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EAPN Newsletter – May 2015 — Featured Member
Interview with Anya Cherneff, Executive Director, Empower Generation, on relief efforts in Nepal.
Empower Generation has worked in Nepal since 2011. Over the past three years, they report having delivered clean, safe energy to more than 59,000 people. They have helped 10 women-led start-ups, developed a network of 100 solar sales agents, and sold over 12,000 solar powered lights and phone chargers in underserved communities across Nepal.
In the immediate aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, its team went into action along with the Nepalese army units and other early first responders, delivering urgent relief to affected districts. They have so far delivered 9,000 solar lanterns with chargers.
In an e-mail interview, Executive Director Anya Cherneff explained what Empower Generation has done in the aftermath of the earthquake on April 25:
What are you hearing from your team in Nepal on the extent of the damage from the earthquake and from your perspective what is specifically needed in terms of relief?
Feedback from our team indicates that the damage is extensive in Kathmandu but especially in the districts surrounding Kathmandu where very little aid reached in the first week after the quake. Immediate needs include food, water, shelter, sanitation, rubble removal and energy sources for light and mobile charging. People are walking 6 hours to get a mobile charged and others are in complete darkness with no access to kerosene or candles. As the rainy season approaches in a few weeks, shelter is a great need and concern.
Mobile communications are also essential for local relief effort coordination and for family members to check in with loved ones across the country. Mobile phone charging and lighting are also critical for coordinating aid and relief efforts.
People in the affected areas are desperate for help – for lights, tarps, food and water. It has been very difficult to distribute the relief supplies due to the high demand. Empower Generation sprang into immediate action in partnership with our local community in Chitwan district, where we have been working since 2011. We spent two days collecting a large amount of donated supplies and headed to three different affected districts – Gorkha, Nuwakot and Dhading, with members of the Chitwan community joining us to help with the distribution. When the group finally arrived in Dhading, which suffered severe damage, the local community decided that they didn’t need our help as much as the socially and economically marginalized people of a village four hours away.
What is Empower Generation doing to contribute to the relief efforts?
We are focusing on what we do best – providing high quality, clean and critical energy services. Energy access will be even more essential in order to rebuild after this tragedy, once the rescue and relief phase is over.
While food, water and shelter are critical to relief efforts, how important is access to energy for lighting (and cooking) in humanitarian relief efforts in Nepal, particularly given the inclement weather and the mountainous terrain?
We have seen first-hand that the most critical energy needs are portable, durable lighting solutions followed by mobile phone charging. Portable lighting has been critical in rapid assessment efforts undertaken by partners like Mercy Corps. Portable lights are also critical in distributing aid. For survivors who cannot return to their damaged houses, portable lighting helps check on livestock, household goods and any family essentials that have been left behind. Mobile charging is just as critical in a country where people rely almost entirely on cellphones for making calls. With the rainy season around the corner, temperatures have been dropping in the northern districts and heating is also an important need.
Larger scale solar installations are also needed for example to get power back on at water mills that are widely used in rural Nepal for agro-processing. Empower Generation donated 25 lights to a local, traditional water mill in Dhading so it can process grain through the night, as the electric mill is no longer working.
It is important to make sure that the solar products brought in meet the Lighting Global Quality Standards, so that they are able to withstand the approaching monsoon season, and to avoid flooding the country with poor quality solutions that will not be continued after the emergency phase. In many off-grid communities in Nepal solar lighting does not have a great reputation because of the general lack of follow up service, and a subsidy scheme that incentivizes poor quality lighting systems.
What is your appeal to relief agencies and the international community?
We are looking to partner with major international relief agencies to import and distribute critical energy services to the people of Nepal. To do this, we need funding for our team on the ground working tirelessly to deliver high-quality solar solutions.
It is important to coordinate with local agencies that have been working in the communities and reaching out to the surrounding communities, which have very good local organizing networks through libraries and savings and credit cooperative network.