By Erin Christensen, Youth Advisory Committee member
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many families and individuals in Haiti had their livelihoods destroyed overniAt-market.jpegght. Severe damage to both the agricultural and fisheries sectors meant the majority of the population lost their primary sources of income. In addition to these challenges, poor households in Haiti allocate a high percentage of their budget to energy expenditures, especially when they use poor-quality and energy-inefficient equipment.
Access to affordable energy is a daily challenge for families in developing countries. In rural areas of Haiti, very few businesses and households have reliable access to electricity. For lighting, Haitians commonly use candles or low-quality kerosene lamps, which can cause vision problems. For cooking, Haitians use solid fuels and inefficient charcoal stoves with poorly installed equipment. These widely used, low-quality energy sources emit toxic fumes, have adverse health effects for those who use them, including respiratory infections, lung cancer and heart disease. The fumes also to climate change and have other negative environmental consequences.
With these challenges and risks associated with energy insecurity, there comes an opportunity for humanitarian intervention, collaboration and innovation. Ultimately, the challenge boils down to this: how can we help Haitians to improve their livelihoods through affordable, clean and sustainable energy?
The Solution
The Canadian Red Cross has partnered with Entrepreneurs du Monde (EDM) to empower Haitians with income-generating opportunities, while at the same time providing access to reliable, high-quality and energy-efficient products. The project aims to increase access to clean, sustainable energy in rural areas of Haiti through a micro-business model and distribution networks.
Red Cross has partnered with EDM to provide solar lamps and cookstoves to entrepreneurs, as well as the training they need to effectively run a small business. The entrepreneurs then sell the products to individuals and families in their local areas. The customers receive safer, more reliable products to use that contribute to a higher quality of life, and the entrepreneurs form the basis of a sustainable business.
The solar lamps being sold are more reliable and of better quality than current ones on the market, and are backed by a warranty, the first of its kind in rural areas in Haiti. The cookstoves give off less smoke and consume less fuel, which lessens health risks in the home and reduces the cost of cooking. They are also made in Haiti, utilizing Haitian talent and providing manufacturing jobs.
One of the entrepreneurs supported by the project, Pierre Luc Lindor, comments: “I’m very happy to be part of the program. I really enjoyed the training I received, which allowed me to better manage my business. I’m proud to see family homes lit by solar lamps, and I want to keep buying them to grow my business.”
The entrepreneur training includes marketing and financial management, which provides vulnerable women and men with the opportunity to develop an income-generating business. Over half of those trained are women.
In less than two months, many sellers have held at least one information session in their communities to teach others about these safer energy alternatives and what they can do to improve health and safety.  This collaborative intervention has provided sustainable business opportunities for some, increased access to cleaner energy sources for others and improved the lives of Haitians in these rural areas in more ways than one.
Erin Christensen is a fourth-year Political Science and Economics student at the University of British Columbia. Erin’s current scholarship is devoted to understanding how international institutions can adapt to accelerate the transition toward an environmentally sustainable future.