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Microhydro brings new opportunities to people in remote northeastern Afghanistan

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A microhydro project that is dramatically changing life for rural households in remote northeastern Afghanistan by reducing ethnic tensions, stimulating growth of small businesses and offering small farmers a viable alternative to growing opium has won a prestigious 2012 Ashden Award.

The project, being carried out by the German government development enterprise GIZ and consulting engineers INTEGRATION with German government funding, involves building new off-grid hydro schemes in the remote Badakhshan and Takhar provinces that are managed by local leaseholders who employ a team of operators. All communities get a share of construction work and are actively involved in the development, which is bringing reliable, renewable electricity to the area for the first time.


Posted to YouTube by Ashden Awards May 31, 2012


Working with the Afghan Government, the partners have so far installed six micro-hydro plants and mini-grids with total capacity 1.3 MW, providing 24-hour electricity to 63,000 people in more than 7,565 households as well as 645 small businesses and 110 public buildings including schools, hospitals and government buildings. Two more mini-hydro schemes and a decentralized solar scheme now under construction will serve 3,400 more households and 450 more businesses, and five more potential hydro sites are being assessed by various organizations.

The Ashden Award was presented to GIZ and Integration during a ceremony in London May 30 2012. "This is an astounding example of how harvesting natural sources of energy can bring new sources of income, hope and opportunity in a troubled region,” said the judges. “And by working alongside each other, different communities in North East Afghanistan are coming together with a common interest, helping reduce mistrust and conflict.”

Community consultation and involvement from start to finish is a key part of the work. Extensive community consultation takes place at a potential hydro site. Then an Energy Committee is created, made up of members of the local shura or council of elders. Communities take part in the hydro development itself, both through paid work and in-kind contributions.

As part of the scheme, local men are identified and trained as operating crews, and one of them becomes the leaseholder for an initial three-year period. While the capital costs are paid through grants, fees paid by households cover all operating costs, including wages, maintenance and a leasehold fee that is retained centrally to cover any major repairs needed.

Apart from the environmental benefits (using electricity instead of kerosene for lighting cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 3,200 tonnes each year), the project means residents can have access to lights, radio, TV, mobile phones, kettles, water heaters, small refrigerators and washing machines. People who had left the region have come back to set up businesses, and with a range of options to generate income, poppy cultivation by farmers has decreased. The program has shown that “a reliable electricity supply can make a real difference to communities, organisations and small businesses, particularly in Afghanistan’s remote, mountainous provinces,” said David Hancock of GIZ in accepting the prestigious award.

GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit) is a federal enterprise that supports the German government in international development. INTEGRATION environment & energy is a German consulting firm, with specialist expertise in rural electrification and productive uses of energy. GIZ and INTEGRATION work in partnership with the government of Afghanistan on the rural electrification programme, which had funding of US$6 million from the German government in 2011.

This story was prepared from information on the Ashden Awards website, including a detailed case study, and a May 30, 2012 news release entitled Afghanistan micro-hydro programme wins global green award.

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