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GIZ and INTEGRATION / Brighter prospects in rural Afghanistan

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Badakhshan is a remote, mountainous rural province in the far north east of Afghanistan. Lack of electricity has hampered development and added to ethnic tensions.

GIZ and INTEGRATION are working with the Afghan government to improve rural electricity supply. This includes constructing mini-hydro schemes in Badakhshan and neighbouring provinces. The programme works with local communities to gain support and share benefits, and provides intensive training to operators and users to ensure that systems continue operating long-term.

 By March 2012, six off-grid mini-hydro schemes were in operation.

 Over 7,565 households (63,000 people) electrified.

Replacement of kerosene for lighting cuts CO2 emissions by 3,200 tonnes/year.

"If there’s a security problem, people can live with it. If there’s a problem with water, they can live with it. But if people find they don’t have power for just one night, they all come hammering on my door!"

Dawlat Mohammad, Jurm District Governor


Badakhshan is a remote, mountainous rural province in the far north east of Afghanistan. Development has been slow and infrastructure is extremely limited: the one major tarred road was completed only three years ago, so most transport is by donkey and horse.

Badakhshan has never been controlled by the Taliban, but there is some insurgent activity and also tension between different ethnic groups (mainly Tajik and Uzbek) and between rival militias. The region was formerly a major source of opium, although poppy production has declined in recent years.

The services that electricity provides can decrease communal tensions and provide alternative sources of income to opium production. But in 2005 only 3% of rural Badakhshan homes had access to electricity. The German government therefore started to work with the government of Afghanistan to improve rural electricity supplies, including the construction of mini-hydro schemes in Badakhshan and neighbouring provinces including Takhar.

Although remote and with a harsh climate, Badakhstan has plentiful hydro resources.

The organisation

Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is a federal enterprise that supports the German government in the field of international co-operation for sustainable development. GIZ was formed in 2011 from the merger of three previous agencies (GTZ, DED and InWent) and has 17,000 staff members across the globe, 70% of whom are employed locally. In 2007 GIZ was commissioned by the German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) to assist Afghanistan with the Renewable Energy Supply for Rural Areas (ESRA) programme.

For this purpose GIZ subcontracted INTEGRATION environment & energy, a German consulting firm, to make use of their specialist expertise in rural electrification and the promotion of productive uses of energy. INTEGRATION was founded in 1998 and has 30 full-time and 10 part-time employees.

The Afghan partners of ESRA are the Ministry of Energy and Water and DABS, the stateowned electricity utility. In 2011 ESRA had 65 full-time and 5 part-time project staff and funding of US$6 million from BMZ.

Fargahmbowl – hydro plant and penstock.

The programme

Sites are chosen by first identifying places where there could be significant demand for electricity. These are usually district centres with a substantial population and also a large bazaar with potential for developing productive uses of electricity. Centres are ranked through a socio-economic appraisal, and suitable sources for electricity are then surveyed. Local mini-hydro generation is preferred, because it is reliable, relatively low-cost and quick to install, and provides sufficient power for productive uses. In addition, technically skilled local people can be trained to manage, operate and maintain hydro plants.

Given the troubled history of the region, it is essential that any scheme has the support of all sections of the local community. Extensive community surveys and consultations are therefore carried out with both traditional and official authorities, including religious leaders, to confirm local support and to avoid potential conflicts. The traditional local councils of elders or Shuras are key players in this process, and are responsible for most of  the formal agreements associated with providing electricity.

Now we have lights, the TV, an iron, a kettle…. There’s a code of conduct that says we mustn’t use too much power or we deprive our neighbours. And we respect that. We’re all part of the same community.

Ghulam Rabbani

Once local support is secured, an Energy Committee made up of local Shura members is established for each plant. The committee organises workers for the construction and, together with DABS and ESRA, identifies a group of talented and motivated men who will form the operating crew for the plant, and selects the most able as the plant’s leaseholder.

When the plant is commissioned and fully operational its ownership is formally transferred by the Ministry of Energy and Water to DABS. Refinement of operation and maintenance models is an on-going activity of the programme.

The technology

How does it work?

Water is diverted from a river by a weir. It is channelled along a contour line via a sediment basin, to prevent damage from the turbine, until sufficient head is achieved. It is then diverted down a steep penstock into the power house, where it rotates the turbines that drive the electrical generators.

Electricity is distributed through 20 kV medium voltage lines, and stepped down via transformers to a 400 V distribution network in villages. Apart from service down-times, customers are supplied for 24 hours per day, and seven days per week. The plants and their distribution infrastructure are designed so that they could be interlinked and possibly even connected to the national grid at a future date.

Using an electric fan for blacksmithing work in Jurm.

How much does it cost and how do users pay?

US$1 = 49 AFN (Afghani) [March 2012]

The capital costs of plants range from about US$3,700 to US$5,300 per kW installed: cost depends on a number of factors including topography, distribution distances and population. Cash costs are covered by funding from BMZ: for the first three hydro plants the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund contributed the major share. In-kind contributions come from local communities, who provide the land, supply the stones required for the construction, and build or improve the roads for access to all villages and the power house site.

The main customers are households, small businesses, district administration and other institutions such as schools, hospitals and police stations. Each customer has a digital meter on their wall which is read bi-monthly by one of the plant operators, who also collects payments. The leaseholder and user both have record books. Customers are charged US$0.1/kWh (5 AFN), plus a one-off connection fee of US$10 (500 AFN) for domestic households, with a higher connection fee for the three-phase meters that are used to connect productive machinery.

Mohammed Amir, carpenter, making new window frame.

How is it manufactured, promoted and maintained?

Most plants use Francis turbines. An international tender process is used to select providers and so far all turbines were manufactured in China. Construction of the plant uses as little heavy machinery as possible in order to maximise the use of paid local labour. The Energy Committee organises 14-day rotating work shifts, thus spreading employment amongst the local communities. Materials and tools are sourced and procured locally where possible.

At all stages of the programme, skills and responsibility are transferred to local people to ensure operational sustainability in the long term. Plant operators are trained in all aspects of plant operation and maintenance, electricity distribution, and business management. Larger technical problems, for example a channel breach, are referred to DABS.

Both male and female household heads receive training on practical issues of electrification (see box p2). Customers are made aware early on of the opportunities that electricity will bring for their farms and businesses, and later are offered business training and support.


By early 2012, the programme had installed six mini hydro schemes ranging in capacity from 112 to 480 kW, with a total capacity of 1.3 MW. These plants produce about 2.5 GWh of electricity per year and supply over 7,565 households, together representing some 63,000 individuals. A similar number of people benefit indirectly through the 110 public organisations and buildings and 645 small businesses that are supplied.

Farghambowl – Loading new window frame onto donkey to take to customer.

Environmental benefits

Electricity from the plants replaces fossil fuels and therefore cuts greenhouse gas emissions. The main fuels replaced are diesel, used in engines and generators in markets, bottled gas for cooking, and kerosene for lighting (mostly in households). ESRA estimates that the overall reduction in emissions for lighting alone is about 3,200 tonnes/year CO2 e.

The hydro schemes have reduced pressure on forests due to the substitution of brush and firewood, traditionally used for hot water and cooking: this also cuts greenhouse gas emissions, although the amounts have not been quantified. Use of dry cell batteries has also declined.

Social benefits

With the elimination of kerosene lamps and reduced burning of firewood, homes are less smoky and cleaner, which significantly improves the health of women and children who spend most time indoors. Furthermore there are fewer accidents resulting in burns. Extra hours of light for household chores during the evening, make it easier for women to get to the clinic or market during the day. Light in the evening can be used for embroidery and other income-earning activities in the home, and makes it safer to move around outdoors. Water-heaters free up time that was previously spent collecting fuel. The use of electric space-heating, although not officially sanctioned, probably saved lives in the exceptionally cold winter of 2011.

It used to take me five days to make a door; now with power tools it’s just one day.

Mohammed Amir, carpenter, Farghambowl

Electricity has allowed access to TV and radio and given people, particularly women, a window on the world. A wide variety of programmes are available covering education, religion and health (including family planning) as well as entertainment. Lighting for schools, teachers’ and learners’ homes has further increased the opportunities for education. Clinics now have light, and power for refrigerators that keep vaccines and medicines effective by storing them at the correct temperature.

ESRA has used socio-economic surveys to quantify some of these benefits. Results indicate improved health in 70% of households, improved education in 70%, and an improved feeling of security in 45%.

Economic and employment benefits

During construction, over US$4.2m was spent on local procurement and employment, with more than 27,000 local people employed. Long-term employment has been directly created for 32 leaseholder and operators. ESRA has actively supported the establishment of new jobs in a wide range of small enterprises, including carpentry, milling, TV and mobile phone repair, business services and processing of local gemstones. Some young people have returned to the area because with electricity they are now able to start businesses.

Ask people here what is the single most important project for them and they will always say electricity. One night there was a flood – some sediment had blocked the channel. And a hundred people came from the bazaar with shovels to clear it.

Dawlat Mohammad, Jurm District Governor

The ESRA surveys show that people in electrified areas have improved livelihoods, with 90% of households now above subsistence level compared to only 32% in 2007. Cash incomes have improved in 17.5% of households, along with a 14% reduction in household spending on fuel. There is evidence that opium cultivation has declined sharply, due in part to the requirement that poppy growing must stop, but also to the availability of other earning opportunities.

Potential for growth and replication

The ESRA programme is planned to finish in 2018, with all planning and management of plants transferred to Afghan partners.

There is considerable potential for further mini-hydro, solar and wind power plants in the north of Afghanistan at sites close to population centres. Mini-hydro is likely to remain a popular choice, because of the high cost of other electricity sources in rural areas.

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