Darfur refugees tap the sun's power to cook

In Chad's desolate landscape, one refugee camp makes use of a plentiful resource: the sun.

Imagine a town where everyone used solar power to cook their food, and reduced their reliance on finite sources of fuel, like firewood. At lunchtime, in front of every mud-walled hut, tens of thousands of pots are bubbling away inside silvery enclosures that tap sunlight.

The town you're imagining is actually a refugee camp in the deserts of Eastern Chad, where 17,600 Darfur refugees fled from neighboring Sudan four years ago. Nearly 90 percent of the families here use solar cookers to prepare their midday meals.

In a pilot project by a Dutch aid group called SVAAKO, 6,000 portable solar cookers have been given out to the refugees, and there are plans to introduce the stoves to other camps. Camp residents, all of them women, make the solar stoves themselves in a small workshop, spreading glue on sheets of cardboard and attaching sheets of aluminum foil. The stoves are cheap to produce: less than $20 per unit.

Hawa Hamid Rahman, who fled Darfur four years ago, has used the device since January to feed her family during the lunchtime meal of bread and stew. At dawn and at dusk, she still uses firewood to cook, brought by a local non-government organization. She no longer travels out into the thorn-bush desert to collect it herself, because she says locals occasionally beat refugee women who collect firewood too close to their villages.

When she sees that her visitors are preparing to leave, she scurries to her solar-powered stove to offer tea.

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