In September 2015, Paddy, Renewable World’s Fundraising Officer, and his friend Callum, visited Nepal on a personal holiday. Whilst in the country they took the opportunity to visit one of our Solar Water Pumping projects in Kaski District with the Renewable World team. Here are some thoughts and impressions from the trip.
By: Callum Winter
The Jeep shuddered and forced my body against the door; I looked out of the open window into muggy air and saw a sheer drop of around 50 meters down to the valley below. I clenched my fists and saw the blood rush from my white knuckles gripping the handle on the roof. I looked over and made eye contact with Paddy, the kind of eye contact that said: “What have you talked me into?!”
Several months earlier Paddy – a friend I have had since my time in University – came to me with a proposition; To travel with him to Nepal and visit one of the project sites that the charity Renewable World has established. I knew that this would be a fantastic experience so I did not hesitate to take him up on this once in a lifetime offer. I’ve worked abroad for charities in the past so I was confident that I wouldn’t be a complete nuisance to him and his colleagues. Today, I was on my way with the Renewable World team to a community sat high up on one of Nepal’s many hills to find out about the real impact of their work.
Through conversations with Paddy I already had some idea of the sort of projects Renewable World undertook and the great achievements that the charity has accomplished. The site we were visiting was located at Dhital, about a 90-minute drive into the hills outside of the city of Pokhara. It consisted of a set of solar-panels and a water pump which took water to the community on the hillside. It was known as SolarMUS (Multiple Use water System) and as far as I gather it worked by utilizing the energy from the solar panels to power pumps in order to transport water from a stream to a large tank closer to the communities’ dwellings.
Before the installation of the solar panels and pump, the villagers had to walk down to the stream and carry water by hand in buckets which had a capacity of 15-20 liters. I was told that livestock alone can require at least 40 liters of water per day, so in order to make sure there was enough water for the whole family that journey had to be made several times every day.
Apparently, one person in the UK uses an average of 150 liters of water per day. Granted, 30% of that figure is due to flushing toilets, but that still leaves over 100 litres of water. So if the Dhital community members wanted to use as much water as I do in one day, the journey to collect water in pales of 20 litres would have to be completed at least five times, and this does not include the extra 40 litres of water needed for every individual livestock. This is a task that is usually allocated to the women and girls of the village. With a minimum of five trips a day, each taking 20-minutes to complete, these women and girls must be short of time and energy.
The addition of the SolarMUS at Dhital obviously saved the community members a lot of time and a lot of effort, instead of having to walk to collect water each house had a tap within easy reach. But, it’s not just about saving time; there are other benefits as well. Better access to water has meant that a greater amount and a greater quality of crops can be grown. This in turn leads to a better diet and, the aspiration is, also to greater income. Health and sanitation are improved and water quality is preserved with less people congregating at a water source.
The purpose of the team’s visit to Dhital, which Paddy and I had latched ourselves on to, was to carry out field research and monitoring by conducting one-to-one interviews and holding focus groups, as well as to inspect the equipment for damage following the earthquakes earlier this year. As it turned out, a fuse had blown in the switchboard of the solar panels. It was explained to me that a strike of lightning could have been a possible cause. However, even something as simple as replacing a fuse can turn into a major obstacle for a rural community such as Dhital. It takes over an hour to reach the village in a four wheel drive from the nearest town, so I can imagine it could take days before a new fuse can be delivered or collected.
As I learnt through the rest of my trip, travel and accessibility can be a real issue to disconnected communities in the mountains. Whilst we were visiting Nepal there was fuel shortage brought about by border sanctions enforced by India in response to the recently published Nepalese constitution. Apparently fuel shortages are fairly common in Nepal but I can imagine that this only worsens the already difficult situation for these rural communities, cutting them off even further from the rest of the country and modern services.
Seeing the community at Dhital perched on a hill in such rugged terrain really made me consider the ease of my life in comparison. If I want to pop to the shops from my house it’s a five minute walk on flat tarmac, whereas the community at Dhital exists through subsistence farming of millet and rice in paddy fields on the slopes of the hills. Before the installation of the SolarMUS, even getting a glass of drinking water would have involved a 20-minute round trip. In the UK we are fortunate not to have to worry about these simple things and too often we take this for granted.
For me, visiting the community at Dhital gave me some insight into traditional Nepalese lifestyles, and it was a priceless experience. I’d like to thank the people of Dhital for allowing me to see their village and for their generosity in sharing their delicious masala tea. I’d also like to thank the team at Renewable World and Paddy for showing me the projects and answering my questions. It is an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life and for that I am very grateful.