(Written by: Shannon Galpin, Mountain2Mountain) Green technology, renewable energy, sustainable and energy-efficient construction. These words are still cutting-edge in the West, but they are also integral to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
Most have gotten used to the idea that development work and reconstruction means ugly concrete blocks, built for function, not design. Many more take limited view that technology such as solar and wind power are novelties in a war zone, not necessity.
Yet function, design, and sustainability should be commonplace in development and reconstruction work. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a daughter of an architect that makes the above statement resonate so deeply. Perhaps its the love of the outdoors and tragedy of waste, and short-term, disposable solutions that pollute our environment. Regardless, its the approach I’d like to see in all development work. Work that most often takes places in countries that have the worst pollution, worst access to electricity, and ugliest construction.
Our goal with all of our projects within Mountain2Mountain is to run a green thread throughout with the intention of partnering with sustainable partners that can help us achieve our goals with sustainable, minimalist impact, especially in a country as ‘impacted’ as Afghanistan.
One of our first partners, GOAL ZERO, has launched an incredible product that addresses renewable energy in a portable package. Field tested in the Congo on humanitarian projects, they have found ways to provide reliable and portable renewable power sources that eliminate the barriers to progress. I now use their portable, Sherpa 120, a portable solar panel and power pack when I travel to remote areas, and its small enough to carry in my messenger bag or backpack along with my other necessities.
In supporting our projects, we discovered that we could use one of their other projects, the Scout Explorer Kit, to provide light for our midwives that live in rural village without electricity for nighttime deliveries. The kit looks like a thin briefcase with a thermos and two lights. The briefcase is the solar panel and the thermos is the power supply. The two lights provide adequate light for the midwives to work safely and save lives. The majority of rural deliveries in Afghanistan are done at home with no birth attendants, medicine, supplies, or light, and consequently Afghanistan suffers from the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. Mountain2Mountain takes a decentralized approach to the problem with a village-based training program for local women to become skilled birth attendants. Upon completion, we provide them with a basic birthing kit which includes the Scout to provide a reliable light source for their work.
Our other partner lies in the realm of construction. Innovida and IHFD partnered to help support the construction of our school for the deaf in Kabul. Using Innovida’s innovative green technology in the construction process ensures a quickly built, energy-efficient, and a green alternative to tradition building methods. They also create a designbuild based on our floorplan so that there is minimal waste of the building materials, but without creating a ‘big box’.
Creating an eyesore that is functional doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t add value. It doesn’t show a country its worth as it rebuilds.
IHFD’s use of GeoBricks for our security wall uses a new technology to address the traditional brick and mortar structural needs. The bricks are energy-efficient, fireproof, non combustible, fireproof, and bulletproof (a useful consideration for a security wall in Afghanistan) They are also providing solar, wind, and hydro solutions to the electricity issue prevalent in Afghanistan where electricity is still unstable at best, and non-existant in many communities. Diesel generators run constantly adding to the soot and petrol that permeates every breath you take.
Utilizing the solar, wind, and hydro solutions can provide our projects, and the Afghans sustainable energy for generations to come. In addition, they are working with Kabul University to set up a renewable energy degree so that future generations of electricians can have the skill set to not only install, but maintain country-wide solar grids.
Function, sustainable power, and design all covered in our approach. As we continue to find partners that can help us solve problems and build schools, it is imperative that we look forward to the future generations that will be affected by what we do now. Just because Afghanistan has been destroyed over decades of conflict, and needs country-wide rebuilding, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking at all the tools in our arsenal to build energy-efficient and sustainable projects that can endure for generations.