New SMS, New Bulbs and New Roads for a New Life

I dedicate this article to my friend Bir.

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A girl in Godhasin

This is a story about development, this is a story about human lives, this is the story of Ghodasin, a little village in the remote Mid-Western Nepal.

The Development Context

Nepal is this little country located between two future leading world powers that are China and India, famous outside its boundaries for trekking, observing the highest Himalayas mounts and beautiful landscapes, with a magnificent population and a rich culture. It is simply the country where we can observe both the top of the world, the Everest, as well as an extreme poverty and misery. Indeed, Nepal is the second poorest country in Asia, after Afghanistan, with only $700 GDP per Capita, which is equivalent to an average of $1.91 daily wealth per capita. In 2010, the quarter of the population was below the $1.25 poverty line, most of them located in the remote areas.(1)

Figure 1: Nepal GDP Per Capita

Figure 1: Nepal GDP Per Capita

The abolition of the 240-year-old Monarchy in 2007-2008 didn’t have significant effect on the economic situation and Nepal development is unfortunately still slowed down by the political instability and several civil conflicts.

In January 2015, Nepalese political parties had to find an agreement for the Constitution Establishment, but selfish behaviors from the parties blocked any potential agreement. Many strikes were organized by the Maoist party in Kathmandu that issued on “zero-activity” situations. Many roads were blocked, stores, shops and restaurants of the Nepali Capitol had to undergo several threats in case they decided to open during these days. The economic activity was simply stopped by the Maoists to demonstrate their disagreement and their conviction in this “Constitution Battle”, leading to several injured people in conjunction with drastic reduction of government income during these protest days.

Moreover, the economic development of Nepal faces other important issues such as a rising inflation, an economic downturn since 2012 (see Figure 1) as well as a high uncertainty for direct foreign investment, which is mainly due to the political instability and the insecurity.

Nonetheless, several international and national NGOs or companies are daily developing social and environmental projects in Nepal so that the living conditions of the population in remote areas have seen important improvements during the last fifteen years. For example, KAPEG, Kathmandu Alternative Power and Electricity Group, is one of the companies that has been contributing for the development of Ghodasin and they invited me to follow them this winter for an electrification experience as well as a social and energy assessment in Jumla district (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: Jumla (pink district) and Ghodasin (blue mark)

Figure 2: Jumla (pink district) and Ghodasin (blue mark)

 The Ghodasin Village

The story starts fifteen years ago, when Ghodasin villagers lived without neither electricity nor facility at 2500 meters in the middle of Nepali mountains. Bir, a little 6-year-old boy, is playing with some friends. They play with this particular game that looks like a billiard except that there is no ball or billiard cue but they play with little wood discs that they bang together. Around them, you can see some dogs, cats, cows, goats, chicken and cocks that are strolling in the village.

Night falls as though by magic when Bir’s mother is in the kitchen preparing the diner, hardly breathing in this dense and dark smoke. It’s also becoming dark outside and Bir’s father is looking at the brilliant stars while he is walking on his way back from the nearest village, Urthu, the place where he is working as a teacher. The path from Urthu to Ghodasin is very steep and sloping, especially hard to take when the surface is slippery and covered with snow and ice. Even so, he is wearing classic flip-flop shoes, almost bare foot, to climb this hard path thinking about warming up his feet close to the fire once he will arrive at home.

Godhasin Village

Godhasin Village

Bir’s father is a lucky man, most of his friends are farmers in the village and they are seeking other jobs or activities whereas lands are not farmable during the winter. Some of them are doing these wool balls continuously during the day, everyday, like if it was their favorite hobby… or maybe their only one while they are waiting for a paid activity. Others are knitting different kinds of carpet with this same wool. A small part of those people living in the village spend some savings to go in Kathmandu trying to get a job there and earning some money. Only some farmer-breeders have the duty to stay in the village for managing their livestock and making sure that they will survive to the cold season.

Survive in this beautiful nature is not effortless and people need to adapt their lifestyle by developing several techniques and routines with very few resources. For example, nights are bloody cold during the winter. To be compatible with these extreme climate conditions, the houses were built with a mix of mood and stones, which are more fragile than cement houses but have these particular characteristics to charge the heat from the sunlight as well as from the kitchen fire during the daytime and to free slowly this accumulated heat inside the house during the night.

During the fall, every families try to gather as wood as they can for the fire. They have to climb the mountains around the village, cut some trees and bring down each heavy pieces of the trunk on their suffering back. It could happen that some “rich” families in the village pay directly someone ready to sell some wood pieces, but many trees are freely available on the nearby mountains and the common practice is to cut these trees and bring this wood fuel down to the house for covering the family wood consumption, which reaches a peak during the winter. In most situations, villagers don’t pay anything for energy except some kerosene for people using paraffin lights.

Concerning the other basic facilities, there is no piped water but the mother has to go down two or three times a day at the river to get sufficient water for cooking the rice, for drinking water, etc. to cover all the family needs. There is also no toilet but people have to walk until different empty lands close to the village. For the moment, people are building the future power house close to the river and electricity is not yet available. Bir must learn reading with his father by using the low fire light before or after the diner.

This situation was very common in the area when Bir was a child, but the time passed and the village has seen many changes during the last decade. Nowadays, the living conditions are in many instances completely different and the future perspectives are more encouraging for the new generations.

The New SMS

SMS ? Short Message Service ? No, we will not talk about text messages that are sent everyday on our cellphones. In Ghodasin, SMS firstly refers to Smokeless Metal Stoves that were progressively installed in each household during the last fifteen years. Nowadays for cooking, every household is using Smokeless Metal Stove (SMS) or Efficient Smokeless Metal Stove (ESMS) that are more valuable than the former classic fire on three main aspects.

  • Health: These cooking systems produce less smoke inside the house and by the way reduce asthma and coughs, especially for children and mothers. Furthermore, these kinds of stove are safer than classic fire as they reduce the risk of skin burns.
  • Environment: Firstly, SMS and ESMS are consuming less wood for the same heat, which is a good point for reducing deforestation. Secondly, the wood consumption reduction plays a very important role for reducing global warming since incomplete wood combustions create significant amounts of black carbon. In 2013, a report written by Bond et al. suggests that black carbon plays a much more important role in climate change than many scientists previously thought and that it is one of the main causes of faster glacial melt in the Himalayas. (2)
  • Productivity: SMS utilization allows important time savings. By consuming less firewood and producing a constant heat, SMS, and particularly ESMS, save fuel gathering time, cooking time as well as clothes washing time for the women, which are assuming most of the tasks in the family.

However, people are still using too much wood with the classic SMS and there is still a wood overconsumption issue in the area. There is now a community and government forest that are managed and protected for long term resources management, but some isolated forests are not well managed and people are still cutting trees to get their wood for free. In the long run, people still might face wood scarcity and there is an urgent need to replace their SMS by ESMS. A project for replacing old SMS can be justified with the same arguments as previously. ESMS are really more efficient than SMS and can improve environmental and social living conditions.

Classic SMS in Ghodasin

Classic SMS in Ghodasin

The New Bulb

On the Figure 3, we can observe an important improvement in electrical lightning access in the Mid-Western Nepal. Solar lights and electricity represent more than 60% of the lightning systems used in 2011 whereas it represented only 15.69% ten years before when the kerosene was the main energy used for lightning with 71.02%.(3) This evolution can be explained economically as the price of lightning with electricity is in short, middle and long terms lower than lightning with kerosene, especially in Nepal that has important hydropower resources.

Figure 3: Type of lightning facilities in 2001 and 2011 for the Mid-Western Nepal

Figure 3: Type of lightning facilities in 2001 and 2011 for the Mid-Western Nepal

In 1999, a Micro Hydro Power system of 12 kW was installed for 86 households first and then for the remaining ones for providing electricity to the entire population (145 households) in Ghodasin. This first access to electricity has conducted considerable improvements for lightning. These improvements dragged diversified positive social effects along such as on the education since a good light availability would allow the children, like Bir was fifteen years back, to do their homework in good conditions with high luminosity, especially after dark, as well as on health as replacing kerosene lights by bulbs reduced household air pollution due to smoke and burns of kerosene. Lightning households with electricity made them more productive and mechanically improved their living conditions in both short run and long run. Lighting is a fundamental human need.

The New Road

To enter the village, we need to trek approximately two hours from the biggest city in the area, Jumla. Despite the airport, Jumla is what we can call a “locally built remote city”. The road to access Jumla was inaugurated only three years back, in 2012, connecting Jumla with the city of Nepalgunj close to the Indian border in the South of Mid-Western Nepal. Before, some goods were imported in the district by flight, a mean of transport that was of course too costly for the majority of the population, especially as the flight sector in the area is a kind of monopoly.

This new road has conducted important reductions in transportation costs for many goods and facilities in the area. Today, this road allows many trucks to transport facilities and materials for several NGOs projects. Now, it is also possible to import basic foods like rice or fruits at a reasonable price, even during the winter.

Jumla market during the winter with imported fruits and vegetables

Jumla market during the winter with imported fruits and vegetables

To conclude with the transport sector, bus companies have created new ride options from Jumla and people can travel today faster than by taking the old paths and at lower cost than buying one of these expensive and limited flight tickets.

Conclusion

Bir is now 21 years old and he is studying Law in Kathmandu. If all these projects had not been done in the area by NGOs or social companies like KAPEG, this opportunity to become graduate would maybe never happen. Bir has the project to become a politician and he is already involved on many projects like in Urthu, the nearest village from Ghodasin, to implement a new library for improving education access and facilities in the area. His parents and Ghodasin inhabitants are now benefiting from piped water and latrines. Some farmers are enjoying greenhouses that allow them to farm during the winter. Every house has at least one efficient compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), most of the houses have a radio, 70 households have a TV, etc. To resume, facilities are more and more common in the village and the demand is very intense. I will always remember this 75-year-old woman that explained me that her dream was to get a TV to see the world in color…

There is are still some projects to conduct and, for example in the near future, computers and internet would increase education level even more than the current improvements and facilities installations. There are 1.2 billions people in the world, maybe even more according to different estimations, that are leaving without any electricity access. Some of those people are simply waiting a bulb to light their houses or their stores. Furthermore, there are many potential productive uses of electricity that could be exploited to contribute in improving their living conditions. Electricity access has the opportunity to change many lives and can open up new horizons for millions of people on Earth, as it was the case for the family of Bir and Ghodasin villagers as well as thousands of people already in Nepal.

(1) World Bank – Nepal Statistics, http://data.worldbank.org/country/nepal
(2) Bond, T. C., et al. (2013), Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jgrd.50171/full
(3) Nepal Central Bureau of Statistics, http://cbs.gov.np/

Article also available on NewEconomist.fr.

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First steps in the Kanyakumari region

Beginning of the market assessment in Aralvaimozhi, which is the place where I’ll stay during few days, close to Kanyakumari. You can see that there are already big wind farms around that place but there is still a lack of electricity in local rural areas because all the production is transmitted to the grid that does not serve these last ones correctly or not at all… Here is the role of the locally built small wind turbines !

Some pictures of the first day on the field:

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Visiting Kanyakumari area for a market assessment

At the moment in Auroville, I’ll leave next week to visit different windy places around Kanyakumari, in the Southern Tamil Nadu. In cooperation with ORSED we will conduct a social market analysis in order to assess different characteristics concerning the population and the field for finding the best place to implement the first project.

Wind Map - Tamil Nadu

Wind Map – Tamil Nadu

As an economist, I would have expected a precise survey which could be done only in few days but the local conditions and culture don’t allow this kind of process. A market assessment in farms is much more complicated in the sense that you need the entire trust of the farmers before asking precise questions, which requests a certain dexterity and tact. Luckily the indian population is very welcoming with the foreigners and I’m very enthusiastic about this survey. To conclude, this weekend is a good time for the trip preparation while it is also the 60th birthday of the Pondicherry Liberation Day, when french territories were transferred to India.

Testing in progress in Auroville…

New article in preparation about the project. The workshop in Bangalore was cancelled because there was not enough participants to cover the costs. At the moment, we are working on the prototype of wind turbine for 3hp water pump, making different tests in order to have an estimation of the potential extracted water volume. The weather’s conditions are not really good, which is making working conditions very difficult and slowing…

eduardo

Eduardo working on the earth connector (under the rain…)

Furthermore, I have decided to live in Auroville, which is an international community with multiples research fields and different cultural activities, where MinVayu is implanted. The place is very nice and peaceful, suitable for meditation.

Finally, with my new friend Eduardo, the best Venezuelan mechanical engineer as well as my spanish teacher, we have visited Pondicherry, been shopping, enjoyed nice food, etc. This week, I will publish both an article on the project and another one on Pondicherry.  Stay tuned !

Pondicherry sea's bay

Pondicherry sea’s bay

Arrived in Pondicherry / Arrivé à Pondicherry

I am arrived safely and having a good evening in Pondicherry. The trip was really nice, particularly the taxi. Each driver in India is always pressing the horn like a quiet complex code to advertise that he’s here, where he would like to go, etc.. There are many things to say about my first moments in India, it’s amazingly exotic and stimulates my desire to discover more landscapes. Tomorrow morning, I will visit Auroville, especially the MinVayu workshop, and on Wednesday I should go in Bangalore.

Now, it’s 1:45am in India, some dogs are barking in the street that I need to cross to go in my room, I will need to do it quickly !

Je suis bien arrivé en Inde et j’ai passé une bonne soirée à Pondicherry. Le voyage était vraiment agréable, particulièrement le trajet en taxi. Chaque conducteur en Inde est tout le temps en train d’actionner son klaxon comme un code assez complexe pour avertir qu’il est là, où il veut aller, etc. (Je ne vais pas louer de scooter avant de bien comprendre tout ça…). Il y a vraiment beaucoup de choses à dire à propos de mes premiers moments en Inde, c’est vraiment très exotique et cela stimule mon désir de découvrir encore plus de paysages. Demain matin, je vais visiter Auroville, notamment l’atelier de MinVayu, et mercredi je devrais partir vers Bangalore.

Maintenant, c’est 1h45 en Inde, quelques chiens aboient dans la rue que je dois traverser pour rejoindre ma chambre, je vais devoir faire ça rapidement ! 

Préparer son départ pour l’Inde (du français, enfin !)

Voilà, il est un peu plus de 1h lorsque j’écris cet article. Nous sommes dimanche, mon sac et ma valise sont prêts, à quelques heures seulement du grand départ. Je quitterai la France à 15h00 depuis l’aéroport Charles de Gaulle pour atterrir à Colombo au Sri Lanka 10 heures plus tard, il sera 4h45 heure locale. Je reprendrai ensuite un vol à 7h00 direction Chennai où un taxi m’attendra à 9h pour m’emmener à Pondicherry, la première escale de mon séjour.

Je décide de faire ce petit article en français pour vous expliquer quelles sont les quelques étapes indispensables lors de la préparation d’un séjour en Inde lorsque l’on réside en France et également vous donner quelques astuces et bons conseils.

Premièrement si vous avez décidé de partir en Inde, et j’insiste sur le caractère premier, il faut faire deux choses importantes:

  • Prendre un rendez-vous auprès d’un centre de vaccinations internationales: pour cela, je conseille de vous rendre sur le site http://www.astrium.com. Vous y trouverez l’adresse et le téléphone du centre le plus proche de chez vous et un très grand nombre d’informations utiles (un tableau exhaustif des risques santé, adresse des consulats de France, etc.). Les délais pour obtenir un rendez-vous peuvent varier selon la saison, je vous conseille de vous y prendre assez longtemps à l’avance car certains vaccins nécessitent un ou plusieurs rappels. Même s’il n’y a aucun vaccin obligatoire pour l’Inde, sachez que les docteurs auront toujours de précieux conseils et qu’il vaut mieux partir informé.
  • Commencer les démarches pour obtenir son Visa: Tout d’abord, il faut avoir un passeport. Si ce n’est pas le cas, rendez-vous dans une mairie équipée pour les passeport biométriques pour y faire la demande. Quand vous avez votre passeport, une seule adresse: http://www.vfs-in-fr.com. Toute la procédure pour obtenir un visa y est bien expliquée, il faudra penser à faire des photos 5cm*5cm chez un photographe, vous aurez besoin de 2 photos de ce format pour la demande de Visa. Il est possible de faire la demande par courrier mais sachez qu’il faudra accepter de mettre votre passeport dans une enveloppe. Pour ma part, je n’ai pas voulu prendre ce risque et je me suis rendu directement dans leurs bureaux situés 42-44 rue de Paradis à Paris, à 10 minutes à pied de la Gare de l’Est ou de la Gare du Nord. Faites attention, ils sont fermés lors des fêtes nationales en Inde ! De plus, les délais annoncés sont “minimums” et il vaut mieux prévoir beaucoup plus large. Dans mon cas, cela a pris plus d’un mois entre la remise du dossier à VFS et le retrait du passeport avec le Visa, alors que les délai minimum annoncé était de 3 jours. Cependant, si vous demandez juste un visa de tourisme pour 6 mois, vous l’aurez très probablement la semaine suivante sans aucun problème, bien que parfois ils ne délivrent que 3 mois, arbitrairement. Pour information, VFS est l’organisme à qui l’ambassade de l’Inde sous-traite la préparation des dossiers de demande de visa ainsi que leurs remises. L’ambassade s’occupe de l’étude de votre demande. Si quelque chose ne convient pas, c’est elle qui vous contactera directement et mieux vaut avoir un petit bagage en anglais si c’est le cas. Enfin, en cas de problèmes lors de ce passage obligé, je ne saurai vous conseiller qu’une seule chose: être patient.

Ensuite, il sera important de vous assurer que vous êtes couvert en cas de pépin. Sachez que la sécurité sociale rembourse les frais de santé sur la base du prix des soins et des médicaments en France. Pour un pays comme l’Inde, je pense que c’est suffisant mais un petit détour chez votre mutuel ou votre banque (elle propose sans doute aussi des assurances compétitives) est conseillé. Un petit passage chez votre médecin traitant pour constituer une pharmacie de voyage me parait également une bonne idée. Vous serez content de l’avoir si vous tombez malade et même si rien ne vous arrive, vous pourrez donner les médicaments sur place avant votre retour… dans tous les cas ils seront utiles !

Voilà en résumé les démarches qui me paraissent indispensables avant un séjour en Inde.

Lorsque viendra le moment de commencer à préparer vos affaires, voici une petite liste d’objets pratiques que j’ai choisi d’emmener et que je vous conseille:

  • Une bonne paire de chaussures: Au diable vos talons mesdames ! Privilégiez une paire de baskets avec une paire de tong !
  • Un k-way: OK, ce n’est pas ce qu’il y a de plus glamour, mais cela vous sera bien plus utile qu’un bikini !
  • Des vêtements légers: Je vous conseillerai de les traiter avec un produit anti-moustiques prévu à cet effet (résistant à plusieurs lavage). Avec des vêtements légers et longs, cela vous protègera le plus possible des piqures sans pour autant que vous ayez à vous asperger d’anti-moustiques plusieurs fois par jour.
  • Une veste type sweatshirt avec fermeture éclaire: Elle ne prendra pas trop de place et pourrait servir d’oreiller ou de couverture dans l’avion.
  • Une serviette de bain microfibre: ultra absorbante, elle n’occupe pourtant pas plus de place que 2 paires de chaussettes.
  • Une paire de lunettes de soleil: Votre accessoire mode !
  • Un maillot de bain: Soyons fous !
  • Un produit anti-moustique: Oui, d’accord. On sait jamais, surtout en maillot de bain.
  • Une crème solaire: Bon, pour ma part je l’achèterais sur place si j’en ressens le besoin. Mais si vous avez une peau sensible, c’est un must-have !
  • Une trousse de toilette: Pas besoin de vous surcharger, prenez l’essentiel: brosse à dent avec dentifrice, gel douche corps et cheveux, déodorant et une solution hydroalcoolique pour vous laver les mains.
  • Rouleau de papier toilette et/ou paquets de mouchoirs: C’est obligatoire !
  • Une petite pharmacie: Passez chez votre médecin traitant. Pour éviter la Turista, il existe aussi un complément alimentaire appelé Lactibiane Voyage. Les avis sur ce produit sont plutôt positifs et les effets semblent réels! (Edit le 20 novembre: ça a marché dans mon cas, je ne suis pas encore tombé malade et ceci sans vraiment faire attention à ce que je mange… Donc je confirme !)
  • Une lampe de poche: Il peut y avoir des coupures d’électricité.
  • Un appareil photo: Pour immortaliser chaque instant de votre séjour. Prévoir suffisamment de mémoire (carte SD), une batterie de rechange peut s’avérer utile. Sinon, vous pouvez aussi opter pour un chargeur solaire avec batterie !
  • Un carnet d’adresse: Pratique si l’on veut envoyer des cartes postales. Par ailleurs, allez directement à la poste centrale de la ville où vous êtes, veillez à ce qu’ils vous fassent bien un tampon sur chaque carte et vous serez assuré que vos cartes ont de bonnes chances d’arriver à destination rapidement.
  • Un journal de bord: Si vous souhaitez partager vos impressions et votre séjour, ce sera un excellent outil pour conserver le moindre détail de votre voyage.
  • Le guide du routard: Un compagnon pour faire les bons choix et des économies ! Existe en version Inde du Nord et version Inde du Sud.

Si vous avez encore de la place, vous pouvez également faire plaisir en apportant:

  • Des habits que vous ne mettez plus, particulièrement pour les enfants: Vous trouverez quelqu’un qui saura quoi en faire.
  • Du vin, du chocolat et une spécialité de votre région: Des cadeaux que vous pourriez faire lors de vos rencontres.
  • Des cadeaux pour les enfants en Inde: Des bonbons, des petits jouets, des crayons de couleurs, etc. Libre à vous de faire plaisir !

De plus, en faisant cela vous êtes sûr d’avoir de la place dans votre valise pour ramener des souvenirs !

Bien sûr, il faudra également veiller à prendre:

  • Votre passeport avec visa
  • Votre permis de conduire (si vous souhaitez louer un scooter ou un autre véhicule)
  • Vos billets d’avion
  • Votre carte bleue
  • Des photocopies de vos papiers (envoyez également une version “scan” de ces derniers sur votre boite mail. En cas de perte, ce sera plus facile de récupérer des copies dans un cyber-café.)

Pensez également à vérifier les règles de votre compagnie aérienne concernant les bagages (poids limite autorisé, etc.) et à prendre un petit sac congélateur avec fermeture zip pour y mettre vos produits liquides qui doivent être inférieurs à 100ml (s’il y en a dans votre bagage à main), sinon mettez les dans votre bagage en soute !

Voilà, je pense avoir fait le tour… Il est temps pour moi d’aller me coucher car la journée de demain sera longue.

à bientôt !

MC.

valise

Valise prête / Suitcase ready