Access to energy improves lives, livelihoods

Xu talks to community members about the improvement brought about by access to renewable energy. Photo: Narendra Shrestha / UNDP Nepal

19 May, 2014 (Kathmandu) — Energy poverty is a serious challenge in developing countries that condemns nearly 1.3 billion people to absolute poverty. Lack of access to modern energy can have serious impediment to education, health and livelihood opportunities. In Nepal alone, a country known for huge hydro-electricity potential, more than 27 percent of the population have no access to electricity.

To address these problems, UNDP has been working with the Government of Nepal and other development partners since 1996 to provide electricity to the poorest communities that are not connected to the national grid through Micro-Hydro plants. The outcomes have been transformative leading to a visible improvement in living standards.

During his visit to Nepal last week, UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Asia Pacific Haoliang Xu travelled to Pinthali village of Mangaltar Village Development Committee in Kavre District, the site of one such plant, to learn firsthand how access to modern renewable energy can reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Villagers told Xu that that their lives have changed considerably since the Micro-Hydro was built in the village by the Government of Nepal with support from UNDP and the World Bank: Access to electricity has allowed children to study at night leading to a decrease in school dropout rates, and agro processing mill powered by Micro-Hydro provides services in the village saving time. It has also decreased drudgery for women who previously spent hours collecting firewood and fetching water daily.

More importantly, canal used to bring water to the power plant has also allowed villagers to irrigate farms. This has led to considerable crop yields: Last year the villagers sold beans worth RS 10 million (USD 100, 000), besides garlic and other products.

Community members told Xu that prior to the construction of the Micro-Hydro, the villagers struggled with sustenance farming and that there were sanitation and health problems. Besides, women had very little role in village's public life. That's something of the past today.

The community is much better off now.  In fact they are building a monastery in the village with key artisans brought from Bhutan—with women working shoulder to shoulder with men to bring about a qualitative improvement in the life of the villagers.

The level of awareness among the villagers is very high. They are now seeking access to better farming equipment to modernize agriculture so that their yields and earning are even better.

UNDP, in partnership with the Government of Nepal's Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, supports villages that are remote and off-grid, with renewable services. Since 1996, nearly 90,000 remote households have been connected with a renewable energy source with UNDP's support.

Xu said that he was very excited to see the sustained transformative changes taking place in the villages from one small intervention. In his meetings with Government officials, he called for scaling up renewable energy interventions aimed at poorest communities through more public and private funding.

International experience has shown that lack of access to energy can limit achievement of all MDG goals. The Secretary General's Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative precisely seeks to address this huge cost of energy poverty. The initiative hopes to provide universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of energy efficiency and share of renewable energy by 2030.

If the transformation seen in Nepal's Pinthali village is any indication, universal access to renewable energy will certainly make huge impact in the lives of the poor both in Nepal and abroad.

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