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Little Suns Brightening the Darkness in Ethiopia's Somali Region

16-year-old Kaira smiles as she opens the box containing her solar lamp. Examining it carefully, she pushes the button on one of the petals, turning on its bright light. Kaira is one of the 1265 women and girls in Ethiopia’s Somali region, who received a solar lamp from IOM, the UN Migration Agency, through a partnership with Little Sun, a global social business project aimed at bringing clean, reliable, affordable energy to the 1.1 billion people in the world living in off-grid areas without electricity. 

Still recovering from the 2015-2016 El Nino induced drought, which left millions in dire need of life-saving assistance, Ethiopia is once again suffering the effects of failed rains. Located near the Somali border, Dolo Ado and Dolo Bay are among the least developed areas in the country. With weak infrastructure and limited access to basic services, the two insecure areas have been severely affected by the drought.

Worsening conditions continue to deplete the coping capacities of vulnerable pastoralist farmers. Food and water scarcity coupled with increasing livestock deaths have contributed to nearly 60 000 Ethiopians leaving their homes in March and April of this year alone.

Displacement sites are often informal settlements characterized by makeshift shelters, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, and poor lighting facilities. In addition to harsh living conditions, security issues are a fact of life for all displaced populations, but women and children often face the greatest security risks.

Of the 456 081 displaced people in the Somali Region, 50 per cent are female. Often without the protection of family and communities they had before displacement, the women and girls can be vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. They are also likely to have specific health needs making them more vulnerable.

“It looks like a flower, I like it!” 

Halima, 20 years old, stares at the dusty horizon, thinking about her lost livelihood. Ethiopian Somalis are predominantly pastoralists rearing livestock such as goat, sheep, cattle and camel. With her husband, three children and a vast majority of her community, Halima moved to Dolo Bay displacement site hoping to receive basic assistance from humanitarian organisations.

 “There is no light at night and I use a battery-operated torch to carry out my household chores, such as washing clothes and cooking food,” she says. “The light it emits is not very strong and I have to buy batteries to maintain it - money I could use to purchase other things.

Women and girls often bear the brunt of household chores; daily tasks and activities can involve walking to water points, lavatories or sanitation facilities. These routes may be long and dangerous.

Household chores do not stop when the sun sets. Women and girls often rely on firewood, kerosene lamps and candles emitting toxic fumes, which can pose fire hazards to wooden-based shelters and the displacement camp at large.

In addition, lighting constraints can affect women and girls education, if they are not able to properly focus and study in the evening.  Kaira, who is a student, is finding it difficult to cope with the effects of the drought. “The lamp will help me study at night. It will replace the wood-fire, which is what I normally use for light when I read my school books,” she says. “My favourite subjects are Biology and English. I will read my biology book tonight – I want to be a doctor when I grow up!

Displaced recipients of the dignity kits wear the Little Sun solar lamp in Dolo Bay, Ethiopia. © Rikka Tupaz/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017.

When women are forced to leave their houses, they often only carry items which are thought to be essential to the family. They leave behind personal articles, such as clothing and female hygiene products. In Ethiopia’s Somali region, where an endless drought has decimated livestock and left families destitute, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) helps displaced families through these challenging times. With EU humanitarian support, they provide girls and women with ‘dignity kits’ among other items. The kits include Little Sun solar lamps. IOM’s Rikka Tupaz travelled to the south-eastern corner of Ethiopia and reports why light is so important.


By Rikka Tupaz, Communication and Reporting Associate, IOM @IOMEthiopia

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