Fuel sources are extremely scarce in high-altitude pastoral communities. Every day, people spend hours laboring to collect what little fuel there is in these harsh climes: Thorny shrubs and animal dung. Burning these fuels in open hearths causes chronic eye, respiratory and throat infections, particularly among women and children. Furthermore, fuel collection has repercussions on the entire ecosystem through increased erosion and less browse for livestock. From reading religious texts to cooking and spinning wool, daily tasks critical to survival in the Himalaya are accomplished by the weak light of candles. Many of the villages in which DROKPA works have no source of electricity.
DROKPA is partnering with local communities to introduce and encourage the use of solar lights, solar cookers and greenhouses. In the regions where DROKPA works, the sun shines more than 200 days annually and solar lights can brighten lives in myriad ways. Solar lights are great solutions to energy needs at community institutions and local schools.
Solar lights are a positive, affordable solution to energy needs in remote pastoral communities. Photovoltaic lights are a tested and trusted technology in the Himalaya and across the Tibetan Plateau and are a top local priority. Since 2001, households owning solar lights have increased from 20 to 150 in the Panzang Valley of Dolpo alone.
Solar cookers reduce exposure to smoke thereby reducing respiratory and eye diseases. Parabolic reflectors provide clean, efficient and renewable energy sources that make a huge difference in locals' quality of life.
The Dolpo Alternative Energy Project has taken on an exciting new dimension: Greenhouses. In 2004, we helped build a greenhouse in Panzang Valley and, in 2005, partnered with local villagers to build another school greenhouse, this time in Do Tarap Valley. Greenhouses enable local communities to lengthen short growing seasons by germinating seedlings early, produce vitamin-rich vegetables and demonstrate the potential of household kitchen gardens. Greenhouses bring nutritional benefits by making possible the cultivation of previously unavailable vegetables like carrots, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes and more.
The alternative energy program will brighten the homes and improve the health of these ancient and vibrant communities, while reversing environmental degradation in some of earth's most forbidding and majestic environments.
DROKPA is now working with local villagers, regional governments and other international organizations to provide solar light systems, solar cookers, greenhouses and solar dryers for medicinal plants. DROKPA is also working with community members to explore other avenues for alternative energy solutions such as mini-hydro stations, solar powered water pumps and solar water heaters. DROKPA will continue this collaboration to provide renewable, alternative energy technologies and training to schools, community temples and other village-level organizations in remote pastoral communities.
We are also working with local communities and Nepali alternative energy companies to help maintain and protect pastoral lifeways. Before the Chinese assumed control of Tibet and closed the Nepal-China border, pastoral communities throughout the Himalaya interacted freely with nomads in Tibet. Pastoralists throughout the northern Nepal-Tibet border were dependent on Tibet's winter grasslands to sustain their herds of yak, sheep, goat and horses. However, the border closing cut off critical supplies of winter fodder, creating a short-term emergency in which thousands of livestock starved and a long-term shortage of winter range.
DROKPA and its local, national and international collaborators are working to reverse this critical shortfall. In the coming months, we hope to introduce solar-powered water pumps, which have great potential to increase food and fodder supplies by irrigating agricultural crops, providing drinking water and growing desperately needed winter hay. These water pumps also have the capability of helping to establish vegetable gardens, greenhouses and cultivated herbal nurseries, which will help to improve community health and conserve the natural resources of these high and dry trans-Himalayan ecosystems.