Switching on Lights, Saving Valuable Lives

Thanks to the SII project villages, schools, churches, and government offices can now rely on renewable alternative energy. Yet, hospitals and community clinics continue to be dependent on costly diesel fuels –puting at risk medical care for hundreds of thousands of people. For Investors and donors, Sumba’s 37 MW of untapped biomass and wind, solar, and microhydro-power is the perfect venture to jumpstart Indonesia’s alternative energy future.

The lights went out just as the surgeon was reaching out for his scissors. No one flinched. Everyone had gotten used to the daily blackouts at the 111-year old hospital; a flick of the switch and the generators will soon provide back-up power. Something was wrong this time, however. Maintenance staff reported that they haven’t got enough fuel. The medical team willl have to race against the clock to finish the 8-hour operation. “Loosing a patient because of power outage would have been unthinkable. Even if it was beyond our control people would still blame us,” recalls dr. Alhairani Mesa, Director of the Lindimara Christian hospital at Waingapu, East Sumba.

By the end of 2014 medical procedure was the least of her problems. Dwindling supply from state oil company Pertamina was choking the city to a standstill. Long lines formed at filling stations and distribution agents. 52,755 people living in the regency’s capital risked losing vital health care. Undaunted, the oldest hospital in the island resorted to a more contemporary means of reaching out –using their facebook page to plead to the city’s inhabitant to sell some of their fuel stash. “We managed to buy about 80 litres that evening,” she remembers. The hospital paid Rp. 8,000 to 10,000/litre –twice the official price.

And yet, Waingpau was more fortunate than most. Come evening, many still live in total darkness. Ina Panjanji, a midwife at Kamanggih village, recalled delivering babies by the light of a kerosene lamp. Unsurprisingly, the island has one of the highest maternal mortality rate in ASEAN: 305 deaths per 100,000 according to UNFPA/Susenas. “Sometimes we can already hear the death wails from afar”. Even survivors face a tough life. “Every morning you wake up with keroses soots up your nose,” says Markus Muama, a teacher at the Praimarada Lewa elementary school. Respiratory infections is a common health problem.

The SII project is slowly but surely turning that situation. By 2011-2014, Sumba’s electrification has reached 40% –up from 25% previously. Nearly 10% of that is powered by alternative renewable energy, including from 15,000 solar-cell pannels, 1,173 biogas installations, 100 units of wind-powered plants, and 12 micro-hydro generators currently installed all over the island. The resulting benefits are as clear as day. The micro-hydro plant constructed in co-operation with HIVOS and IBEKA at Kamanggih has since reduced the village’s maternal and infant mortality rates.

It is unfortunate that nearly all of Sumba’s medical centres remain dependent on the use of diesel-fuels –this, at a time when many schools, churces, and villages are turning to the use of solar-cell pannels. “We need 80,000 watts of electricity to run our hospital,” says dr. Alhairani, gravely. “What happen when we run out of fuels? Can we recycle human feces or the waste from our medical supplies into alternative energy?” A cry of despair that is both a challenge and an opportunity for donors and investors to join us and develop Sumba’s 37 MW of potential renewable green energy! (YS/FI)

Related Articles:

→ Prosperity from Clean Energy
→ Burying the Hachet, Harvesting Light
→ Carving Away on the Dark Ages
→ Changemakers & Social Transformers
→ The Enthusiastic Paksoy Farmers
→ From Crises to Innovations
→ Illuminating Sumba, Empowering Women
→ Sumba’s Collective Opportunities
→ 100% Renewable