Bringing Lights to Sundarbans
Partner | Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre
Location | West Bengal, India
The Sundarbans stretch of mangrove land is a UNESCO protected world heritage site with a diverse and complex ecosystem. The entire Sundarbans region is affected by the volatility of this ecosystem – high salinity levels, regular flooding, poor soil conditions, and high temperatures mean many struggle to survive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen families lose jobs and earnings become scarce. Many families are on the verge of starvation. Super Cyclonic Storm Amphan in mid-2020 further caused widespread damage and destruction across eastern India – hitting the remote Sundarbans particularly hard. The devastation wreaked havoc in the lives of the population, particularly those living in remote villages. Together, the pandemic and cyclone have severely impacted the already minimal delivery of electricity to the area. Thousands of families remain without electricity, while many have used kerosene lanterns as their only source of light for years, the toxic nature of which causes chronic disease, breathing problems, asthma, and cataracts.
This project delivers solar lanterns to remote villages enabling children to safely study at home and provide light to cook meals and weave fishing nets. The solar light also offers income-generating opportunities to the villagers – women can sew, and men can fish in the evenings to trade at the local market. The solar lanterns further protect villagers at night when they need to use the outdoor toilet – poisonous snake bites are prevalent in the Sundarbans due to the lack of street lights in the villages.
The Sundarbans have again been affected by a cyclone; however, there was no storm and no heavy rain this time. The effect of Cyclone Yaas has seen the rise of water levels, which has broken the banks of rivers, entered villages and houses, and ruined many crops. More than 250 families are now living in tents covered with plastic and tarpaulins. Unfortunately, the Sundarbans will continue to be affected by its volatile environment, making solar power even more important to local communities.
This project provides communities living in the Sundarbans with an independent and reliable light source, enabling children to safely study in the evenings and parents to work at night.
The project also supports women to access their legal rights and entitlements through self-help groups (SHGs). Over 130 women are part of a SHG that provides training on the use of solar lights and ensures the women can access government support services and other legal entitlements.
The solar lights themselves provide the community with skills training and employment opportunities through the local solar growth centre, where each lantern is assembled and maintained.
- Identify the families without electricity and ensure they have the necessary legal documents to access services.
- Assemble lanterns at the solar growth centre.
- Provide training on the use of solar lanterns and solar energy.
- Form two solar groups – one will be a women’s group to help and assist the technicians.
- Organise advocacy and networking meetings with stakeholders to ensure project take-up.
- Arrange SHG meetings – topics include rights awareness and information on solar lanterns.