For the more than 1.8 million people squeezed into Gaza, a territory about twice the size of Washington DC, chaos has always infringed on the daily rhythms of life.
But the latest conflict with neighboring Israel has compounded the misery of many. Since Israel began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8, about 520,000 people in the small, impoverished territory have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations. That is 29% of the territory’s inhabitants!
The United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, an already crowded and impoverished territory.
And after Gaza’s only power plant was hit, residents are without electricity. Without refrigeration. Without water pumps and sewage systems.
At the main hospital, already stretched by weeks of fighting that left close to 1,900 people dead and thousands wounded, a pair of mega-generators powered crucial life-support equipment.
“We cannot supply electricity to hospitals or water pumps or sewage treatment or for domestic use,” Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority in Gaza said. “People have to pump the water to the residential tanks but don’t have electricity.”
Jamal Derdsawoi, a representative of Gaza’s electric company, pointed at Israel. “By attacking the power plant and cutting the electricity, they’re killing the civilian life in Gaza,” he said.
The United Nations has said that a deliberate strike on the plant would be a violation of humanitarian law.
How might the world’s poorest continent go green? Kwabena Otu-Danquah’s job is to crack that riddle. The renewable energy czar for Ghana ranks among the handful of bureaucrats across Africa tasked with picking which forms of green energy might prove affordable on a continent where most people don’t pay for the electricity they sometimes receive.
Last year the Ghanaian parliament signed a pledge to derive 10 percent of the country’s electricity from alternative sources come 2020.
Sun? Forget it. Solar costs 40 cents to 50 cents a kilowatt hour, while Ghanaians pay just 5 cents to 10 cents for electricity from conventional sources. Wind? Too slow. Breeze ambles through this tropical doldrum at a leisurely average of five kilometers an hour (3.2 miles per hour).
That’s forced Ghana to consider a more imaginative set of choices. Among them, sewage. Flush with a $1.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, local Waste Enterprisers Ltd. is building Ghana’s first “fecal sludge-fed biodiesel plant.” That’s longhand for cooking human excrement into generator fuel, Chief Operating Officer Tim Wade explains. The transformation would serve a dual purpose. Open sewers sweep 1,000 tons of slurry each day into the ocean off Accra. Outside the upland city of Kumasi, roughly 100 trucks dump tens of thousands of liters of septic tank sewage daily into what used to be a small pond.If all goes according to plan, next month one truck a day from Kumasi will dump its payload into a warm and massive vat that will skim lipids – fat – off the top. “That’s your biodeisel,” he explains.
At $7 a gallon, he can sell the muck to local mining companies, who are keen to buy because they too have been required by parliament to power 10 percent of their private electric plants from green sources. Normal diesel does sells a few bucks cheaper, he admits, “But we’re still optimizing the process.” If he can get costs down, Mr. Wade intends to build four plants in Accra and lecture sub-divisions back home in Colorado on the folly of treating their waste.
This week, engineers, philanthropists, media and more from around the world will gather at the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle for the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair,” a $3 million project funded in grants by the Foundation that will showcase revolutionary new toilets that don’t need water, electricity or even a connection to a sewage system.
The goal of the project is to help improve the lives of the 2.6 billion people in the third world who do not have access to a toilet.
Lack of access to proper sewage can expose people to deadly diseases, and as Bill Gates notes on his blog, “we need new ideas to help reduce disease and find new ways to turn crap into valuable stuff, like fuel, fertilizer, and fresh water.”