Ending blackouts on the border

Ending blackouts on the border

Border patrol schools in Prachuap Khiri Khan are struggling to operate as stable supply of electricity remains elusive

The solar energy system is described as a graveyard because some batteries have broken down. (Photo by Thana Boonlert)
The solar energy system is described as a graveyard because some batteries have broken down. (Photo by Thana Boonlert)

Due to their geographical isolation, two border patrol police schools in Prachuap Khiri Khan have been struggling to distribute food rations to their students, many of whom are members of the province's ethnic minorities. In a bid to help improve their living conditions, the German Embassy in Thailand -- through its Micro Project Scheme -- has delivered solar-powered refrigerators to schools in frontier zones.

"They [border patrol officers] had to weather stormy conditions just to ensure the students have enough food to eat. They would drive from the villages to the market in town every week," said project coordinator, Krittin Pimmok.

"In the rainy season, they would go through muddy jungles, which are steep and often prone to floods."

Mr Krittin then came up with the idea of installing solar-powered fridges in schools along the Thai-Myanmar border and wrote a proposal to seek sponsorship from the embassy.

"These are just more than fridges, because they held ease the burden of those who live in remote areas," he said. "Do you know that meat can cost up to 2,000 baht per five kilogrammes, if we take into account the cost of petrol and refrigeration?"

The fridges do not only benefit the staff and students, as the entire community can use the fridges to store their food supplies and medicines. "These supplies are often donated to members of the armed forces families stationed around the area," Mr Krittin told the Bangkok Post.

To follow up on the project, the German embassy arranged a trip to Ban Phamak and Ban Tha Wang Hin Border Patrol Police schools.

"The scheme is aimed at supporting small-scale projects to improve the living standards of those in need," said Alexander Raubold, the counselor of economic and commercial affairs for the German Embassy in Thailand.

"These solar generators allow us to offer a solution without the need to install an entire power grid," he said. "They are also environmentally friendly."

In short supply

Although the installation of a solar-powered refrigerator has made life easier for Ban Phamak students, more panels are needed to power up the school's computer room.

"Right now, the room is a museum where old computers sit idle gathering dust," said the school's headmaster, Pol Lt Capt Pattanasak Pattanapongsa, before adding the four solar-powered generators provided by the government are simply not enough to meet the school's energy demand.

"Some of them have broken down, so we've had to resort to using petrol generators on overcast or rainy days," said he said.

"However, we have to use them sparingly as petrol is very expensive."

The headmaster then pointed to towards the school's dim classrooms.

"We rarely turn on the lights, because it consumes the electricity needed for other activities," he said. "We can use the electric kettle and the television at the same time, but as soon as we plug in the iron, the entire circuit will trip."

Ban Tha Wang school headmaster, Pol Lt Noppadol Hommuang, concurred with Pol Lt Capt Pattanasak, before going on to describe the school's solar panels as a "graveyard".

"These panels no longer generate enough electricity because their battery cells have deteriorated over time," he said.

"After all, they were installed some ten, twenty years ago."

Distance an issue

To Pol Lt Col Samritt Deenum, inspector of the Border Patrol Police Region 1, the lack of basic infrastructure is caused by red tape and distance.

"Remote areas are often neglected by politicians because there simply aren't enough voters in these parts," he said. "On the other hand, the absence of roads mean that some voters have had to travel far just to cast their vote, so many chose to disengage."

Furthermore, about 20% of the Karen in Ban Phamak are legally stateless. "Many parents did not register the birth of their children because they simply couldn't provide the required evidence," he said. "Without a nationality, they cannot vote and access aid."

"Border areas are taken for granted. City-dwellers probably wouldn't believe that some people still live without electricity," said Pol Lt Col Samritt. "In fact, there are people who have never even seen a power line."

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