Project update: Nepal Solar Water Pumping Project

August 18, 2016

Renewable World’s largest project in Nepal, Solar Water Pumping for Sustainable Livelihoods (Solar MUS II) has just completed its first year and communities are starting to reap the benefits. The project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, involves the installation of solar powered water pumps with multiple use distribution systems for communities in the hills of Nepal who otherwise would not have a reliable source of water for domestic and agricultural use. The Solar MUS II project aims to install 19 community-owned/managed, solar water pumps over the three year period benefiting approximately 5,500 individuals across 1,000 households in eight districts. By solving the acute lack of access to water within communities who live high above their water sources, households will be able to increase their agricultural productivity, growing high value crops in the dry season and improving their household income.

The first year of the project has been primarily focused on building strong foundations to ensure long-term sustainability. Capacity building and training of the regional teams and local partners has been a priority and Renewable World has held a range of workshops at the district level for local stakeholders. A major success has also been the development of a pro-poor loan product, the Renewable Energy Revolving Fund (RERF) in partnership with NMB Bank, who has agreed to mobilize the credit fund for this project. The RERF will become one of the funding options available to communities who will need to leverage additional funding to cover infrastructure costs. This mixed funding model means that communities will be supported to access different forms of finance which is appropriate to each communities’ needs, capacity and willingness to pay. So far over 3 million Nepali Rupees (approximately £21,000) has been secured by the selected communities from a range of funding sources.

Identifying eligible project sites and generating interest from potential communities has also been a priority this year. Over 160 communities have already expressed their interest in the project. Our regional team have completed pre-feasibility assessments with 78 communities to assess whether they are geographically appropriate for the technology and from these 20 detailed feasibility studies have been completed. The first four project sites have been identified and community level activities have started.

Across the four sites selected there are 283 households who will benefit from the improved access to water with a total population of 1,740. In one of the communities, a local school with 200 children from neighbouring communities will also benefit from the project as it will be provided with a drinking water supply. In another community, a local youth club will be supported and included in the training provided. A detailed baseline study has been carried out including household interviews with questionnaires focusing on household demography, income, health and sanitation, lighting and water source, and agricultural productivity.

Project Social Mobilisers have been focusing on ensuring all members of the community are engaged, have a good understanding of the project and are included in discussions. Mixed, women-only and youth-only Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were held in the sites. FDGs give different segments of the community a safe platform to voice their options and needs. Community mapping exercises have been held as part of the FGDs allowing for specific information such as the location of tap stand installations, and the layout of distribution systems to be explored in a more tangible manner. A public hearing was organised at each site where the whole community was invited to share ideas and opinions on the project. These activities are designed to be inclusive, maximise community engagement and clarify questions regarding the project to ensure the informed decision by the community.

In each community, Water User Groups (WUG) have been established officially and representatives elected. The WUGs are responsible for managing the technology and water distribution, setting tariffs and ensuring any financial commitment is adhered to. They are critical to the long-term sustainability of the project. In the next few months, governance and financial management training will be provided to each of the WUGs along with technical and maintenance training for the community technicians and training on climate smart agriculture techniques.

Construction of the water tanks and distribution networks has begun at each of the project sites. Over the next few months, following the monsoon, the solar pumping systems will be purchased and installed. It is anticipated that these first communities will have access to pumped water in time for the next dry season.

The project has faced some unanticipated delays in its first year, first due the April/May 2015 earthquake which delayed project inception, followed by political unrest and fuel blockade that was in place for over three months at the end of 2015 restricting travel for field level staff and most recently an extremely heavy monsoon which has delayed the installation of solar systems. Our team have adapted to these challenges by bringing forward certain activities and delaying others to year two. In year two, we aim to install a further 11 solar powered water pumps in communities across Nepal.