Ms. Noda is UNDP Country Director, Nepal.
24 Jan 2013
In September last year, I was in Kharbang Bazar, Dagatundada VDC in Baglung—several hours’ drive from the district headquarters on a muddy seasonal road—to witness the transformational changes ushered in by a basic service that many of us may take for granted: access to modern energy.
The catalysing effect of modern energy in the form of a 75 kilowatts (kW) micro hydro plant on the development of this village is self-evident. Noodle and soap factories have flourished; school dropout rates have decreased because kids have time to study at night under the light and, in fact, enrollment in the public school has increased because it provides modern computer education; quality of health services have improved because vaccines can be stored in refrigerators, x-ray and pathological laboratory facilities are now available within the village; and the level of public awareness has risen with the introduction of local community radios and access to computers and the internet. A milk vendor does not have to worry about his unsold milk spoiling any more. He can preserve it in a chilling vat. Women do not need to wake up at four in the morning to mill rice and flour in traditional labour-intensive mills.
Access to energy can have positive knock-on effects on efforts to reduce poverty and spawn economic growth. While big hydro projects, which require huge investments and take years to complete, are indispensable for large-scale industrial growth, mini- and micro-hydro plants are crucial in bridging the gap between urban and rural areas—supporting livelihood opportunities and the growth of small-scale industries.
Although almost 70 percent of the total population of Nepal has access to electricity, the rural-urban divide is stark. While nearly 96 percent of people in urban areas have access to electricity, the figure for rural areas stands at around only 63 percent, according to the Nepal Living Standard Survey 2011. The amount of per capita electricity consumption in the country is a different matter altogether: it is one of the lowest in the world at just 93 kWh per year, in spite of the fact that Nepal has huge potential in hydropower.
But thanks to the abundance of renewable sources of energy in the country, including thousands of rivers and streams, an increasing proportion of electricity access is coming from off-grid sources that directly benefit the rural population.
Till date, around 12 percent of the Nepali population has access to electricity through renewable energy sources, mainly micro-hydro and solar home systems, according to the government’s Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC). AEPC’s data also shows that more than 1.5 million households benefit from various renewable energy technologies for cooking, lighting and other uses.
In light of the growing importance of small-scale renewable sources of energy in meeting the country’s energy deficit, the Government of Nepal has commendably decided to mark this week (20 -26 January) as Renewable Energy week to promote the use and development of renewable forms of energy.
Despite making considerable headway in promoting the use of renewable energy, a major weakness in the sector is that it has failed to attract significant private investment so far. The reason: private investors do not see micro-hydro or small-scale solar photovoltaic systems as profitable either because they would generate more energy than would be consumed at the local level or less than enough to supply energy to macro and micro enterprises. There is no dearth of resources in the private sector in Nepal and the right kind of incentive can redirect billions of rupees worth of savings in banks to not just big hydro but mini- and micro-hydro projects as well.
Existing renewable energy policies have been successful in encouraging communities in and around the more accessible areas of the country to install renewable energy sources. Yet they have not been able to significantly benefit those living in the remote and very remote areas. Due to the high initial cost of renewable energy technologies, low income of households, low capacity of the institutions involved in the delivery of renewable energy services at the local level, and the absence of private sector investment, the success seen in places like Kharbang has not been replicated widely.
There have been many policy innovations over the last few years in the energy sector that could turn the tide. The concept of mini- or local grid can solve the problem of profitability to a large extent and ensure sustainability of micro-hydro projects. Moreover, it will also help improve the quality and reliability of electricity supplied to rural villages so that small industries can be smoothly powered. Further, under the mini-grid system, power can be exchanged among the micro-hydro plants in the local and national grids.
UNDP, in collaboration with the government and the World Bank, has pioneered the development of mini-grid in Nepal. A mini-grid consists of a number of micro-hydro plants located in vicinity, connected to a local distribution network. With a total capacity of 107 kW, Nepal’s first mini-grid of its kind was set up last year connecting the micro-hydro plants in Rangkhani, Paiyuthanthap, Sarkuwa and Damek VDCs in Baglung. If this can be replicated in other districts, the benefits will be huge. UNDP’s approach has been to put the community at the centre of the planning, installing, and operating processes of these micro-hydro plants. This has proved far more sustainable than the traditional top-down approach adopted in larger rural electrification projects.
Beyond Nepal, the international development community is beginning to converge around the idea of access to sustainable energy as the centrepiece of the post-2015 development agenda with the UN Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.
As we are celebrating the benefits of renewable energy in Nepal this week, we should take this opportunity to brainstorm how to create innovative policies and encourage private sector investment. Clearing the existing policy hurdles in creating mini-grids seems like a reasonable thing to do. Both the public and private sector must use this opportunity to foster greater clarity and focus on harnessing Nepal’s renewable potential, thereby creating more opportunities for prosperity, especially in areas that are remote and off-grid.
Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post
About the Author
Ms. Noda is UNDP Country Director, Nepal.
- A changing planet: 4 places where climate change is taking its toll http://mashable.com/2015/06/27/climate-change-social-good/ 16 hours ago
- "It's first and foremost a tragedy. And one should not forget this. But yes, as we move on and try to rebuild Nepal, I think it does provide an opportunity to make Nepal more resilient. With the wise use of human intelligence and our adaptation capacity, we can and should rebuild by applying the principles of building back better," says our Country Director Renaud Meyer in an interview with the Business 360 Magazine. Read more from Business 360 Magazine http://biz360.com.np/ Renaud Meyer, Country Director for United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal observes the recent great earthquake both as a hindrance and as a potential boost to national development. Following the April 25 earthquake, he managed to visit several nooks and corners of the country to discover that the " reality of the earthquake was the districts mostly affected by the earthquake are not the poorest districts." According to him, one of the concerns that his office shared with the government and other stakeholders was that even though the poorest districts that were not much affected by the earthquake should not stop receiving support from the government and the international development partners and that the earthquake and reconstruction should not distract from continuing the support to those districts, rather need to ensure equity for those districts in the long term development process. He also seeks the attention and assistance for all those districts, both affected and not affected. "And if you translate this politically, this is very interesting because in the political economy of Nepal, the districts that are affected have social profiles that are different from the poorest districts," he observes, "So you have to look at it both from the political and social perspective to make sure that nobody loses in the relief and recovery process." Ashok Thapa from Business 360° met up with Meyer and talked with him about several aspects in terms of impact of the great earthquake, road to recover, role of key stakeholders in Nepal's development course and many other issues. Extracts: Nepal's already tattering economy was most to suffer from the recent great earthquake. This is supposed to pose challenge on country's ambitious plans like graduating to the status of developing nation by 2022 and raising people's income level. What is your take on it? Graduation - you have two ways to look at it. The first is a quantitative approach to graduation under which you look at the criteria and you fulfill the criteria at the aggregate level of the country. In March this year, there was a meeting at the UN that concluded that for the first time Nepal has quantitatively graduated. So this is good news for the country. Now what we are saying is that we have to be a bit careful and more refined. What we want to look at is quality of graduation, meaning that even if two out of three criteria have been met statistically, what does it mean for the Nepali people? I believe that if you only adopt a quantitative approach to graduation, you are raising people's expectations too much because in the ordinary life of a Nepali citizen it does not change much. So in addition to looking at the graduation issue one has to look also whether the government and the country as a whole can meet the desires and aspirations of the people, when it comes to their well being , the country’s development, provision of basic services for the citizens and there, Nepal still has room to progress. Similarly, it is important to adopt a long term approach for the analysis of the impact of the earthquake. But it's always an easy short cut fr everyone to look at the instant effect. You will come up with a price tag of what is the cost of the earthquake on Nepal. But we need to look at the long term impact and this is what we need to address. The Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) is a good and necessary start but it should not overshadow the need for the country to adopt a long term recovery framework. It should not focus on simply putting Nepal and its people back to the situation before April 25 but ensure lessons are learned and a more resilient Nepal can come out of this reconstruction process. Do you mean to say economy has nothing to do with Nepal's graduation process and earthquake has not hit it so hard toward the graduation process? Three criteria are used to measure the LDCgraduation: level of human assets, economic vulnerability and income. So Nepal statistically again, has met the first two criteria. On the income, the country is still struggling a bit. But let’s not forget that Nepal is not expected to graduate tomorrow but only in 2022. The earthquake clearly has an impact on the economy . But will it derail the country from its development path completely? Absolutely not. I think there is sound and robust dynamic in Nepal towards development. And if you look at the progress of Nepal in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the country is doing good. It has made storng and sustainable progress, may be not on all the MDGs but on most of them. So I think we can and we should be optimistic and positive about the development dynamic of the country. Clearly the earthquake and the tragedy it goes with is a challenge. But again it does not derail the country completely. Tourism has been hit hard by the earthquake. Do you see any chances of revival? Yes absolutely. I also believe it will come much faster than people would expect. Clearly the heritage sites have been severely affected, especially in Kathmandu valley with major UNESCO heritage sites badly affected. But when one travels in the capital city between the the airport, Government offices and other neighborhoods, we already see the city recovering economically, busy streets and heavy traffic. It is difficult to believe that less than two months ago the city was hit by a strong magnitude earthquake. In the rural districts, the situation is very different Many villages have been completely flattened by the earthquake. But Kathmandu city has proven to be very resilient. So, if the damage to the heritage sites is very sad given the qualities of those heritages, lets not forget Nepal has much more to offer. You have the mountains, even the Kathmandu valley itself is very beautiful, stunning. Yet, I think the tourism industry needs strong attention and should be a priority of the government and the international community in the reconstruction and recovery process. We are working very closely with our UNESCO colleagues. We have archeological and heritage missions that have been here to assess what needs to be consolidated and what needs to be rebuilt very quickly. But I think Nepal benefits globally from a very positive image, among the tourists and among the tourism industry. So I am very optimistic. Moreover, the tourism sector offers many jobs and is very important for livelihoods. This is an angle that we want to promote. We need to think of a promotion campaignthat will send the message to the rest of the world that after the earthquake, it is more important than ever to show solidarity with Nepali people by coming here as a tourist so that the money spent here locally, very quickly will also boost the local economy . There are experts who believe the earthquake has provided with us a wonderful opportunity to rebrand and rebuild ourselves. Do you think in the same line? Yes, but I do not think it is appropriate to equate primarily earthquake with opportunity. First of all, an earthquake is a tragedy. People tend to forget very quickly that close to 9,000 people lost their lives, hundreds of thousand people lost their houses and livelihood. So, it's first and foremost a tragedy. And one should not forget this. But yes as we move on and try to rebuild Nepal, I think it does provide an opportunity to make Nepal more resilient. After all, one cannot change the geographic location of Nepal and the country lies in a very vulnerable zone when it comes to seismic activities,With the wise use of human intelligence and our adaptation capacity, we can and should rebuild by applying the principles of building back better. And this is very important and this is why it is important that all actors of government and international community alike not rush to reconstruction because if we rush people will rebuild the same way as they had in the past and the next time there is an earthquake, it will lead to the same negative impact. It is reassuring to see a large consensus around this issue and approach. And this gives us an opportunity to really think long term construction under safer building codes and making sure that new buildings comply with those codes. Building codes are in place in Nepal and people who have complied with them, their houses are not a pile of rubble today. So the issue is about political will and enforcement of those guidelines in the reconstruction process. Despite development partners putting in their bigger efforts to help Nepal during the crisis, there were few incongruities as to how to distribute the relief support. Do you have any comments? Well no country is ever enough prepared to face a natural event of the magnitude that has hit Nepal. So it's normal that the response struggled to establish itself at the levels required by the tragedy the earthquake brought to the country. But what is important is that all actors we were able to quickly organise themselves, establish a good relationship and coordination between the government and the international community on providing the assistance. We all have recognised that the government has a leading role to play and they have to coordinate the assistance. There has been a tremendous outpour of support for Nepal and which again demonstrates how positive is the image of Nepal in the global community. Everybody including the government has welcomed that. But this assistance needs to be coordinated. When you have only one airport with one runway, it's obviously going to createchallenges. But over the weeks following the tragedy, we have seen continuous improvement that has enabled the much needed assistance to reach even the most isolated and hard to reach affected districts.The PDNA is a very important tool for reconstruction and we have all had a very positive experience in terms of cooperation between the government and the international community. We have seen a very strong leadership by the National Planning Commission (NPC) and great collaborative spirit from all the ministries that worked very well with the international teams. And I am also hoping that at the International Donor Conference, the international partners of Nepal will be able to come up with more support for Nepal. Still majority of Nepalis consider the future to be gloomy and the country to be heading towards being a failure state. Do you have any words to convince them? Yes, I do. One has to understand that the whole country, affected districts or non affected ones had to go through a very difficult time with the earthquake. Therefore it is quite normal that people would be pessimistic, they have suffered a lot and the psychological consequences of the earthquake especially of all the aftershocks which are completely unpredictable have a negative impact on people's attitude and optimism. Yet I don't think the people of Nepal should be negative. And I am not sure they are. When I travel to the affected districts, and meet with the victims, people who lost their homes and dear ones, what amazes me is their resilience, their capacity to adapt and capacity to go back to their fields and work and continue with the normal pace of life. They care about their community. They show very strong community solidarity. People are helping and supporting each others. Moreover, I am hoping that the attitude of the government and the international partners is a good reason for them to think that something better is coming to Nepal and everybody has a role to play in it and I think the people in the rural areas are clearly in the front line in this attitude. I think there are a lot of positive messages out there. They are able to think positive together and work together. Everybody has a role to play, right? Then what might be the role of government other key stakeholders to help Nepal stand back in its former position? Any suggestions? Well the government has a leading role, clearly. It has to come up with a vision for Nepal which includes those aspects of resilience and building back better. And it has to share that vision and make sure that it consults with all the actors of society so that the vision won't be the vision of the few but of the country at large. This really is an important role of the government. When it comes to the private sector, the sector as an engine of growth and stimulant to the national economy should not think that today is the time for market share and competition. But it's time to think about how to build a robust economy, how to create as many jobs as possible to employ people, give them a livelihood. We then have a positive cycle. When people have income, they are able to spend. If they spend it will create demand and if there is demand, the economy will start growing strong again . Civil society also has an important role to play by keeping everybody accountable and this is also a very positive contribution Media again has its own role and it should stay focused on positive stories as much as possible. [Read more from Business 360 Magazine http://biz360.com.np/] Yesterday AT 01:46 AM
- "See more posts on"Facebook