By Lisa Schlein
GENEVA — Thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, now have safe drinking water thanks to a combination of green technology and sunlight.
Cox's Bazar has plenty of refugees. More than 900,000. Most have arrived in Bangladesh since August 2017, when violence and persecution by the Myanmar military triggered a mass exodus of Rohingya refugees.
The refugees are living in squalid conditions across 36 different locations in Cox's Bazar. Water is scarce in most locations. But sunshine is plentiful. Over the past six months, the UN refugee agency and partners have been putting into operation solar-powered safe water systems.
The UNHCR reports the first five systems are now running at full capacity. It says the new safe water systems run entirely on electricity generated through solar panels. UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says this new network is providing safe water to more than 40,000 refugees.
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"Using the solar energy has allowed the humanitarian community to reduce the energy costs and emissions," said Mahecic. "So, there is a clear environmental impact of this. Chlorination is also a life-saver in refugee sites of this scale. The recent tests revealed that most contamination of drinking water occurs during collection, transport and storage at the household level."
Mahecic notes chlorinated water is safe for drinking and also eliminates the risk of the spread of disease.
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The UNHCR along with its partner agencies are hoping to install nine more solar-powered water networks across the refugee camp in the coming year. The project, which is funded by the agency, will cost $10 million. It will benefit an additional 55,000 Rohingya refugees.
The UNHCR says its ultimate aim is to provide 20 liters of safe water to every single refugee on a daily basis. It says this will be done by piping in the solar powered water to collective taps strategically installed throughout the Kutupalog-Balukhali refugee site.