Thursday, January 07, 2010

can solar help squatters?

The Times of London thinks so.

It's an appealing idea: The NGO SolarAid has organized a program to bring solar panels and bulbs to Kibera, a community where most people have no electricity, and those that do have illegal hookups that short out regularly and barely power a feeble bulb.

A few caveats and thoughts:

1. cost: "the panels and attachments were sourced in Switzerland, where a well-wisher subsidised them to bring the price down."

2. Though it's not clear whether this is with the subsidy or without, "they cost about 2,500 shillings," which, according to the article, is the cost of about five months worth of kerosene. That works out to be $33, which is a huge amount for most people in Kibera. After all, Josephine Anangwe, the mother who is mentioned at the beginning of the article, survives on her husband's 750 shillings-a-week salary. So it would take 1/4 to 1/3 one month of her family's yearly earnings to buy the solar set-up. This is similar to what I discovered about stoves when I was living in Kibera. I bought a set-up offered at the local Total/Fina gas station--$50 for a small stove and a bottle of gas. That single gas bottle lasted me almost three months. Over the course of a year, the gas bottles would be cheaper than charcoal and kerosene, which most people used to light fires for cooking. But few in Kibera had $50 to pay for the stove. So they continued to cook with charcoal and kerosene. And this arrangement made me wonder: the tiny burner and gas bottle that I used when I lived in a gecekondu community in Turkey cost $8. Why was Kenya six times more expensive?

3. Though I have no idea if this is true, one commenter pointed out that kerosene fumes, though toxic, serve as a mosquito repellent and thus help reduce the prevalence of malaria & dengue and other insect-borne ailments.

4. A communal charger--perhaps available at a church or through a merry-go-round (a group of women who pool money)--might be a way to bring down the cost for a family.


Cazalis said...

Robert, fellow photographer here trying to reach you. Saw your talk on TED and felt the same way. Though I could share some work. Been working on Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Osaka, Dhaka and Tehran

وزارة الإسكان الظل said...

Robert, I just read your article in the Herald Tribune on Haiti and have just translated excerpts from it into Arabic on my blog

I think it will sound very familiar to many here in Egypt and would serve to boost our confidence about how many go about doing the same actions you outlined on a daily basis in order to survive. They will be proud to know their so called 'informal' ways are being championed as viable in international media, a stark contrast to the criticism of local media.

rn said...

Thanks cazalis.....I'm not a photographer, though. Just a point and shoot guy.

And thanks SMH......this marks my first appearance in Arabic....FYI: today's Washington Post has an article on scavenging:

Eduardo Penalver said...

Sonia Katyal and I have published a book with Yale University Press, entitled Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates and Protesters Improve the Law of Ownership (2010) We are both fans of Shadow Cities (which we cite in our own book) and would love to send you a review copy. Can you please email me your mailing address? Mine is Thanks.

Tatu said...

Hello Robert just got back into the country- enjoying playing catch up with your blog.
I spent a few days in Kibera and a few days in other slums in Nairobi conducting research for my thesis and you are right that 2,500 shillings is well above what the local community could afford well well above! Meaning solar power would have to go in through NGO'S which in Nairobi is a whole other language of operation which doesn't always benefit locals to the capacity the aid was intended to.
The gas issue you raised was interesting, my family lives about 8km from Nairobi we tend to subsidize our electric cooker with gas which may be affordable to a middle class family but would be hard for low wage earners esp. those in the informal sector. why would gas cost more in Kenya though??? This i would like to find out!

eniva vibe said...

I am hoping for this city to improve. Hopefully their government is not a curropt government.

وزارة الإسكان الظل said...

This article from local paper Al Masry al Youm would say yes, solar can help squatters, hand made solar that is.
Home-made solar water heaters and methane-from-decaying-garbage.