For most of us, dispelling the darkness is as simple as turning on a light. But that’s not true for everyone. Some 1.3 billion people around the world lack access to electricity, nearly all in the developing world. And few countries are as energy-poor as Burma (also known as Myanmar), where up to three-quarters of the population live off the electrical grid.
Energy poverty may not seem as pressing a challenge as lack of access to food or medicine, but development is all but impossible without electricity. There is no electric light for children to do schoolwork by, no power for cooking stoves or microwaves. There are health effects as well—the resulting smoke from indoor fires creates air pollution that contributes to more than 3.5 million deaths a year around the world.
In rural Burma—which sells electricity generated by hydropower to neighboring countries—villagers light the night with expensive and dangerous…
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