Darragh Cotter, Communications and Marketing Manager
Unfortunately, in society, it is likely that there will always be those who are unable to gain entry to even the bottom rungs of the energy ladder. The consequences of this can be severe as it ensures, among other impacts, a cycle of financial and light poverty as well as contributing towards poor health and education. In many circumstances, those who are fundamentally unable to gain access to the energy ladder, are those who are fleeing humanitarian and security crises.
While the problems facing refugees and the solutions to these problems are myriad, it is absolutely clear that access to lighting can help to improve the living situations of those most in need. After shelter, food and water, access to lighting can facilitate a continuation of education, increase income generating activities and contribute to improved health standards (through the removal of a reliance on kerosene). As pointed out by Wieke de Vries of Flexiway Solar Solutions in her blog, according to "the UN Refugee Agency, displaced people from all over the world consistently report access to light as a top priority at the household and community level".
The challenges of providing refugees with energy access were discussed at a half-day side event during the 4th International Off-Grid Lighting Conference and Exhibition. This event, held in October 2015 in Dubai, was the premier event for the rapidly growing off-grid solar lighting and services industry, attracting over 500 participants. With the difficult conditions facing refugees in mind, GOGLA and its conference partner Lighting Global, thought it would be a fitting ‘thank you’ to speakers and panellists at the Conference to make a donation to displaced people on their behalf.
GOGLA decided to partner with the International Organization for Migration to help provide solar lighting solutions to people who simply do not have the financial means to access the solar lighting market.
The beneficiaries were the undocumented Rohingya population living in two makeshift settlements in Bangladesh – Kutupalong and Leda- in Cox’s Bazar district, with distribution at the end of March 2016. The Rohingya people live in a camp setting where access to basic services is extremely limited. Access to traditional livelihoods such as farming and fishing is limited for the Rohingya population and food security is a daily struggle. Primary healthcare and basic sanitation including water is supported by IOM and other international organisations in the makeshift settlements, but gender based violence and other protection vulnerabilities continue to exist, particularly as the population do not have full access to justice. Indeed, distribution of the solar lanterns is one measure aimed at mitigating potential security issues.
With the donation made, 804 solar lanterns were distributed (503 in Kutupalong and 300 in Leda – the population of the settlements is around 35,000 and 15,000 respectively). Female headed households (widows), families with severely sick members, elderly people, pregnant women, mothers with new-borns, physically disabled people, and families with no income were those who were deemed to be the most in need recipients.
To highlight the significant impact that solar lighting can have, IOM have presented a number of recipient case studies:
Mobina Location: Kutupalong Makeshift Settlement
Before receiving a solar lantern, Mobina, a 60-year-old widow with no children, used a kerosene lamp. However, "kerosene lamps are not easy to use outside, they easily blow out in case of low wind and walking outside in the dark without any light is difficult”, she told one of the IOM project assistants. Mobina also said that she would need money to buy fuel for kerosene lamps, and that they produce black smoke and dust, harmful for her health. Mobina was also aware of the fire risk posed to her by kerosene lamps.
Mobina was sure that the lantern would benefit her life, happy that it is easy to charge and easy to move around, particularly when it is dark. “It also saves me the cost of buying fuel and there is no possibility of fire in the house.”
Mir Location: Kutupalong Makeshift Settlement
Mir, a 55-year-old man living with his family in Kutupalong Makeshift Settlement told IOM his story. “I used to use a kerosene lamp, sometimes also candles to have light, but it is very difficult to study in the little light it gives”. Moreover, Mir was worried about the risk of fire from using the kerosene lamp and the harm that it could cause to his children. Mir also expressed frustration with the difficulty in using a kerosene lamp outdoors and was adamant that solar lanterns would allow more women in his community to feel safe outside at night. Mir was sure that his reduced energy expenditure would enable him to spend more money on food, clothing and education.
GOGLA is very clear in its commitment to catalyze the off-grid solar lighting market. GOGLA is also clear in its belief that the off-grid lighting sector should be positioned outside of the philanthropic arena in what is an important and growing market. The association works hard to reduce barriers to business, and increase opportunities for small and medium enterprises. GOGLA does so by working with governing bodies to develop regulations and legislation that promote an enabling environment on a national, regional and global level.
With this in mind, GOGLA also inherently recognizes the difficulties people affected by humanitarian and security crises may have in accessing the solar market and we are happy to help where we can to bring the benefits of solar lighting to those in dire need.
Please note that the solar lanterns distributed met Lighting Global quality assurance standards. More information on technological standards can be found at http://gogla.org/technology For further information on the social impact of solar lighting please visit http://gogla.org/social-impact