Remoteness from a regular supply of electricity has many costs. For the scattered and isolated villagers of the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan, those costs can be measured not only by low incomes, but by poor health and safety as pinewood sticks and costly kerosene lamps make a precarious substitute for the lack of electricity.
But the villagers are not without power. Local rivers are abundant. Recognising this, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) set about funding and building micro hydro power plants. Crucially AKRSP involved the villagers from the outset. Local committees were set up to manage installation and maintenance, including pricing. Local people did much of the initial work. By 2010, a total of 204 hydro systems had been installed in Chitral province and about 20 elsewhere, supplying electricity for lighting and household appliances.
The plan is for larger plants to support cooking and heating, and two new programmes under development will reach a further 350 villages, funding permitting. For now though the impact is huge, both professionally and personally. People, especially the women, have more time for earning money, notably with increased production of Shu, the local woollen cloth. And they are healthier and safer, with more time to learn and to relax. Their world has become larger. As one villager says: ‘Children have heard about things like trains and planes. Now they can see them on the television.”