity. In many places, women and girls must spend hours each day in the time-consuming task of gathering fuel, often a key reason why girls spend less time in school than boys.
  • Lack of safety: Without streetlights, telephones, or other means of communication, women and girls are particularly vulnerable after dark. 
The Electrify Africa Act seeks to prioritize and coordinate U.S. government resources to encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power and promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor, by 2020. It requires our president to develop a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to addressing these problems. It also encourages USAID to provide additional grants and make loan guarantees to local African banks to facilitate investment in African power projects.

Those initiatives and more will have the effect of preserving life and bringing economic growth to areas of Africa that desperately need it. 
St. Louis ONE volunteers with Senator
McCaskill's district aide
We did this...the volunteers of the ONE Campaign. Citizens. Moms, kids, engineers, teachers, and more. Never fool yourself into believing that Congress would have done this all by themselves. Sure, a handful of them have their eye on extreme poverty issues, but as a whole body of legislators, they do not naturally unite to help the most vulnerable people without power or influence. 

So...everybody take a step back and let out a deep breath. Pour a beverage of your choice and toast yourself. Advocacy works! When it does, we need to celebrate it to fuel our souls for the next flight. But for today..."Cheers!" To all of those who will receive power and be empowered for years to come.

P.S. If you would like to see the C-SPAN clip of the bill passing, check out this link.