Solar energy can be the difference between a mother’s smooth labor and a medical emergency at the world’s fastest-growing refugee camp in Bangladesh.
And in September, the HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh opened a solar-powered field hospital for women in the Kutupalong mega-camp for Rohingya refugees, according to Dr. Iftikher Mahmood, founder and president of HOPE, in an announcement of the initiative on IPS News.
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In 2017, 1 million Rohingya arrived at Kutupalong after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The camp's population density is five times above the UN’s recommended standard.
A donation from Abundant Future Foundation made it possible for HOPE to implement solar energy at its new hospital, the first in the camp meant to serve women specifically, Mahmood explained.
UN Women estimates more than half of the refugees are women and girls, many of whom survived rape and trauma and require health care. Young girls as young as 10 were raped by soldiers while leaving Myanmar. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated more than 64,000 pregnant women will give birth in 2018 at the camp.
“Solar power is unique in its ability to be brought into remote areas, to be pollution free, and to scale easily,” Mahmood wrote about running the first hospital in the camp to predominantly rely on solar energy.
The use of solar energy at the hospital means sterilization units can maintain power. They can also store medications and vaccinations for refugees with proper refrigeration.
Before the hospital started using solar energy, women and children were put at risk during power outages caused by environmental factors, like flooding and Bangladesh’s tropical climate.
Mahmood recounted one terrible experience at the hospital, when midwives were left to provide childbirth assistance in the dark after flooding caused power outages.
Other organizations have turned to solar energy to help refugees before, but not on this scale. In the past,UNFPA gave out solar-powered LED lights to health facilities in Kutupalong.
Solar energy is improving the lives of refugees beyond Bangladesh. In 2017, the UN Refugee Agency opened a solar plant in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, home to 80,000 Syrian refugees since 2012. In Kenya, Africa’s largest solar-powered water hole system is used to give refugees clean drinking water in the Dadaab camp where more than 200,000 mostly Somalian refugees live.
Mahmood mentioned additional perks to renewable energy, including reducing emissions and funds, which makes it possible for organizations to allocate resources more efficiently.