By Mark Kawalya
Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp, the second largest in the world, is home to more than 270,000 refugees, most of whom are from South Sudan. The camp is the location of a new initiative aimed at safely removing e-waste from solar lanterns and the batteries that run them. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the program will be a source of training and jobs for the camp’s residents.
Refugees in the camp have a high reliance on solar lanterns but lack the skills to repair the lamps that have failed, or those that have missing components that have been repurposed to power mobile phones.
Parts of the lanterns that have not been discarded safely impact both the environment and human health negatively due to the cobalt, manganese, and lithium that are found in them.
The program, named “Greening Humanitarian Responses Through Recovery, Repair and Recycling of Solar Products in Displacement Settings” seeks to repurpose disused solar lanterns and batteries in a sustainable manner that supports livelihoods and opens up business opportunities for refugees and host communities.
“An important aspect of the intervention will be to educate communities about the dangers of poor disposal of solar products,” said Peter Batali, executive director of one of the project partners, the Uganda-based Community Technology Empowerment Network (CTEN).
Other organizations that are partnering on the project include BRIGHT Products, Total Energies Offgrid Solar Solutions (TEOSS) and Netherlands based Solvoz.
According to IOM and its partners, the pilot program will seek to set up collection and repair centers for the solar lamps and kick off training for seven technicians that will test, repair and assemble lithium-ion batteries. An assessment will also be carried out on how the project can be up-scaled and replicated in other areas.
TEOSS also has a plan for a facility that will be used to repurpose battery packs that cannot be repaired into sources of power for businesses and homes.
“This project is going to greatly contribute to reducing e-waste in Bidibidi,” said Sanusi Tejan Savage the IOM Chief of Mission in Uganda. “The lessons from this pilot are going to influence future interventions that will focus more on the environmental sustainability of solar items.”