Light reaches rural communities in the Dominican Republic

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A FAMILY IN CENOVÍ NOW HAS ACCESS TO ELECTRICITY. PHOTO: UNDP IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

After the fall of darkness in the town of La Cabirma, along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the muted glow of kerosene lamps and cuaba, or pine kindling, used to be the only source of light for residents. While oil for kerosene lamps was expensive, eating away at villagers' meagre earnings, pine kindling often caused health hazards, such as long-term neurological and kidney damage.

About 400,000 people, or close to 4 percent of the population, live without electricity in the Dominican Republic, according to World Bank estimates. Since 2008, however, UNDP, in cooperation with the government and local NGOs and with funding from the European Union, has brought green energy to 13 communities excluded from the national power grid. Since then, 23 small micro-hydropower plants have been installed to provide sustainable energy to more than 3,000 families across the country.

Highlights

  • According the the World Bank, about 400,000 people, or close to 4 percent of the country's population, live without electricity.
  • In the Dominican Republic, UNDP has been working for more than 18 years to promote renewable energy in poor rural communities.
  • UNDP has installed 23 small micro-hydropower plants, which benefit more than 3,000 families across the country.
  • 70 percent of municipalities using the new systems have incorporated sustainable energy considerations into their future plans and management policies.

For the most part, villagers themselves have been the main actors in bringing electricity to their homes by scouring the countryside for sources of water and by building hydropower plants to harness the water's energy. "We started organizing work teams from day one, together with households benefiting from the programme, and with members who were going to be in the project," says Vitelio de Jesús Torres, a resident of Cenoví, a community taking part in the Rural Electrification Programme.

As part of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative promoted by the United Nations, the programme promotes access to renewable energy in poor rural communities, supports the development of community enterprises, and strengthens the collaboration between communities and local governments in managing electricity.

"The project is comprehensive, taking into account energy production, environmental protection, social needs, organizational traditions and cooperative work of the communities, as well as income generation with support for small micro-enterprises," says Smerlin Paulino, who coordinates the project on behalf of UNDP.

By 2014, the new power supply had helped more than 40 percent of participating communities to develop micro-enterprise initiatives. In La Peonía, a small town of 140 inhabitants in the mountainous north-western region of the country, families can now buy food supplies at a small community-run grocery store. Thanks to electricity, the store and its customers can stock perishable items in refrigerators without having to travel to neighbouring communities for food.

Renewable energy is also helping families save. In La Cabirma, households used to spend an average of about US$ 7 on oil, lamps and candles. Today, the bill is 30 percent cheaper. Better yet, families now have access to information through television, radio and computers. Since 2013, at least 10 communities have had access to the Internet, while electricity allows young people and adults to study at night and improve their education.

Further progress now depends on managing the micro-watersheds used to maintain the plants. Many towns have set up surveillance brigades to ensure that communities make good use of their natural resources to maintain the water levels needed to run the hydropower plants. Most importantly, 70 percent of municipalities using these new renewable energy systems have incorporated sustainable energy considerations into their plans and management policies for the future.

—  Riamny Méndez

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