Village builds own hydropower plant

The villagers get more than electricity; they gain confidence
The Micro Hydro Power produces 25 kWs of electricty which helps fulfil all needs of the 417 households.
May 2014, Bakroo: To get to Bakroo, one has to cross the river Swat twice by rickety bridges; the old ones were swept away in 2010 floods and new ones are still not built. The continuing fight against the Taliban and the instability it has caused is also evident from the numerous checkpoints one has to navigate. This is an area that has seen successive disasters, both natural and man-made. The two Afghan wars have ignited local sectarian, tribal and factional tensions, forcing the Pakistan government to launch, in 2009, a military operation which resulted in homelessness for two million people, serious damage to the area’s economic infrastructure, and the destruction and closure of many state facilities such as schools and vocational institutes.

The village itself lies at 6,000 ft and is hard to reach, vehicles can only go so far up the dangerous, rocky track which passes for a road. Then one clambers up a steep path along a fast, frequently overflowing stream which ironically has revitalised life in the village with support from the EU-funded PEACE project which has built a hydro power plant to provide electricity to the community.

When we reach the hydropower unit, the turbine is proudly switched on. All applaud. Though still lacking basic amenities, their optimism about the future is bright.

It all began back in June 2013 when the PEACE project team held a focus group discussion with the villagers about their needs. There were a number of issues but in the end they agreed that electricity was their greatest priority. The mobilisation process began, a Village Organisation (VO) was formed, and Rasool Khan was elected as President. A formal resolution was passed by the VO allowing PEACE to begin a feasibility study. It was completed 7 short months later, on January 10th, 2014.

The villagers themselves played a huge part. Thanks to their efforts, costs were kept to a minimum. They helped construct the facility, manhandled a one-tonne turbine up to the village and made and erected 45 poles to connect households.

The PEACE project assisted them by paying for the equipment and providing experts to help build the project and train the villagers in how to manage and maintain it.

Rasool Khan, a member of the same community, is now Operator of the turbine, fully trained to operate and maintain the system and implement the agreed billing system.

The 25 kWs the plant produces has dramatically changed how 417 households live. As Sardar Khan, a community member and father of five kids, who is particularly keen to make sure the young people get an education explains, “the children can do their homework late into the night, families can cook safely and television can be watched so they know what is going on in the world.”

There are other benefits, too. Mobiles remain charged so the villagers can communicate with others in the event of an emergency and no one has to worry about power outages. Wadood, a father of six, now back from Saudi Arabia is passionate about preserving the forests, in part to conserve the soil. As he points out, fewer trees being cut down to use as torchwood means less environmental degradation and fewer children getting sick from the smoke of wood and oil fires.

And it does not stop here. Some of the money they used to spend on oil is now put to better use: a community school will open on the 17th of May so children will no longer have to walk 5 km to the nearest school.

The community will pay the teacher’s salary from the money collected for the MHP generated electricity, much cheaper than the oil. A father of 10 kids and illiterate himself, Rasool Khan, has agreed to spare part of his house for use as a community school.

In learning to address one problem, the village of Bakroo is learning the tools to tackle others, too. Ultimately the project believes that by using a community-based approach and developing their capacity to organize and implement their own initiatives, the project is giving people the skills to get things done, thereby reducing the sense of alienation that has been such an effective source of radicalisation.

The MHP in Bakroo is one of over a thousand initiatives that will be implemented by the EU-funded PEACE project across the Malakand Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. The PEACE project will benefit 2.7 million conflict and disaster affected people.

Fact Box

Programme for Economic Advancement and Community Empowerment (PEACE)

Total Budget: EUR 39,000

Duration: October 2012 – October 2016

Community share: EUR 4,200

Without having to worry about power outages, all households chores are completed with ease.
“The children can do their homework late into the night, cook safely, and television can be watched so they know what is going on in the world.”

Sardar Khan, villager

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