The Light Up Humla Campaign to spread the use of solar-powered electric lights in homes in remote Humla district aims to illuminate nearly 7,000 households by next year.
Trees take a long time to grow in Humla's arid climate and high altitude topography. Yet, over centuries, forests have been cleared for firewood and for pine resin used for feeble lamps that are used for domestic lighting. The resulting indoor smoke causes acute respiratory ailments, a major killer of children in the district which has the highest child mortality rate in the country. The soot also cause eye infections and other ailments.
The Campaign believes that solar-powered light can be a means to liberate the people of Humla from these problems, protect the environment and create new opportunities for education and employment.
When we launched the Light Up Humla Campaign in 2004 it started off as a 'crazy idea' between some of our Humli friends over tea. The plan was simple: provide light to all residents of Nepal's remotest and least-developed district through solar power. How to do it? We felt it would be easy to find 7,000 good souls in the country. The Campaign's strategy was to exhort one Nepali who enjoys the benefits of modern electricity to support another who is living in darkness.
Sure enough, support poured in, first from a network of friends, then as word spread from Nepalis in Nepal and all over the world. By the first few months of 2004, 50 households already had light-46 of them belonged to Dalit families and the rest were underprivileged households. By the end of 2005 an additional 500 households will get electric lamps and by 2006, another 5,000 households will be added.
"The light from the sun has made life much easier," says Karna Damai of Simikot, one of the first beneficiaries of the light system, "I used to go to Bista's house to sew clothes all day, now I can work late into the night and earn wages during the day. It's much easier to feed my family."
Indeed, it does look like a simple nine watt neon lamp in the house is all that's needed to reduce poverty in some cases. In others, children can do their homework without hurting their eyes and mothers find it easier to do household chores.
Some parts of Humla have electricity from micro-hydro projects but the power is erratic. And although the Heldung hydropower plant is scheduled to be completed by July 2005, it will take time for the power to reach outlying villages. In the meantime, the Light Up Humla Campaign is gaining popularity. Even in the district headquarters of Simikot, most people have now come to rely on solar electricity.
It costs Rs 4,000 to provide a set of solar cells, battery and neon lights for each household and this is donated by Nepalis through the campaign. It is estimated that in 1,000 Humla households, 12 percent of the total can afford the Rs 4,000 and another 900 households already benefit from micro-hydro projects. The campaign thus targeted 50 priority households in 2004, 500 in 2005 and 5,000 in 2006.
Journalist Bhairab Risal is the co-founder of the Light Up Humla Campaign.