Light for a Nation: Solar as a Solution to Rebuilding Nepal

In a country like Nepal that has endured long-term political hardships, there's nothing more devastating than for the 2015 earthquakes to rock the nation.

At a magnitude of 7.8 that hit on 25 April, then 7.3 on 12 May - just two weeks apart from each other - the disastrous impact left close to 9,000 people killed and tens of thousands injured. A further 850,000 homes were damaged and over 2.5 million of the population were left without homes.

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This inevitably meant that healthcare and education facilities were left in tatters, with local agriculture suffering from lack of power to operate water pumps and irrigate crops. As the country continues to struggle with the effects of the natural disasters, climate change and political instability, renewable energy is providing both light and hope for a nation of people renowned for their resilience.

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Over 80% of Nepal's population live in rural mountainous regions that lack access to electricity, and it is this lack that remains one of the biggest barriers to the country's economic development. Kerosene lamps are currently the only reliable source of light, leading many businesses to run privately-owned diesel generators for backup. Still, they suffer from increasing fuel costs, frequent shortages and pollution from fumes and noise.

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In August, crisis struck again with political conflicts on the border of Nepal and India leading to a complete economic blockade. Goods were not allowed to pass from India into Nepal, the primary path of trade for the country. Residents have been running on fuel to cook and heat their homes, and hospitals warned of an impending humanitarian crisis as medicines started to run short. In the post-earthquake situation, businesses have been forced to shut down and are actively seeking out clean, reliable and alternative energy solutions. Solar, therefore, has become a very feasible and viable answer to power Nepal and provide a path towards energy independence.

One organisation that is actively providing solar energy to Nepal is SunFarmer a non-profit that installs solar panels for health facilities, schools, farms and community centres in the developing world. With Nepal as the first country of focus, Co-founders Andy Moon and Jason Gray started SunFarmer and have powered over 100 solar projects in Nepal. With their tagline "Solar is the Solution," the team has partnered with the Government of Nepal and health-care provider Possible Health with an aim to power 21 reconstructed health posts with solar in the Dolakha district, one of the hardest hit disaster zones in Nepal.

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With energy partner Renewable World, SunFarmer has also implemented a water irrigation project that uses a solar MUS (Multiple Use System) for drinking and micro-irrigation. In areas like Sirubari, farmers like Dilli Ram Regmi are benefiting from wells above the village that are filled with water that are in turn powered by solar water pumps at the base of the mountains. In the same community, 16 distribution taps have been fitted to provide drinking water to 32 households in the village.

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Besides healthcare and agriculture, education is also in the pipeline. One of these projects is the SOS Children's Village in Jorpati, a village just outside Kathmandu, which provides care and schooling to children with disabilities, whose families can no longer care for them. A total of 1.89 kW of solar energy installed on the rooftops are currently powering computers, wireless routers, lights and a refrigerator for 42 children, 30 youths, 24 full-time staff and 35 volunteers.

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This short multimedia documentary and series of photos were taken six months after the earthquake, where local spots like the Citizen's Awareness Centre in Dolakha have quickly become a meeting point for people to discuss ways to facilitate change with renewable energy - all this to better the livelihoods of its community.

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A bright future awaits the nation as solar becomes more affordable and economically viable for developing countries like Nepal, who may not have the financial resources to exploit the potential of renewable energy. Clearly, we see that the opportunity of bringing electricity to poorer regions in a cleaner, cheaper and more efficient method is already underway.

While 2015 was a difficult year, on February 5, 2016 the blockade came to an end and goods are now moving freely between Nepal and India. Whilst the earthquakes devastated much of the country, more than half of the nation's districts were left relatively intact. Tourism, one of the main sources of economic stability for Nepal, is returning to the country with travel, sight-seeing and trekking open for the season.

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Kristin Lau is a Toronto-based photographer from Queens, New York. She's focused on social documentary, portraiture and the environment. Kristin seeks out stories that raise awareness about the environment to evoke positive change for the natural world and its inhabitants.

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