Flicker of Hope
Issue 79 April 2011
The recent floods in Pakistan caused widespread devastation and left much of the population without access to basic necessities. Abu Adam Ismail looks at one of the many projects launched by charity, Human Appeal International, to combat much of the destruction.
The worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s recent history is now approaching its first anniversary and while much has been done to keep people fed and sheltered in the country, there is the now rising sceptre of lack of income that overshadows the flood affected areas and their inhabitants. The numbers are so voluminous that even after almost a year has passed since the devastation, they are difficult to comprehend: 17.2 million people were left homeless, one third of Pakistan’s land was affected and hundreds of thousands of animals were killed by the floods.
Pakistan’s poorest people face an energy crisis. The country is perennially the victim of rolling electricity and gas blackouts and for those living in simple houses exposed to the elements, energy is vital for cooking, heating and in many cases for selling to earn a modest livelihood. Energy is usually produced by burning firewood, dung or crop residue. This form of energy is inefficient and with much of the land’s foliage ravaged from the floods, this is no longer a viable option. In addition, the process of travelling to, cutting down and then returning home from the areas where there is wood that is suitable is an arduous task and because it is often done by the women of the household, a dangerous proposition at that. An ever increasing percentage of the largely rural and agrarian population are without the means to heat their homes, cook warm food and even have the opportunity to earn a living for themselves and their families.
Human Appeal International’s Biogas units are an attempt to begin to address all aspects of these problems and allow the people of the flood affected areas to rebuild their lives in a sustainable and economically beneficial way. With the aim of actively improving the quality of life and fulfilling the vital needs of suffering people through education, health, income generation and family life, the recently launched Biogas project by Human Appeal International hopes to provide the destitute with tools to reclaim their own livelihoods.
The Biogas units are relatively simple in terms of their functionality; they take the manure of animals and convert it into biogas (Methane and Carbon Dioxide). The residue of the remaining man.ure is then ready to be used as a rich, organic fertiliser. This natural fertiliser is likely to be much more beneficial in the growing of crops than artificial fertilisers and also provides a saving, in that fertiliser does not need to be purchased. Therefore, one of the few things that people in rural areas have an excess of can be turned into products that are of direct benefit to them.
The benefits are numerous; there is less destruction of an already fragile ecosystem as it is estimated that two people require only one mature tree’s worth of firewood to cover their use annually. Alongside this, people are able to heat their homes and cook for free as the vast majority own animals. Similarly, they are able to grow crops with natural fertilisers, thus making the yields of said fertilisers healthier and more organic versus those crops that are grown with the aid of artificial and often low quality chemical based fertilisers. Finally, if they are able to produce excess biogas, it can be sold for income. There is also the additional and often forgotten benefit that women do not have to brave difficult conditions of travelling many miles to look for, cut, collect and bring back firewood for their families.
Similarly, the significant reduction in the amount of dung that is used for cooking fuel purposes will also lead to a reduction in diseases such as tuberculosis as well as many other unpleasant consequences of having insects and pests follow dung into households.
Human Appeal International now aims to install 200 of these units in Rahim Yaar Khan, one of the worst flood affected areas in the country. Each unit costs approximately £650 to build and will give a family a lifetime’s liberation from many of the energy issues that they face on a day to day basis as well as being a positive force for social, economic and environmental change in a part of the world that requires all in equal measure.
For more information and how to donate, visit www.humanappeal.org.uk