Photo Essay: 2 Award Winning Aga Khan Projects in the Mountainous Areas of Pakistan

An apricot, poplar and mountain stream at Garam Chasma in Northern Pakistan. Photo: © Ashden Awards

Introduction: This photo essay is about two Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) Agencies that have won the prestigious Ashden Awards for improving the quality of life in Northern Pakistan. The Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, Pakistan (AKPBS, P) and the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Pakistan (AKRSP, P), won the awards in 2011 and 2004 respectively and Simerg is pleased to produce a brief account of the work of the two agencies along with a collection of related photographs, reproduced with the kind permission of the Ashden Awards. Readers are also invited to click on links provided at the end of this piece to watch a very informative and interesting presentation (just under 6 minutes in length) about the AKPBS project.



Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan: Winner of the 2011 Ashden International Award for Avoided Deforestation

Warming homes, saving trees

“A proper home can bridge that terrible gap between poverty and a better future” – His Highness the Aga Khan

Princess Zahra Aga Khan speaking at the 2011 Ashden Awards. Photo: © Ashden Awards

The Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains lie in Northern Pakistan. Winters in the mountains are harsh and natural disasters are part of life. Lack of gas supply pushes almost all rural households in the region to use wood-burning stoves and open fires or simple wood-burning stoves indoors for cooking and heating.

Although many families have woodlots in the valleys, deforestation is serious on the mountain sides, where trees play a vital role in stabilising the slopes’. Photo: © Ashden Awards

Over 14 years ago, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service (AKPBS) began a concerted drive to make homes in North Pakistan warmer, and reduce the use of wood. Based on the Aga Khan’s belief that: “A proper home can bridge that terrible gap between poverty and a better future,” the programme has done just that for over 240,000 people.

Model stoves for different districts, and a water warming barrel. Photo: © Ashden Awards

Today over 100 ‘resource people’ work in their own villages promoting energy-efficient products. A US$80 package could include floor insulation, an efficient cook stove with a chimney to let smoke out, a water heater, and a roof hatch window that cuts out draughts and lets in light, also fresh air when needed.


The Basic Features of the Stove

Stove designs vary in detail from region to region,to suit local cooking requirements, but all have the same basic features. The stove is made from sheet metal and can be used for two cooking pots at the same time,while seated on the floor. Wood is added to the combustion chamber through a side door,which is then closed to limit airflow. A chimney takes the smoke out of the room. Insulated tiles are sometimes used around the stove body to cut heat loss and improve cooking efficiency during the summer, then removed for the four to seven winter months when room heating is needed.

Stoves are made locally providing income for small businesses. Photo: © Ashden Awards


Cooking Stove. Photo: © Ashden Awards

The stove was tested by Aprovecho Research Centre in 2008, and meets the Shell Foundation benchmarks for an ‘improved ’stove. A number of changes that would improve its energy efficiency have been tried, but do not suit stove users or else add too much to the cost.

Stove in use, House of Bibi Navida (right), Haiderabad, Hunza Valley. “For a working woman like me it’s great. I can go to the market in the morning, and then come back and there is hot water ready to do the laundry.” Bibi Safina, Ishkoman Valley, resource person who has promoted products for ten years. Photo: © Ashden Awards.

The Stove and Water-Warming in Nagar valley

Water-warming facilities use a metal pipe that runs around the inside rim at the top of the stove. Water in the pipe is heated by the burning wood, and circulates by natural convection to a 150-litre plastic storage barrel. Water is heated while cooking takes place, so additional wood is not needed. A tap in the barrel provides water at a suitable temperature for washing clothes or dishes, or to fill pots for boiling on the stove. The storage barrel is generally not insulated, because the water does not need to reach a very high temperature

Improved stove in use in Nagar valley, with ability to keep water warm in a nearby barrel. Photo: © Ashden Awards.


The Roof Hatch and Window

Roof hatch windows are made from toughened glass mounted in a wooden frame. The window fits into the hole in the roof that was previously needed to take smoke out of the house. A cord is used to open and close the window, to provide ventilation particularly in the short, hot summer. The roof hatch windows play a very important role in retaining heat inside the house during cold winters.

Coiner making roof hatches, Gilgit, North Pakistan. Photo: © Ashden Awards


A roof hatch window. Photo: © Ashden Awards.

“Now there’s no trouble with rain or dust or flies – we just open the hatch if it’s too hot and close it if it’s too cold. It’s as simple as that.” Bibi Navida Khan, Hunza Valley.

Roof hatch window installed. “Now there’s no trouble with rain or dust or flies – we just open the hatch if it’s too hot and close it if it’s too cold. It’s as simple as that.” Bibi Navida Khan, Hunza Valley, who has stove, water-warmer, roof hatch and floor insulation. Photo: © Ashden Awards



Insulated walls. Photo: © Ashden Awards.


Studies Show Social Benefits

A detailed study of the health and social impacts of using the energy-efficient stoves and water-warming facilities was undertaken by the Aga Khan University Hospital during the winters of 2008 and 2009. The study revealed that carbon monoxide concentrations were reduced by 44% in homes that used the AKPBS,P products, while the small particulates (PM2.5 concentrations), the major pollutants that damage health were reduced by 70%.

This improved stove is cooking food, heating water (stored in the barrel in the background), and keeping the room warm.. Photo: © Ashden Awards

Women using the products noticed that there was less smoke in their homes, and that the house and cooking utensils stayed cleaner. They also found that food cooked in less time, and the house warmed up more quickly.

Other benefits were reported to the Ashden judge who visited households. Insulated floors were found to be much more comfortable to sit on, and being able to close up the roof vent greatly reduced heat loss and draughts. Having a supply of hot water ‘on tap’ was particularly appreciated. It saves time – for instance, not having to heat water first thing in the morning before prayers – and improves hygiene.

Greg Barker MP with Princess Zahra Aga Khan and Hafiz Sherali, Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, Pakistan. Photo: © Ashden Awards

The impact is huge, both professionally and personally. People, especially the women, have more time for earning money, notably with increased production of Shu, the local woollen cloth. And they are healthier and safer, with more time to learn and to relax. Their world has become larger. As one villager says: ‘Children have heard about things like trains and planes. Now they can see them on the television.”

By 2014, AKPBS wants to have secured carbon finance to help provide energy-efficient products to a further 17,000 households, and to have extended the programme to other countries in the Himalayas.



Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Pakistan: Winner of the 2004 Ashden Awards

Micro-hydro power for remote mountain villages

Remoteness from a regular supply of electricity has many costs. For the scattered and isolated villagers of the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan, those costs can be measured not only by low incomes, but by poor health and safety as pinewood sticks and costly kerosene lamps make a precarious substitute for the lack of electricity.

Rivers such as this are a powerful source for hydro-power in Northern Pakistan. This one is on Garam Chasma road. Photo: © Ashden Awards

But the villagers are not without power provided by environmental surroundings. Rivers are abundant in the area. Recognising this, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRS, P) set about funding and building micro hydro power plants by involving the villagers from the outset. Local committees were set up to manage installation and maintenance, including pricing. Villagers were encouraged to participate in the work.

A micro hydro plant room in Garam Chasma. Photo: © Ashden Awards


A stream leading to the micro-hydro plant at Darazguru, Bumboret. Photo: © Ashden Awards


The top of the channel drop supplying the micro-hydro plant at Garam Chasma, in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush, a few miles from the Afghan border. (Photo credit: Martin Wright)


A micro-hydro plant room. Photo: © Ashden Awards

These plants supplied electricity to about 175,000 people in the Chitral District and the North-West Frontier Province. Electric lighting has replaced expensive and polluting kerosene lamps and dirty pine resin torches. It has given children the invaluable chance to study during the evenings, while their parents can generate much-needed income through increased production of clothes and handicrafts.

A house in the village of Rumbur, Chitral, lit by electricity from a local micro-hydro plant. (Photo: Ashden Awards, credit: Martin Wright)

But there are health and safety benefits too, like being able to avoid deadly scorpion stings at night. In addition to providing better lighting the villagers have also begun to value the use of radio, television and appliances like electric butter churner. Their world has become larger. As one villager says: “Children have heard about things like trains and planes. Now they can see them on the television.”

A Nagar woman proudly holding an electric butter churner. Photo: © Ashden Awards

The progress to date has been impressive. By 2010, a total of 204 hydro systems had been installed in Chitral province and about 20 elsewhere, supplying electricity for lighting and household appliances.

Village at Darazguru, Bumboret, one of the beneficiaries of the project. Photo: © Ashden Awards

The plan is for larger plants to support cooking and heating, and two new programmes under development will reach a further 350 villages, funding permitting.

A computer centre in Karimabad, Hunza, powered by micro-hydro. Photo: © Ashden Awards

Date posted: Friday, September 7, 2012.

Photos: Copyright. Ashden Awards.

Text and captions: Compiled from Ashden Awards.


To view an excellent video (appx. 6 minutes) of the work of AKPBS, please click or the image below:


Other Ashden resources:

2011 Ashden Awards – AKPBS Case Study – PDF
Ashden Awards Winner 2011 – AKPBS

10 thoughts on “Photo Essay: 2 Award Winning Aga Khan Projects in the Mountainous Areas of Pakistan

  1. Let’s celebrate the wisdom and compassion that gives strength to carry out more and more work for others to achieve their goals, as did companions of Prophet. These projects have so beautifully served by caring for those in need. Al-Hamdu-lillah.

    As always thanks for showing wonderful examples of humanity and knowledge.

  2. An hydro electric project in an industrialized country to feed 175,000 people with electricity woud easily cost couple of hundreds million of dollars but the resolve of these determined people has made the whole project look so easy and the ultra ultra cost effective. Bravo, I am sure with the passage of time and man’s ingeunity we will see, inshallah, more of such projects

  3. The confidence of the people in the region has contributed to these changes in the quality of life. The hopes that their children would survive and grow up to chart their own destinies for their betterment as well as the betterment of the people in the regions are now being answered. The circumstances thyy have had to live through have been exceptionally difficult and hard.

    Hakim Feerasta

  4. I was there nearly a over a decade ago. Hunza was rapidly building with no drainage system yet. Houses had modern bath, shower, toilet, kitchen but no running water. One had to fetch it and have a bucket bath. I am so proud of what AKBS has done.

  5. I was in Garam Chashma in 1976 when I was sent for the survey of the Chitral valley. I lived with the families and witnessed the roof cut-out and the wood burning 24 hours of the day because of severe cold. I saw babies turning blue and losing life because of carbon monoxide which I mentioned in my survey. I have since gone upto Turkhove valley and I was really overjoyed to see the installed roof-hatch, the improved stove as well as other improvements for the Jamat and others by AKDN. Its great.

  6. I agree with Zul Khoja – that academies should teach these projects. The stove reminds me of the ‘Jiko’ or ‘Sigri’ back home in Kenya and the food tasted so much different!!!

    Shirin Hirji

  7. Ashden awards to be thanked for sharing these…and Simerg for finding them to share! It takes a village. One starfish thrown back in the sea and it matters the world for that starfish.

  8. Some of these projects can be science projects in our academies!
    Wish I was back in our schools !
    Great stuff, Malik as always

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