Frugal Innovation and Resource optimization for Re-construction of Nepal

Earthquake has been common catch word within Nepalese society. The devastation and destruction done by earthquake are imprinted physically and mentally on every Nepalese life and society. The loss and sacrifice made by us cannot be filled but only can be healed. The aftershock till today brings chill on every individual who has gone through so traumatic months of shaking. The earthquake not only broke people patience, it literally paralyzed us for following months. We were definitely shaken but not broken. There was mixed responses from various diaspora of society. While some were being stereotypical limiting their responses to tea talks, gossips, sided opinions, baseless speculations and sharing fruitless expertise. On other people displayed great courage, empathy and unity in immediate hours helping each other. Simply there was no caste, creed, class, language, religion, geographic divisions but only humanity to save life.

After arduous months of relief activities we are on next phase of rehabilitation and re-construction so we can return back to normal life. There are challenges and hurdles which will impede smooth functioning of such activities. We have remote area with high geographical terrains, fractured landscape, limited infrastructures and areas virtually out of connection from rest of world. The approach should be frugal and local knowledge based so we can optimized scarce and limited resources.

Frugal Innovation Approach

Nepalese society is frugal in nature we have always done more with less that is creating significantly more business and social value while significantly reducing use of scarce resources. Frugal is not cheap or mean but a whole new mindsets. It is mindsets that is able to convert adversity into opportunity to create more value at less cost for more people. This is what we need in current situation do more with less and limited resources. Frugal helps to drive resilience, adaptability, simplicity, inclusivity, empathy and passion to grow and innovate things.

Seek opportunity in adversity

Our homes and heritage sites have fallen into ruins but let’s see it as half full glass we have got chance to rebuild it with better strength. We can incorporate seismic safety into traditional construction techniques will reflect traditional aesthetics along with. We can lend massive information, education, and communication programs to educate people about the reconstruction effort. There must be active participation of community and local people to give survivors a sense of ownership of the houses and communities that were being reconstructed, but also provided them with a sense of purpose to ease their minds in the aftermath of the disaster. This might be turning point for us. Decentralization, reallocation of villages, women empowerment, speeding of development works can be done with active people participation. Basically it has changed our mentality in person.

Do more with less

We have already limited resources but we have more responsibility to do. Let’s take example of how our hospital performed during early days of weeks. They definitely had scarce and limited resources beyond odds their service were commendable.  We have been provided with opportunity to uncover hidden talents and resources. Obviously volunteerism and leadership shown by youth has to be upgraded to next level. We should understands local knowledge and expertise for incorporating it into technology. The resources need and type of re-construction differs by locality and community. Therefore, post disaster recovery should be locally led, as locals know what the community needs and what can or has been locally resolved.  If we recognized those resources we can carry out sustainable rehabilitation and re-construction at low cost.

Energy Optimization

The energy is backbone for nation building and without access to energy no development work can take place. While we choose energy generation technology it should really have simple mechanism of implementation. Stove/fuel, solar lantern distribution, setting up Diesel Genset, solar suitcase for health clinic electrification can be done. AEPC initiated a quick relief program to provide basic electricity services/ technologies for lighting and mobile charging. Gham Power is compiling all the incoming help requests for power in a live map. Rebuild Barpak initiative has supported funding of a 50 KVA Diesel Genset to ensure access to adequate, safe, and reliable electricity in Barpak. The generator has been connected to the distribution network and will be supplying electricity to temporary shelters, agro-processing mills, construction equipment and communication equipment and infrastructure. Ecoprise has delivered 500 solar lanterns to survivors from Kavre, Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot. They also plan to reach 1000 families with solar lanterns from dlight and solar power water purifiers from SOLVATTEN in Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts.

Coordinating assistance

Proper communication and coordination prior to the dispatch of technical and physical support will be necessary. The government needs to be strategic in requesting assistance from various interested governments and organizations so that relief can be initiated in the multiple areas where we have suffered losses. In doing so, they will need to be in constant communication with local actors and also understand the assistance providers’ comparative advantage and strategically link the two. Coordination will continue to remain key. The re-construction and rehabilitation supports should aggregate with long term development goals. Several cases of unmanaged relief are heard in media that people in Gorkha are not planting paddies this year as they have enough food stock. We should make them independent and self-sustaining not just give fish but teach them how to fish.

This approach will help to build new Nepal. We can rise above rubble and bounce back. This tragedy will help us to be united and move nation forward towards development.


Doing more with less

Hey Bipin, thank you for the article! I share your ideas about reconstruction and development, especially about frugal living. And it’s good to see that so many among the young in Nepal share these views as well; I haven’t heard a single young Nepali person propose more and permanent donations from abroad as the way forward …

In the Europe where I come from, and even in the USA, people now discover the advantages of frugal lifestyles as well. For example the tiny house movement. The basic insight is that if you’re able to do more with less, you’re forced less into earning money and other forms of unhealthy dependencies. “Doing more with less” is btw a great definition for frugal innovation, thank you.

Since I’m also myself experimenting with frugal / simple living, I’d like to learn about some of the frugal innovations “made in Nepal”. People’s innovations are so inspiring :slight_smile: Maybe you have some examples for me?

I already looked through a lot of what was happening in Cuba during their “Special Period” (see this short video about Cubans’ technological disobedience, and this documentary for more details; there is also the “complete manual” of Cuban citizen innovations, in PDF for download, only available in Spanish but even the images are worth it: Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos).

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Not a source to share just personal encounters

So far I have no reliable source or link to share story of Frugal innovation in Nepal. I do not know even this falls under frugal innovation. But people have really taken advantage of limited resources, knowledge and budget. So typically I wanted to mix frugal innovation with re-construction and re- building of Nepal so we can yield high output with low input. But i have included few example which I personally saw and could not stop sharing.

Coffee Making Machine

This is what I saw in Butwal, Lumbini zone of Nepal. They used pressure cooker  modified in such a way that it has a copper delivery pipe affixed to its lid. This pipe facilitates the transfer of steam generated inside to a container outside. Fabricated from locally available material, this artifice is composed of just an ordinary pressure cooker fitted with a copper pipe, a pressure releasing valve actuated by moving a lever. This was cheap in coffee making as well coffee made tasted good.

Smart Cooling System:

You can encounter various innovative things while traveling. This is similar experience which I am sharing about amazing cooling system for poultry farming. Topographically located as valley, Bidur municipality on the bank of Trishuli river has quite high temperature during summer. But as on the bank of river there is abundant supply of water. This cooling is used for providing cool shades for poultry house. The water from high head is taken in pipe from river and sprayed on top of house from spring jets. As there is enough head for water pressure to run sprinkles there is no use of any other source of energy. The water continuously cools the upper roof sliding and cooling lower roof. Thus innovation can start at home with use of simple logic, locally available resource and less investment.


This kind of system does not require any external energy for operation. The water head difference and kinetic energy of water is able to drive sprinkles. The regulated flow of water will rotate sprinkles which helps to cool upper roof successively sliding down via steel roof to lower roof. The mechanism is simple and does not involve much engineering.

The Exploding Pressure Cooker

Careful whne using an aging pressure cooker beyond it’s limits. They tend to explode, I think that in my childhood I’ve seen a couple of lids flying away at my mum’s and granma’s kitchen. We were young, we were free, we were alrigth.

I know that in the third world we never follow the manufacturer’s advice, but exposing oneself to injure is not the best idea.

The new start up should take more time fro planning. We are too empirical and pragmatic in developing countries as we want fast solutions (temporal usually means permanent) as our needs are urgent and being delayed for decades, also we don’t have legal constraints (we don’t need to follow them, well, not all of them)

No more aluminium cookware please. are popular as they are cheaper than steel, but are linked to Alzheimer. In Europe have been banned long time ago, Bolivia is working hard to get rid of them because of their high number of the sick people

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Pressure Cooker’s blowing up & Material

There has been death by blowing up pressure cooker in some location of third world country. Obviously if we do not follow given manual given by manufacturer accidents are prone to happen. But here we are talking about modifying pressure cookers for making coffee. This is kind of frugal innovation people have been following locally by making certain changes on nozzle system.

The composition of pressure cookers was aluminium in past but even in third world country mostly we find stainless steel as material used for making it. Thank you for informing about rules in Europe and Bolivia. smiley

Observations on traditions

And about your point here:

“On other people displayed great courage, empathy and unity in immediate hours helping each other. Simply there was no caste, creed, class, language, religion, geographic divisions but only humanity to save life.”

I also liked to see that happen, and have a big respect for people acting like this :slight_smile: This experience plus the discussion around Umes’ article at yesterday’s workshop inspired me to create an ad-hoc “theory of traditions” … . No idea if it explains traditions well, so feedback is welcome of course :slight_smile: Here it is:

My take on traditions is that they form as the means to organize social life in regular, quiet, routine-based environments. But then over the course of several generations, they rigidify. What was once a helpful way to structure living together then can become an empty and legalistic rule, or even a tool for others for exerting power. High-change situations (like an earthquake, a revolution etc.) have the potential to make traditions crumble which have become too rigid and / or useless over time. I consider this a good thing everywhere in the world. It seems that social structures need a shakeup every now and then to not fossilize :slight_smile: Of course, too much change is also harmful … like in medicine, where the difference between a poison and a medical drug is often just the dose …

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Modification is better than destruction

I think destruction of old structure as mentioned by Umes Shrestha is quite radical. We can not only can but have to  modify or rationalize our old structure. The culture and tradition is something which gives us identity and binds us as Nepali finally helps us to create Nepalese civilization. Obviously we have deep rooted radical traditionalism which is impeding our growth and development. Not what we all follow needs destruction. I completely agree social structure needs complete shake up in intervals of time. But simply I want to make a point we should not make so much shake up that we forget our own positive culture of being Nepali.

Thanks for this

It always seemed to me you guys in Nepal are never far away in conversations regarding frugal living. Outspoken or not, I think you’re often a kind of “gold standard” in terms of frugality - at in many of the “Western” discussions I attended.

I wish you all the best with any action that can push the boundaries further! I have put some comments in other threads that you’ll easily find if you search for holcim or If you want more technical input, ask and I’ll do my best.

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@bkarki, very good article. If that’s of any late help, I created a doc where I corrected some mistakes. But essentially, you got the point and you wrote it very well.

Just two points to add. I think that there is some misconception of innovation going on around, meaning that it has to be completely new, something that noone ever though of. I like Jarmush’s quotation on it: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to." I hate when people say: this is not new. As long as it solves problems, it is completely irrelevant if you’re the first person on earth who ever thought of it.

I think that in Nepal things actually fantastically are woven into the existing culture and traditions. Like in Karkhana or Ran, where they innovate by using myths and stories from Nepali traditions and combine them with building robots and vehicles that transport momos. I really love this approach, and I think this makes innovation relevant and understandable.

And second one: I don’t think we have to teach villagers how to fish. Actually after all the information about them being idle and not doing anything after the quake, I have seen people demolishing houses with their bare hands, building shelters, sewing and so on. it’s not that the cases of complete idleness did not happen - but these people really are doing amazing job themselves. we can only help them increase effects and make their life slightly easier and nicer by small technological intrusions;) Well, that’s my point of view;)


Thank you for your wonderful

@Natalia Thank you for your wonderful inputs.smiley