The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) has installed 100 solar-powered street lamps in Haitian refugee camps Pétionville and Caradeux. Almost two years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti taking over 700,000 lives and leaving millions homeless, the country is still struggling to rebuild its infrastructure. Neighborhood redevelopment has accounted for the relocation of some refugees, but 23,000 still live at Pétionville, and many thousands more are in camps vulnerable to landslides, fire, flooding, and high incidents of violence. While renewable energy can’t solve all of these dilemmas, solar-powered street lamps make it possible for children to study, for dinner to be made, and for card games to be played well after the sun sets.
SELF, the Washington, DC-based nonprofit, has been using renewable energy to provide light and power to rural medical clinics in Haiti since before the quake, and they were invited to extend their platform with the help of funding from the Inter-American Development Bank.
“We believe that energy is a human right and that access to it is essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Bob Freling, Executive Director of SELF in a press release.
As post-earthquake Haiti is slowly being rebuilt, women are more vulnerable to sexual assault and violence has increased across the country. Amnesty International has reported that women are at serious risk of sexual attack, and rape survivors continue to arrive at the office of a local women’s support group almost every day. Police surveillance hasn’t been proven to deter sexual violence, but according to SELF and J/P HRO, as soon as the street lamps went up in August, reported acts of violence (including sexual assault) declined drastically from about one a day to one a week.
Hurricane resistant, tamper-proof, and otherwise sturdy street lamps installed at the camps require minimal maintenance. The larger model streetlamp, procured from Port-au-Prince’s Green Energy Solutions, is 20 feet tall with photovoltaic modules on top and two sealed gel batteries inside a secure box connected to high-powered LED lamps. Once the camps are dispersed, the solar street lamps will be moved to other areas. Although the lighting is temporary, its positive impact is permanent and includes diminished crime rates, more time for kids to study, increased commerce, neighborhood camaraderie, and hope for the camp’s many residents.