We have had our first official tour of Kharo Chhan, a small fishing village 150 kilometres away from Karachi, surrounded by the Sindhu Naddi (as the locals call it) and the Arabian Sea. We’re sitting in the veranda of the cosy thatched house of J Khatti the local dispenser who is our host. It getting dark and we are pleasantly surprised to see the light from one bulb dangling from a wire stretched across the pillars of the roof of the veranda. Sidra, my friend, jokes about how we carried torches and a load of batteries for nothing. Our happiness turns to disappointment when the light disappears with a gust of wind. J gives a knowing smile and quietly gets up to light a lantern.
Kharo Chhan was not what it is now. Before the 1940’s it used to be a very prosperous port city, bustling with richness and life. The 30 minute boat ride across Garho and Kharo Chan charmed us as occasional travellers, but this isolated position of Kharo Chan is what that has hampered the infrastructural development in the area. All the elementary signs of a civilisation in this day and age have failed to reach across the river, from the small city of Garho. Garho has electricity and gas, schools and hospitals, while Kharo Chan does not. Most of the people from the villages are fishermen, either by tradition or because there is little else to do for money. While the fresh water fishing too was once a well-to-do trade, it too has fallen into ruins due to the encroachment of the Arabian Sea. The fishermen make their ends meet with about Rs. 1500 to2000 per trip which they do so thrice a month- which is equivalent to Rs.6000 (75 dollars) every three months, if, they get lucky.
It is our second evening at the Khatti village- in his home, in Kharo Chan and Mr. J is busy lightning up the lantern in his veranda. I ask him why he needs that when the bulb will work. He laughs, “You got lucky yesterday”, he says. Seeing the confused look on my face he explains that although the windmills have been installed and connections provided to so many homes, there is only one problem. They don’t work.
It hasn’t been long since the people of Kharo Chan had the luxury of light bulbs in their homes. Since April to September 2009, five windmills have been installed in Kharo Chhan for production of electricity. Each windmill cost Rs. 145 000 out of which the villagers’ share was 20%. There are two windmills in the village of Khaskheli, two in Mallah and one in Khatti. Each house that got a connection saved its fuel money spent on kerosene oil for the lanterns and contributed to the villages’ share in getting a connection.
The Indus for All Programme by WWF Pakistan approved 11 project proposals to be granted in Sind in 2008. They were to be implemented in six districts of Sind, Khairpur, Thatta, Nawabshah, Badin, Kotri, and Mattiari. Indus for All set up a fund called the Partnership Fund which was to be used for these projects in collaboration with government of Pakistan, academic institutions and NGO’s; as well as local community organisations. One of these projects was the promotion of alternate energy for sustainable conservation of Indus Delta Eco-region. The combined total budget of the eleven approved projects is rupees 36.4 million out of which an amount of Rs. 24.8 millions would be contributed by the Partnership Fund while Rs. 11.6 million will be borne by the organisations implementing the projects. Out of the total capital 31% was allocated to the promotion of alternate energy projects. The Sind Government approved the project in March 2009.
Specifically two projects are of our interest with regard to our subject. Electrification of two villages: one in the village of M.Siddiqe Channa in Taluka Ghora Bari (also in district Thatta), and the other, on the island of Kharo Chan (also a Taluka), using wind and solar power. The estimated cost of these two projects was 9.46 million, according to the provincial ADP of 2009-10, for district Thatta.
We went to see the setup of the windmill for a closer look with R Khatti. He owns a shop in the village and is responsible for the maintenance of the equipment. While we waited beside a pond of water used to store water, the size of a football ground, he went to his home to get the keys. “The system worked well for some time but now the battery only generates enough power to light a bulb for twenty minutes after several weeks”, he told us when he returned. While we were at the neighbouring village of Mallah we saw the equipment of the windmill installed there being loaded onto a boat and taken to Karachi for repairing. Rasheed took care of the maintenance of the equipment in his village. Officials from AHD (Action for Humanitarian Development-the NGO which worked on the project) had come and explained to him how it works and he was responsible for it.
Each windmill comes with a battery and a UPS. Wind charges the battery up which stores electricity in the UPS in turn. In the evenings when it gets dark the power generated is supposed to be enough to use two bulbs. Each house pays a sum of Rs. 50 per month. It saves an average of 1500 rupees spent on kerosene oil to light the lanterns. The people welcomed this project with open arms. It not only improves their living standards and prevents health problems, but enables more children to go to school with the money they save from not using kerosene.
A tete-a-tete with Mr. J reveals further insight into the matter. He tells us that he had been the advocate of installing windmills and was responsible for the money collection of two of them, one in Khatti village and the other in Khaskheli village, along with two others Suleiman Khatti and Rasheed Khatti. Twenty percent of Rs. 145 000 from two villages amounted to 58 000 rupees which they collected and gave to the NGO responsible for installing the windmills according to him. The equipment worked fine for two to three months but after that it stopped working altogether. “Then? What did you do? ”, was our natural response. He told us that he had complained at the AHD office several times and had written many letters to the editor as well. But so far our complaints have not been heeded to. After much probing and beating about the bush he explains that there was no documentation of the money that they gave to AHD, hence they cannot prove their part in setting up the project. “I admit we made a mistake in not asking for any proof for our money, but the thought completely skipped our mind at that time”, Jalil admits at length.
We admit we were left confused at this frank admission of blunder. We asked Mr. Khatti to show us the forms that were given out for electricity connections. He took us to his dispensary and showed us the forms. The form was in Sindhi and explained the terms of setting up a connection for electricity. It mentioned the total cost of setting up the windmill system and how much the village had to pay (20% of the total amount of Rs.145 000). The person who wanted a connection signed it with two witnesses, one of them the local manager from the village. In this instance, J Khatti.
Out of the three men only Jalil has had any kind of formal education, out of a handful in the village. He was born in Kharo Chhan, did his matric from Makli, and dispensary course from Hyderabad. He started working as a government dispenser in 1984 and now for about 8 years has been in his native town. He earns 13 000 rupees a month and owns his own house in the Khatti village. His family has just recently moved to Ibrahim Hydery, in Karachi, two to three months ago. “I used all my savings to buy a plot in Karachi. When I save more money and build my own house in Karachi then I’ll move too because living here has become very difficult now. There is no water, no electricity, any gas, or health facilities besides my dispensary and another clinic. I refer complicated cases to Garho. Sometimes people make it in time, at other times they don’t”.
After returning from Kharo Chan we contacted the Chief Executive of Action for Humanitarian Development, the NGO that has been working in collaboration with WWF Pakistan. “The windmills work at the speed of minimum 7 to 8 miles per second while in winter the wind speed is nearly 2 to 3 miles per second. It works well from march till November but the coastal winds slow down in winter months. That is why electricity generated is not enough to use all days”, Mr. Y Rind explained.
He was critical of our immediate source in Kharo Chan and gave rise to other pressing concerns about the project. “We have had problems from the people of Khatti village and they haven’t even paid their due amount for the two windmills that were set up. The other village Khaskheli paid their due amount and another village Ghuriani paid some, and some remains. But the village of Khatti were very troublesome only because of one man. I don’t know for whom he works but he loves brewing trouble.”
There also seemed to be a discrepancy in the warranty period of the set up of windmill. While our two sources insisted that the apparatus had a warranty of three years, Mr. Rind told us that it was not so. Warranty period was of one year only. We had also heard that AHD had promised the village solar panels in case the equipment failed to work, but the Chief Executive explained that there were no such promises. In case the equipment had some problem the village people are supposed to contact a “vendor”- a technician provided by AHD who will guide the people on the best way to repair the apparatus.
One gets the impression that this project of alternate energy has placed Kharo Chan light years ahead of the rest of Pakistan. Technologically, yes it has; but Kharo Chan has a lot catching up to for going backwards in the journey of development since the formation of Pakistan in 1947. But there is no denying the fact that this windmill electricity project is a giant leap towards providing 37 000 people of Kharo Chan a better chance at life before they lose all hope. The discordances are but little thorns which can be picked away along the path. What remains to be attended to is the plight of so many people who still believe they see a slight shimmer of a silver lining in the middle of a grey sky. We must not let that cloud go.