By Motebang Matsela and Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)
Many informal settlement dwellers have no access to electricity and are forced to rely on open fires, gas and paraffin appliances or candles as sources of light, warmth and energy. The resulting frequency of fires that ravage informal settlement homes throughout South Africa is well known. Gauteng’s Informal Settlement Network (ISN) introduced an alternative lighting option to community members in Gauteng settlements together with a team from ‘Litre of Light‘ Switzerland, who visited Johannesburg from 5-12 April 2014.
‘Litre of Light’ offers an alternative source of light through installing a 2litre PET bottle – that is filled with purified water and bleach – onto the roof of a structure. The water inside the bottle refracts the sunlight during the day and creates the same light intensity as a 55-Watt light bulb. With the correct installation and materials a solar bottle can last up to 5 years. The ‘Litre of Light’ is assembled by using cheap, durable and readily available materials. This enables urban poor households to access an affordable, environmentally friendly, long-term alternative to electric light during the day.
ISN representatives introduced the team from Liter of Light to community members in four Gauteng settlements: Kliptown and Naledi in Soweto (South West Johannesburg), Innesfree informal settlement in Sandton (North Johannesburg) and Holomisa informal settlement (East of Johannesburg). They had chosen these settlements because of the poor light conditions – many shacks do not have windows and those that do, only receive limited light due to the high density of structures in the settlement.
Over the week, the ‘Litre of Light’ team visited each settlement and workshopped community members on how to assemble the lights: a two litre plastic bottle is pushed through a steel sheet that serves as a metal lock to prevent the bottle from slipping. It is then embedded into a corrugated iron roof. A small part of the bottle is left outside while the rest of it protrudes into the room. After the initial demonstration community members proceeded to assemble their own lights. Each community installed a light in two structures. ISN community leaders are establishing the interest that was generated after this initial exchange – with a view to establishing how to move towards a broader vision of “candle-less settlements”.
The readily available materials and straightforward assembly process means that a majority of informal settlement households can install the light themselves. This also brings about a potential income-generation opportunity in the long term. Both ISN and the Litre of Light team hope to spread this alternative source of light, as a manner of improving livelihood opportunities for shack dwellers and minimising the risk of day-time shack fires.