AFGHANISTAN Bringing power to the mountains

 Economic Development
 22nd Sep 2009

By Amber Meikle, CARE International UK

Charkent may be beautiful, but it’s a tough place to live by anyone’s standards.

Abandoned Soviet tanks still line the rocky two-hour ascent from Mazar-i-Sharif up into the mountains that barred their progress South. The cool air and mountain streams which foster the crops of wheat and chickpeas come at a price.

‘We don’t have any clinics, no school, most of us are illiterate, we don’t have electricity or jobs. The huge floods damaged the roads last winter and our houses were destroyed – the walls fell down. And we have no way to rebuild them’ lament the ladies of Nanwaee village.

Many of the residents fled during the Soviet invasion and for those who came back, life was that little bit tougher. ‘We lost everything we had, we were sitting on the ground with nothing.’

But across Afghanistan, even in the most remote areas like Charkent, communities are at last being given the opportunity to take control of their future. Each family has been allocated 10,000 Afghanis (USD 200) by the Government, to be pooled and spent on a community development project.

In this remote outpost it is difficult to know where to start, which is why CARE has established and trained a Community Development Council (CDC) in each of the 60 villages in the district to empower them to take decisions by themselves.

And it is working. In Shafid Chesma village, CARE staff initially recommended they consider an irrigation system– a popular choice in other villages. But as 56 year old Sayed Hekmat, explained ‘We don’t have land, and so would have got no benefit from that.’

Instead the community sat down and, led by the CDC that they had elected, discussed which of their needs was most pressing. Each member of the community voted for the project they wanted.

‘We agreed that what we wanted most was electricity,’ continued Sayed proudly polishing the solar panel on his rooftop.

The CDC submitted the proposal to the government, collected the money from the bank, purchased and installed a solar panel in each of the 80 homes in the village, with technical help from CARE’s engineers.

For Sayed, and the three families that live under his roof, the hardships of life at 3000m has been transformed by electricity. As he carefully points out each of his 9 light bulbs he excitedly proclaims ‘These last two years we have been very happy. This panel gives us light in the dark! The children can study every night until midnight, and we can continue to work.’

Guaranteed for 30 years, the panels require little maintenance and it is clear to Sayed that his CDC led them to the right decision.

With pride in his eyes, he exclaims ‘at night on the hillside, all the villages with solar power shine like Mazar!’

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