Better lives in Bangladesh – through green power
The environmental arm of a Nobel Prize-winning community development bank brings solar power, biogas, better stoves, and economic opportunity to rural residents.
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“Grameen Shakti’s innovative approach is not only providing families in the developing world with clean, regular energy sources,” says Katherine Miller, United Nations Foundation communications director, “it is helping strengthen local communities and providing economic opportunities.”Skip to next paragraph
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“Eventually we thought [about] how to maintain the [solar panel] system,” says Barua. And the group wanted to “involve the poor women also.” They realized that when women improve their lives, the whole family benefits.
One issue about the maintenance of the solar panels was that in this Muslim society, and especially in the conservative rural areas, women are home alone during the day and aren’t allowed to let in male technicians unless a male family member is present.
However, having female technicians would automatically eliminate this issue, they realized. So women’s engineering technology centers were created.
Now women like Champa Akter, who works at the engineering technology center in Mawna, learn to assemble home solar systems and also how to install and maintain them.
The technicians live on-site at the regional offices and go out into the field to provide service as needed. So far, the program has set up 20 centers and trained more than 1,000 female technicians.
Down a dirt road in Mawna and behind a large chicken coop of 2,000 egg-laying, red-feathered hens is Mrs. Mohammad Abdur Razzak’s underground biogas plant. It’s another project initiated by Grameen Shakti. The organization realized that individual farmers usually keep two to three cows or chickens, and wanted to help them set up small-scale biogas plants to use the livestock’s waste to their advantage.
Razzak hoses her poultry coop’s waste into the connected chamber, where it ferments and creates biogas, which is released into a pipe that’s connected to her cooking stove.
Since Razzak’s animals produce more gas than she uses, she makes an extra $71 per month by renting 10 cookstoves and the excess gas to her neighbors.
The leftover slurry that isn’t converted into gas is sold to local farmers for use as organic fertilizer.
A 2006 World Bank study found that rural women and children under the age of 5 had the most exposure to indoor pollution from wood-burning cookstoves. To help alleviate this, Grameen Shakti designed a more fuel-efficient stove that produces less smoke and costs less to use.
It burns half the wood of a traditional stove, the smoke is funneled away from the cooking area via a pipe, and the ashes can be used as fertilizer. “It’s very environmentally friendly,” says Barua.
Inspired by Grameen Shakti, the UN Foundation “helped finance a project in India that makes solar power affordable for more than 1,000 families” in 2006, Miller says. “We are also currently working on expanding portable, clean-energy cookstove programs across Africa.”
But can this be a successful model in more urban areas, where energy needs are greater? There is cautious optimism.
“If rural areas are successful in having expanded the generation capacity of renewable energy [and] solar energy,” says Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, chairman of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh, “then it can be replicated in [Bangladesh’s] cities in a gradual manner. If it can be supplied and be guaranteed, then people will go for it.”