Practical Action Transforming Lives
09 Jun 2010
Anne de la Vega explores how Practical Action are transforming the lives of people in remote areas.
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In the mountains of Nepal, it could take hours, if not days, to carry vegetables down the treacherous, winding tracks and get them to market. Now, with gravity ropeways, hundreds of kilos of vegetables take less than five minutes to cover the same distance.
At the start of the year, I visited Nepal to work with UK-based charity Practical Action, which was both a challenging and enriching experience. Being my first time in this part of the world, the only previous knowledge that I had was of its beautiful but fragile landscape and its continuing political unrest.
Practical Action ñ founded in 1966 by Dr EF Schumacher, British economist and author of Small is Beautiful ñ has been working successfully to improve the livelihoods of the marginalised people of Nepal, through the use of sustainable, indigenous technology.
Renowned for the spectacular mountainous landscape of the Himalayas and the wonderful hospitability and kindness of its people, Nepal is also at the front-line of climate change. Its ecosystem is incredibly vulnerable and global warming could potentially have a disastrous effect on the country, escalating the existing threat of flooding and drought.
Around 83 per cent of the country is mountainous, which makes the day-to-day running of life especially testing for its rural people and the added strain of transportation magnifies the problems. So, Practical Action have been installing gravity goods ropeways’ ñ a system in which two trolleys roll along wire ropes anchored by an upper and lower tower. When the laden trolley rolls downwards from the top station, propelled by its own weight, the other trolley moves up.
The charity have also added 16 traditional cable river crossing systems, called Tuins, which use a combination of pulleys and people-power to transport travellers across the water. These devices are giving isolated rural people the opportunity to improve their livelihoods by enabling them to access main roads and, in turn, markets, hospitals and schools. Without a Tuin, a simple journey to market would take about five hours, making it difficult for small landholders to make any profit from selling their produce. Now, they can earn three times as much.
The trek to the high-altitude ropeways was a shock to my system and a tough lesson to learn. While I struggled to reach the top in my walking boots, carrying just camera equipment in a small backpack, children and the elderly bypassed barefooted with heavy loads.
There are many other ways in which Practical Action are helping the people of Nepal, from providing beekeeping and farming skills, to training in shoe making and house rewiring. During my time with the charity, I discovered first-hand the dedication and motivation of the staff.
In areas of drought, improved irrigation systems have been built, enabling people to farm. Equally in areas prone to flooding, defence mechanisms have been introduced to protect villages and agriculture. The charity have also installed wind turbines and solar panels to deliver power to rural areas.
Contact: Practical Action,
The Schumacher Centre for
Technology and Development,
Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, CV23 9QZ
Tel: +44 (0) 1926 634400
Anna de la Vega is an environmental photographer: www.annadelavega.com
A gravity goods ropeway in Sinchyang, Nepal
Photo: © Anna de la Vega/Practical Action
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