Earthly Matters: Lighting Up the Delta

Nov 30th, 2014 | By | Category: Government Policies, Pakistan

547779d0496dcThe fisher folk of the Indus Delta are amongst the poorest of the poor in Pakistan. Many have to eke out a living on mud flats of the fan-shaped delta, where the river meets the Arabian Sea. They are completely dependent upon fishing for their survival, but now because of global climate change and the lack of fresh water in the delta, their lives have become much tougher as they battle against the rising sea which is steadily finding its way into the delta’s creeks.

Some settlements in Keti Bunder and Kharo Chan Talukas in District Thatta have already been engulfed by the intruding sea forcing residents to move inland. Access to education in the area is very low, with 90 per cent of the local population being illiterate. There is little access to electricity and an overall lack of clean drinking water.

In 2011, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Pakistan) began a project called the Climate Change Adaptation Project (CCAP) in the coastal areas of Sindh to build climate resilient ecosystems in the Indus region. In this initial phase of CCAP, 25 villages in Keti Bunder and 35 villages in Kharo Chan were selected for pilot projects. An early intervention was the introduction of solar panels, 18 in each locality.

In Yusuf Katia village, a small settlement of thatched huts built on a mud flat in Kharo Chan Taluka, the residents are excited upon the arrival of visitors. The five solar units installed in this village by WWF-Pakistan have literally lit up their lives allowing them to socialise in the evenings. “Our lives would end at sunset — it would be too dark to do anything once the sun went down. The kerosene oil that we used to light our lamps with would cost us up to Rs6000 a month which was very expensive. Now we get free electricity and can stay awake until later doing our chores even at night,” beams Safoora, who proudly shows us the solar charged light bulb in her home. “Now when I read the Holy Quran at night, I make a special prayer of thanks to CCAP for providing me with this facility”.

The kerosene oil still used by the other villagers is not only expensive but dangerous as well with its fumes and the fear that it could set their wooden huts on fire. Inside Safoora’s hut, there are no longer any tell-tale black marks on the walls and her home is neat and clean from the inside. Safoora’s family has contributed around Rs5,500 towards the cost of installing the solar unit, which can power two energy-saver light bulbs (one inside and one outside the house), and the attached battery to the solar panel can also charge a solar lantern and mobile phones. The cost of these solar units was around Rs45,000 each.

Her neighbours would like to have the same facility now; more than 200 people out of the 1,200 households in the village have asked for the solar panels, but the pilot project which installed the solar panels in 2013 is now complete. “So now, many people are actually going and buying a smaller solar unit (panel and battery) for around Rs10,000 and installing it themselves,” explains Abdul Ghani who also has a solar panel from the project in his house. “When I first contributed Rs5,500 for the panel to be installed, people in the village thought I was crazy but now they are going and buying it themselves! And every night around seven or eight of my neighbours come over to my house to have their mobile phones charged from my battery. Everyone in the village is benefitting and they have realised the value of solar energy”. He guesses that around 200 people in the village are now installing solar units themselves by pooling money, at least five small solar units have been installed already by villagers paying from their own pocket.

According to Abdul Ghani, solar panels and battery are easy to maintain; he cleans the mirrors on the solar panels every other day and if there is a storm coming, he wraps them up in cloth to protect the glass. For the first six months he says his solar unit worked perfectly, but then there were problems of a bulb burning out or a wire becoming loose and for that he had to go to the nearest town for repairs.

The CCAP project has now stepped in to fill the need for maintenance and repairs by starting a small medium enterprise which is basically a repair shop (one to be located in Keti Bunder town and the other in Kharo Chan town) which will do all the necessary maintenance, provide spare parts and even sell solar units. “It will provide an alternate source of income for the local people as well” explains Rukhsana Memon, the Community Deve­lopment Officer working for WWF-Pakistan. “We have bought all the equipment already and have trained the local people who will be working for the enterprise; we will open the two shops next month”.

The idea is to promote solar energy throughout the delta region. The solar units are by now well established and word has spread about their effectiveness and utility. As Hajjan Fatima, who recently installed a small solar unit in her home with her own money points out, “It was worth every rupee; everyone in the village wants one in their house!”

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