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Shedding New Light for Sri Lankan inland fishermen

Solar Powered LED Lamps Nagenahiru LLBCP web

As night falls on Madampa Lake, in Sri Lanka, a small constellation of stars flutters across the still waters. They are the lanterns of local fishermen casting their nets in search of the prized shrimp. Until recently, these lamps burned kerosene – a fossil fuel that damages the fishermen’s health, pollutes the air and warms the planet, and takes up to 30 per cent of their income. But now a new light is shining on them – LED lamps powered by the sun.


The twin lakes of Madampa and Maduganga, located in the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, are one of the country richest areas in terms of biodiversity. As many freshwater ecosystems around the world, the lakes are also a vital fishery for the local community, providing both food and jobs.


There are nearly 45,000 inland fishermen in Sri Lanka who use traditional kerosene lamps for fishing during the night – a combustible hydrocarbon liquid which is derived from petroleum.


The socio-economic cost of kerosene consumption


Using a kerosene flame during windy and rainy weather poses challenges for fishermen, including sudden spills of kerosene oil into the water, inadequate illumination, and flame extinguishment.


More importantly, the World Health Organization considers kerosene a polluting fuel, as its smoke contains high levels of harmful particulate matter – even when used outdoors, long-term exposure to this fumes has led to respiratory issues among fishermen.


It is also a huge burden for their household economy – with the rapid increase in world crude oil prices, each fisherman now spends about 30% of their family income to purchase kerosene.


Reducing carbon emissions


As a fossil fuel derivative, burning kerosene releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. Every night, each fisherman consumes around 3-3.5 liters of kerosene per night – Nagenahiru Foundation estimates that night fishing with these traditional lamps in Sri Lanka emits over 60 million kg of CO2 into the atmosphere per year.


To reduce the local communities’ dependency on this polluting fuel, the Nagenahiru Foundation has been working to introduce solar-powered LED lamps in different areas of the country, as an innovative and sustainable solution that addresses this social, health and environmental problem.


Given Sri Lanka’s abundant sunlight, the solar-powered LED lamps offer an environmentally friendly alternative, replacing kerosene dependency among the fishing community. These lamps, equipped with 30W photovoltaic cells and 12V, 7A Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries, can provide up to 20 hours of illumination when fully charged.


As part of the Living Lakes Biodiversity and Climate Project (LLBCP), Nagenahiru has been able to expand this work, producing 4,000 solar LED lamps and distributing 2,000 yearly.

“The initiative aims to reduce carbon emissions, enhance environmental sustainability, and alleviate socio-economic burdens on the fishing community. Fishermen have embraced the new lighting system, appreciating its cost-effectiveness and reduced environmental impact”, says Sajeewa Emmanuel, project lead at the Nagenahiru Foundation.


The community involvement aspect is a key component of this initiative. Fishing leaders have taken on the responsibility of maintaining solar lamps, undergoing skill development with the support of Naganahiru Foundation. Awareness programs have played a crucial role in educating the community about the importance of addressing global climate change.


With six service centers established for technical support and capacity building, the project ensures the proper management and maintenance of the solar lighting systems. This approach has not only improved the standard of living for approximately 4,000 people across 850 households, but has also created a sustainable model for the fishing community.


Naganahiru Foundation, in collaboration with LLBCP, envisions expanding the distribution of solar-powered LED lamps to fishermen’s families island-wide and to rural communities in 10 selected areas in the coming year.


“This effort underscores the foundation’s commitment to illuminating local lives and protecting Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, while contributing to solve critical global issues”, says Sajeewa Emmanuel.

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