Life has changed somewhat dramatically for approximately 100,000 herder families across Mongolia after a new effort led by the Mongolian government helped supply portable off-grid solar home systems which are now generating electricity for lights, televisions, radios, mobile phone charging, and small appliances.
The program, Renewable Energy and Rural Electricity Access (REAP), was launched by the Mongolian government and supported by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands.
Over half a million men, women, and children now have access to electricity wherever they travel as they follow their herds of yak, cattle, sheep, goats, and camels around the 1.5 million square kilometres they call home.
“We are proud to be part of this effort, which means 500,000 people, or half the rural population of Mongolia, have electricity through portable and affordable solar home systems,” said Pamela Cox, World Bank Regional Vice President for East Asia and Pacific in her first visit to the country.
“Now, children can study at night, families can watch TV and recharge cell phones, enabling them to connect to the world while maintaining their nomadic lifestyles. This is one of many innovative ideas that we are putting to work on the ground to make growth more inclusive.”
Did they want electricity though?
These Mongolian herders have been living in this fashion for century upon century, and the first question that came to my mind upon reading this story was ‘Who wanted the herders to have electricity?’ Was it the government or the herders themselves?
“A few years ago, country herders managed with candles and lanterns. The change in life between then and now is like night and day,” said herder Baatar Khandaa. “I believe that the quality of life in the countryside and the city are now about the same.”
That’s the only quote provided by the World Bank, though they do go on to add that herder families are now able to use television weather reports to help manage their livestock and use mobile phones to determine market prices for wool and cashmere. Economically sensible, yes, but hardly a rousing vote of confidence on the part of the herders themselves.
The World Bank press release cosily reports that “families can now relax and spend time together at night under electric lights. Children can learn by reading and from watching television.” Seems to me that families had been relaxing together and learning quite well on their own for several hundred years without the intervention of electricity.
Nevertheless, the availability of such technology for communities such as Mongolian herders is a boon for not only the industry, but those communities around the world who may in actual fact both desire and require electricity. One can only hope that the World Bank and governments like the Netherlands are looking to other countries more impoverished with similar intentions in mind.
Source: World Bank