BANDA MIRALAMJI VILLAGE, Nangarhar Province - In a small mud and brick tower straddling a fast-flowing stream, Khair Gul stands guard over a treasured resource. Seldom straying from a straw pallet on the tower’s second floor, Gul’s duty is to ensure that a small turbine continues to churn the water below him, generating enough electricity for the 150 families in the community of Banda Miralamji, in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
The tiny hydropower plant is the pride of his village, he says. “This place is very valuable to us, so my job is also important,” says Gul, 41, with obvious satisfaction. “My friends and families get their electricity from this place, and they depend on me, so their children can study under lights or use their computers; women can charge their phones or wash clothes. So many things.”
Often from dawn to dusk, even around the clock, he keeps a close eye on the panel of switches, dials and breakers near his bed, while his 13-year-old son, Esmatullah, runs for food, water, or occasionally gets to flip a switch. “We all worked hard to have this project and now it must never stop,” says Gul.
The micro-hydropower project was made possible by the National Solidarity Program (NSP), which provides basic infrastructure and services to rural Afghanistan. NSP is implemented by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development with support by the World Bank, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and the Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF).
NSP helps villagers elect representatives for local Community Development Councils (CDCs), much like traditional Afghan shuras. An estimated 22,500 CDCs represent over 35,000 villages under the NSP. Once established, CDCs draw up a priority list and can apply for funding for construction projects needed in their area, such as pathways, small bridges, partition walls, wells, or canals.
There are almost 1,800 CDCs now established in Nangarhar and with 3,200 projects of various kinds completed, while over 1,000 are still ongoing, says Mir Zaman, engineer and acting manager of NSP Nangarhar. “There are so many projects villagers can choose from, but often their first priority is power. Everyone needs that,” explains Zaman. “Otherwise, people in rural areas have to buy kerosene, gas cylinders and lanterns, and this is very costly for them. So, these hydro systems are a big saving.”