COOKING ON NATURAL GAS TO SAVE THE PLANET
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
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
THE BIG STORY
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