Why Energy Access Is The Most Powerful Solution To Poverty

There is no panacea for alleviating poverty, but providing access to energy appears to be the next best thing.

As a Fundraising Officer much of what I say to potential donors is in the future tense. We will secure X, this will enable Y, which will benefit Z. Though my words are based on previous findings and accurate projections, donors are, understandably, often sceptical.

The bold claims that we make in our applications and during our presentations seem too good to be true. How can a single intervention improve not only the health of the people it is for, but also their education, their nutrition, their income, the gender inequality in the area, and also combat climate change? Those unaware of the reality would dismiss our claims as falsehoods, but they are not.

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The Situation in Nepal and How You Can Help

On the morning of Saturday April 25th, at approximately midday local time, Nepal was rocked by the largest earthquake the country has seen in over 80 years.

The effects of the earthquake could be felt in neighbouring China, India, and Bangladesh, and aftershocks and tremors have been felt ever since. Many Nepalese have spent the last few nights sleeping in tents too afraid to return to what little of their homes remain.

Though aid is beginning to find its way into the country, the death toll continues to rise, and tragically it is unlikely to cease any time soon. At the time of writing it has surpassed the 5,000 figure, and due to the terrain and infrastructure, a full four days after the initial event many of the most rural communities have still not been contacted. The full extent of the damage is unlikely to be seen for many days as government agencies and international organisations struggle to reach the most remote of communities.

The UN estimate that 1.4 million residents are in need of food parcels, and Nepalese government officials state that some half a million tents are needed for those whose homes have been reduced to rubble.

Even before the earthquake struck, Nepal was a country struggling to provide for its people. It ranked as one of the Least Economically Developed countries in the world, had major health issues, and poor education and public services. Many of its people lacked access to clean water, electricity, and even toilets. A colleague of mine recently told me of the pride a villager displayed when she said that the village was free from open defecation. Basic facilities were luxury items for many, and now even these have been destroyed.

The earthquake is a tragedy in both the short and the long term future for Nepal and its people. A tent city has sprung up in Kathmandu, residents are having to burn the bodies of the dead, and supplies of food and water are running low. These are the immediate concerns for the international community, but even beyond that, there is little light at the end of the tunnel.

The progress that the country has made in recent years has suffered a terrible set back. When there was barely enough money to sustain what you had, how can you possibly rebuild it once it has gone? Annually, Nepal received roughly $1 billion in international aid, but it will take significantly more than that to restore what was lost.

The rescue efforts will continue for many more days, and as the hours pass, the chances of finding survivors get slimmer and slimmer. In Kathmandu, the capital, the search and rescue operations press on, despite limited resources and fatigued personnel. Outside of the city, little can be done without the capacity needed to act. Many rural villages closer to the epicentre have yet to receive aid of any kind. Guardian journalist Jason Burke reported that all 71 households in Swarathok have been reduced to rubble. Speaking with a Nepalese colleague of mine earlier today, a similar story was heard. All 55 homes in one of the remote villages in which we work have been destroyed, the community has lost its cattle and its water source, and only received contact from the outside world four days after the earthquake struck.

What is being reported in the news is the situation that we know about. What is of greatest concern is the situation that we do not know about. If buildings collapsed and roads cracked in Kathmandu, roughly 100km from the epicentre, what will be left of those villages and communities who felt the full force of the earthquake?

Dotted along the steep ridges of the Nepalese hills, with huts and shelter made from organic material, perched perilously, overlooking a valley or ravine, what became of the family as the ground began to shake? What has become of them now that their food and water supplies have run out? What will become of them when the monsoon rains bring landslides and flooding?

All international aid organisations have launched emergency appeals to help those who are at risk or are already suffering. The very least we can do, indeed the very least we must do, is to support those organisations as they conduct vital rescue work. You can do so in the following ways:

Donate to World Food Programme as they deliver vital food supplies throughout the country.
Donate to Oxfam’s emergency appeal in response to the disaster.
Donate to UNICEF to provide relief for the millions of children at risk.
Donate to the International Red Cross supporting their efforts to save lives.
Or alternatively, donate to Renewable World, the charity I work for, as we seek to restore vital services to the rural communities of Nepal.

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This article was originally published on Cultured Vultures on 01/05/15

Do What You Can For The Life You Can Save

It was in February 2014 that I first heard about Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save, and I have not looked back since.

I was, unfortunately, stuck at home living with my family in South Wales, in a similar position to many university graduates; hunting for a job, lacking any money, and with no real direction.  Despite the fragile state of my finances at the time, having to rely on Job Seekers Allowance whilst I sought employment, The Life You Can Save (TLYCS) really struck a chord with me, and I took the pledge immediately after I finished reading all the information on the site.

Charitable and voluntary work have always been activities that I have taken great pleasure involving myself in. Following my time in university I embarked on a six-month voluntary placement in Ankara, Turkey, in order to help out at a youth centre. Whilst there I was also able to establish a small aid giving project of my own that helped Syrian refugees who had had their lives devastated by the conflict raging across the border. It was named Do What You Can, which has since become a mantra that I try to follow in whatever I do. Following those experiences I knew that helping others was a duty that I had to perform.

As well as participating in such activities I have always been fascinated by the concepts and theories behind such actions. Why do we do what we do? Is there such a thing as true altruism? I experimented with a few things myself during my time in university, participating in small projects of my own in order to see what was possible. Monthly donations to charities, participating in charity fundraising events, and giving out roses to members of the public on Valentine’s Day free of charge. It was always a case of “what can I do to improve this world?”

No doubt my time in university laid the foundations for the work I was to do later in Turkey and in Syria. The seed had been planted, and as the years progressed it began to sprout and grow. Signing up to TLYCS can be seen as simply the next step in this process.

So, back to 2014. My measly weekly income of £57.35 did not go far, but what little income I did receive, I made sure that I honoured my pledge. 3% of anything that went into my bank account would then be donated to my chosen monthly charities. For a good few months, times were very tough. I was lucky in that I had a caring family who were able to support me through my unemployment, as without them I would have struggled tremendously. Eventually I found a job, and life became slightly easier again.

This job brought with it greater income, and as well as making my life easier, it also meant that my chosen charities were receiving more money from me each month. A true case of “everyone wins.”

As the year progressed, circumstances changed, and big changes occurred. I left the family home in Swansea, Wales, bought a one way ticket to Brighton on the south coast of England, and began to start living the life I wanted to live. A new job soon followed, as did a house with some incredible housemates. By the end of 2014 I had found myself in the most open, liberal, and progressive city in the UK – a place I had fallen in love with when I was at university – and was working in the non-profit sector for a renewable energy charity. (Check us out if you get the chance, we are called Renewable World).

As 2014 came to a close my life was coming along nicely. But more important than how content I was with my own existence was the fact that in the 12 months of that year I had been able to give a total £268.02 to my chosen charities. A figure which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when it represents 3% of my entire earnings for the year, you can understand how difficult my own situation was at times.

For Christmas of that year I requested, and received, a number of books on charitable giving and philanthropy. Once I had looked through these I knew that it was time to progress once again.

Though 3% of my earnings for 2015 would be a higher amount than what was given in the 12 months previously, I didn’t feel it was enough. In the spirit of Do What You Can, I knew there was greater potential to do more. It was for this reason that as well as reaffirming my own pledge I then actively recruited friends of mine to take the pledge themselves. Knowing the tremendous difference that donations can make, and as this personal project was very much related to TLYCS, I chose to call it The Lives We Will Save.

I set about recruiting, and by mid-January I was joined by 7 of my friends. All of them had taken the pledge and had committed to giving 2, 3 or 4% of their monthly income. At the time of writing, the 8 of us have just received our first pay checks of the year, and true to our pledge we have all donated a percentage to the charities listed on TLYCS. The total amount donated in January alone has already surpassed the £200 mark.

This is just the beginning of something that I hope will grow and attract more like-minded people over the next 12 months. Individually I was able to make a small difference by donating my own money, but collectively, as a group, the members of The Lives We Will Save are set to make an even greater difference. By the end of February, the group will have already given away more than I did in the entire 12 months of 2014. As the months pass I hope the group will expand in numbers, with more people coming on board and wanting to be a part of something that truly makes a difference.

As an initiative, TLYCS is truly incredible. It is moral, admirable, and open to absolutely anyone, no matter where they live in the world, and no matter their financial situation. As Singer himself has said, we as humans have a duty to help our fellow man and woman, I aim to dedicate my life to this cause, and if I am able to persuade a few comrades to join me along the way then that is even better.

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My Greatest Year on the Planet

In a few weeks time I will have been on this planet for a quarter of a century, and none of those 12 months have been as good as the dozen that have just passed.

Despite family health issues, despite being unemployed for a large portion of it, and despite ending my longest ever relationship with a girl that I had loved for years, 2014 has undoubtedly been my best year on this rock we call home.
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Renewable World: Tackling Poverty Through Renewable Energy

“We met women who are beaten every day by their husbands for asking for money for food. They are brought up to believe that if your husband doesn’t hit you he doesn’t love you. We met women who have to sell fish their husbands have caught. But the tradesmen buying the fish know they will rot after 4-5 hrs in the heat. So they stand there with their trucks full of ice and toy with the women as the price of their fish decreases while the clock ticks, eventually agreeing only to buy them from the women who will grant them sexual favours. I met women who have to walk four kilometres to fetch a can of water eight times a day. I consider myself fairly strong but I tried lifting one can and could barely carry it a metre. Some of these women have to send their daughters alone after school from the age of seven to collect this water instead, where they are often abused by men from other villages.”

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