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Light shines for poor families in the Philippines

Of the 60 million Filipinos who live in the urban centres of the Philippines, over two-fifths (around 27 million) live in slums or shanty-towns. Though most households have access to clean water and sanitation, houses are often built of poor materials.

And with their corrugated iron roofs, they can be dingy inside. Now, in some of Manila’s slum neighbourhoods, plastic bottles are appearing on the rooflines of shanties. These simple devices are bringing light into the homes of some of the poorest families in the Philippines.

The one-litre plastic bottles are filled with water and also a little bleach, which keeps the contents clear of algae. Through a scheme called ‘A Litre of Light’, the bottles are being installed into roofs across Manila. A hole is cut into the corrugated iron and the bottles are fixed in with rivets and sealant. Once in place, they reflect the sunlight into the room of a shanty house. Because the sun’s rays are so bright in the Philippines, the bottles provide 55 to 60 watts of clear light. And since the light is refracted over the room, they replace the need for a light-bulb. The idea was the brainwave of a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and similar schemes are also being tried in the Middle East and Brazil.

Over 10,000 bottles have now been fitted in Manila and this simple form of renewable light is benefitting the city’s poorest citizens. Reuters spoke to some of the residents in the ‘Litre of Light’ programme. Erlinda Densing, a mother of eight, said that her 20 metre home is now illuminated by a bottle which brings the same brightness of light as a light bulb. When asked by her neighbours about the fitting, she assures them it’s “only water”. Another Manila resident, Lileta Paningbatan, has had bottles installed in both her home and the small store which her family runs. She reported that since having the bottles, she hasn’t needed to turn on any light bulbs during the day and hopes to save around 23 dollars on electricity each month.

Installed in less than an hour, one bottle can give clear light for around five years before it needs replacing. In one Manila slum, over 200 volunteers from schools and private companies installed bottles for in the homes of around 2,000 families. These residents will save around 18 dollars a month on electricity, money which can now go on food. And with growing demand for energy, the scheme not only benefits poor families, it also helps the government of the Philippines, which is dependent on fossil fuels for its energy requirements.

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