Off-grid technologies, such as lights and cookers has been a major feature of the Haitian relief effort. And as the international aid effort is finally getting through to the people, thoughts are turning to the next stage: the reconstruction.
Now an off-grid approach is the best hope for the long-term reconstruction of the stricken country say politicians and development experts.
The effects of the earthquake that struck on Jan 13 were so debilitating, at least in part because power, water, government, fuel, transport and distribution were all centered on the capital Port Au Prince. Once that was destroyed it was difficult to provide even basic amenities to the population of 7m.
Speaking this week Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said; “We have to decentralize. It’s the only way to be efficient. It’s also the only way to avoid the same problems happening in Haiti again.”
Bellerive said his nation needs significant help for what he called “this colossal work of reconstruction.” “In 30 seconds, we lost nearly 60 percent of our gross domestic product, because all of Haiti’s resources were concentrated in a small area around our seat of government,” he said.
If the country is to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future it is essential that as much infrastructure as possible is free-standing and not grid bound. That way the majority of Haitian society and economy will not cease working just because one area has been destroyed. US secretary of State Hilary Clinton supported the new approach, saying “I was quite heartened to hear the prime minister say that … we should look at how we decentralise economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement.”
His call was echoed by one of the UK’s leading reconstruction experts Dr Neil Thomas of Kingston University. “Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries and that, combined with a very high population density, poor education, social unrest and a lack of earthquake-proof buildings make it extremely vulnerable to this type of natural hazard,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that rebuilding Haiti could take at least a decade. “It is not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti,” he told a gathering of international leaders in Montreal.
“We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible.”
The flexibility and timeliness of off-grid technology soon became apparent in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Haiti may have precious little in the way of natural resources, it does however have sunlight in abundance. So solar power has been at the forefront of emergency aid efforts.
Hospitals had no power which meant that such technology as there was didn’t work and doctors’ ability to operate on ill patients was limited to day light hours. Solar Electric Light Fund, a charity already working to install solar power in Haiti, is calling for solar power to be made the focus of reconstruction. “There is no access to electricity in almost all of the Haitian countryside,” said a spokesman.
“Diesel fuel is already in short supply and will likely become even more difficult to obtain as time goes by. Solar can help fill a short-term need in terms of providing power for relief efforts, and over the long-term, solar energy can serve as a foundation for a robust and sustainable healthcare infrastructure in Haiti,” he added.
Within days of the earthquake the charity diverted solar equipment originally intended for hospitals at Cerca La Source and Hinche on the Central Plateau, close to the Dominican border, to power to a field hospital in Port-au-Prince.
Also within days of the quake, Florida-based solar panel company Sol sent 15 solar streetlights. The lighting can be used to power surgical equipment and extend the time that doctors can treat the wounded, company executives said. They promised to send another 100 lights in the near future.
As in any disaster zone, clean water is an urgent concern for survivors and relief workers. Another panel manufacturer Solar World donated enough panels to power ten water pumping stations providing water for up to 175,000 people.
The absence of power means that not only do hospitals and water pumping stations not work, neither does the telephone system. So Dutch company Intivation gave 1,000 solar-powered mobile phones to improve communications in Port Au Prince.
Meanwhile Illinois-based Solar Ovens international has been trying to get hundreds of stand-alone solar powered ovens from the company factory in northern Haiti to Port-au-Prince.
Lordy Lordy<br />
Only slightly less useful than solar ovens and medical equipment will be the world’s first off-grid bibles which are being sent by the container load to survivcors. A US charity called Faith Comes By Hearing says it is currently working to send solar powered audio bibles to Haiti’s earthquake victims.
The Proclaimer as the solar powered bible is known, has a built in generator and solar panel to charge the battery, which will run for 15 hours. The solar panel, in addition to charging the battery, will run the device even without battery power as long as there is sunlight. An installed microchip contains Scriptures in any required language and the sound, which is digital quality, is loud enough to be heard clearly by groups as large as 300.
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