Without electricity, the residents of Reutala depend on firewood

Electricity: As the day gets darker, Sangay Lhamo, 60, walks towards her kitchen embracing a bundle of firewood. She makes a fire in her kitchen.

Her eyes turn reddish and watery. She reaches for pots on the earthen oven that has blackened from years of smoke. Sangay says she has been living the same lifestyle ever since she can remember.

Reutala village is composed of three households. It is yet to be connected to the electricity grid. People here still depend on firewood for both cooking and heating purposes.

A night in this village takes the visitor back to an age where Bhutanese were still entirely dependent on firewood.

As Sangay sits by the oven pushing the burning firewood deeper into the oven, others sit around the fire warming themselves.

As the smoke escaping from the oven changes its course towards a particular person, they tease each other that the person must have committed some inappropriate action earlier.

Reutala village is some four hours walk from the nearest road at Pangzur. The village faces Zhemgang town on the other side of the valley.

Sangay Lhamo said she hopes the village is connected to electricity. She says they can see Zhemgang town lit up every night on the other side of the valley. “But here we have to cook until our eyes turn red and watery,” she said.

Most of the people in this village claim to be suffering from both respiratory and eye sight problems.

Sangay Lhamo who suffers from tuberculosis said she also can’t see well. “My eyes hurt,” she said.

Cheychey, 20, said they are living a deprived life when other villages enjoy every modern amenity. “We don’t even have road connectivity,” she said, adding that it is difficult for the residents of the village to live a healthy and hygienic life.

Cheychey said she becomes worried when her mother and other elders complain about respiratory and eye problems but she has no solution. Only electrification of the village will ease their lives, she said. “It is also bad for the environment as people keep on felling trees,” Chechey said.

However, the village has some lights powered by solar energy and it has helped them reduce dependence on firewood compared to past years. Previously, they burnt candle-wood and kerosene lamps that generated a lot of smoke and affected breathing. The Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park provided the solar panels.

Peytro, who is in his early 70s, said with the progress of time they seem to get affected by different diseases, especially those who are young. Peytro also finds it risky for children to live in the village.

“I am already suffering from respiratory problems and I have sent my grand daughter to Thimphu,” he said, adding that the village is in dire need of electricity.

Langthel Gup Sonam Dhendup said Reutala village has been surveyed for electrification but there isn’t a concrete time frame on when that could occur.

Sources said there are also issues that the electrification of Reutala maybe too expensive as the village is composed of only three households.

Nima Wangdi | Reutala