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Electricity Charges Sub-Saharan Africans' Well-Being

Electricity Charges Sub-Saharan Africans' Well-Being

by Bob Tortora and Magali Rheault

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Relatively few residents living in sub-Saharan Africa say the main source of light in their homes comes from a power line, but Gallup finds those who are connected to a power grid rate their lives better than those who are not -- even after taking people's incomes into account.

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It appears the benefits of access to electricity go beyond the modern comforts it brings to African households. When asked to evaluate their lives using the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, those who say their main source of lighting comes from power lines rate their present lives more than 0.5 points higher on a scale from 0 to 10 than those who rely on fuel lamps or other sources. These results still hold even after statistically controlling for household income. On-grid sub-Saharan Africans also rate their future lives a full point higher than those who mainly rely on fuel lamps and more than half a point higher than those who use other sources of home lighting.

A median of 23% across 20 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2010 and 2011 say power lines provide the main source of light for their homes, far fewer than the median of 39% who say it comes from fuel lamps, including gas-powered lamps. At the same time, a significant proportion of residents living in sub-Saharan Africa tell Gallup they rely on a source other than power lines or fuel lamps to light their homes. These results underscore sub-Saharan Africa's low capacity to generate power and its challenges to meet the power needs of its growing population.

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Main Source of Lighting Varies Greatly Between Urban and Rural Areas

Gallup's results also highlight the considerable divide between urban and rural areas in terms of access to electricity. A median of 67% of urban residents say their main lighting source at home is power lines, while 16% of those living in rural areas say the same. Further, a median of 46% of rural residents say they rely on fuel lamps to light their homes.

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It is important to note that while majorities of sub-Saharan Africans living in urban areas are on electrical grids, it does not necessarily mean access is reliable. Urban dwellers experience frequent and lengthy power outages. In addition, low river water levels and other issues often prompt authorities in some countries to ration electricity according to news reports.

Lighting Sources Also Vary by Country

Virtually everyone in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, says their main source of lighting is a power line. Majorities in Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe also report relying on power lines. At the other end of the spectrum, 10% or less in Mali, Central African Republic, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Liberia say the same.

Save for Mauritius and South Africa, significant proportions in each African country surveyed say fuel lamps are their main source of lighting. Further, at least 7 in 10 residents in the Central African Republic (75%), Chad (74%), and Burkina Faso (72%) say their main source of light is fuel lamps.

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Other sources of lighting, especially flashlights, are particularly widespread in Guinea (58%), Niger (52%), and Mali (25%). Relatively few residents living in sub-Saharan Africa, however, report relying on firewood, at least for lighting purposes. Across the 20 countries surveyed, a median of 4% say firewood is their main source of light in their homes and it is highest in Uganda and Zimbabwe (10% each).

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While many efforts are under way to improve both on- and off-grid access and service reliability in sub-Saharan Africa, the capital investments needed to reach many rural populations and overcome technical difficulties are daunting. Nevertheless, it appears the benefits of in-home electricity extend well beyond bringing basic comfort to sub-Saharan African households.

The Gallup results suggest electricity access is a necessary pillar for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in the region. From improved food storage to better health, the benefits of power access are far reaching. As such, reliable and affordable power can give Africans opportunities to build prosperous economies, a key outcome of poverty alleviation across the subcontinent.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted 2010-2011 in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.4 percentage points to ± 4.1 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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