LAHORE / KOT ADDU:
Rafia Bibi, 23, used to start her day by walking to the nearby market and purchasing a maund of firewood for Rs280, enough to take care of cooking and heating needs for her family of eight.
Her family lost their agricultural land, most of their livestock and even the family home when Abbaswala Bund broke during last year’s Indus floods. “We lost a lot and it took a year for us to recover, but in some ways we are better off now,” she says.
Rafia and her family are among 500 in Muzaffargarh selected for a flood recovery programme of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, whereby they were given a biogas plant. The plant, of a capacity of eight cubic metres, was set up by implementing partners in Kot Addu for Rs60,000. It requires 80kg of cattle dung daily, giving about seven hours of gas, equivalent to burning 23kg of firewood.
Rafia is glad she doesn’t have to use firewood anymore. “The wood gave off black smoke. It made me cough for as long as I was cooking. My hands, feet and face would all turn black. And I do not have to make discs of animal dung anymore. Before we had the plant, I used to spend two hours every morning collecting faeces from the fields and laying it out to dry so it could be used 4-5 days later,” she says.
Muhammad Saleem, a partner of the WWF-Pakistan, has installed almost 240 biogas plants in 35 flood-affected villages in Muzaffargarh district, 150 in DG Khan, 100 in Layyah and about 50 in Mianwali since July 2010. He says the design has proved a success and his foundation has been receiving more and more orders.
He says biogas plants can save families up to one third of their incomes. An average family earns Rs10,000 to Rs12,000 a month, and firewood alone costs about Rs4,000 a month.
Saleem said an eight cubic metre plant generates enough gas to run a 1 KVA generator for eight hours. He has also set up a 16 cubic metre plant and a 48 cubic metre plant for two families in Basti Jeevanwali, on the outskirts of Kot Addu.
The 16-cubic metre plant produces enough methane to run a tubewell for seven hours. Saleem says the saving on fuel alone comes to Rs70,000. The byproduct of the process can be used as a biodegradable fertiliser, reducing dependency on urea by 70 per cent. One can save up to Rs20,000 on fertiliser for seven acres of irrigated land, he said.
According to the WWF site coordinator in Muzaffargarh, Omer Waqas, plants were given to families affected by the floods and who had enough animals to provide the fuel faeces.
“Some relatively affluent people, those with more land and livestock, did benefit. But even the most affluent had nothing to eat during the first few months of flooding,” he said.
He said most of the plants were built for families with not more than four or five animals.
“We tried to install plants shared between several families, each owning one or two animal only, so they could share the fuel. But too many conflicts arose and forced us to stop,” he said
Each family had to plant 50 trees — mostly keekar, shisham and eucalyptus — to get a plant.
Khursheed Bibi, who is in her early 50s, said many women in her village, Basti Patal, suffered from cough due to the use of firewood as a fuel for cooking and warming homes during the winters. She says if the biogas technology spreads out to every home of the village, fatalities on account of lung diseases will reduce dramatically.
“For years, I woke up coughing early morning. It would worsen during the hours I cooked, or in the middle of the night. This technology was meant to benefit us financially, but it has also helped me breathe easy after years,” she said.
Rafia’s husband Khursheed said that they had planted eucalyptus trees as water table in Muzaffargarh district is very high. “Also it grows fast and is easier to chop off,” he said.
The biogas plants are being provided through a Global Poverty Assistance Fund (GPAF) programme being implemented by WWF-Pakistan in partnership with the Department For International Development (DFID) of UK.
As many as 2,200 biogas plants have been constructed in 13 districts throughout Pakistan under the flood recovery programme. In south Punjab, plants have been constructed in DG Khan, Rahim Yar Khan, Bahwalpur, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur. In Sindh, at Thatta, Ghotki, Sukkur and Dadu, and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, at Charsadda, Dera Ismail Khan, Nowshera and Swat. Some 250 biogas plants have been constructed in other parts of the country through other WWF-Pakistan projects.
Dr Ejaz Ahmad, who looks after biogas projects across the country for WWF-Pakistan, said biogas technology had been more successful in south Punjab and Sindh as the average ambient air temperature the year round remains suitable for bacteria germination.
Operating biogas plants in mountainous terrain has been more challenging, as the cold weather slows down the process by which the gas is derived. The WWF-Pakistan is currently experimenting with new designs in Nathiagalli and Skardu.
“I want these to spread to households in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as these areas contain most of Pakistan’s four per cent forest cover. By shifting the technology north, we can discourage communities from cutting trees,” he says.
How a biogas plant works
The ground is dug to a depth of seven-and-a-half feet and lined with a cement concrete. Once dried, the lining is treated with a chemical to increase its longevity. The slurry is fed from one end and the gas, mostly methane, is collected in a dome three-and-a-half feet tall. The process waste, a biodegradable fertiliser, is shifted into another pit to make room for more slurry.
It takes about 20 days to build a biogas plant and about five days to get it started. Biogas plants can also be built with insulated fibre glass sheets and steel, but these materials are more expensive than concrete.