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Rural Energy, Education, And Health Care For All

Issue March 2014


Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Some INGOs and NGOs advocate rural energy for all so that the rural people could have light to read and write; so rural people should have energy first. The government of Nepal has decided not to deliver the services to the parents that did not send their offspring to schools. Others said that the rural people should have health care first so that they could be healthy and work properly.


Propagators of rural energy have been saying that rural people should have energy first, as they could not do their businesses much without energy, and they could not read and write at night. So, energy should be the first priority for the rural people. I don’t know whether the rural people have received such message or not.


As far as I known the priority of the rural people was the jobs or a piece of land for livelihood. They did not care about the energy, education for their children, and even the health care for them. They wanted to have two square meals a day so that they could live comfortably.


The rural people experienced that they had put a lot of labor in building rural hydropower plants but they could not get uninterrupted power supply for a year or even for months, as they had problems of running hydropower plants smoothly. The wear and tear of some mechanical parts of their hydropower plants no matter how small they were caused problems, as the spare parts were need to be replaced.


Another problem was the hydropower stations were in the remote areas that had aggravated the problem of spare parts. When something went wrong to the mechanical parts of hydropower plants, people needed to travel for several days before reaching the areas where they could get the spare parts. Then, they needed several days to return back. If the problem was serous one and they could not fix it then they needed to bring a mechanics. Such problems increased as the hydropower plants grew older and older. In these circumstances, the propagators of rural energy needed to answer how many days a year rural people had enjoyed the energy from the hydropower plants they built so laboriously.


Rural poor and rich put the same amount of labor to build community hydropower plants in the rural areas but the poor could not enjoy the energy as much as the rich did. Each household had to send the same number of laborers to build hydropower plants. However, the rural have-nots could not subscribe the energy as much as they would need, as the subscription rates were so high. Some of the rural hydropower plants charged as much as Rs 15 per bulb of 40 watts per month. In some areas, using kerosene came cheaper to the rural have-nots. So, the rural hydropower plants had given benefits to the rural rich. In some cases, rural poor simply could not afford to have the energy from the hydropower plants they built. So, not all the rural people enjoyed the hydro energy.


The conclusion was that most of the hydropower plants built by the rural communities could not last long, as they had the problems of replacing mechanical parts of the hydropower plants. Then, the poor rural people continued to live in darkness. So, energy for all and energy first had remained in the slogan during the last 30 years. It would continue to be in the future, as the micro hydropower plants were easy to build but difficult to maintain for the rural people.


Most probably, the solar energy might be viable for the rural people but solar panels were very expensive so far. Rural people could not afford such high tech energy at such high costs. INGOs and NGOs did not talk much about it. They knew solar panels were expensive. So, they kept the solar energy option away from their agenda. However, the government of Nepal had been considering providing the people with subsidy on solar panels. Even the State subsidy would not make rural people able to buy the high tech solar panels.


Concerning the education for all, the government of Nepal had made a decision on providing education for all, and the government had even made a decision on punishing the parents failing in sending their children to schools. It sounds nice. Is not it? Everybody wanted education for all. However, let us see whether it would be possible to do so or the government that had been unable to provide even textbooks on time once a year was simply making a decision on education for all.


The government statistics indicated that 95.5 percent of the school-going age children registered at the primary schools but the statistics did not say how many of them remained in the schools for how long. Majority of the children registered at the primary schools in the remote rural areas dropout even at the first grade. Only some children continued to go to schools up to the fifth grade. Only a very few students reached the eighth grade according to the experts in education.


Why the children did not attend the schools? Most of the parents did not have any motivation to send their children to schools, as they did not see any benefits of the education their children would receive in the rural areas. In addition, they needed helping hands in the farms, and at home, too.


In the remote areas, schools were far away from the homes of school-going children. They had to walk miles and miles for hours and hours reaching schools, and then back home. When the students reached higher grades, they needed to walk longer and longer distances, as the middle and secondary schools were far away from their homes. So, most of the students completing the primary schools were forced to drop out because of the non-availability of middle schools at the reasonable distance for them to walk to schools.


The fashion had been that most of the teachers were the members of one political party or another or members of the sister organizations of the political parties. Teachers attended the political conventions, rallies, protest programs and so on. They did not have much time to teach at schools. However, they collected salaries and other benefits they were entitled to. Why the students should go to schools when there was nobody to teach them.


In all these circumstances, the government making a decision on not delivering services to the parents not sending their progeny to schools was not a ‘joke’? Not delivering services to the people, the government was violating the fundamental human rights.


The government was not serious making decisions. Staffs at the Ministry of Education knew that parents could not send their children to schools in the remote areas, as there were no schools for the parents to send their children. The irony was that the government had made a decision on forcing the parents to send their children to schools even though there were no adequate schools in the rural areas of Nepal. In such a case, the government had been liable to punishment for not building adequate schools rather than the poor rural people for not sending their children to the non-existence schools.


‘Health care for all’ was the good slogan but how far the government or the private companies had been able to provide the rural people with health care. An access to the health service centers had been very difficult to the rural poor. Rural people walked to the health post or health center for health services but the door of health post and center were closed for unknown reasons. They had walked for hours and hours to reach the health service delivery centers only to find the health service centers not functioning.


Even though, doors of health service delivery centers were opened, service seekers would find necessary medicine was not available, and the health assistant that was supposed to be there for 24 hours a day, was missing. Consequently, rural people had to go to the traditional healers called ‘dhami jankris’.


Rural health service delivery centers were supposed to provide the rural people with maternity and child health care, too. As the door of such service centers remained closed, rural poor had no choice but to have many children at least to have some of them alive. The result was the high fertility rate and the fast population growth.


Most probably, remedy to all these ills might be the urbanization. Rural households were scattered at considerable distances. Possibility of building power stations, schools and even health service delivery centers to reach the scattered rural poor, was remote or the government had to pay considerable high prices for building such infrastructures. Private companies would not go to such areas, as they could not make money there. So, we needed to build towns for the people, where the government could deliver services at fewer costs. Private companies and people could provide each other with required services in towns at considerable fewer costs, too. These towns also create a lot of jobs for the rural poor and others.


March 14, 2014

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