Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shining a light from West Cork to Rajasthan on the Worlds Poorest Communities

This past week Partnership for Change, a Cork based low carbon and climate change initative received notification from India that the community based, sustainable energy and lighting project it sponsored through the support of West Cork based EnviroManagement Services and Bord Gais was successfully completed.

As we turn the clocks back and darkness desends earlier for the winter months it is a little easier to imagine what life must be like for those that have no access to artificial light or electricity. We have travelled light years technologically since the days when our homes, towns and villages were in darkness after nightfall, save for oil lamps and candles. The daily illumination of our homes is something we take for granted until there is an unwelcome power outage resulting in an interruption to our energy-fuelled lives or indeed until we read about the unfortnate incidences of households in Ireland now being disconnected because they cant pay their utility bills.

It is hard to believe that there are still over 1.6 billion people around the world who do not have access to electricity and are thrown into darkness as soon as daylight fades. Access to electric lighting allows people to illuminate their environment, providing them with artificial light so that they can undertake basic tasks, like cooking, reading, and household chores. It allows children to study, reducing poverty and provides basic human needs within the household. In instances of no access to electricity many people are forced to light and heat their homes with kerosene lamps. The World Bank has found that burning kerosene indoors to be equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. It is estimated that almost one billion women and children are breathing in kerosene on a daily basis. Continued use of these lamps can cause infection of the lungs or eyes as well as respiratory problems. In addition to the significant health risk of the fumes, fires can also erupt when a lamp is knocked over or when household items or clothes are exposed to the flame.

It was to help tackle this that Partnership for Change supported the ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ (LABL) campaign founded by TERI, The Energy and Resources Initiative, based in India. The LABL campaign aims to bring light into the lives of a billion people across the globe who don’t have access to articifical light or electricity.

In support of TERI’s campaign, Partnership for Change organised a major international climate change conference in Cork in November 2008 through which the proceeds have now directly benefitted the lives of 250 people in a village in Rajasthan in rural India. Proceeds from the conference went to two other charities as well as the ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ campaign.

This Climate Change Conference supported by some of Ireland’s leading companies was the largest and most significant conference on the topic of climate change ever to have been held in this country, hosting international experts from the field of climate change science. Appropriately, Partnership for Change, which was founded by Bandon-based environmental scientist and consultant Mr. Declan Waugh, committed to making the conference as carbon-neutral as possible. Driven by this objective, some of the international experts who addressed the conference did so remotely by live video confereencing which was sponsored by BT. Both Dr James Hansen, the Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute and leading world climate change expert, as well as Dr.Vicky Pope, the Director of the British Hadley Centre for Meteorology and Head of Climate Change for the UK Government, spoke to the conference by live-video link up from America and England respectively. Both speakers took questions from the delegates at the Cork-based conference following their lives addresses. Questions and answers flew back and forth between Ireland, the USA and England at what seemed the speed of light. This cutting-edge technological element to the conference which brought world leaders in the field of climate change science to Cork city added greatly to the ‘energy’ and excitement levels on the day not to mention the reduction in the carbon foot-print of the Climate Change Conference.

The third speaker to address the conference delegates remotely was the Chairman of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr.R.K Pachauri, who also founded TERI.

Over the last two years, the TERI campaign using renewable solar powered energy sources around has illuminated 30,000 households spread over 550 villages across 15 states in India. Work on the village of Balesar in the state of Rajasthan was funded entirely by Partnership for Change has now been completed. The project involved establishing within the community a solar powered co-operative, managed by the women of the village and providing the funding to install the solar power technology. The project also trained the co-operative members and providing recharagable lamps to every household in the village. It benefitted 250 people within the village directly and created one full time green job in the village.

Founder of Partnership for Change, Declan Waugh says that “knowing that so many people, especially women and children have benefitted from the provision of clean renewable energy light sources to their rural village in India is very rewarding. It will increase the standard of living of the villagers and make a real difference to their everyday lives while also supporting and creating sustainable green jobs in rural communities.”

Other charities which benefitted from the proceeds of the conference included Water Aid and Médecins San Frontieres, both organisations that assist populations that are being affected daily by the impacts of climate change and humanitarian crises around the globe including most recently the earthquake in Haite and the catastrophic floods in Pakistan.