More than 100 communities in rural Peru now have renewable energy and internet access, thanks to an aid programme that is being rolled out across the eight poorest nations in Latin America
Lea este artículo en español
The connection was not of crisp video quality, but the chorus of schoolchildren from San José de Huamaní, near Ica in the south, could be heard loud and clear: “Good morning,” they chanted.
Hundreds of kilometres away, they were greeted with applause, through video link, by a brightly lit conference room full of Peruvian and European Union officials. They were meeting in Lima to announce the completion of an aid programme that is taking renewable energy and the internet to 130 rural communities in Peru.
With funding from the EU, the Euro-Solar programme is being rolled out across the eight poorest nations of Latin America, such as Peru, at a cost of €36m ($47.6m/£30.9m). The aim is to benefit more than 300,000 people whose communities are not connected to the electricity grid.
Via satellite linkup, the Lima audience heard live testimonies from four isolated villages about how they finally had electricity posts that powered a school and a convenience store, and they could now store vaccines, purify water, use computers and surf the web.
“There’s more interaction from the kids,” said Teresa Uribe, a teacher. She spoke from her classroom, surrounded by her pupils who were all hustling to get a view of the computer screen at their end. “They now want to learn more, thanks to this technology.” She was happy, too, about the improvements to her school environment.
Each community was given solar panels and, in some cases, a back-up wind generator to produce its own renewable and clean energy. With the free EU kit, it could now run five laptop computers, a printer-scanner, a multimedia projector, an antenna for satellite internet connection, a refrigerator, a water purifier and a battery charger. Simple things such as charging a mobile phone or emailing medical lab tests to a central hospital could now be done.
Around 600 of these villages across Latin America are beneficiaries of the aid programme because they are not connected to the electricity grid. It is expensive to build one, and money is often in short supply in countries that have historically been poor with weak governance and high levels of corruption. One in four Peruvians lives without electricity.
But where national governments are not stepping in, Hans Alldén, the EU representative to Peru, says solar panels are a cheap and environmentally friendly way to fill in the gap. “To have a broader coverage of electricity is a long-term development objective for Peru,” he says. “But in the meantime, they can have access to this, as a demonstration to the world that you can do it with a rather simple technology that works with a clean source of energy.”
Just before the Cancun climate change conference last year, the European commissioner for development, Andris Piebalgs, said renewable energy was helping the poorest people meet their most basic human needs, such as going to school and having access to drinking water.
If cities can use computers and medical equipment, rural areas without their own generators can stay forever poor and underdeveloped. “Energy is an engine of growth,” he said. “Education and healthcare are limited because there is no electricity. So that means that the only way to really provide for the future of these people is renewable energy.”
In a video shown at the launch, one teacher from the Alto Napati community in the Peruvian central highlands said that her schoolchildren finally had “nothing to envy from those in the cities”. Most poor Peruvians live outside urban areas. “The children can now be connected with the whole world,” said a programme co-ordinator on Lake Titicaca in the Andes.
The Euro-Solar programme is trying to help in places such as Alto Napati, Sancayuni-Amantaní and San José de Huamaní. Similar projects exist in Africa, and they are now being implemented in Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador and four other Latin American countries. Like their counterparts in Europe and the US, the children in these communities can now search on Google and Skype with the rest of world. But most importantly, they can aspire to a better future.