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Member Spotlight – Bir Bahadur Ghale | Energy Access Practitioner Network

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Member Spotlight – Bir Bahadur Ghale

Bir Bahadur Ghale: working to Rebuild Barpak after the Nepal Earthquake

Hidden in the hills of Nepal’s Gorkha region, the village of Barpak was isolated from the modern world for most of the twentieth century. Too remote to be connected to Nepal’s national electrical grid, Barpak was losing many of its younger residents to the cities, who were forced to seek out higher education and job opportunities in more metropolitan areas. One such young man was Bir Bahadur Ghale, whose aspirations lay not in farming or in the Army (two of the few career options for men in Barpak), who left his village for an education in Kathmandu and was quickly inspired by the vital importance of electricity. Determined to find an electricity solution for Barpak, he came across an equally remote hotel which had electricity and investigated its energy source – a simple water turbine at a nearby mill. Two years and many challenges later, he switched on a 50-kilowatt micro-hydropower plant and lit up every home in Barpak. In a 2014 Story Cycle interview, Bir Bahadur recalled that day in 1991, “There was light everywhere. People became happy and excited.”

“All Nepali citizens are entitled to electricity.”

– Bir Bahadur Ghale

Over the next two decades the village was transformed. Young people returned, bringing ideas for businesses with them, older villagers were able to continue working as machines replaced heavy manual labor in saw mills, stone mills, and grain mills, students were able to study longer at night, and as word spread around the world about this fully self-sustained, picturesque village, tourists came and brought a much needed economic boost with them. As energy demand grew with the economy, the plant was upgraded to a 130kW system and was able to support the local businesses, agriculture, and even Internet. Narbahadur Ghale, a local cable operator who established the village’s television services, stated that the electricity is good quality, reliable, and cheap, more so than the national grid. “After Bir Bahadur established the micro-hydropower plant in Barpak many people have employment here. Without electricity, people like us would not have been able to stay in the village doing a business,” said Narbahadur.

Barpak
Barpak in 2014. Photo credit: Story Cycle, ‘Life Connected by Electricity’.

With the success of micro-hydro in Barpak, Bir Bahadur initiated electrification projects in other remote communities, completing 60 hydropower plants in five districts (including all 15 villages in Gorkha) and founding the Barpak Service Center to provide villagers with customer and maintenance services. “Nepal’s geography and topography is very difficult. There are very remote places,” like Barpak, which would be impossible to connect with the national grid within the next five to ten years. “So micro-hydro is essential to fulfill electricity demands of people in remote places. Although it cannot meet all their energy needs, it can at least light their homes. Micro-hydro is the best option to meet the immediate electricity demands in hilly and mountainous regions.”  In 2002, Bir Bahadur went on to establish the Nepal Micro-Hydropower Entrepreneurship Federation, which “provides a common platform for sharing experiences and solutions” among the managers of Nepal’s 1,400 micro-hydropower plants.

On April 25 of this year, everything changed. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Gorkha region, with Barpak at its epicenter. The earthquake leveled 95% of Barpak’s homes and many of its schools, health centers, food mills, and local businesses.  Of the 1,200 residences in the village, 4 remained standing. Many of Barpak’s 7,000 residents were injured and at least 700 were killed. On May 12, a second earthquake of 7.4-magnitude struck Nepal. Needless to say, the village was once again without power.

A month after the first earthquake, the Gorkhaly Foundation delivered a 50kVA diesel generator, named ‘Urja’, to Barpak, which has been supplying the food and saw mills along with light and cell phone charging. Young Nepalese professionals have been working with the Gorkhaly Foundation and nonprofit Nepal Ko Yuwa since the earthquake, and under the guidance of Bir Bahadur Ghale they launched the Rebuild Barpak campaign, as part of the umbrella Nepal Rising campaign, to restore the Barpak community to its former vibrancy and become an inspiration to other villages that were hit by the earthquake.

Dhan Maya
Dhan Maya Ghale holds her grandson Sujal in a temporary shelter in Barpak, Nepal, on May 1. Photo credit: Paula Bronstein, Wall Street Journal

While Urja the generator has been immeasurably helpful in the relief efforts of the last several months, the campaign hopes to use money raised to build a new micro-hydro facility, support infrastructure needs and long-term housing solutions, build a community center, and help local businesses get a new start. Practitioner Members and friends can support these efforts by contacting info@gorkhaly.org or visiting www.nepalrising.org