How You Can Power the World
Richenda Van Leeuwen, Executive Director of the Energy & Climate Team at the United Nations Foundation, has made sustainability her life’s work. We sat down earlier this week to talk about what that really means and how it applies to critical global conversations happening in Rio this coming June at the Rio+20 Summit.
Sustainability is to embrace a future that allows everybody to have the opportunities many of us take for granted. Every family wants to ensure their kids have access to health care, clean air, clean water, education, and employment.
Rio + 20 is a summit on sustainable development for all of us. People are increasingly aware that what we eat, what we wear and where we spend our money has an impact on other parts of the world. We are all connected at the touch of a button. Many of us are part of communities where we really care about our neighborhood. Today we are realizing our neighborhood is larger than the street our house is on, our neighborhood extends to the other side of the world.
Rio+20 and Women
There are seven key themes at Rio+20: jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans and disasters. We are looking for consensus from the summit to recognize these as critical issue areas and ensure there is a global platform for addressing them over the next 20-30 years. The summit provides a unique opportunity for global leaders to brainstorm solutions to problems in a truly ‘big picture’ way — for the entire planet.
Underpinning each topic is the impact on women — many of the disparities in terms of access to resources disproportionately affect women.
For example, a woman who doesn't have access to electricity is probably spending 20-30 percent of her income on various forms of fuel that are dangerous, polluting and inefficient.
Energy is a Key Element of Sustainability
Imagine your life as a mother without electricity. When you start your day, what if you couldn’t turn on a light, couldn't make a cup of coffee with the flick of a switch, couldn’t put the kids’ breakfast in the microwave? 20 percent of the world doesn’t have access to these modern solutions.
Mothers running households without electricity are using very expensive forms of energy that affect their health and take up much of their time. They are relying on kerosene lamps and candles, and open fires that create constant smoke and can leave them and their children with breathing problems and severe burns.
One of the most critical tools in fighting maternal death is access to electricity. Think about going into labor at night and heading to the clinic in labor to find that the medical staff is unable to help — they cannot use any medical equipment, let alone operate if needed, indeed they often can’t even see the patient because there is no electric light.
What is exciting is the increasing number of solutions. While governments focus on infrastructure and extending the grid — a necessary but slow process — communities are finding their own answers. Basic solar lighting for a health clinic saves lives.
A doctor I spoke with in the Democratic Republic of the Congo runs a clinic serving a community of 250,000 people on an island in Lake Kivu, south of Goma. His clinic received a We Care Solar suitcase. On the very first night of using the solar solution set in the suitcase to light the clinic, two women’s lives were saved during childbirth because the doctors could see what needed to be done.
Shortly after, the village had a cholera outbreak. For the first time in their history no one died because the nurses could see patients coming in during the night, and immediately insert IVs and provide other life- saving interventions. He said they saved 60 lives of people in the first month of having the solar suitcase.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, no silver bullet. There are many companies out there providing tailored approaches for communities, and solar solutions have been well-received and have a long life span. In the developed world we say that solar power is for the rich, but in the developing world, it can be the most economical solution for providing electricity for poor communities.
When you put in a solar-system, as long as it is carefully maintained, it’s at least a 20-year solution., We also have some schools with a small wind turbine installed that provides light for s the school at night and allows it to be used for adult education.
One school in a remote coastal community in Eastern Nicaragua has a community cell phone charging service. The funds raised go back into supporting the school and the villagers have life-saving communication with local, but hard to reach, medical facilities.
How You Can Power the World
Here is how you can help! We Care Solar are working with rock band Linkin Park to spread the word about simple energy solutions, like the solar suitcase, that change communities and brings all of the facets of sustainability into closer reach.
Are you a blogger interested in sustainability? Mashable, the 92nd St Y and the UN Foundation are coming together for Rio+Social, a one day social media gathering to explore and fuel the grassroots conversations surrounding Rio+20. Learn more and register here.
Richenda Van Leeuwen, a global expert on energy access and poverty issues, has over 20 years of executive management experience with the UN, private sector and non-profits on several continents. She currently serves on the board of SELCO India, a leading renewable energy social enterprise focusing on energy solutions for poor families in India. She is a step-mom of two adult children and enjoys being a youthful “granny” to five energetic boys.
Take the ChallengeEvery 90 seconds a woman needlessly loses her life in pregnancy or childbirth. But 80% of these are preventable. Take action now:
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