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Dutch military blankets Uruzgan province with solar collectors

By Adriana Stuijt     Mar 10, 2009 in Environment
The Dutch military mission in Uruzgan province has become an enthusiastic promoter of green energy. Yet it started entirely by accident after its reconstruction team recently installed solar-collectors on the roof tops of three poor Uruz families.
The news of the unheard-of luxury of electricity spread through the region like wildfire - and within weeks, 12,000 families had signed up to get them too. The Dutch military had to rush through subsidy applications through various international aid-organisations.
Kickstarting Uruzgan for the 21st century:
They were in a hurry to get this military-civilian electrification project going. They plan to blanket sun-drenched Uruzgan province, population 17,000, in as many solar panels as they can get their hands on; kick-starting this entire region for a rapid entry into the 21st century.
An unnamed sergeant in the reconstruction team - the Dutch military only provides their first names -- tells the Dutch daily De Telegraaf that the first solar panels in this huge programme will be installed on area mosques. "That way, people can also meet there at night.'
Then the households will get their panels - but not on the rooftops it was decided: these could be spotted by the Taliban who undoubtedly would not appreciate such modern technology which moreover, was provided through 'cooperation' with the Dutch ISAF troops.
What does electricity do for a population?
Electricity is the road to many important improvements in the lives of human beings: it brings communication with the outside world, which in turn also educates such populations and help them get better health information. And nothing is more important for a nation's development than improved health. (See video above).
Such positive developments are in turn also paying off with tip-offs from local civilians. For instance, on March 7, a warning from an Afghani citizen living in Uruzgan led the Dutch military bomb-disposal unit to a remote-controlled road-side bomb, located near the Mashal patrol-base in the Baluchi Valley.
Sergeant-major Ton of the battle group and explosives' clearance service said the bomb, comprised of four Russian 82mm mortars, was probably targeting for Afghan National Army which patrols from Mashal base.
Their robot dug out the lethal device and it was disabled safely. And this was their third tip-off that week: "It's been happening more of late that the local population gives us tip-offs about buried explosives,' said Ton.
Minister Koenders of the Dutch development aid department said it's clear that the Dutch military are working hard to maintain this positive impact on the region.
On Monday in The Hague, he opened a military photo-exhibit called "Unheard Voices" at the parliament building to illustrate his claim that he had seen very clear and positive improvements since his first visit in 2007.
Military tasks are changing
"Military operations become increasingly complex,' he said. Military forces in such regions have to deal with a huge variety of 'players', from local citizens, religious leaders, town councils, local military- and police units; and international aid agency workers.
"In such a complex environment, the military mission must always keep all these civilian factors in mind in order to be effective. The commander has to know exactly which of his actions would have an impact on the local population, the authorities and the aid-agency workers.' see
"Our efforts have definitely created more trust among the civilian population. The activities in all the cities and towns are increasing, even though as far as I am concerned, progress still is too slow. The security situation is improving bit by bit, but we can't take the cast off the patient as yet,' he said.
He cites as one example the meetings of tribal elders in Deh Rawod, where a tribal elder chamber for women now also meets regularly. "At the last meeting in January, sixty women discussed their living situation and the possibility of earning an income, often they emphasized the often dire situation of widows.'
Only 4,000 girls at schools
Mrs Soona Niloofar, Uruzgan's women's representative in the Afghan national parliament, also went to the provincial capitol city of Tarin Kowt to attend the annual Women's Day celebrations this week. She issued a call to the people of Afghanistan to 'give women a chance to become economically independent'.
The position of women and girls are poor in Uruzgan - only 10% (4,000) of all the pupils are girls, for instance, she said. And those who suffer the most are widows and orphans, invariably left destitute after the death of male-breadwinners.
Joep Wijnands, who is the Dutch civilian representative of its "Task Force Uruzgan', praises the courage of these women. "They work under very difficult circumstances in hospitals, education and politics."
The Dutch are trying to help them by building girls' schools, training female teachers for these schools and setting up first-aid posts with female paramedics, he said. A new women's wing was added to the Tarin Kowt hospital to provide medical help only for women - and, because this also is one of very few places where women can meet without ' being disturbed ', it has also become a teaching centre for many of them.
Creating fertile kitchen-gardens
There, training programmes are teaching women how to become entrepreneurs and set up their own micro businesses, for instance a sewing factory. Other projects: teaching the women to create more fertile kitchen-gardens with chicken coops - the Dutch are experts in raising vast supplies of food on very small plots. This, they hope, will also help the country's many destitute widows provide for their own sustenance, and still have some left over to sell for cash. see
More about Uruzgan, Solar collectors, Green energy, Afghanistan, Dutch military reconstruction
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