By Waqar Ahmed Zildar
Chhowar is a small village located in district Ghanche of Gilgit Baltistan. It is situated in the northern most part of Pakistan and a 150 km drive from Skardu.
The village is just a few kilometers away from the Indian border. The people of this village suffered a great deal during the many wars the Pakistan and India fought but the people a very strong willed and have a great sense of pride and respect for the motherland.
The village is covered with barley fields and apricot trees which make for an eventful sight in the summers. Apart from that many other fruit trees are also grown in the village including pear trees, cherry trees ,mulberry trees and many other fruits as well. When the summer goes by the production and sale of dry fruits is also a major source of revenue for the people. It is also full of gushing water streams which is the main source of its water and breathtaking natural beauty. In the winters the snow capped mountains surrounding the village are a sight to behold.
Due to continuous load shedding and low power, in 2010 the village community called the Anjuman-e-Falah-e-Behbud Chhowar with the help of the PPAF foundation decided to construct a hydel power station at Chhowar Nallah, the main water stream in Chhowar.
This water stream has huge hydel power potential and according to some estimates made by a local engineer several megawatts worth of electricity can be generated on this stream. But the government seemed reluctant to construct a power station despite the growing needs of the area. Due to that reason the locals decided to take matters into their own hands and started their own efforts towards this project.
After a long struggle by the local community PPAF agreed to support the community in making the power station. The construction of the power station wasn’t an easy task because the funds provided by PPAF weren’t enough to complete the whole project. The community had to bear the burden of a major chunk of the construction expenses and finally all the efforts paid off. Today Chhowar is one of the few places in the whole region where the people don’t suffer a single minute of load shedding.
The NGO funded with the support of PPAF provided seven million in funds for this project and the local community also had to bear a fare share of the total cost. The work was initiated and finished by and under the supervision of the local people. In August 2010 the Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan inaugurated the project on its successful completion.
To complete the work on the power station it was decided that each of the 250 house hold will provide one person to work on the construction of the power station. With firm determination and commitment the community completed the project in one year. This 150 kilo watt power station is operating at its maximum capacity and it is more than enough to suffice the needs of the local village.
At the beginning the community faced some major problems regarding the power station. The main issue was the lack of technical knowledge of the machines installed in the power station and some training of the local people hired was required to make the power station operational. Apart from that a proper billing system had to be introduced to pay the wages of the men working at the power station. After the meeting of local community it was decided that 150 Rs per month will be charged on each household and 500 Rs per month will be charged on commercial consumers.
This project was positive step towards a better and more prosperous life for the local people. The project not only helped in ending load shedding in the village but also brought economic revolution and helped in increasing the socio economic life of the local people.
Due to corruption and mismanagement of resources load shedding is a common sight and daily routine for the people in this area but the residents of Chhowar enjoy the continuous supply of electricity. In the winters, due to water shortage the community imposes fusing system in the village and only allows the usage of necessary electrical appliances.
This project also has a very positive effect on the environment of the village as people now cease to cut down trees to fulfill the heating needs as it is a very cold region. Most of the people now rely on electricity to make up for almost all the needs and a lot of natural resources are spared in the process.
In 2010 massive flood destroyed most part of this power house but continuous efforts by the local community also restored this hydel station.
The local community has also sighted five more sites for generating electricity not only for this village but to provide for the needs of the whole region. This community is hopeful that if the government supports them Chhowar has the potential to wipe out load shedding from the whole region.