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People's Environmental Awareness - Khati (PEAK) Follow PEAK with the financial assistance of World Nomads on the path to delivering educational, water supplies & solar home lighting systems to Kumaon villages....

Changing times...

INDIA | Sunday, 9 January 2011 | Views [516]

As staff members of PEAK, Scott and I still marvel at the wonders of renewable technology. When we walk downtown on the rocky paths of Khati at night, the glow of LED lights fans out of open wooden window frames and it is comforting to know that inside each house women can see to prepare food, do daily chores and children can study without straininng their eyes under the poor quality light of toxic kerosene lamps. As nightly visitors to various houses for dinner, we are fortunate to see first hand that the positive impact of lighting on people's lives is tremendous.

I had previously commented in a blog site that we feared the older generation may be resistant to change and shun lighting their homes. A totally unfounded fear as the 'oldies' in town are often the first to knock on our door if there is a problem! Scott will be able to fill you in on our last project that lit up Khati in a later blog.

Change is occurring at a rapid rate in the valley. In the last few months a mobile phone tower has been erected at Saurak (11 km from Khati) wih mobile reception due in the next four months. The rupees from the sale of Khida-gas (Cordyseps Sinensis*) has changed the fortune of some households in the village and enabled the purchase of mobile phones in preparation for the 'big day' when mobile reception comes to town. At the moment the phones make great music players (for only one gender only - men)!

The area has been traditionally bypassed leaving it bereft of essential services. A few years ago a decision was made to build a 'hospital' and work has finally begun on the project site. However, while this may sound exciting the problem isn't in building the facilities but in securing and retaining medical staff. Currently, the village is meant to be serviced by a nurse and a doctor on a regular basis. The Doctor comes from Lucknow (a considerable distance away in Uttar Pradesh), he tends to stay for three/four weeks in a row and disappears for the rest of the year. And when Khunti died in childbirth a lot of anger was vented at the anam (Nurse) who had failed to show up for vital pre-natal checks was supposed to be on duty when Khunti was due to give birth - but she failed to show up until two weeks later. Khunti died in childbirth. The nurse left in October and hasn't come back. I must add that both medical people are getting a monthly salary for their services. A letter of complaint has been lodged by the Khati Panchayat to the District Magistrate in Bageshwar.

And the biggie .... a road is on its way. The machines have been eating there way through the landscape and the road has reached Kurkia (approximately 6km from Khati). This section of road was apparently opened while we were in Australia (May 2010) but a month later the severe monsoon rain caused landslides effectively closing it down. Rumour has it that the District Magistrate (who is always kept busy with a litany of complaints and concerns) has ordered it be cleared as soon as possible.

The road is a vexing issue. I haven't lost a child or a loved one due to lack of access to a hospital. To get to the nearest medical facilities you need a relay team of people to carry the ailing person up and over Dhakuri pass to the start of the road head at Song, then a jeep to Bageshwar hospital. I also have my own set of feelings about a road on environmental grounds.

The road is slated to come directly to Khati in the next two years and it's polarising the community. Many believe that peace in the village and ecotourism potential will be destroyed. The final decision on where the road will end hasn't yet been decided and I'm not sure how much a communities 'voice' is heard when it comes to government projects. The Indian government is on a current road building initiative into remote areas of the Himalayas - the more cynical point out its due to fear of Chinese activity on the other side of the border. The less cynical see it as development.... but at what cost?



* I have previously talked at length about Cordyseps Sinensis - a parasitic fungus from Alpine regions that is highly valued in the traditional medicinal systems of China, Nepal and India (and more recently has found a market in America as an over the counter tonic). Khida - gas, yarso gumbo are common Indian/Nepali names. It is promoted for its anti-aging, aphrodesiac, anti cancer, immune boosting and general endurance qualities.

Tags: cordyseps sinensis, himalayan roads, khati, mobile phones



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