Sharing the (Solar) Light

Sharing the (Solar) Light

Electricity is a luxury in rural Bangladesh. More than 80% of the country’s rural population is off the grid, and light — from hazardous kerosene lanterns — is a precious and expensive resource.

During the rainy season — which seems to get longer each year — local farmers struggle to keep farms intact as melting glaciers in the Himalayas and unusually heavy rains cause rivers to flood and sea levels to rise to unprecedented levels. In such conditions, day-to-day activities become a struggle. Schools are often canceled for months at a time as families become transient.

Architect-turned humanitarian Mohammed Rezwan, a 2009 Tech Award laureate, is helping people adapt by bringing much-needed services — “boat schools,” healthcare and solar-powered lanterns — to them. As the founder of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a humanitarian organization, Rezwan takes a pragmatic view, “We have to do what we can to help the Bangladesh people adapt to climate change. If we want to live here, we have to learn to live on the water.”

Presented by Applied Materials, the Tech Awards recognize innovative uses of technology to benefit humanity. Every year for the past eight years, the Tech Awards has honored innovators who use their technology ideas and talents to benefit humanity.

Rezwan’s invention, the Surya (sun) hurricane lantern, is fast becoming an indispensable tool. Every day, while the children attend school on flat-bottomed boats, rain or shine, the Suryas are charged by solar power. When school is out, the students take their charged lanterns home to light up their homes, providing a vital service for their families.

Each year, 100,000 people are displaced by water in Bangladesh, and scientists predict the situation will get even worse: By 2050, as many as 20 million people will be global climate refugees. Mohammed Rezwan’s enlightened approach to addressing this crisis is a shining example of what one person can do to change the world — one solar lantern at a time.

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