africa, water projects

Hydropower to Empower Rural Village in Liberia

4 Comments 16 February 2011

Hydropower to Empower Rural Village in Liberia

Addressing the post-conflict setting in remote areas of Liberia requires a strategy that utilizes natural resources in a way that promotes sustainable development in vulnerable communities. During the first phase of the Liberian Civil War between the years of 1989 and 1996, rebel soldiers destroyed infrastructure in local communities, preventing these communities from accessing health care, education, and steady communication with the outside world.

Kristin Stroup, energy specialist in the Africa Energy Department of the World Bank, told WaterWideWeb, “The 35 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in Yandohun was built in the 1970’s. During its few years of operation, it contributed significantly to the local community, and facilitated operation of a 24-hour health-care facility there that served many surrounding communities.”

Yandohun is a village of 2,000 people in the remote area of Lofa County in northwestern Liberia. The micro-hydropower plant that generated power for the community was in part constructed and operated by local residents. The micro-hydropower plant was the sole source of reliable energy for the community since Yandohun is outside of the electrical grid of the capital city of Monrovia.

With financing from the Dutch Trustfund under its AFREA program,  the World Bank is launching a rehabilitation project for Yandohun’s micro-hydropower plant. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

“Rehabilitation of the plant at 60 kilowatts will allow for meeting basic needs and will also allow for improved educational facilities, including adult education which is extremely important in the post-conflict setting,” continued Stroup.

In Yandohun, the capacity to manage an improved micro-hydropower facility already exists since community members who operated the first hydropower plant still live there. Thus, the World Bank is investing in the community’s existing skill sets while implementing a low-cost renewable energy approach. “The community has a very strong organizational structure and cooperative approach, including rebuilding the town hall with pooled funds and labor,” noted Stroup.

Agricultural production is significant to the local economy of Yanhodun. Rice farming, milling, cultivation of coffee and cocoa are all part of the agricultural output of the area. Mechanized processes powered by the future micro-hydropower facility have the potential to increase revenues generated by the sale of agricultural products by local farmers.

World Bank funding for the energy plant includes hands-on training for additional local community members who will learn to manage and operate the facility. Engaging local residents in the development process and use of local natural resources empowers the community.  Dependability on foreign assistance for medium and long-term progress is diminished, which is especially crucial to post-conflict settings as well.

“The micro-hydropower plant rehabilitation project at Yandohun is part of the World Bank’s commitment to the expansion of energy access in rural areas and an emphasis on renewable, sustainable technologies as part of a least-cost expansion plan,” Stroup added.  

The pilot operation in Yandohun offers a prime example of how an investment in a renewable energy source can truly revitalize a community that was once destroyed by war. Before encounters with rebel troops, Yandohun had operational educational facilities, a health facility, and a thriving fish farm.

Decreasing rates of poverty, improving access to healthcare, and promoting childhood and adult education is implicated in the successful rehabilitation of Yandohun’s hydropower facility. Solutions to Liberia’s systemic post-conflict issues should be cost-effective and environmentally sustainable.

Technology transfer and capacity building in rural communities that are not in close proximity to the capital city of Monrovia are crucial to including all levels of Liberia’s population in the energy plan. “Using hydropower for the benefit of communities should facilitate the sustainable development of a key piece of Liberia’s rural electrification agenda,” concluded Stroup.

The photo above is of school children in Liberia. It is a UN Photo taken by John Issac.

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