Solar water pumps up incomes for Nepal's quake-hit farmers

  • By Adela Suliman
  • 21/02/2018

A solar panel installed in October 2017 powers a pump bringing up 40,000 litres of water per day to the remote village of Shikharpur in Nepal, 7 February 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Adela Suliman


SHIKHARPUR, Nepal - In the village of Shikharpur in Nepal's remote Himalayan foothills, the faint sound of water can be heard trickling through a large metal pump.

Standing in golden mustard fields, a huge solar panel powers the pump that provides some 40,000 litres of water daily to families still recovering from Nepal's devastating 2015 earthquake.

"Before (the pump) we used to walk two or three hours a day to collect water," said Daley Sarki, a vegetable farmer whose mud home still bears the cracked scars of the disaster.

A massive earthquake struck impoverished Nepal - home to famed Mount Everest - in April 2015, killing nearly 9,000 people and disrupting the lives of more than 8 million. 

Helping families recover has proved harder than expected, for reasons ranging from aid funding delays to a fuel blockade.

In Shikharpur, located about 50 km (31 miles) from the capital, the 7.8-magnitude earthquake left most households without access to drinking water, said Ram Prasad Bolakhe, a community leader.

"There were many problems," he said, listing destroyed homes, contaminated water and frequent power outages.

To improve access to clean water, a project led by British charity Renewable World set up a solar-powered pump that collects underground water and transfers it up 72 metres (236 ft) to the Himalayan village, where it is stored in tanks.

The system serves about 120 households and a school, said Bolakhe, with each family paying for their own use based on water meter readings.


The climate-smart technology has significantly improved people's health, Bolakhe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that better sanitation and access to drinking water have limited the spread of water-borne diseases.

Residents say it has boosted incomes, too.

Sarki, a 54-year-old widow, said the time she has saved by no longer having to walk far to fetch water has allowed her and other women farmers to take up second jobs - in her case as a labourer on a dairy farm.

The additional water also means she can grow more produce not just to feed herself, but to sell at the market.

"My income has doubled," she said, noting proudly that she can now grow crops, including tomatoes and cauliflowers, for two seasons a year.

The project also trains farmers to use water more efficiently, grow off-season vegetables such as sweet peppers under plastic sheets that serve as makeshift greenhouses, and promote their produce to local markets and traders.


One unintended consequence, said Bolakhe, has been bringing the community closer together as neighbours have to interact to manage the water system. 

It allows for equal distribution of water among all castes, including lower-caste Dalits like Sarki, and encourages villagers to meet and collaborate, he said.

Rabindra Karki from International Development Enterprises (iDE) Nepal, a partner of the project that helps poor farmers, said the initiative had united villagers over a shared resource.

"They're aware of the system as theirs - they perceive that it's for them, to fulfil their needs," he said. 

Karki, whose organisation has set up other solar-powered water systems in Nepal as part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme, funded by the British government, said access to water is crucial for villagers to get back on their feet after the quake.

Solar irrigation is more reliable and efficient than traditional water systems as it is less vulnerable to erratic rainfall and high altitudes, he said.
The technology should be rolled out to more remote parts of the country to help disadvantaged communities, he added.

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