In Nepal, forests are re-generating across the mid-Himalaya -- not due to fencing them off or new reforesting techniques, but thanks to community-by-community stewardship of a common resource. The infant death rate has been halved since 1990 -- not because state-of-the-art hospitals were brought in, but thanks to an active radio campaign to spread awareness about safe drinking water. Its impact was magnified by higher literacy rates and increased vaccination. Micro-hydropower kits and and village plants that harness the methane from farm waste are bringing electricity to millions.
These and other simple, cheap approaches and technologies are succeeding where huge aid development projects tend to fail because they've been developed locally, with local social and economic conditions in mind.
There's still a long way for Nepal to go, says Kunda Dixit on SciDev.net, in part because mega-development schemes bring with them huge sums of money and a lot of kickbacks to politicians. There's also pressure on Nepal to export energy to India by harnessing its wild rivers to major dams. "It will be difficult to stop these schemes. But we should also promote cheap, small, homegrown technologies,"says Dixit. "These are no longer in the realm of New Age romanticism. Nepal has shown they work better than costly outside intervention, they deliver, and although the world is slow to take notice, they are quietly improving people's lives."
The answer? Get the story out:
"This now needs to be reflected in media coverage of science and technology, and what we journalists define as news in our countries. Given the challenges of global warming and economic imbalances globally and within countries, locally-built and managed technologies have the best chance of addressing both economic and ecological concerns."
Seems like a good time to mention my friend Carol Kinsey and the work she has done, in Nepal and elsewhere, through her organization Seedtree.
I saw evidence of the same kind of micro-power systems in Tibet last year. Mostly solar, a lot of reflectors, some small hydro units. Everything's so isolated, a large, monolithic power grid doesn't make sense. However, most people there still burn yak dung too.