Frederick T. Temple
At present, Bangladesh is facing energy delivery crisis, as indicated by daily loadshedding. The public sector delivers energy service to only 15% of the total households. Most of the grid-supported electricity to the rural areas is provided by the nationally established co-operatives called the Palli-Biddut Samities (PBS), working under a regulatory guideline of the Rural Electrification Board. There are 54 PBS covering most of the country, excluding, riverine, hilly areas and coastal islands. To date, only about 15% rural households have received grid electrification. A significant part of 10 million unelectrified households can afford electrification, but cannot be economically reached by the conventional grid services in the near term. In order to meet this unmet demand for grid electricity which is capital intensive, alternative technologies such as renewable energy and modes of service delivery through community participation for off-grid electrification need to be explored. A suitable blend of private-public joint service delivery opportunities will be needed to achieve the desired quality of service for the users on non-conventional energy utilising the natural resources of the country. In a recent study (Market Assessment Survey of Solar PV application in Bangladesh, World Bank 1998) it has been found that half a million rural households are able to utilise solar home systems for receiving their electrification services. Such acceptance, need and willingness to pay for decentralised, alternative power among rural population needs serious consideration. Additionally, flexibility in the available options for off-grid electrification will allow the consumers to progressively increase their demand for electrification services in an affordable manner.
This project is a community driven development activity, focusing on poverty reduction and gender equity, especially increasing family productivity by improved access to safe energy, empowering women and poor by enhancing their knowledge and control over technology and finally sustainable energy solutions for the rural excluded poor. The World Bank encourages community driven development (CDD), driven by and effort to improve local service delivery, empower poor people and strengthen accountability of local governance, involves a bottom-up approach. In this process funds are channeled to communities which are supported in their development efforts by an effective intergovernmental system. Bank efforts involve a wide range of activities from fostering community participation to improving capacity of local government, to reforming and modernsing the public sector, especially the public utility system.
The project components include:
Now, some 33 rural women of Char Montaz, a tiny island of 20,000 households of Golachipa upazila in Patuakhali district are engaged in operation of a Micro-enterprise for construction and sales of DC lamps. More than 500 lamps are being used with small batteries for lighting the small houses, shops, the mosque and fishing boats. The project has revealed that with proper training the rural women are capable of assembling electronic lamps adequate for need of rural households, which can be accessed locally. The women have the title of operation for the manufacturing facility, holding a certification of the local government for business as a co-operative. The daily household income of the women has increased by 100 Taka (approximately $2) with the manufacturing and sales of two lamps. This brings a woman the daily wage of a skilled labour with the construction and sale of two lamps in a day. More significantly, this activity has removed some of the social and cultural discrimination associated with the traditional role to be played by women, an opportunity aimed towards poverty reduction.
The second development of the project is establishing a sales network for a low cost and affordable off-grid lighting solution among the markets situated in six different islands. With the continuation of the project, the women learnt lamp construction with quality control, business development and marketing. The national rural electrification programme will not serve these remote islands even in the long term, mainly due to the prohibitive cost of service across the rivers. Hence, this project has introduced and given access to modern lighting of decentralised electrification in the rural households at a price that is affordable for the rural people.
The third development is the participation of the rural women and the rural private sector in implementation of the project, manufacturing of the lamps and marketing and sales of energy services. In a country where rural electrification is known to be a public service, the project has identified the niche of private-based operation in rural household electrification leading towards rural development. It is the first model of its kind.
This project involves the husbands, especially in marketing and sales, and they come for regular meetings. Such interactions have been found to create equal confidence and interest among the women and men. The women have begun to live a life which brought them importance and self esteem. The project has been successful in increasing women’s mobility and off-farm work outside home, and social barrier of segregation has been gradually removed for the women. In addition, other family members are found to be supportive and share household chores in order to assist women to participate in training and production activities. Such a shift in priorities of a household in remote and rural areas of the country is a sign of social uplifting achieved by the project. Consequently, a new direction for livelihood has come in vision for these rural women, where her labour is now valued.
Based on the lessons learnt, a draft Guideline for RET utilisation in different sectoral projects has been developed. It need further development. Furthermore, 35 professional women professionals from 18 governmental and NGOs were trained, a network of professional women has been established to develop the institutional capacity regarding RET and disseminate the knowledge gained to a wider body.
The Opportunity For Women in RET is one of the community driven projects, which explore the possibility of energy service delivery by rural women. By shifting away from the traditional unskilled farm labour to skilled off-farm labour, creating self-employment in rural energy services, the project has elevated the knowledge base of rural women and developed opportunities for them in the mainstream commercial sector. Additionally, the project has identified a low cost solution for improving the quality of indoor lighting reducing pollution and health risk of rural households by replacing the traditional kerosene lamps by modern electric lamps.
The World Bank is glad to support such activities in Bangladesh, which will create enabling environment for the poor and women to bring themselves out of poverty by increasing their access to energy and technology services and moving towards new millennium.
Source:The New Nation,Monday, January 01, 2001