In remote Houay Ngou village, northern Lao, 48 year old Keupkku is settling down to the evening news on his new color Television. At the other side of the room two of his daughters turn on the lights to continue their studies. Just a month ago this would not have been possible. But a newly installed 7.5kW hydro power turbine now supplies electricity to the Hmong ethnic community of 290 people.
"Thanks to the electricity from the micro hydro power, my daughters can now enjoy studying late at night," said Keupkku. These benefits are a result of the villager's initiative in proposing the construction of the micro hydro power system to the Sayaboury Provincial authorities. After securing funding from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP), implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the villagers voluntarily participated in constructing the small water catchment area, installing the pipes and transporting the building materials.
According to Bruno Cammaert, head of the UNDP Environment Programme in Lao PDR, the villagers are responsible for, "helping themselves to organize and complete the project."
The GEF Small Grants Programme directly supports community-level initiatives for environmental protection and sustainable rural development.
Most of the villagers in Houay Ngou are engaged in rice cultivation, animal husbandry, and the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). The community has few opportunities for income generation and the continued degradation of forest and agricultural lands affects the farmer's livelihoods. Its remote location worsens the situation with little access to external financial and policy support.
However with access to 24-hour power villagers like Keupkku are now able to save money and time, "Before we used to tap resin from trees in the forest or, when it is not available, buy expensive oil from the distant market to light a candle at night. But the hydro power has changed our lives, we no longer need to do this," said Keupkku. His wife, like many women in the village, can now use the evening hours to produce more handicrafts.
Along with these direct benefits the hydro power project has also resulted in improved environmental protection of the surrounding area. The villagers no longer need to cut down trees to burn for cooking and can use electric powered stoves instead. In addition the watershed forest is now a protected area as it holds the water resource for the hydro power.
"Everyone is responsible for not cutting down or burning the trees, so that we generate enough electricity for everyone and for generations to come," said Somvang Lee, 46, the head of the village. He is proud of what has been achieved and believes that the training for villagers, in terms of project management and technical capacity building, has also significantly contributed to the success of the hydro power system.
To ensure the sustainability of the project, 6,000 Lao Kip (about $US 0.75) is paid by each household monthly to maintain the hydro power turbine and protect the watershed forest. Keupkku is now saving up to realize his dream of buying a fridge and a fan.