BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan, July 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
A s the sun sets and darkness falls over a village outside
Bahawalpur, Shama Bibi switches on her solar lantern and starts
sewing clothes for an upcoming family wedding.
Not long ago, nightfall would have forced her to stop
working. But now with access to solar-powered lamps, Bibi can
sew as long as she needs to.
"The solar lantern has changed my life," said the
35-year-old widow and mother of three. "I can sew clothes even
in the night and earn enough to make both ends meet."
Bibi has recently become a "Light Lady", one of the women
that the Buksh Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Lahore,
has trained to help spread the benefits of solar energy
throughout rural Pakistan.
Under the foundation's project Lighting a Million Lives, in
collaboration with The Energy and Resources Institute in India,
women are taught how to operate and maintain solar charging
stations in their homes.
The two "Light Ladies" in each of the focus villages also
are given 50 solar lanterns to rent to others in their
The one-time cost of around $5,500 to set up a solar
charging station and set of lanterns is funded by donors.
Bibi says she charges a daily rent of 4 rupees ($0.04) per
lantern and earns around 5,500 rupees ($54) each month.
"I've started sending my youngest son to school as I earn
enough now to meet all the expenses," she said.
Villagers can also charge their mobile phones at the solar
station, instead of having to travel to Bahawalpur and back.
The foundation has so far installed solar charging stations
in 150 off-grid villages around the country and plans to reach
4,000 villages by 2017.
LIGHT BEYOND THE GRID
According to the World Bank, about 44 percent of households
in Pakistan are not connected to the grid. More than 80 percent
of those are in rural areas.
There, almost half of households use kerosene as a primary
or secondary source of lighting, a 2012 World Bank survey found.
Some use candles, due to the high cost of kerosene.
"Our target is to provide sustainable energy to far-flung
rural off-grid areas of Pakistan and we especially want to
empower women in these areas through the project," said Fiza
Farhan, CEO of the Buksh Foundation.
She said the solar lanterns not only are convenient and a
source of income for some villagers but also help reduce
climate-changing carbon emissions, as each lantern replaces
around 500 to 600 liters of kerosene during its 10-year
The foundation has a permanent help line at its central
office in Lahore to keep in touch with the "Light Ladies" and
provide them technical assistance round the clock, Farhan said.
She said dozens of people contact the foundation daily
asking for more solar lanterns in their villages and requesting
the installation of charging stations in nearby villages.
"More women want to become Light Ladies, but for the moment
we have been training only two women in each village," she said,
to ensure that each woman makes a decent income once the profits
MORE SOLAR, FEWER BLACKOUTS?
Qamar-uz-Zaman, a climate change advisor to the sustainable
development organisation LEAD-Pakistan, said Pakistan's energy
shortages could be reduced substantially if the government would
provide technical and financial assistance for sustainable
development initiatives such as Lighting a Million Lives.
Pakistan faces a year-round electricity shortfall that hits
around 7,000 megawatts in the summer. The country's rural areas
often suffer blackouts of more than 14 hours a day while urban
areas can experience up to 10 hours a day without power.
To tackle the crisis, the government needs to support
off-grid solar projects and encourage people to use renewable
energy sources to decrease the stress on the national grid, said
"The government can subsidise the projects by claiming
international climate financing and reaching out to
international donors to fund them," he said.
Gul Muhammad, 62, a farmer in the village outside
Bahawalpur, can attest to the benefits of solar energy. The
lantern he hires from one of the "Light Ladies" has allowed him
to cut the amount of kerosene he uses to light his farm, saving
him 350 rupees ($3) each month.
The availability of cheap, portable light also means he can
irrigate his farmland during dusk and dawn, times of day that
previously were too dangerous due to the presence of snakes in
"I can now work three to four hours extra on my farmland,"
he said. "And this is helping increase my income too."
(Reporting by Aamir Saeed; editing by Jumana Farouky and Laurie
Goering:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and
corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)