Kerosene and paraffin lamps in Africa

Approximately 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity and often rely on kerosene and paraffin lamps for lighting.

What are kerosene lamps?

A boy reading by kerosene lamp

Kerosene, and paraffin lamps come in various shapes and sizes but are all designed to burn fossil fuels to provide light. The reservoir in the base supplies the fuel to a wick which is lit to provide light from the flame. Some kerosene and paraffin lamps have a glass chimney to protect the burning wick from the wind but most of the cheaper designs, which are often fashioned from old food cans, or even pressurised aerosols, have a naked flame. There are numerous problems associated with kerosene and paraffin lamps.

The problems

  • Air pollution: When kerosene burns it emits a thick black smoke which is bad for the environment and for people’s health. Air pollution kills more people per year than HIV and Malaria combined. Spending a few hours with a kerosene lamp causes the same damage to someone’s lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes. It can also cause eye infections.
  • Fire: Kerosene lighting causes a serious fire hazard because the lamps are easily knocked over and the fuel is highly explosive. Schools and homes have been burnt down and people killed because of fires caused by kerosene lamps.
  • Global warming: An average kerosene lamp emits 340kg of CO emissions a year, contributing to global warming. Other sources estimate the unburnt particulates from kerosene lamps as contributing to 3% of global black carbon emissions.
  • Expensive: Families often spend 10 – 15% of their household income on kerosene – locking them into a cycle of poverty. Many children use them to do their homework and to study in the morning or after sunset. However, their parents often cannot afford enough kerosene and have to ration it to provide light for cooking, farming and other tasks.
  • Poisonous: Kerosene is a clear liquid and is sold in plastic bottles, children often mistake it for water and this can cause serious illness.
  • Poor lighting: The light given off by a kerosene lamp is dull and flickers. This causes eye strain when reading and means that families have little quality time together after dark. To see well using a kerosene lamp you have to sit very close to the light, which increases exposure to the noxious fumes.

What SolarAid is doing about it

A boy reading with an SM100 solar light.

SolarAid raises donations to subsidise the cost of getting solar lights to Africa. We sell these solar lights to entrepreneurs on a non-profit basis so that they can resell them on a for-profit basis to generate an income. Customers in rural Africa can buy solar lights for approximately $5, depending on the country, and make huge savings from not needing to buy kerosene. Recent SolarAid research found that, on average, families spend 13% of their income on kerosene for lighting. In Kenya, families with a solar light are reducing kerosene use by an average of 77% and saving £74 per year. In Malawi, 92% of solar lamp customers’ interviewed said their children are studying for two extra hours in the evening.

Solar power is an ideal source of energy for places that receive a lot of sunlight, like around the equator in Africa. It is also good for remote rural places without access to the electricity grid and works on a large or small scale.  The energy from the sun is ‘free’ and so enables people access to free renewable energy.

Unlike kerosene lamps, solar lights do not create pollution or carbon emissions and don’t harm wildlife or humans. They avoid hazards like fires and contact with black smoke, as well as providing a better source of lighting.

You can order your own SM100 in our shop and help us eradicate the kerosene lamp by making a donation.