Hazel Williams is the humanitarian coordinator for Darfur of CAFOD (Caritas England and Wales). She recently paid a visit to some of the many camps that house people who have fled fighting in the region. Caritas works with the Act Alliance of Protestant and Orthodox aid agencies in a unique ecumenical cooperation, through the operations of Norwegian Church Aid, Sudanaid (a Caritas member) and the Sudan Council of Churches.
Solar power is making an extraordinary difference in camps in Darfur, Sudan, by providing much needed water to those living there.
As we enter Khamsadigay camp, which houses just under 20,000 people, we weave through narrow alleys between the temporary structures that people have slowly erected over the last eight or nine years. It’s a Friday morning, so the dusty burnt orange sand tracks are illuminated by groups of flowing white galabiyas – the traditional robes that Dafurian men wear for Friday prayers.
We are here to visit a solar powered water pump that provides 29 litres of water to each person living in the camp per day. It’s really quite amazing just how much water the camp has. They may suffer many challenges, but thanks to our local partner’s programme and the community’s commitment, water is definitely not one of them.
As we stand under the large solar panels, with the sun glaring down on us, one of my guides, from our partner Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), starts to explain how solar power has transformed the lives of those living within the camp. The provision of water only uses a very small amount of the power produced – and given how my skin is burning, I can well believe these panels are working overtime.
With all this power, the possibilities are endless. As we get carried away discussing selling mobile charging or installing lights in latrines, we notice a group of men gathering near us, and setting up for a meeting. We discover that the Sheikh of Sheikhs – the leader of this part of the camp – has heard about our arrival, and has come to discuss the solar panels with us.
As we sit down for discussion, the Sheikh of Sheikhs shares his concerns and those of the community. The solar power system is soon going to be handed over to the community, and he is worried about how they will maintain it. Looking at what seems to be a pretty technical system, I can sympathise with him – it certainly seems like a daunting task. The NCA team reassure him that the community will receive further training – and that if the solar powered pump does break down, technical expertise will still be available.
So there’s only one thing left to do: we hike up the hill within the camp to see the huge water tank – no doubt full to the brim of that precious water. Walking up the hill, I start to think of my Dad. He’s just fitted solar panels on his house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England, but unfortunately they receive more fog than sunlight. The Sheikh of Sheikhs find this very amusing!
As we stand by the water tank, and look out at the view, we see a group of children playing football just inside the camp, and beyond them the beautiful countryside dotted with trees and rugged hills. But there are no people – a stark reminder of people’s fear of who and what lies beyond the safety of the camp.