For centuries philosophers have tried to define happiness. Perhaps they should listen to a villager from the eastern slope of the Andes talking about the difference that micro-hydro electricity plants have made to life. “When we didn’t have electricity, everywhere was silent and monotonous. Then, when light came to our village, the children were able to do recreational activities. It changed our way of life. Now there’s much more happiness.”
The plants were a response to the isolation of the villagers. 70% of them were without a connection to the electricity grid. Dirty and inefficient kerosene and diesel lamps were the norm. People were leaving for the city.
Yet the area is rich in rivers and streams which can be harnessed for hydro-electricity. Practical Action, an international NGO, designed turbines and used local manufacturers to build them, 57 in total by 2010 supporting over 30,000 people. Up-front costs were paid via grants and loans. The model of local involvement was pivotal. Local communities were involved at all stages, contributing labour and setting up management groups to arrange tariff costs and maintenance which is provided by local technicians.
The benefits are economic and human. Businesses have sprung up while the quality of life has improved both in the home and in the community as regular electricity means better education and health care. The Peruvian government now has a ten-year plan to expand the project while the technology is being used in other parts of Latin America.
And when it comes to happiness, a new ice-cream factory in Cochin is probably doing a very good job.