Solar kits help improve health and safety conditions for displaced families in Iraq

DOHUK – UNOPS, in collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Iraq, this week began distributing solar-powered lamps and mobile phone charging kits to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

"The solar lamp and mobile phone charging kits will increase the safety of IDPs, especially women and children who may feel unsafe at night", explained Kareem Elbayar, Programme Manager for UNOPS.

Funded by the Saudi Humanitarian Fund for Iraq, the $15.7 million project saw the initial distribution of approximately 200 solar kits to internally displaced families that are currently sheltering in unfinished buildings outside the city of Zakho in Dohuk Governorate.

Featuring both a light source and charging capabilities for small electronic devices, the solar kits aim to provide better health and safety conditions for IDPs, with more than 100,000 expected to be distributed throughout the Kurdistan Region of Iraq by the end of the year.  

The concept for the project stemmed from experiences in another refugee camp, where a

similar lack of access to light in the evening emerged as a critical health and safety issue for many of the inhabitants. At night, women and children would routinely avoid taking the journey to water and toilet facilities, uneasy about walking alone in the dark.

"Ensuring access to electricity and lighting is crucial because most IDP settlements are located in areas without regular access to power, and a lack of electricity may have a serious impact on both the protection and health conditions of conflict-affected people," said Mr. Elbayar. 

While the rollout of the solar kits is currently in the pilot phase, Mr. Elbayar confirmed that the initial response from the IDPs who have received them has been extremely positive.

"We know that the kits were put to really good use right away," he said. "Women and children were able to make use of the sanitation and water facilities at night by carrying the lamps with them."

With two detachable lanterns and a mobile phone charger, the solar-powered kits appear to have also brought a small piece of happiness to the IDPs sheltering in the unfinished buildings.

"One of the IDPs, an older man, said that it was the first time he had been able to see his dinner in months," said Mr. Elbayar.

The children have been enthusiastic adopters of the solar kits. Mr. Elbayar noted that they understood "almost intuitively" how to set them up, and stayed up late playing together, excited to no longer be plagued with darkness at night.       

In addition, the kits closely align with UNOPS commitment to sustainability, offering a light-weight, portable and durable power source that enables the IDPs to easily use them when needed.   

"The nature of the crisis here is fluid, so we wanted to ensure that the IDPs had a mobile solution and could easily take the lamps with them," said Mr. Elbayar.

More than 850,000 people have sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since the beginning of 2014, with most going to the Dohuk Governorate. UNOPS is working closely with UNHCR to identify locations where the most vulnerable families have no access to electricity, with more than 1,000 sites having already been identified.