Dam!

Dam! Not the curse, word mind you (although sometimes we do say it under our breath and of course never around children…), but  dams that produce hydro-electricity. With all the rolling black-outs in Kathmandu and the virtual lack of electricity in Resmi's village and the region where Kamal runs his lodge, we have learned to care a lot about dams in Nepal.

Nepal gets almost all of its power from hydroelectric dams. The reservoirs get quickly filled during the Monsoon season from June to September and provide power during the dry seasons, which are fall, winter and spring. There are about 20 major hydropower plants in the country, and many "microhydro" projects, but they can’t produce enough power for all year round. Only 40% of Nepal's residents actually have access to electricity, even sporadically, and if you live in a rural area, your chances of having power are down to 1 in 20.

Kathmandu Load Shedding Schedule(photo credit: John Schappi, http://parkinsonsand5htp.blogspot.ca/)

It has been the dry season for 6 months now, and residents of Kathmandu (including our manufacturer) have only 6 hours of electricity - divided into two time blocks - every day. We have already written about "Load Shedding" (which means "no power for you: light a candle") and this is the time of year where the deficit of power really starts to become onerous. And the monsoon doesn't come for another 2-3 months, so it will get worse before it gets better - up to 22 hours of power cuts each day. This, in the capital city of the nation with almost 3 million residents.

Imagine for one moment what might happen here if BC Hydro said to Vancouver Metropolitan Area: "Sorry, residents, businesses and factories. We're out of water and therefore out of power. You're just going to have to live with rotating 20-hour blackouts for the next, oh, 9 months". Crisis! Mutiny!

Vancouver-skyline-950x665
Imagine if Vancouver had rolling blackouts 20 hours each day?
 (Photo credit: Mike Wakefield http://www.mikewakefieldphotography.com/)

So What?

So, what does all this mean to you and me and our friends in Nepal?

For us it means: needing endless patience and super-advance planning; delays or abrupt cut-offs in communication; and an ever-shifting schedule of when it might be possible to Skype or send photos - which is how we communicate much of our work.  We have become much better at rolling with whatever happens. Or doesn't happen.

For you, it means that we have a slow response time for custom orders (especially in the dry season) and unpredictable shipment deliveries.

For Rajan, it means scheduling his workers at all hours of the day and night and purchasing expensive fuel for a generator.

We don't actually know yet what the implications of power cuts are for Resmi's school. This is on our list of "things to learn".

Carrying a 50kg sack of rice to the top of the Langtang Valley, 4 days from the closest road. Oh, plus the propane to cook it with.
Carrying a 50kg sack of rice to the top of the Langtang Valley, 4 days from the closest road. Oh, plus the propane to cook it with.

For Kamal at his lodge, he makes use of a small solar power system to run the lights and charge his mobile phone (over 50% of Nepali people now have access to mobile phone communications). And heat and cooking is done with wood or with propane carried uphill for 4 days from the nearest road.

Working and talking with people who live with such limitations on access to electricity has taught us not to sweat the small stuff. When our furnace stopped working and our pipes froze on the same day during this winter's cold snap, we were cursing and complaining and cold... until we got a call from Kamal who has never lived with heating or indoor running water, let alone hot running water. It was humbling: we have become less worried about what we refer to our as our 'first world problems'.

Really, it has all the makings of a self-help book: "How I went to Nepal, and stopped sweating the small stuff".

Needless to say, we are scrambling to get all our patterns and products sorted out so that once the power comes back on in June, we'll be ready - and Rajan will have what he needs - to start manufacturing our jackets for 2014/15. So this is why we care so much about dams in Nepal!