Solar Power Lights up the World’s Fastest-Growing Refugee Camp

Credit: HOPE Foundation

By Dr Iftikher Mahmood
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Oct 22 2018 (IPS)

Solar energy has long powered homes, businesses and portable electronics. Now, it’s powering a field hospital in the middle of the world’s fastest-growing refugee camp.

Last month, my organization, the HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh, opened the HOPE Field Hospital for Women in the Kutupalong mega-camp for Rohingya refugees.

Here, the population density is five times above the United Nations’ recommended standard for refugee camps, and there is a dire need for more health services among this vulnerable community.

UN Women estimates that more than half of the refugee population are women and girls—and UNFPA has estimated over 64,000 pregnant women will give birth this year—many of whom have been traumatized and are suffering from injuries caused by fires, brutality, rape, gunshots, and more.

The HOPE Field Hospital for Women is the first to be opened by a Bangladeshi NGO, and the only hospital in the camp that specializes in care for women. But there is another important distinction that we are equally proud of: our field hospital is significantly powered by solar energy, at a scale not seen anywhere else in the camps.

Credit: HOPE Foundation

Solar power is unique in its ability to be brought into remote areas, to be pollution free, and to scale easily. Before the new solar installations, there were numerous times when a lack of power put women and children at risk.

One example is during the recent monsoon season, when our midwives found themselves providing care in the dark after flooding brought power outages. They worked in the conditions they had to, but as you would imagine, they were quite concerned that in the dark they might make a mistake that could harm mother or the baby. But, when a mother goes into labor, you can’t exactly tell a baby to wait for the lights to come back on.

It’s not just monsoons that cause loss of power. The hot, humid conditions in southern Bangladesh are often responsible for disruptions to the electrical service.

This is another reason why it was important to HOPE to make sure that solar energy played a key role in powering our new facility. A generous donation from the family foundation of 8minutenergy Renewables’ CEO, called the Abundant Future Foundation, helped us do just that. Five solar-powered clinics, custom-built by SOLARKIOSK in Germany, now power our field hospital’s most important and power-dependent services.

They’re ensuring that labor and delivery rooms stay well lit, that our sterilization units maintain power and that our medications and vaccinations remain refrigerated at the appropriate temperature. We’ve also incorporated solar into other areas of the hospital power grid, using this technology to fuel our indoor lighting as well as lighting around the perimeter of the hospital.

Credit: HOPE Foundation

Now, our midwives won’t have to worry about delivering in the dark. And babies who need incubators and specialized care will stay safe and warm.

Nearly one million Rohingya refugees have crossed the border to Bangladesh since the Rohingya influx began a little over a year ago.

This is the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crisis. The last thing any aid organization wants to have to worry about is loss of power during an operation or a life-saving intervention.

Solar will be a game-changer for our ability to provide high-quality, uninterrupted care, and there is room for growth in this area. Other organizations have utilized solar power on a smaller scale in the camps. For example, UNFPA has distributed solar-powered LED lights to all of the health facilities in the camps that are open 24/7.

But investment in renewable energy on a larger scale could provide a tremendous payoff in terms of lives saved here in Bangladesh, and in refugee camps around the globe. In Jordan last year, UNHCR opened a solar plant in the Za’atari refugee camp, which supports 80,000 Syrian refugees.

In Kenya, you’ll find Africa’s largest solar-powered borehole, providing clean drinking water for refugees in the Dadaab camp in the country’s arid northern border. Renewable energy is good for the planet and the pocketbook, too, reducing emissions and saving precious dollars that aid organizations can apply toward providing critical services and procuring medicines, materials and staff to help alleviate suffering.

The HOPE Field Hospital for Women is the first facility to apply solar technology at such a scale in the Rohingya camps. Hopefully we’re just the first of many.

Time for Global Collaboration to Address Pressing Issues of Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights

Dr Hedy Fry, PC MP, is a Trinidadian-Canadian politician and physician. She is currently the longest-serving female Member of Parliament, winning eight consecutive elections in the constituency of Vancouver Centre since the 1993 election, when she defeated incumbent Prime Minister Kim Campbell

By Dr Hedy Fry
OTTAWA, Canada, Oct 22 2018 (IPS)

300 Parliamentarians from over 150 nations will meet, in Ottawa, to tackle one of the most serious global challenges facing humanity.

The International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Program of Action (IPCI), October 22-23, is a forum, for all global regions, to generate collective action on issues of population and development, specifically as they relate to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Dr Hedy Fry

As chair of the host Canadian parliamentary association (CAPPD), I am excited at the prospect of not only looking back at the gains we have made since nations pledged action on the 1994 UN Declaration on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights globally, but also to identify where and why we have failed to achieve those goals for women, girls and youth.

Canada is in a strong position, now, in 2018, to play a leadership role in addressing the existing inequalities to SRHR not only worldwide, but in our own backyard.

The Government of Canada has pledged and made good on, our commitment to play an enhanced role in this area, through the Feminist International Assistance Policy. This policy’s commitment to maternal, new born and child health aims to close the still glaring gaps in SRHR for many developing regions.

‎It is backed by an additional investment of $650 million over three years, which will be allocated to meet SRHR needs, globally.

Here at home, there’s also much work that needs to be done. Canada is well aware that our own Indigenous communities still have unequal access to SRHR and basic health infrastructure.‎ We are also aware that Indigenous peoples in the Americas face the same, if not greater challenges.

Also here in Canada, federal and provincial jurisdictional issues can lead to unequal access to abortion, and to Mifepristone, the abortion pill—both of which are legal in Canada.

The National Newspaper, Globe and Mail, has been highlighting these issues and its Atlantic Desk, Jessica Leeder, will be a keynote speaker at IPCI 2018, expanding on these challenges.

The IPCI forum will not only look at solutions to these existing problems but discuss, frankly and openly the new worldwide issues that are looming.

Diverse cultural and religious practices, as well as poverty and minority status, remain a problem where women and youth are denied access to full SRHR. Recent UNICEF statistics indicate that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

The rise in regional conflicts that now use rape as a “tactic” to subdue minority and “enemy” populations have made women and girls even more vulnerable.

Unprecedented migration of those fleeing conflict, seeking food and sustenance as a result of climate change and poverty has created large populations of displaced persons living in temporary zones with no access to healthcare, where they are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual trafficking.

For the one million Rohingya now living in Bangladesh refugee camps, the United Nations reported that over 60 births occur each day, while Oxfam Canada released a startling statistic that showed 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.

We’ve also seen an increase of “right wing” political movements that seek to curb access to legal contraception and abortion and the education of youth with regard to sexual health. Additionally, these movements have been known to promote systemic ‎xenophobia denying rights to minorities.

This includes LGBTQ+ communities, which has an impact to increase public health mortality and morbidity rates globally. We must not forget the persistent and growing incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The fact is, there’s no better time than now to take action. Parliamentarians at IPCI 2018 will not only explore these themes, frankly and openly, but will hear from speakers about innovative solutions that are taking place in a variety of regions around the world.

We are uniquely placed to influence change. As stated in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, paragraph 45 recognizes “the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments.”

Parliamentarians can challenge governments that promote xenophobia and harmful policies. We can stand up for human rights and the full access to SRHR for women and youth locally. We can bond with other nations to make concrete change that would benefit all, globally. This is what I hope we can achieve at IPCI 2018.