To­mor­row’s Earth Hour may be a sym­bolic ges­ture, but the global move­ment has spawned a biogas pro­gramme that is em­pow­er­ing people in Nepal, WWF’s Ugan Manandhar tells Shiva Ku­mar Thekkepat

Friday - - HOROSCOPES -

Mo­han Tharu walks out of his bam­boo hut in the re­mote vil­lage of Bharat­pur as the sun is set­ting on the Terai, a vast strip of land en­com­pass­ing the south­ern bor­der of Nepal.

It is dusk and al­though the sky is still rosy, the loom­ing for­est nearby shuts out the day­light, en­velop­ing the area in vel­vety dark­ness. He takes care not to stray too far from the set­tle­ment. The 45-year-old farmer doesn’t want to en­counter any of the dan­ger­ous of wildlife found in the dense jun­gles that bor­der the vil­lage – the sloth bear, leop­ard, one-horned In­dian rhi­noc­eros, and of course, the tiger in search of its pre­dom­i­nant prey, the chi­tal (spotted deer), hog deer, bark­ing deer and the ma­jes­tic sam­bar. “I’ve lost too many friends to bears and tigers,” he says.

His wife Tara, 40, comes out, wip­ing her wet hands on her sari, slip­ping her worn-out slip­pers on her cal­loused feet. “Where are you go­ing?” Mo­han asks her, sur­prised.

“To col­lect wood for the stove, what else?” she replies curtly. Al­most im­me­di­ately she re­alises her mis­take and grins in em­bar­rass­ment, as Mo­han laughs.

Tara’s rudi­men­tary kitchen now boasts a brand new biogas stove. She hasn’t had to go out and col­lect wood from the dan­ger­ous jun­gle for some weeks now, thanks to an Earth Hour/World Wildlife Fund (WWF) project. Called A Flame Called Hope, the project aims to pro­vide clean

and al­ter­nate biogas en­ergy for 150 house­holds, with about 750 people, in the vil­lage. This af­ford­able and highly ef­fec­tive tech­nol­ogy turns an­i­mal and hu­man waste into biogas (a clean cook­ing gas) mak­ing it a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive to wood. Mo­han and Tara are the first re­cip­i­ents of the scheme.

As Tara bus­tles back into the hut to pre­pare din­ner, Mo­han stretches lazily out­side his hut, wait­ing for his neigh­bour to come out to gos­sip about the day. For the vil­lagers, such re­lax­ation is a lux­ury they never imag­ined they could af­ford. “Biogas has to­tally trans­formed our lives,” says Mo­han. “It has not only made life eas­ier for us, we can also now stop cut­ting down trees in­dis­crim­i­nately.”

Count­less other fam­i­lies in Nepal’s Terai Arc land­scape share Mo­han and Tara’s ex­pe­ri­ence. They eke out a liv­ing – like seven mil­lion oth­ers in the area – by farm­ing on the fringes of sev­eral pro­tected for­est ar­eas. The for­est rep­re­sents life for both people and wildlife, and the vil­lagers of­ten share their back­yards with wild tigers, rhi­nos, and ele­phants.

For hu­mans scram­bling to make ends meet, the forests fuel their lives. With a de­pen­dence born from ne­ces­sity, Mo­han and the vil­lagers burned down their forests, by cut­ting down trees to fuel their fires for ev­ery meal that they cooked.

“It wasn’t a mat­ter of choice be­cause we didn’t have any other op­tion if we wanted to cook our food, and also stay warm,” says Mo­han.

“For four hours ev­ery day, my wife and I had to for­age for wood in the for­est, even though we knew we could be at­tacked by wild an­i­mals.”

That wasn’t the only prob­lem. Cook­ing with fire­wood also had a di­rect im­pact on their health. The de­sign of the tra­di­tional vil­lage huts con­tained the smoke within, af­fect­ing the lungs and eye­sight of the en­tire fam­ily. Mo­han, who doesn’t have any chil­dren, talks about his neigh­bour’s kids who had to be treated at the lo­cal hospi­tal for eye

A vil­lager in Bharat­pur cooks up a storm on her new biogas stove

Vil­lagers learn how to set up and op­er­ate a biogas plant

Mo­han and his wife Tara use the slurry from their biogas as ma­nure


Thanks to the cleaner air, chil­dren have a brighter fu­ture

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