WASHINGTON — Many areas of Pakistan suffer energy shortages because the country's grid does not reach all of its remote corners. In one section of Pakistan's Kashmir region, people have taken the initiative to create their own energy from abundant streams and rivers, using small-scale turbines.
The Neelum Valley, in the Himalayan region of southeastern Pakistan, is sometimes called “Heaven on Earth” for its unspoiled beauty. Local residents want to preserve their forests and their clean environment despite a growing need for electricity said Shafiq Usmani, an official at a local hydroelectric board.
"All the beauty of the Neelum Valley is dependent upon those forests, streams, and neat and clean water, and this can only be sustained if we are giving them the clean energy," said Usmani.
Less than half of the Neelum Valley's 200,000 inhabitants have access to electricity from the national grid. However, the Neelum River itself and its tributaries flow with enough force to produce energy. Some local communities use small turbines, called hydel machines, to generate electricity to light their homes.
"This hydel machine [turbine] was installed with a share from 50 families, which costs us nearly $3,000. We started this small hydro scheme as we needed it. We only get light from it and no other electric appliances. We start this turbine at 3 in the afternoon and switch it off the next day at 8 am," said Rahimullah, one of the turbine operators.
Villagers say the homemade turbines have transformed their daily lives.
“When we had no electricity there was always smoke, as we use wood for heating and cooking, which causes diseases. Since we installed this project, thank God, we have gotten rid of these diseases and gained some other benefits," said Mushtaq Ahmad, a villager.
Even so, there is not enough energy for everyone's needs, and that means that trees still have to be cut down to provide wood for fire. Engineer Sardar Basharat Ahmad said the valley needs more turbines.
"Cutting down trees is a big loss, using wood for heating and cooking causes health problems. If the hydel is promoted and new projects are set up, it will fulfill all the requirements of the people like cooking and heating, and it will save the cutting down of green trees," said Ahmad.
Pakistan is plagued by power cuts, especially in the summer. The blackouts affect ordinary people's lives and hamper the economy. The country is using only about 10 percent of its identified hydropower potential.