Solar ovens and security

Children leaving the IDP camp to gather firewood
Photo by Ron Haviv

One of my former profs, Paul Farmer, gave a speech at the opening session of the Annual American Public Health Association conference earlier this month. A major theme of his talk was the need for pragmatism in the conception and delivery of public health and human rights. He was trying to drive home a very good point about what guarenteeing the right to health actually means in practical terms. It means that operating suites, sutures, clean drapes and generators need to be available in hospitals. It also means that food, clean water, and education need to be available on a wide scale. Paul’s overarching message is that you need a wide-angle view of the problem to find adequate long-lasting solutions.

I bring this up because Pete and I were having a discussion about how solar ovens could be useful in the refugee camps in Chad and Sudan. What does the right to security of person have to do with solar ovens? Well, women and girls are often harrassed, assaulted or raped when they leave the confines of the refugee camp to search for firewood/cook fuel. Providing them with an alternative fuel source/way of cooking could greatly reduce their risks of being targeted. (This of course does not deal with the larger issue of why such gender-based violence occurs, but could keep women safe in the short-term.)

The bottom line is that to adequately guarantee an individual’s rights, you need that wide-angle view.

FYI: Here is one solution that the UNHCR has tried. “To prevent violence against refugee women, UNHCR has put in place organized deliveries of firewood inside the camp, but some women venture out anyway.” Link. This last line unwittingly implies that “beyond all sense and reason, the women go out anyway”. The case is probably that the logistics of distribution make it difficult for get fuel to everyone when they need it the most. People end up making due the best that they can and unfortunately this includes putting themselves at grave personal risk.