Small Wars Journal

Dispatch: Gobar Gas

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Dispatch: Gobar Gas

by Michael Yon

Download the full article: Dispatch: Gobar Gas

Brunei, Afghanistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam

08 June 2010

A Gurkha Idea

Among the more interesting coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan are the legendary Nepalese Gurkhas. Trained and fielded by the British, as they have been since colonial days, Gurkhas are a fascinating admixture: today, they are elite soldiers used to traveling the world. But many of them grew up barefoot and poor in remote and primitive mountain villages in the high Himalayas—places that closely resemble parts of Afghanistan, geographically and culturally. Forefathers of some of today's Ghurkas fought in the Afghan region during earlier wars. Gurkhas understand impoverished life in a harsh environment, though Nepal has enjoyed material progress in recent decades that is mostly unrealized in Afghanistan. Unlike forces from Europe or America, who often regard Afghanistan as an outpost of 13th Century life, Gurkhas can provide a link between primitive Afghan standards of development, and the possibilities for progress, with insights and connections that might elude most Westerners.

The insights of a Gurkha veteran named Lalit, whom I met in the jungles of Borneo, at a British Army man-tracking school, were particularly valuable. One day in the jungle Lalit began a conversation by announcing that many of Afghanistan's household needs could be solved if Afghans would adopt "Gobar Gas" production. Gobar Gas could improve the lives of Afghans as it had that of the Nepalese, he said, as he began to explain with great enthusiasm.

During Lalit's time in Afghanistan, he found nobody who had heard of Gobar Gas—even though Gobar Gas has been a quiet engine of ground-level economic transformation in Nepal and numerous other poor Asian nations.

After the man-tracking course ended I returned to Afghanistan, this time to the desert-like areas of Ghor, Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where most people have no electricity and often spend hours daily scrounging for bits of wood or whatever other fuel they can find on the deforested plains. Lalit was right about two things: No Afghan I met had heard of the Gobar Gas -- by any name. Nor had most American development people on the ground. Second, Gobar Gas looked like a serious solution in some areas to the lack of available fuel to meet daily needs. Given its track record and its perfect applicability to Afghanistan's state of development, this was a match made in heaven. I flew back to Nepal to talk with Gobar Gas experts and users.

Download the full article: Dispatch: Gobar Gas

Michael Yon is a former Green Beret who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004. No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars. Michael's dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work is published at Michael Yon Online and has been featured on Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.

About the Author(s)

Michael Yon is a former Green Beret, native of Winter Haven, Fl. who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.  No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars.  Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation.  His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.

Comments

Well, that got me thinking, and I found <a href="http://www.mothercow.org/oxen/gobar-gas-methane.html">this</a&gt; at Mother Earth News.

<blockquote>It's been a wild, exciting ride... but our blindly wasteful squandering of the planet's fossil fuels will soon be a thing of the past. In the United States alone (the worst example, perhaps, but not really unusual among "modern" nations), every man, woman and child consumes an average of three gallons of oil each day. That's well over two hundred billion gallons a year.

If we continue burning off petroleum at only this rate -- which isn't very likely since population is climbing and the big oil companies remain chained to "sell-more-tomorrow" economics -- experts predict the world will run out of refineable oil within (are you ready for this?) n30 years.

So where does that leave us? Well, number one, we obviously must get serious about population control and per capita consumption of power and, number two, if we don't want to see brownouts and rationing of the power we do use, we'd better start looking around for ecologically-sound alternative sources of energy.

And there are alternatives. One potent reservoir that's hardly been tapped is methane gas.

Hundreds of millions of cubic feet of methane -- sometimes called "swamp" or bio-gas -- are generated every year by the de- composition of organic material. It's a near-twin of the natural gas that big utility companies pump out of the ground and which so many of us use for heating our homes and for cooking. Instead of being harnessed like natural gas, however, methane has traditionally been considered as merely a dangerous nuisance that should be gotten rid of as fast as possible. Only recently have a few thoughtful men begun to regard methane as a potentially revolutionary source of controllable energy.

One such man is Ram Bux Singh, director of the Gobar Gas Research Station at Ajitmal in northern India. Although some basic research into methane gas production was done in Germany and England during World War II's fuel shortages, the most active exploration of the gas's potential is being done today in India.</blockquote>

Methane! Now I get it.

Seahorse (not verified)

Tue, 06/08/2010 - 4:51pm

I continue to discover that after all these years in Afghanistan there are so many 'small' projects which are available and active throughout the world but which have not been implemented or considered. The article on BioGas generation is a great example. I would add to your benefits analysis the fact that a major alternate fuel source used in Afghanistan is rubber tires. In Kabul especially, I have seen truckloads of tires imported from Pakistan and cut into smaller shingles to be sold as firewood. The brick kilns just outside kabul run on these continuously to fire the mud bricks. The pall of black PCB and carcinagen laden smoke comes to rest on the capital city and is especially bad during winter months when it is also used as a heat source. The long term exposure to this practice can't be good for the health of the citizens nor the soil and water resources.

Getting back to your analysis, I am surprised the Dutch in Uruzgan have not initiated any biogas development.

Thanks for the research and analysis.