SOLAR LIGHTS, SMOKELESS STOVES AND BIOGAS SYSTEMS – GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, CHEAPER FOR THE VILLAGERS
By gradually improving the current living conditions in our project villages, we are trying to sustainably improve both the economic and the health situation of the people. So far the villagers in our projects have spent their lives without electric light. The open fire served as light source and for cooking. On average, a family needs about 250 kg of wood per month, so the forests around the villages have already been cut down dramatically, because there was no other source of energy in the villages and buying firewood on the markets is costly. The women, as collecting wood is “women’s work”, have to go further and further, collect wood for several hours and then carry the heavy load all the way back to their village. Often the daughters have to support their mothers in the search for the urgently needed fire wood and therefore cannot attend school. We want to counteract this with various approaches:
By installing solar panels in connection with LED lights, the deforestation of the environment can be reduced, since the wood is no longer needed to produce light, and the solar light systems also improve the living conditions directly. The women save time of this hard work and the families can use this saved time for other activities, for example for income generation and the children have more light in the evening to play or do homework. However, before the families get one of this solar light-systems, trainings on use and maintenance are held by our social workers in the groups. In the future, the villagers will be able to support each other in case of problems. If there are major difficulties, our employees will be available as they regularly visit the different project villages. Furthermore, each family pays a small deposit for their solar light system, which is forwarded to their respective savings groups. Thus, the capital stock of the savings groups rises and can be used for upcoming reparations and other investments to improve the living conditions, such as medical treatments, the purchase of seeds, additional chickens or goats. As with the distributed goats, the group serves also as a supervisory body, for example to avoid the sale of solar light systems or goats for a quick, one-off income, and thus ensures and promotes a long-term development.
Smokeless stoves/clay stoves
The villagers of our projects have always used open fire for cooking and still do, as other fuels such as gas or kerosene are simply unaffordable, and the state has not provided them with any alternative help. To support the villagers in several ways and to improve the living conditions, we have begun to install smokeless stoves at the homes which are specifically designed for the needs and the climate of the region. These stoves reduce the needed fire wood by about 50 per cent, which not only relieves the surrounding forests, but also, as with the solar light systems, the women and daughters of the village. Furthermore, the smoke no longer stays in the home but is ventilated by a pipe. This will help prevent eye, stomach and lung diseases caused by regular and permanent inhalation of smoke. In addition, the use of the stoves (in comparison to the open fire) reduces the risk of spreading fire due to flying sparks.
For some households of our project villages, we have decided for another approach in cooperation with the population and the local authorities. For households with sufficient livestock, we have introduced biogas. Thus, open wood fire as a cooking station can be completely replaced by biogas. The technology is plain simple. The excrements of the cattle as well as of the family members are transported with some water in an underground airtight six cubic meter big pit. Chemical reactions produce methane gases in this environment, which are transported through a small pipe to the cooking area by opening a main valve. Here it can be used for cooking. The biogas-fuelled cooking stoves are largely funded by ‘Back to Life’, but the government and the local forestry administration have also funded some part of them, as it is in their very interest to protect the forest of the surrounding “Chitwan National Park”. Of course, the villagers also contribute to the new biogas plants by building the stoves themselves under our supervision and guidance.
The biogas-fuelled cooking stoves have many positive effects for the villagers and the natural environment. The living room (most often the only room in the homes) is no longer clouded by thick smoke during cooking, which will improve the health of the villagers in the long run. To collect the excrements of the family members, the households will also receive their own toilet facilities to transport the excrements into the pit. This will also improve the hygienic situation. The manure produced in the pit can be removed at a certain point of time and serves as fertilizer for the surrounding fields, so that in the future, in connection with our agricultural measures described above, a higher yield can be expected. As in the case of the solar light systems or smokeless stoves, women and children save the time for searching, collecting and carrying the fire wood. This immense time saving can be used by the children to do homework, learn and regularly visit school because most often especially the girls have to stay away from school to support the mothers. The mothers now have more time to take care of their children and can use the hours saved for other work to increase the income of the family.