The village background:

  • It is located at an elevation of 2,119 m (about 6,952 feet) above sea level with a population of about 1,800.
  • It has a continental climate with Oceanic influence. Summers are moderately hot and winters are very cold and long.
  • Night temperatures tend to be below freezing point for half of the year months.
  • Summer usually starts in June and ends in late September.
  • The average annual precipitations are above 400 mm (about 16 inches) but can reach up occasionally to 800 mm (about 31 inches).
  • Rainfall is distributed evenly throughout the year, although summer tends to have lower precipitations than average.

The main problems to solve:

  • How to get clean water for the people living there at a low cost?
  • How to teach the people (illiterate people) to get their own water without travelling great lengths to get it?
  • How to get heat with low costs?
  • How to teach them to self-produce and self-sustain the heat?

If possible, I'd like to know about low cost technologies that would help in making the tasks mentioned above easier.

I'd also like to know about the ways in which we can use the characteristics of the field to our advantage and make local products that contribute to the final goal of founding a self-sufficient village in terms of heat and water.

  • $\begingroup$ So have these people been there? or are they planning on settling there? $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ They've been there for a very long period of time. And they've been isolated until recently. A road has been built straight to it but the road is slim and is still very hard for large or normal non 4x4 vehicules to cross ! $\endgroup$
    – Hamza
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What are the reasons that this group hasn't solved their problem already? What prevents them from creating their own solutions? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "use the characteristics of the field..."? I'm not really following that paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: You dig a well. An annual precipitation of 16 inches is quite a bit, really - we get about 8-9 inches where I live. Snowmelt and groundwater is enough to supply a moderate population. We're a pretty good match otherwise, except that my house is only at 4800 ft, though nearby peaks go above 10K. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 18:51

6 Answers 6


Since there is a small but reasonable amount of precipitation, the water issue is probably best solved by building cachement basins to store rain and meltwater for future use. This can be as unsophisticated as rain barrels by every house (and that would be a good start) to small dams and ponds dug in along stream beds.

For non potable water use (washing, irrigation), it might be sufficient to simply let the water settle, or in extreme cases, filter it through a bed of fine sand to trap particulate matter.

Heating water and purifying it for drinking and cooking can be done through solar heating. Depending on the sorts of materials available, the village can construct various types of solar heaters and concentrators, but a parabolic dish which can flash the water to steam during the day makes the most sense, the steam can be tapped for heat, and condensed for relatively pure water. Simpler systems can be built, including rather simple systems involving a fresnel lens propped up by 2X4's over a clear plastic bag of water (good for hot water, not so much for purification by heat). One issue with solar heating is the heat source goes away at night and in bad weather. Storing barrels of hot water indoors (think of a hot water tank) provides a way to retain some heat during the night, but is ultimately limited (very large tanks can contain a lot of hot water, but are expensive and take a long time to "charge up" with heat).

With limited resources, there are only a limited number of options these people can take, but small scale projects like this can go a long way towards making a difference.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for simple practical solutions. The unpredictability of solar is less important than we assume (being used to the modern world with 24/7 electricity needs). Water can still be heated over a fire when the weather is bad. Saving half or more of the yearly fuel need is huge and makes it much easier to sustain from local resources. $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 9:59

I'm more knowledgeable of climates that sustainability. There are not many places with the characteristics you pointed out. Morocco is not cold enough unless you consider -5 as very cold. The mountains of Central Asia (the Tien Shan range) is the most likely place with these characteristics. There is no dry season, unlike in Afghanistan, Iran, Morocco, etc.


is a poor country with a lot of mountainous areas. Some pat of it have a steady amount of low to moderate precipitations over the year. At 2100m of altitude, they are likely to have even higher mountains not far. That means they can use the water falling in these higher places. They can build dams and reservoirs to use as water supply and to power hydroelectric power-plants so they can heat their homes (among other things). It doesn't need to be gigantic like the Three-Gorge Dam in China, power-plants can be small and efficient.

The call it small or micro hydro power. It is much cheaper that other types of energy but it still cost some money.




Another solution would be geothermal energy. The main problem is the initial cost is apparently very high but it's one of the most efficient form of renewable energy. Overall it might be better on the long term. But the initial cost is prohibitive.


Burn wood, straw, conifer needles, grease, and/or dung for heat.

Use stoves made of metal or brick. Get the air for the stoves from outside, and emit the exhaust to the outside. This minimizes the need for drafts, and mitigates indoor air quality problems.

Air-seal the walls, except as needed to provide needed ventilation.

Heavily insulate the walls, perhaps using straw or conifer needles.

Either use bricks to make firewalls, or keep the buildings separate enough to avoid risking much of the village burning in a single fire or forest fire.

Have a local brickworks. In a very poor society, this might make adobe bricks. A somewhat richer society might make burnt bricks out of clay. An even richer society might be able to make cement and concrete. (An ore-smelter/foundry/smithy would be a major bonus.)

Use gutters and cisterns to trap precipitation that falls on the building roofs.

Divert stream(s) into small reservoirs. Use short earthen-dams, with the water-flow region lined with concrete, brick, or stone. If possible, have the water storage not be in the same immediate basin as the village. The water will be purer if it is not taken from downstream from the village. The damage from dambreaks will be less if the water is not stored upstream from the village. The cost of transporting water from the storage to the village will be less if the storage is not lower than the village. Use gravity-fed canals or viaducts (preferably lined with concrete, brick, or stone) to transport the water.


First, they need a starter kit air-dropped in, with

  • communications equipment (satellite internet, laptop, charger TBD)
  • some practical books about heating and water technologies
  • some durable tools (TBD)
  • a few water bottles and hand warmers
  • a project manager trained in sustainability and appropriate technologies

Next, the project manager should conduct a site assessment to determine what energy resources are available, including biomass, solar, wind, and hydro. A geothermal heat assessment would be challenging but potentially highly rewarding, especially if the mountains lie near an active fault region. She should also interview the local residents to understand how they have survived, presumably with some source of heat or shelter, for such a long time. If they get by but would like to trade their resources for more bottles and hand warmers, then the project manager should phone home and determine the exchange rates, and whether tourism and trade by helicopter is mutually satisfactory.

Presuming the local residents started reading online about imperialism and prefer a sustainable alternative to dependency on imports, the project manager should find a partner university to perform a study on feasibility of different technologies for providing heat and water. They will find that a range of technologies exist, but many will be challenging to maintain on-site.

For heating, some technologies are:

  • Insulation (ie, renovate construction with earthen or imported material)
  • Biomass gathered on-site
  • Imported fuel (pellet, cooking oil, or natural gas) and stovetops
  • Solar thermal collectors (CPC + tube, or Scheffler dish)

The university partner can help identify organizations that supply either these products for sale, or instruction in their construction, or charitable fundraising and products as gifts. A student organization may be able to raise funds. The best option will depend on the site assessment.

For water, some technologies are:

  • Dams and reservoirs, since the annual rainfall is high
  • Aqueducts
  • Atmospheric water generator
  • Pumped well groundwater

Finally, the project manager should consult with the local education authorities to determine if a student exchange program is acceptable. Returning students could then replace the project manager and establish connections in case further outside assistance is required.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I find all but the second and third bullet-lists rather... off-putting. $\endgroup$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ @nitsua60 care to explain why? Seems a solid answer to me. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 18:35

Well heat would be simple if we had resources to use geothermal energy for heating. It also depends if it is easily reachable. I suppose someone would have to put some money in it, but there should be profit in it. So perhaps building a geothermal power plant and hiring locals to tend it would create enough income for some party to have interest in it and leave enough energy for locals to use.

As for water I have no other idea then Thucydidles had.


Building reservoirs to catch rain and melt-water running down the mountains is certainly the cheapest, most practical and self-sufficient way of meeting the village's needs. It can be used as-is for washing and irrigation. It may not be so suitable for drinking, unless distilled or otherwise treated or purified... all of which is expensive. Fortunately, in a climate and terrain like this, mountain springs are a strong possibility. Springwater is reliably clean and drinkable, and it could be piped directly to the village to supply it year round. During the winter, melted snow is a clean (though somewhat energy-intensive) alternative.

Heat: Start by building large, round, straw-bale houses. Large and round, because that minimizes the surface to volume ratio, which optimizes construction cost and energy efficiency. Straw bale, because:

  1. It's affordable and accessible, using materials that the villagers can grow and gather for themselves (wood, straw, and clay, mostly).
  2. It's a great insulator, which further optimizes energy efficiency.

The skills for building a straw-bale house are something anyone can learn. With a few good teachers, the villagers will be putting up houses in no time.

To actually heat these buildings, I recommend rocket mass heaters. These have many of same advantages as straw-bale houses: they're energy efficient, use local materials, and are simple to build. If wood is scarce on these mountaintops, and dung is more plentiful, they can burn that as well. Really the ideal heating system for an isolated mountain village.

Finally, there's an old trick the Swiss used to use in their alpine houses. Do these villagers keep animals? Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and chickens all produce substantial amounds of body heat. The Swiss way was to house these animals underneath their own dwellings during the winter, in a kind of walk-in basement dug into the hillside. This provided them with an effective (though possibly somewhat smelly) form of in-floor heating.

With these techniques, I think the village could be very comfortable, and highly self-sufficient.


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