Using micro-hydro power for irrigation and energy in Nepal

Oxfam Food & livelihoods, Innovation, Water


Could micro-hydro power bring sustainable energy to remote villages around the world? Public Health Engineer Anjil Adhikari explains how Oxfam has been involved in bringing electricity to a village in Nepal through a micro-hydro project.

Until two months ago Jayathala village in Darchula District Nepal had no electricity. At night they burned Jharro (resin soaked pine wood) for light, and burnt firewood to cook food. The consumption of firewood led to deforestation and soil erosion and the burning of firewood severely impacted the health of those preparing food. Children’s eyes got affected by studying under the dim lighting. The attendance of children in school was also low because they had to spend so much time collecting firewood.

It was against this background that Oxfam in collaboration with a local NGO, Sankalpa Darchula,  implemented a project to bring both electricity and irrigation to the village. They upgraded the existing irrigation canal to use it as a head-race canal for a micro-hydro power system which is now providing energy to 54 households.

The project was implemented by Sankalpa Darchula while the technical installation was done through a construction company. Beside providing electricity to the communities the project also irrigates the agricultural land surrounding the village, thereby helping to  improve livelihoods.

The entire project was led by local women who are not only actively involved in the operation and maintenance  of the system but also in fund management and providing guidance on the scheme to the community.

School children like 15 year old Nirmala Mahara (pictured), can now study properly at night and women have the option to use the electricity for cooking, saving time and improving the family’s health. Deepa Mahar told Oxfam, ‘we had never hoped our life could be this easy’. Krishna Mahar said, ‘I am glad Oxfam supported us to supply electricity in the village. Now, I can think of many
enterprises we can start’.

The locals have already started operating an electric mill to grind their products, which also saves time. With the sustainable and increased water quantity in the fields it’s to be expected that productivity will also rise. It’s also possible that seasonal migration might come down as life in the village improves.

The large scale earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015 delayed the project implementation, but the team managed to overcome access difficulties and worked tirelessly with the local community to make the project a success.

Success has relied on planning and integrating the programme into the local context. Community involvement, women’s leadership, having a clear business model, as well as having technical and financial support, have all been key. We’re confident that the micro-hydro can now be managed sustainably by the community.

This scheme is a new avenue for Oxfam in Nepal, and I’m not aware of other NGOs who have implemented similar projects here, the potential scope for replicating this idea in areas with similar terrain is huge. Watch this space.

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Author: Anjil Adhikari
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.