“We took everything in our stock - panels, batteries, lights - but very soon we realized this was just a drop in a bucket. We needed to form a coalition with others,” says Gham Power’s Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Giri describing the immediate relief efforts he and his staff put together when the earthquake shook Nepal on 25 April, 2015. Gham Power is a solar company based in Nepal that builds rural micro-grids and solar systems.
On 25 April, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal and northern India. The earthquake is the worst disaster to hit Nepal since the 1934 earthquake; and has left over 8,000 people dead, 17,000 injured to date. The aftershocks have continued.
This week, the annual forum of the United Nations-led Sustainable Energy for All Initiative - a movement and network of public and private sector actors that recognize the fundamental role that energy plays in human development - is taking place in New York from 18 to 21 May, 2015. It was an important opportunity to discuss the role of energy in Nepal’s post-earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts.
“14 out of 75 districts have been seriously affected by the earthquake. 3 districts are within Kathmandu where electricity is supplied by the national grid. However, the remaining 11 districts are mostly served by decentralized renewable energy such as micro-hydro and solar photovoltaics. A lot of these need to be repaired or fully replaced,” explains Surya Kumar Sapkota, Assistant Director of Nepal’s Alternative Energy Promotion Center’s (AEPC), a government institution that promotes the renewable energy sector in Nepal.
The situation in the rural and remote areas of Nepal’s affected regions is serious. More than 90 percent of homes have been completely damaged and people are living in open spaces, some even without tents. There is no electricity for lighting, and other essential use such as cooking, charging mobile phones or using the radio. In Sindhupalchowk, one of the most heavily affected districts, people line up for 5 to 6 hours to recharge their mobile phones at a recharging facility set up in a school.
That is why humanitarian agencies, NGOs and energy companies are joining hands to get the essential energy products out to the affected people as quickly as they can. The Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Initiative - which is an inter-agency network that coordinates responses to people’s fuel and energy needs in post-conflict settings - is coordinating the humanitarian efforts around energy access in Nepal.
“In relief situations, decisions on where to move non-food items need to be made fast. Sharing information that can prompt immediate action without distorting the market is one way that NGOs and private sectors can work together“ says Shanti Kleiman, Energy and Environment Advisor at Mercy Corps, referring to the SAFE coordination platform and the relief request map set up by Gham Power which maps out all the requests for power that the company has been receiving through various channels.
While getting immediate relief to people is of utmost priority, energy will also be essential in Nepal’s efforts in recovering and strengthening the resilience of communities.
The recent directive from the Central Bank of Nepal will allow people affected by the earthquake to get bank loans at two percent to rebuild or repair their damaged homes. Financial service providers partnering with the CleanStart Programme - which supports low-income people to transition to clean energy through microfinance - are considering bundling housing loans with loans for energy products such as solar home systems.
Gham Power’s Sandeep Giri also emphasizes the opportunity to install larger-scale energy systems to serve both immediate relief needs but also to build back in an energy-resilient way, “relief agencies are coming in with equipments that need more power than what a 5 or 10 watt system can provide. Setting up a 200 Watt or 1 to 2 Kilo Watt system can work as power stations for affected communities and set up the basis for a micro-grid.” Setting up early warning systems will need to be powered by electricity.
It is at times like this we realize how fundamental energy is to human living. With the monsoon season coming up and people still waiting for relief, what will be important though is to keep things simple, draw on local capacities, and get the relief and rebuilding support to people with a sense of urgency.