Raymond Rakotondrasoa surveys the charred remains of his mud and thatched-roofed house in Madagascar.
“I left a candle burning on my bedside table,” the 70-year-old says. “It fell and set fire to my clothes before spreading.”
The retired construction worker is lucky to be alive.
“If it had happened during the night I could have died,” says Rakotondrasoa, who lost all his worldly possessions in minutes that terrible day in August.
Only 15% of the country’s 26 million inhabitants have access to electricity.
Everyone else, like Rakotondrasoa, relies on candles, oil and kerosene lamps.
Says Rakotondrasoa: “I can’t stand the smell and the fumes given off by kerosene, so I use candles and an oil lamp.”
His neighbour Louise Rasoahelinivo prefers kerosene because it is cheaper.
“I use two candles a day, whereas one litre of kerosene lasts more than a month,” says the 70-year-old seamstress.
Candles cost between 6 and 12 euros cents (13 US cents) each in the island nation off of southeastern Africa, compared with 50 cents for a litre of kerosene.
The difference is significant in a country where two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.
Rakotondrasoa’s village of Ambohimasindray, just 20km north of the capital Antananarivo, requested access to the power grid nearly 20 years ago, he says.
But the village is still waiting to hear back from Jirama, the troubled state-owned power company.
Jirama told AFP that Ambohimasindray’s application was “too old” to warrant comment.
Madagascar’s energy situation is “catastrophic”, said the director general of the energy ministry, Andry Ramaroson.
“The rate of access sits at 15% and it has not moved in eight years,” he told AFP.
According to the World Bank, Madagascar ranks 184th out of 190 countries in terms of access to electric power.
One solution would be to replace the crumbling hydropower plants built during French colonial rule, which ended in 1960.
But Ramaroson said presidents are reluctant to take on lengthy and costly construction projects likely to drag on beyond their five-year mandates.
Meanwhile, Jirama is indebted to the tune of 400m euros ($438m) and is operating at a loss of 75m euros, according to the World Bank.
It has long been accused of mismanagement, selling power at a loss and buying kilowatt hours from private suppliers at twice the price it charges consumers.
Madagascar’s distribution network has not been expanded in four decades.
The country about the size of mainland France has only 400km of high-voltage lines and 1 000km of medium-voltage lines to distribute the 417 megawatts generated per year.