Communities Power the Future

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A water collection tank with a 10,000-gallon capacity, implemented by UNDP in collaboration with the village community Photo: ALEX NYI NYI AUNG

For the 47 families of Thicong village, going on two-night expeditions into the forest 12 km away to collect wood was part of a routine. They needed wood to cook, to keep warm and to light their homes. Collecting enough wood to last a family two weeks took time and effort. But this is how life had always been in the village in the hilly eastern Chin state.

“Though we knew excessive use of wood is not good for our environment, we couldn’t use less as there was no other choice for us to stay warm and to have light at night, especially for school-going children,” said Daw Par Mwai, a mother of two school-age children.

Highlights

  • Micro hydropower plants in rural villages are cutting down on the need for firewood and helping villagers start small businesses
  • 12 micro hydropower plants were built in 12 villages in Myanmar by UNDP-facilitated community-based organizations
  • 1,546 community-based organizations were established in 1,451 villages to manage community-wide activities and common funds supported by UNDP

When an alternative was suggested, the residents of Thicong were more than open to it. In 2010 the UNDP,  suggested that the hilly terrain lived and the proximity of the Robya River two miles away, offered a solution: a micro hydropower plant that could produce electricity for the village.

Villagers organized meetings and decided to pursue the idea of building a plant channeling water from the river to a reservoir. The community formed a lighting committee to manage the project, comprising five men and two women.

“To ensure adequate funds, we conducted fund-raising efforts and searched for a technician,” said Daw Par Mwai, a lighting committee member.

A village livelihoods committee that UNDP had helped set up in 2005 guided the lighting committee and also partly funded the hydropower project. The total project cost was about US $3,250. The bulk of this came as a contribution from the Zome Christian League and from the livelihood committee’s common fund. The remainder was met through voluntary community labor.

With UNDP providing technical assistance, the village committee made a detailed plan for excavating a  reservoir and purchasing the required materials. They also hired two engineers to oversee the reservoir construction and the machine installation. Work on the project began in January 2010, and the power station was fully operational the following January.

The changes in the village have been swift. Children now study by the steady light of a fluorescent bulb, and seven families now own television sets and DVD players. Project staff members say that these televisions have been put to good use, showing the village community health education programs that have slowly started to change personal hygiene habits and create a consciousness about safe water and sanitation practices.
The long trips to the forest have also decreased.

“Due to the accessibility of electricity in the village, we noticed the number of households that burned wood for lighting declined dramatically within one year, and it is a good contribution for our environment,” Daw Par Mwai said.
With the time they’ve saved, several families who now make baskets and brooms as they sit chatting at night by the light of their fluorescent tube lights, bringing them an additional income of around $16 a month.

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