Power for Good

Over recent days, the people of southern Oman have been preparing for the worst. Cyclone Chapala threatened the city of Salalah and the surrounding area of Dhofar with 200kph winds, the promise of up to eight years’ worth of rainfall in one day and the likelihood of devastating floods.

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Lighting at night is one of the most basic human needs. And for the many millions of people around the world who live off-grid that often means burning things. Diesel, propane, candles, grass, wood and even old tyres are all burned to illuminate life after dark. But the most common fuel for lighting off-grid communities is kerosene.

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It is within living memory that one of the most common ways of publicising a message was to wear a sandwich board with a suitable slogan painted on it, and to walk up and down the local high street.

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The link between poverty and poor educational attainment is a strong one. In 'developed' nations, it has become a truism that students from deprived inner-city areas are, on average, likely to achieve lower grades than those from the affluent suburbs. For decades, the causes have been identified, debated and tackled. Educational policies designed to tackle the problem have been developed, altered, dropped and replaced. But the problem remains. It's a big, complicated issue and no-one seems to have the answer.

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With the phenomenal growth of the internet and other forms of digital media, it can be easy for those of us living in prospering economies to forget that access to it is still far from universal. The rapid growth around the world of mobile phone ownership and use may be a precursor greater web access, but for many millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America the greatest source of information is radio.

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The BBC recently screened an adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novel, Wolf Hall. Set in the 16th Century, it examined the relationship between King Henry VIII of England and one of his closest advisors, Thomas Cromwell. The series was generally very well received by the critics, but – with many interior scenes apparently being lit only by candles - some viewers grumbled about the 'dim' lighting. Perhaps they missed the point that 16th Century England was not just 'off-grid', but 'pre-grid'.

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