Pakistan has brought electricity to 365,000 villagers in the remote Kalam valley by working with a non-profit to install micro-hydro schemes. The Sarhad Rural Support Program trains communities to oversee and manage the plant, then transfers ownership, giving locals a sustainable source of income. The project has helped women work for the first time, children perform better in school and the isolated rural community connect with the outside world.
Results & Impact
The Sarhad Rural Support Program has built 189 community-owned hydro-electricity plants, which gave 365,000 rural villagers electricity access for the first time. The project has employed 570 people directly, and provided countless others with indirect income by supporting once stagnant industries like tourism
Sarhad Rural Support Program, government of Pakistan, the EU
Sarhad Rural Support Program works with established local groups to gauge the viability of a hydro-electricity scheme, then establishes community groups to manage the plant, select staff, set tariffs and collect revenue. The SRSP oversees operations initially – one year for a small plant; six for a large one – then ownership is transferred to the local power community. The SRSP builds the plants, which are funded by the Pakistani government and the EU
Rural population, low-income people
Cost & Value
Each hydro plant costs $1,300 to install
Running since 2004
The SRSP initially faced resistance from community members, who had had negative experience with electricity installations in the past. The SRSP had to work closely with the villagers to overcome opposition, which they did by being transparent about financing and consistently meeting delivery deadlines
The program is currently being expanded with 238 additional schemes across northwest Pakistan, which will bring the total number of people provided with electricity to 760,000
Pakistan has given 365,000 rural villagers electricity access for the first time by working with a non-profit to install 189 community-owned micro-hydro schemes.
The hydro-power scheme has allowed health clinics, communications networks, businesses and schools in northwest Pakistan’s isolated Kalam region to thrive. Prior to the project, which began in 2004, heavy snow, frequent earthquakes and chronic political instability left Kalam in the dark. The project brought power to 51,000 households in the region, 90% of which never had electricity before.
“The program has made a big difference in improving people’s quality of life. It eases a lot of tensions in the house when you have light: women can use different gadgets – ironing, heating and cooking – and children can study at night,” said Masood Ul Mulk, the CEO of the Sarhad Rural Support Program (SRSP), which initiated the project. “All these sort of things make a difference. Suddenly, these towns had a higher wattage of electricity, allowing small businesses and new enterprises to function.”
The SRSP is a non-profit consortium of partners that has worked with communities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan since 1989 to develop better education, health and sanitation infrastructure. The SRSP also mediates civil conflict, and has been instrumental in reconstructing overburdened villages after debilitating natural disasters.
The SRSP recognised firsthand how the region’s lack of electricity was holding back progress, and formulated a plan to generate sustainable hydroelectricity from Kalam’s ample rivers – all the while providing income and employment to low-income residents.
“It has helped alleviate poverty in rural areas of Pakistan,” said Ul Mulk. “We set up a social enterprise system through which we put extra fees into a common fund used for community development projects, such as improving local health centres or vocational training programs for youngsters.”
Working with community organisations is an integral part of the SRSP’s long-term agenda: it collaborates with 800,000 people in 33,000 informal neighbourhood groups throughout Pakistan. The non-profit worked with pre-established groups in the Kalam region to identify demand and profit potential, as well as land and water rights. If the SRSP’s technical team approved the scheme’s viability, the organisation helped villages form a ‘power community’ that is trained to oversee and own the scheme. Each power community learns to manage the plant, select operations and maintenance staff, set tariffs and collect revenue.
The SRSP surveys the site, and designs and builds the hydro plant using donor funds from the Pakistani government and the EU. Installing each hydro scheme costs, on average, $1,300.
The organisation uses high quality, Pakistan-made turbines with metered connections to homes, businesses and communities. The hydro schemes collect falling water from rivers to rotate turbines, which generate electricity that is distributed through overhead lines to individual homes. Each customer is given a circuit breaker that measures consumption. Households have an electricity contract with the power committee, paying an initial fee of about $20, followed by a monthly fee that varies per electricity used. Electricity typically costs about $0.04 per kilowatt. Each hydro system has a capacity of 15 megawatts.
The SRSP oversees operation of the plant initially – one year for a small plant; six for a large one – then ownership is transferred to the power community. The community is expected to follow daily and monthly maintenance schedules, which include tasks like removing snow from power lines and keeping turbines free of debris. Because the SRSP is embedded in the community, it is always available for support.
The project has employed 570 people directly and provided countless others with jobs indirectly: electricity has helped other industries, like tourism, flourish for the first time, creating jobs in hotels, craftwork and fruit drying.
According to the SRSP, the effect on the Kalam community has been monumental. Hospitals and clinics now have proper lighting for examinations and procedures, and can run pathology tests and refrigerate vaccines. School attendance and performance have improved, as children now have light to focus on homework in the evenings. Women can use washing machines for the first time, which means they no longer have to spend six hours hand-washing clothes at a river. Women are also getting jobs in industries like tourism for the first time. People have access to phones, TV and the Internet, which reduces isolation in the remote Kalam valley and allows families to keep in touch. Working together on the hydro-scheme has strengthened community ties.
However, the program was not without its obstacles. “The whole project was a challenge,” said Ul Mulk. “The community is in an area where literacy rates are very low, and people tend to be argumentative about things. Their experience with electricity has not been very good, so they were not confident that someone could come and give them electricity.”
As a result, the SRSP had to slowly build trust in the communities, which they accomplished by keeping people closely involved in governance of the project. The SRSP was transparent about spending and funds, and made sure to deliver what they promised on time.
The SRSP works with a consortium of at least 32 international and regional government, NGO and private companies, including the government of Pakistan. In 2014, it had an income of $24 million –chiefly from donors and grants – and a staff of about 1,300, 61 of whom work specifically on the community hydro program.
The SRSP received further funding from the EU and Pakistan to expand the program to 238 schemes more schemes across northwest Pakistan, which will bring the total number of people provided with electricity to 760,000.
(Picture credit: Flickr/ResoluteSupportMedia)