Focus: Frontline - Pragya

Nathalie Thomas,

WHAT IT IS: A charity registered in the UK and India assisting remote communities in the Himalayas through environmentally sensitive projects

WHAT IT DOES: For this project, Pragya builds solar and wind energy masts to provide electricity for isolated communities and reduce their reliance on firewood

HOW IT'S FUNDED: The Ashden and JJ Trusts

For communities living in the Himalayas at altitudes of more than 10,000 feet, it's often a case of out of sight, out of mind. Despite a growing energy crisis in remote regions such as Lahaul and Spiti in India's western Himalayas, the only NGO to work across the Himalayan belt is Pragya.

Villages such as Lossar are under threat because the main energy supply - firewood - is disappearing fast and the effects of global warming are felt through flash floods. Villagers are caught in a vicious circle as they cut down more trees to provide firewood for survival, leading to serious deforestation. The smoke from their fires is also believed to be contributing to the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. Also, roads are blocked for six to eight months of the year, and in winter villagers rely on weaving and traditional crafts that can be sold at market. However, without light and electricity, these traditional practices could disappear.

Environmentally friendly approach

Pragya seeks to ensure the survival of these communities through environmentally friendly energy solutions. It has built a £35,000 hybrid solar-wind mast in Lossar, which provides electricity for a community centre and for everyday essentials such as heating, cooking and lighting.

"This project has enabled our village to have 20 lights of 15 watts each," says Nambardar, one of Lossar's residents. "It is benefiting various areas, such as children's studies, spinning, weaving and administering oxygen to patients in the hospital."

The mast powers a library where children and adults are offered their only chance of schooling during the winter, when they are cut off from the rest of the country. Lossarites are also provided with a link to the outside world through a television set in the community centre. "It has given villagers a new boon in life," says another Lossar resident, Dr Praveen Kumar.

The community played a significant role in installing and designing the mast, which was built by Unitron. Local expertise overcame potential problems caused by the climate, which can see temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter.

Lossar is just one of the villages to have benefited from this pilot project, and Pragya is seeking to build more masts to help similar communities across the western Himalayas.

"There is a huge demand for such energy solutions throughout the Himalayas," explains Navjyot Johal from Pragya UK. "This model can be replicated in many areas, but due to a lack of funding this has not been done."

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