13 October 2009

Nepal through an electrician's lens

Just back from a fantastic trip through Nepal, we are yet to get over the absolutely heavenly natural beauty and amazing history of this tiny Himalayan country. [Check pictures here] Good infrastructure, though, is something the nation is still struggling to achieve. It is a much more difficult goal here than in other places, being prone to all sorts of natural disasters from floods and earthquakes to landslides and of course because of its treachorously mountainous geography. Hundreds of small villages are totally isolated - being accessible only by foot or sometimes on mule. Considerable improvement have been made in the past few years, including innovative simple solutions such as the gravity ropeway by Practical Action, and we do wish them the best in their journey as a new democratic republic.

Here is what we saw through our electrician eyes as we travelled from Pokhara to Kathmandu.

An illegal hookup to the powerline to siphon power
Power theft is a major cause of concern in Nepal and other countries in South Asia. Australia has also seen rising cases of power theft in the past few years as electricity costs have skyrocketed. In Queensland alone, customers siphoning electricity through dangerous illegal homemade hook-ups was estimated to cost about $30 million in 2008. The practice is unsafe and also burdens honest customers with rising prices.

How NOT to connect wires: Dangerous open wiring against the backdrop of a Himalayan mountain
While there, we read stories in the local newspapers of injury/deaths by electrocution through coming in contact with naked live wires or short circuit in a home water pump and so on. Such injuries and fatalities are even more sad being preventable.

Good luck to the electrician who tries to figure out the correct wire in this chaos!!

On the last day of our trip, while we were making the final payment to our travel agent, we suddenly saw some men running past saying something and our agent rushed to the switchboard and turned everything off!! Seeing a lot of people running somewhere, we ran - without understanding anything of course - with them to survive whatever it was they were fleeing from. Then there was a very loud hissing, sparking kind of sound and the crowd ran backwards!! Finally after a minute of running back and forth, the sound died down and we gingerly craned our necks to find the cause. An overhead power wire had just molten and was hanging down. All this while it had been arcing and jumping around from side to side!! Boy are we glad to get back to safer shores!! :)

Geoff is a registered electrician with over 20 years experience in the industry. He is also licensed to provide data and voice services. Baishakhi is an MBA and looks after the "business" side of Epping Electrical. Read our story here.

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