When massive floods engulfed many regions of Pakistan in summer 2010, existing water and electrical systems were brought down. With funding from Catholics in the United States, Caritas partners, and other donors, Catholic Relief Services has built or repaired water systems that serve thousands of people. CRS is also creating a small, water-fed power plant to bring electricity to remote areas.
Engineer Abdul Rashid, Senior Technical Advisor for CRS Pakistan, spoke about the project while in Besham, a city in mountainous northern Pakistan.
What engineering projects is CRS doing to help people hurt by the flood?
CRS has “drinking water supply schemes”—basically repairing broken water systems so poor people have clean water to drink. Even high up in the mountains where the floodwaters couldn’t reach, the rains were so severe that the pipe systems were destroyed.
CRS also has repaired things like bridges, pathways, and irrigation channels. We’ve built or repaired more than 100 systems.
It’s very steep and mountainous here, and the roads are bad. How do you get construction materials to project sites, especially thousands of feet uphill?
There are some roads, but yes, many are very bad. Landslides covered many parts of the main road during the flood.
With the water supply schemes we’ve built in some places here, we had to use donkeys, or even have men carry pipes on foot.
In an area called Kohistan, the mountains are 9,000 feet high. We were in villages, and there were no roads. The site was on top of the mountain. It was 6 miles of hiking.
Can you tell me about one especially difficult day?
Right when the flood ended, all the roads were cut off. We went to the field area on foot, without vehicles. One day I was hiking for 6 hours, and it was Ramadan, when we fast all day.
You’re also working on a small, water-fed power plant. What is the situation with electricity in Pakistan?
Not only here in Besham, but in all of Pakistan, there is a problem with getting electricity.
In the mountain villages here, there are few electrical lines. Even when there are power lines, there’s rarely electricity. And even when there is current, the voltage is so low that it cannot run fans and other electric things like refrigerators.
Poor people cannot afford the bills. It typically costs 2,000 rupees per month—over $20—and the rate is going up and up.
Lighting is a basic need. People use kerosene oil lamps.
What is a microhydropower plant (MHP)?
It’s an electrical power plant but with small capacity: 5 to 100 kilowatts per unit.
Before the flood, there were a lot of MHPs. There were even thousands in the interior. But most of them were washed away by the floodwaters. Only 20 percent of the people have recovered that power. They mostly used it for lights.
Most of the MHPs were owned by individuals. The owner would have additional electricity, so he would sell it to other people at 200 rupees per month per household.
CRS is implementing communal schemes. The plant will help an average of 200 to400 households. Households here are very large—extended families live together.
How does a microhydropower plant work?
For example, imagine I have a one-pound weight and drop it 10 feet. It will have some energy and power. If I drop it from a hundred feet, it will have more power.
The water comes down the mountains. In the winter there’s snow, so when it melts, it flows into streams. It’s coming down on a very steep slope.
The water falls on a turbine and the turbine rotates. It’s connected to a generator, which creates the electricity.
What is most difficult about building this plant?
On the plus side, there’s a lot of water in this area. The essentials are quantity of water and elevation, and we’ve got both in this area.
But before the floods, there were a lot of sites where we could construct these MHPs. After the flood, most of the sites have been destroyed. Now we have fewer choices.
How are these projects helping people?
Before we fixed the water systems, people were collecting water from a nearby source, but that could be 3 miles away. Women are responsible for getting the water, carrying it in a big pot on their heads. It’s hard.
People really appreciate CRS staff –we were the first ones who went to these communities and provided the basic necessities of life.
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