Lights out in Nepal: Working through Load-Shedding

By Claudine Emeott, KF14, Nepal

When I arrived in Nepal to begin work with Kiva’s local partner here, BPW Patan, the majority of tourists and trekkers had just cleared out, likely heading for warmer climates or at least easier living conditions — because, by most standards, winter makes life in Nepal rather challenging.

First, there is the cold. Yes, daytime temperatures reach the mid 60s, which is about 60 degrees warmer than the temperatures I gladly left behind in Chicago. But there is no central heat, and buildings are constructed of cement and marble, with no insulation. So while it may be sunny and warm outside, I am finding it common to see my breath indoors at the same time. There are ways to combat the cold, though, and I am following the example set by locals, who wear several layers, scarves, and the wool ear-flap hats that are de rigueur these days:

My First Purchase in Kathmandu: The Functional and Fashionable Ear-Flap Hat

While the cold can get slightly uncomfortable, a far more challenging aspect of winter is a lack of water. Nepal has a dry season, generally from October through March, and a wet season, typically from April through September. When the water levels are low in the dry season, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has to forcibly reign in electricity consumption with scheduled power cuts, which, at their worst, make up 12-14 hours of each day. Here is the current load-shedding schedule; it is generally reliable, but in practice the time blocks may differ by an hour or more:

The Current Load-Shedding Schedule (Timeframes Listed Refer to Power Cuts)

Although the load-shedding schedule ensures that all areas equally receive (or do not receive) electricity, this nod to fairness stops there. I am fortunate enough to live in a home with an inverter, which allows us to power our laptops, run wireless internet, and use low-watt light bulbs even when the electricity is off. Many people, though, cannot afford an inverter (depending on the inverter and its capability, prices start at about $60 and climb into the tens of thousands of dollars).

BPW Patan, whose office is located in Group 7 for the load-shedding schedule, does not have an inverter. As staff told me repeatedly on my first day at the office, working without consistent and plentiful electricity during the winter months is very challenging. BPW has accordingly kept its operations relatively low-tech. For non-Kiva loans, BPW staff keep meticulous records in paper ledgers:

Paper Ledgers at BPW Patan

And use standard calculators and good math skills for their calculations (seeing this, I tried to recall the last time I did not use Excel to perform financial calculations. I came up short).

Loan Officer Sahani Shrestha Tracking Loans

To track their Kiva loans, the staff use a laptop and internet off-site, typically at the house of BPW‘s director, Urmila Shrestha. Because of the load-shedding schedule, Sanjeev (the Kiva Coordinator),  Urmila, and now I often have to work at odd hours to process Kiva-related tasks.

But despite these challenges, BPW Patan still manages to serve a current count of 1,248 women borrowers. I find this pretty amazing.

Claudine Emeott is a Kiva Fellow working with BPW Patan in Patan, Nepal.  Want to support women entrepreneurs in Nepal? Check out the BPW Patan Lending Team.

About the author

Claudine Emeott

Claudine is the Director of Strategic Initiatives. In this capacity she is focused on growing and deepening Kiva's impact, particularly through partnership with non-financial institutions working in agriculture, clean energy, education, health, and water and sanitation. Claudine joins Kiva after working in Nepal for a year, beginning with a Kiva Fellowship and concluding with consulting assignments for the Asian Development Bank and multiple microfinance entities. Prior to her year in Nepal, Claudine worked at a Chicago-based consulting firm, where she conducted financial and economic modeling, performed due diligence, and developed implementation strategies for urban development projects in underinvested communities throughout the Midwest. With more than seven years of experience in economic development, Claudine has worked on a range of projects both in the U.S. and abroad. Her sector expertise includes access to finance, affordable housing, and public-private partnerships, and her regional expertise centers on China and Nepal. Claudine holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard College and a Master's in City Planning from MIT.