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Without Light, Can There Be Life?

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Typhoon Haiyan disaster highlights the growth of a structural, sustainable solar revolution

The picture was heartbreaking and yet also a poignant reminder of human ingenuity and perseverance. Only a few hours after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, survivors managed to build a primitive wind turbine with debris wood, metal slates and cables. Desperately wanting to produce power to charge their mobile phones, they climbed a tree and mounted their makeshift device on top of it. Connectivity in disaster situations can save lives, and is essential for effective relief response.

The day after the typhoon struck, Mariene Donato, a Filipino expatriate now residing in The Netherlands stood at our company's doorstep asking if she could fill her suitcases with WakaWaka Powers. The WakaWaka Power is our super-efficient handheld solar device that both produces over 60 hours of powerful light and charges your mobile phone, radio or other USB-powered devices -- on just one day of sunlight. She had just learned that her family's house was destroyed. With her entire village literally disappeared from the face of the earth, Mariene needed to find a way to help her family and their neighbors. Without hesitation, the team at WakaWaka filled her suitcase with WakaWakas. Mariene's family lived in the area hit hardest by Haiyan. Payment was not an option.

Almost simultaneously with Mariene's knock on our door, the emails and calls from leading humanitarian aid organizations started streaming in. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) asked for a truckload. UNHCR requested 50,000 WakaWakas. One after another, requests from relief organizations flowed into Off Grid Solution. Within 48 hours the first WakaWaka Powers were on their way to Typhoon Haiyan survivors and the emergency responders - who also desperately needed them to even begin providing relief.

The requests for solar power after Typhoon Haiyan may seem typical now, but just a couple of months ago, few had thought of using these off-grid solutions. Now, relief agencies clamor for them. This shift is significant -- an indication that a solar revolution is at hand. Yet, the usefulness in disaster relief situations is not the only force behind this transformation.

Only few years ago the quality of LED light and solar power was poor and prohibitively expensive. But rapidly rising efficiency and equally fast dropping prices have brought us to the point that both LED and solar power can be deployed large scale, and increasingly to 'Bottom of the Pyramid' consumers eliminating the need for extensive, traditional electricity grids.

WakaWaka means "shine bright" in Swahili. The future of off-grid countries is indeed bright, thanks to the free, and democratizing solar energy they can now harness. No more noxious, dangerous, CO2-producing, poor and expensive kerosene for light or diesel for power generation.

A future long overdue when you consider the heavy toll of kerosene fires: 300,000 deaths plus 6 million people maimed for life. Additionally, the indoor air pollution from kerosene causes approximately 1.3 billion people to inhale the equivalent of two packets of cigarettes a day. And it is not cheap, costing families up to 20% of the already meager income. Until recently, there were no alternatives.

Now, hundreds of millions of children will be able to study safely after the sun sets. They won't have to flock around the limited light flickering off a toxic kerosene lamp. Girls will feel safer walking home and women will have more options to profit from working after dark. The financial savings from eliminating kerosene fuel from family's budgets will significantly raise disposable income.

Still in its infancy, the solar device market in developing countries is poised to boom explosively, causing massive socio-economic developments in unexpected places. Until then, solar relief in the Philippines is still urgently needed. If you're like Mariene and want to help shine a light on the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, join WakaWaka and our partners at the International Rescue Committee at www.solarforphilippines.org. Mariene Donato was able to help her family and a community of survivors start to rebuild, but her suitcase full of WakaWaka was just the beginning. As we write this, thousands of WakaWakas are on their way to help others as well. During the rebuilding they will discover they are entering an advantageous era of off-grid solar solutions.