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Solar solutions to IDPs’ cellphone charging needs at Jalozai

Tribesmen have begun exploring solar power as an alternate to meet their power consumption requirements during prolonged power outages in the Fata.

Studying in Grade-V in Para Mamoond area of Bajaur Agency two years ago, Qari Mulla, 14, knew nothing about the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

However, today, he earns a livelihood out of solar energy for his internally displaced family at Jalozai camp near Peshawar.

A blue thick polysilicon-based photovoltaic panel fetches him from Rs100 to Rs150 on a good sunny day.

Connected to a heavy-duty energy storage battery, the small solar panel is good for generating enough electricity for energising rechargeable batteries of dozens of mobile phones daily.

“This is what I do here,” said the teenager placing a cellphone on a charger hooked up to an iron nail among over a dozen inserted at some distance from each other on two parallel thin wooden blocks.

The nails, according to him, receive energy from the main grid (battery) through an active wire.

Mr Mulla said he charged Rs10 for energising a single cellphone battery, shouldering his father`s responsibility in earning livelihood for their displaced family living in a nearby tent.

He said the idea of setting up a cellphone recharging facility by using sunlight was floated by his paternal uncle, earning a livelihood during days in displacement.

“My father bought the panel from Karkhano market a year ago and set up this shop,” said Mr Mulla.

It cost his father Rs14,000 to buy the Chinese solar panel and another Rs3,000 to purchase the battery.

The sprawling section of the camp where they have been running the facility doesn’t have electricity. Hence, demand for the recharging of mobile phone batteries is but natural.

The teenager and his father are not the only ones making a profitable use of sunlight in the Jalozai internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp.

Some shopkeepers operating mudmade shops in a nearby temporary bazaar are also earning income by converting sunshine into electricity.

Johar Ali, an IDP from Mohmandagency, who owns and runs a small confectionary shop outside the camp, installed a solar panel and a storage battery some months ago after his family returned to the village.

“It helped me to remain connected with my family,” Mr Ali said, adding that he enjoyed the freedom of recharging his cellphone battery whenever he needed in the absence of electricity supply to the camp.

He spent Rs13,500 to buy the panel and a battery.

“I invested the money, and other shopkeepers are also benefiting from the facility,” he said. Unlike him, Mr Mulla is not enjoying the technology. He has lost his freedom to it.

“There was more enjoyment back in the village where I could play football with my cousins and friends, but now I have to sit here for the whole day taking care of others’ phone sets,” said the youngster.

It takes 30 minutes to energise a cellphone battery, binding Mr Mulla to stay put while recharging takes place. In case of a major system malfunction he has to get it repaired from Peshawar, 20 kilometres from the camp.

“At times, it takes a whole day to get it repaired,” he said, feeling nostalgia about his days in the Para Mamoond primary school.

The use of innovative ways to find solutions is not restricted to tribesmen living in IDP camps only.

Tribesmen with sufficient means have also begun exploring solar power as an alternate arrangement to meet their power consumption requirements during prolonged power outages in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

`The number of people inquiring about the panels has grown,` says the owner of a solar panel business in an upscale shopping centre in Peshawar.

According to him, a number of visitors from Fata showed interest in installing solar panels in their houses.

He said a man from Darra Adamkhel and another from Landi Kotal in Khyber Agency collected information from him for installing solar powered geezers.

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