How a hydroger saved a disappearing forest!

Imti Longchar
Kengjung | February 21  

The hydroger- a simple and cheap machine developed by the Nagaland Empowerment of People through Energy Development (NEPeD) to harness power from water- is not only lighting up lives but also playing a vital role in environment conservation.  

At Kengjung, a remote village in Tuensang district, before NEPeD intervened by installing the hydroger to provide electricity, the village was dependent on pine trees that carpeted their landscape for almost everything- firewood, timber, mattresses (pine leaves) and most importantly to light up homes.  

With no alternative source of electricity, the villagers would use pinewood as torch in the night. The children used it as candle replica to study. The church at times used it for holding evening service. Within no time, most of the pine trees, which once adorned the village jurisdiction, had fallen to the axe.  

For want of electricity, the Kengjung villagers had tried almost all options that could have been humanly possible in this remote area. In the adjacent mountains, the effervescent glow of lights emitting from electrified settlements under the shadows of the approaching dusk mesmerized them more with a yearning to light up their village.  

First, in the 80s, the villagers willingly played the labor party and carried a transformer and some electric post given by the power department all the way from Chilliso village. It took them days of back breaking trek to get it home. There were no roads- only downhill and uphill muddy footpaths across mountains and rivers.  

After reaching their village, the exhausted villagers realized in dismay that the transformer bestowed to them by the department of power was non-operational. It was actually useless. Hurt and angry beyond words, the villagers, instead of discarding the transformer in their backyards to rust, returned it back the same way they came.  

In the 90s, the villagers bought solar panels- all 5 points of them. The warranty was for five years. Before the end of three years, the batteries had died on them.  

Then the villagers travelled all the way to Burma (Myanmar) to get electric batteries- at least so that the church could be lit up for the evening services and important programs. Then a few houses in the villages pooled some money and bought a Chinese made hydroger machine from Khamti in Burma. This machine died on them before long.  

“Every day, every household in the village would bring baskets and baskets of the chopped pine wood trees back to the village. This was our only source of light, this was our solace from the darkness,” Yamto, village council chairman of Kengjung recalled.  

There was no such thing as a life after dark. “Our life ended with the setting of the sun. We led a sedentary life- wake up in the morning, cook food, go to field, return, cook and eat food and go to sleep once it becomes dark,” Yamto said.  

It was only after NEPeD installed the hydroger in the village in 2012 that the villagers stopped cutting down the pine trees and are now making efforts to preserve the trees. “Though we have made no resolution, the villagers in their own volition have stopped cutting the trees unless it is a necessity,” the chairman claimed.  

While the rejuvenation of the pine forest may take time, the forest conservation effort of the village is evident as patches of young pine trees can be seen spread across the face of the mountains.  

No electricity, no progression of life

Environment conservation is not the only notable changes ushered in by the hydroger to the village. It also improved the living standards, hygiene, productivity and health of the villagers by leaps-and-bounds.  

Imnayanger Imchen, a Mechanical Engineer under NEPeD who oversaw the installation of the hydroger recalled the living condition of the village- pigs reared in the open, open defecation, sickness and no progression of life.  

“If there is no electricity there can be no progressive mentality. Kengjung before hydroger was all about pinewood, lot of smoke inhalation which was affecting their health and there was no productivity,” Imnayanger said.  

However, attitude changed with power. After the installation of the hydroger and the whole household electrified, Kengjung village, with advocacy from the NEPeD team, built sty for the pigs, constructed latrines in every house in the village, stopped cutting down the pine trees and resolved to preserve the surrounding catchment area where the machine was installed.  

The village also became more productive. “Men can now weave baskets, women handloom weaving and other household chores in the evening and the children can study comfortably,” the village council chairman summed up. After decades of appealing for electricity from the government, only recently, in the month of January 2017, the Nagaland power department installed a transformer at the village.  

While the villagers are happy that finally ‘electricity’ has reached them, they declared with a sense of ownership and pride that the changes ushered in on their lives by the “simple hydroger can never be replicated by the transformer.”