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Canadian solar expertise lights up outhouses in Haiti
TACKLING ENERGY POVERTY WITH SOLAR STREETLIGHTS IN HAITI
By Cori Marshall
Haiti was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew in early October 2016. It was the largest hurricane to hit the Island nation in more than a half-century. The weather event came six years after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake literally rocked the Caribbean country.
We spoke with local Montrealer Min Lee who is working to improve the daily living situation of Haitians by providing remote areas of the country with solar streetlamps. Lee describes the situation on the ground as one where "the things that you think you need to sustain your life, they lack every single one". Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Lee says one of the daily activities that she undertook when she arrived in Haiti was cleaning people's homes of human waste. The lack of light and security caused a situation as Lee adds, "where people don't have the means to walk to an outhouse to go to the bathroom". Lee continues, "what ends up happening is people do the business inside the home".
This only serves to exacerbate the spread of cholera across the island. The disease - the source a which was found to be the human waste entering a river system from a United Nations military camp - appeared in Haiti in October 2010 and spread quickly, causing an estimated 9,200 related deaths in subsequent years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has undertaken vaccination programs in Haiti against cholera for those hardest hit by the hurricane. According to a November 2016 WHO press release, 729,000 Haitians have been vaccinated against the disease which it defines as ďan acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated".
The WHO states that cholera is caused by the "ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium vibrio cholerae." The organization says that having access to safe clean water and sanitation could help prevent the spread of the infection. Lee adds that Haitians "don't have access to a lot of water, clean water is definitely a luxury."
The sanitary situation of those in some of the most remote areas of Haiti could be solved by "simply providing a little light" said Lee. Beyond the issue of sanitation, Lee states that the people's "daily activities are totally dependent on sunrise and sunset." The lack of light after dusk creates additional social problems such as crime, and the inability for people to educate themselves when darkness comes.
The best way to tackle these issues, according to Lee "was to use natural resources". Because of Haiti's geographical location, the island receives a lot of sunlight. It was with that in mind that, Lee adds that she "began to think of ways of using solar energy". Lee partnered with Glenergy Inc. in Petawawa Ontario to provide her with the technical and logistical expertise needed to accomplish her goals.
We spoke with Ken Burger Lead Engineer at Glenergy, about the company's role in the solar street lamp project. Burger states that "sensible renewable solutions" is at the heart of the company's philosophy. What underlies this is the need to not only provide a customer with a piece of energy-saving technology but also ensuring that the technology fits the needs of the project.
Burger suggests that the guidance that was given to Lee allowed her to navigate within the different companies that she would need to deal with to carry out her project. He says that Lee also researched parts that are available on the Haitian market. It is invaluable to the Haitian communities receiving this product that "when the batteries die you can go to a local store and replace it".
The effect of the solar streetlamp can be exponential. With this project, the opportunities exist to teach local Haitians to research and build solar streetlamps. They are in turn able to pass that knowledge along to others in their communities.
The solar streetlamp addresses the issue of energy poverty first and foremost, but it can aid in many different areas of Haitian life. It can help in addressing the issue of sanitation by providing light for people to venture to an outhouse in the dark of night. It also addresses the issue of safety as people would be less likely to commit criminal acts "knowing that there is light and they can be identified." One of the most important effects would be that people would not be bound to a life constrained between dawn to dusk, they would be able to educate themselves, read, after dark.