Climate change | Blogs

  • Flooding in Sudan – part 1

    Yassir Abdelmutalab
    September 10th, 2014

    This morning, 9th September 2014, some droplets fell from the sky announcing the end of a heavy storm that showered Khartoum the whole of last night (20 mm). I drove from home to the office, taking my little child to his kindergarten, a few meters from the gate, the car got mired down in  heavy mud, I struggled to pull it out, for almost 10 minutes, using all the stunts and tricks, move forward, backward, while steering and turning in all directions; tossing on my seat to lift some weight or put some of it, my wife, please go to the back seat, the child enjoyed the experience; the windshield completely covered with the mud sheets, the wipers and wiping water finished; at last we succeeded to escape away from this place. A poor infrastructure, in addition to lack of knowledge on what to expect and what will happen in the future (forecasting); and I say this because two days ago I heard in the radio, meteorology announcing light rains, opposite to the reality. My other two kids waiting for their school bus, the driver phoned us, informing us that the school principal told him there is no school today due to the heavy rains (we accustomed to that).

    As in previous years,  in Sudan in 2014 we have witnessed a lot of rains and floods, so I thought to shed some light on the topic and discuss flood disasters in Sudan and see how we can deal with them.

    There are many different types of floods; the most important ones are classified into:

    • Regional Flood: normally occur on a seasonal basis when rain water overfill river basins and flood the banks. They also occur during periods of excessive rain when the rain saturates the soil and the runoff overflows streams and rivers.
    • Flash flood: A flash flood is a rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas – washes, rivers and streams. Caused by the heavy rainfall associated with a thunderstorm, hurricane, or tropical storm, etc.
    • Land Slide- Debris Flood: A type of a movement of rocks, regolith, soil and debris mixed with water, similar to some extent to an avalanche.
    • Dam and Levee Failure Flood: The huge release of impounded waters due to structure failure or uncontrolled breach failure.

    Flooding in KhartoumIn recent times Sudan has experienced a series of these disasters, though the flood disaster in Sudan ironically comes in the second place after drought.  We either have too much water or no water!

    The natural conditions together with the geographical location positioned the Sudan in a corner, where its people are vulnerable and have low resilient capacity towards facing disasters and its consequences.

    Floods vary in their magnitude and the worst effects happened in 1946, 1988, 2007, and 2013.  This year 2014  has still not yet unfolded.

    The 1988 Flood of Sudan is considered a reference point, to the extent that today, the staff of the meteorology if they wanted to produce a forecast model (i.e. based on previous years data) they exclude the readings of 1988.  This reminded me of when Mr. Al Gore in his Global warming presentation mounted on the ladder as the line-graph is beyond the screen boundaries.

    It is worth mentioning that, the total annual average of rainfall in Khartoum area is 162mm.

    Over a couple of days in 1988 – more exactly the 4th- 5th August 1988, there was an exceptionally intense storm covered Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The cloud responsible for that heavy torrent, was measured at almost 500 km till east Sudan, 200km north to Atbara river, resulted in the 80km cross Khartoum. The rainfall commenced at GMT 20:18. In the first hour, the rain gauge read 50mm; toward the end of that night and early morning, exactly at GMT 06:00, the reading reached 210mm. Two more storms took place on  12th and 14th which took the August reading to 301.4mm. It is worth mentioning that in previous years, August rainfall gauges readings were around 12mm.

    The total annual rainfall in 1988 reached 785.5mm. This was a new record compared to the 1946 flood which was 223.9mm.

    With that huge amount of water, Khartoum was inundated. The immediate result of that flood was 1.5 million homeless in Khartoum; houses were damaged and destroyed. Other parts of the country went through a similar experience, and the effects were massive all over the country.

    To some extent, or usually, every year we have floods, but they are minor, except for those took place in 2007, 2013, 2014.

    In 2014 the rainy season is now at its end and rains are above average.  Accordingly a state of emergency was declared in Khartoum, schools were closed till the floodwater recedes and now we are living with the impact.

    SUDAN-WEATHER-FLOODThe measuring tool this year is not how many mm of rains reached, but how many people died, injured, were displaced and suffered? Where are they now? How do they live? When are they getting a permanent shelter? A lot of questions need answers.

    I am quite sure, the readers are well aware about the miserable situations and conditions that affected people live in and most of us, directly or indirectly witnessed these disasters; such as recent floods in Kashmir, Srinagar (India & Pakistan) where over 175 persons lost their lives not to mention the other damage.

    But the question that always emanating is: Why do people always go through this pain? We are living in the 21st century, indeed and by now we ought and must have a lot of  technologies under our disposal, we have a large amount of wealth of knowledge, advanced science, research, huge man-power, tools, equipment, capacity to plan, to implement and to provide solutions. I am looking for convenient small scale solutions to a single family or a neighbourhood, or a village, and then scaling up, a solution that expects what is coming and get prepared against disaster to achieve a minimum loss or damage.

    In spite of the many frequent trials of governments, INGOs, UN bodies to manage floods disasters in Sudan, still the vast majority of people suffered, entrapped in a viscous circle. One example is that some of our people live and build their homes and buildings right in the middle of a seasonal rain stream, why? Why do people do that?

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Resilience v efficiency: a systems thinking heavyweight bout

    September 3rd, 2014

    Sometimes, Practical Action can really get absorbed in systems thinking. We’ve been working in this space since about 2003, and some of its principles have served as the foundation of some great successes we have had. For an oversimplified approach, think of a terrarium. You have soil, plants water and air all living inside a closed pot (it isn’t considered a true closed system, because sunlight gets in, but you get the idea). If you were to adjust different segments of the system, you might see different developments: more water might mean more growth, or more growth might also mean the system burns out.

    So what happens when this system shifts, and you start looking at populations? Plants become people, soil becomes the economy, maybe even water stays the same, and you consider the impacts of clean water in a community. That evaluation is a key part of how Practical Action often engages with communities. Two key features of systems are resilience, which often shows up in our climate adaption work, and efficiency, which is often considered key to creating transformative impact in the lives of the poor—because if something isn’t efficient, it will probably not be as replicable, and you lose that whole transformative impact component.

    Is a treadle pump resilient, or efficient?

    Is a treadle pump resilient, or efficient?

    These two systems characteristics are inversely related: resilience is a trade-off for efficiency.

    What does that mean? When we talk about resilience in relation to the extreme poor, we are often talking about those who are able to bounce back when they face a system shock. That could be a drought, a flood, or an economic collapse. If you think about it, resilience gets built up by being able to quickly adapt to a change in a system, and that often means there are multiple support systems created that can create the flexibility needed for that change. In the case of drought, that might mean there are several different kinds of crops that are raised, some that work better in wet seasons and some that work better in dry seasons. This could also mean there exists a knowledge base that allows for more resilience as well—you become a generalist as opposed to a specialist so you can perform multiple tasks.

    Then there is efficiency. However you achieve it, be it economies of scale, or through specialization, efficiency is important, because it means you are completing a task more effectively. If you can increase efficiency, you will be able to replicate that task. So when people talk about creating transformative change in a community, efficiency is often necessary for that change to take root. Think of a treadle pump. The first time someone built one, it probably didn’t work very well, but over thousands of years, the design has been improved upon, to the point where many look very similar: they are cheap to build, easy to replicate, and in a word, efficient, given their circumstances.

    These days, efficiency is a major focus in many drives to end poverty. You have limited resources, and efficiency allows for expansion that maximizes those resources. But it also means that you are developing systems that require many of your “resources” (READ: people) to specialize in a given approach. As a result, you aren’t as flexible, and your trade-off is resilience. Think of GMO super crops—they are efficient, because they can be made to resist certain pesticides, and can grow bountifully. But they aren’t resilient, because once an infestation comes along that is particularly brutal to that crop, there is no other crop there to create resilience—food prices go up, and people go hungry.

    So does this mean that the world should be extremely resilient? Or should we focus our efforts wholeheartedly on efficiency, hoping to create economies of scale that are extremely good at overcoming system shocks? Ultimately, this conversation starts sounding more like one with a personal finance advisor. If you are preparing for the future, you need a diversified portfolio. Like in that terrarium, finding the appropriate balance is key, and it will rarely be wholly efficient or wholly resilient.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Sheep rearing – a livelihood option in salinity affected coastal areas

    S M Alauddin
    August 30th, 2014

    Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Because of increased salinity, the absence of agricultural practices (other than shrimp culture), a lack of grazing land and acute fodder problems cattle resources have been reduced seriously in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. However, there is much scope of rearing small domestic animals like sheep, goats and pigeons there instead of big animals (cows, buffalo etc.). Further, the area lacks sufficient employment opportunities since shrimp cultivation in gher is the major and dominant livelihoods option in the coastal area. But, most poor and marginal people don’t own land for shrimp cultivation.

    sheepSalinity, being the major dominant feature, crops and vegetables, other than saline tolerant variety, don’t grow in this area. However, people are not well aware of saline tolerant crops and vegetable varieties. So, sheep rearing, considering the salinity and climatic variability context has been considered to be an important adaptive livelihood option in the area, although, there is lack of grazing land and fodder. Sheep is highly salinity and temperature tolerant.

    The rearing of sheep has been increasing gradually in coastal areas as a household based adaptation and alternative income option. A 5´x 8´ house is required for 5/6 sheep. Sama a local grass is the major feed for sheep and this grass grows well in saline soil.  Cultivation of this grass is often done on land adjacent to the homestead.

    Monsoon is the best season for producing this grass since there is sufficient rain and no need for irrigation. Besides sama grass, kura (waste from rice husking), different other grasses whatever available in the locality and leaves from trees are also fed to the sheep. Sheep eat almost everything.

    Sheep require regular vaccination and de-worming to avoid diseases and unexpected death. A sheep of 5/6 months can be sold for Tk.1500-2000. Besides this the income from sheep-dung can’t be understated. Sheep-dung is used as saar (compost) for vegetable production and as fuel. One can get fuel of Tk.450/monthly from 5/6 sheep for cooking.

    This clearly shows that sheep rearing is an important adaptive livelihood option in the increased salinity context for poor, marginal and small farmers. Sheep rearing can contribute to employment creation and eradication of poverty of the poor and marginal, specially, as household based income generation option, where, employment scope is a major problem.

    3 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Dyke cropping: the successful case of Md. Zillur Rahman

    S M Alauddin
    August 28th, 2014

    Cultivation of crops is almost absent in the South Western coastal region of Bangladesh, where shrimp farming has been dominant since the mid-eighties. Salinity intrusion into agricultural land is increasing because of sea level rise due to climate change. Thus the practice of agriculture has been almost stopped in the coastal areas except for shrimp farming.

    The introduction of cropping on the dyke of shrimp gher has been an important innovation by Practical Action, although it was practiced a while back. However, dyke cropping was neither very common, nor systematic. Practical Action, Bangladesh, under its Climate Change Programme in the South Western Coastal District Satkhira demonstrated some livelihoods technologies including Dyke Cropping following an improved method.

    Mr. Zillur Rahman (35) of Kalikapur village, a small holder demonstrated vegetable cultivation on the dyke of his shrimp farm. He had prior experiences of dyke cropping. In October-December 2011, he did ‘dyke cropping’ with Practical Action’s technical support on 4 dykes of different lengths (25-30 to 130 feet). The dyke’s width was 3 feet and height above the flood water level.

    dyke cultivationRahman cultivated vegetables on the dykes in winter (October-December 2011) and during the monsoon (May-September 2012). The vegetables he grew included pumpkin, water gourd, chalkumra, cumcumber and carrala in the winter season and pumpkin, water gourd, chalkumra, cumcumber, carrala along with jhinge, chichinga, dhundal, papaw, ladies fingers, brinjal and puishak in the monsoon. Monsoon cropping required no irrigation as there was sufficient rain, while, drip irrigation technology was used for winter cropping in the pits made on dykes. The size of pit differed for each vegetable (50x50x50 to 80x80x80 centimeter). Both organic and inorganic fertilizer in appropriate doses was used in the pits for vegetable cultivation. The dyke cropping helps to maximise land use, promoting food security and reducing dependency on shrimp farming.

    Technological differences were significant between the earlier and later project. Better dyke design was introduced with adequate height and width than earlier. In the improved system, organic fertilizer use was predominant, however, in-organic fertilizer use was also used  in appropriate doses; machan on dyke prepared with branches of trees earlier, but, bamboo/wooden pole and net were used in the improved system. The cost of machan more than doubled and survived 4 years instead of 1 year for the conventional one.  

    Rahman harvested a total of 182kgs of vegetables in winter and sold at an average market price Tk.15/kg. He harvested a good amount of vegetables (181 Kgs.) by mid-September 2012 and sold at a market price of Tk.16/kg in the monsoon. He expected further 111kgs (approx) up to December 2012 and could sell thse at Tk.15/kg.

    In the improved system, he harvested 2.5 times more compared to earlier practice. The dyke cropping could suitably be expanded and replicated, where vegetable production is almost absent or very poor due to salinity increase, which, could benefit the shrimp farmers by bringing extra income along with household consumption.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • The only boss that I have – “The DONOR”

    July 30th, 2014

    Is your boss not satisfied with our work? What do you expect then? A pink slip? – It makes sense and is perfectly logical!  After all, you are hired to meet the expectations of the organisation.  However, as a fundraising professional, I have realised that– at the end of the day, there is the only one boss – “The DONOR”!.

    I recently participated in a week-long certificate course in fundraising and communications in New Delhi, India. I have always been keen on tapping funds from institutions, trusts, foundations and corporate houses. I was quite determined that my efforts/interactions/discussions during the training will mainly be in this line.

    Donor representatives visiting a project in Bangladesh

    Donor representatives visiting a project in Bangladesh

    On the very first day, the resource person somehow tried to give us an impression – “fundraising is all about individuals”. I had a reservation, and I was rather convinced that funding has to do a lot more than an individual. As the days passed, we discussed differently on direct mails, cold calls, donor acquisition and retention, and so on.  At times, I felt that it was a complete waste of time; the whole discussion each day ended with a conclusion – “It is actually about an individual”.

    During a practical session on telefacing, a pretty lady was on the phone talking to a stranger. She talked for about four minutes including her introduction, the cause for the call and the conclusion. I had an impression that the person on the other side gave her an appointment for the meeting. She put down the phone with a cheerful smile on her face. At the end, it is the impression you leave on a stranger. I thought about it over the night and was convinced that fundraising is not possible in isolation. First, it was a cold call that ended up with an appointment, which could turn into a request for a concept note and subsequently a full proposal. No matter how big or small the amount we are proposing, this is exactly the way it works. So, is it all about an individual?

    I wrote a case for support, a capacity statement, appeals and many more. I featured Practical Action’s energy and DRR works, because then I could showcase my project to be the most urgent of all. The question was again, why the projects should be considered urgent to receive funding? I remember many projects I have been involved in which were not as urgent as the others, but they were funded. The answer is – the case I proposed was actually URGENT for somebody at the donor organisation. I again took my stand, it is not about “Somebody” who decides; It is about the whole organisation! But remember, evaluation committee in each donor organisation is comprised of a group of individuals. We need to win their heart, soul and mind! It is them who make decision on whether or not to support our project – be it a 2000 worth activity or a multi-million multifaceted project. So, am I convinced that it is all about an individual?  Somehow, yes!

    Each evening, I analysed what I am doing, and what is my job. I assure quality of donor reports, communicate with them, accompany them to the project sites and make sure they are HAPPY! I swallow all the guidelines on donor call for proposals, and make sure that our proposals meet their needs and criteria. I follow my donors on Twitter, regularly check their sites and update myself on recent happenings. I greet them on their special days, I participate in events/functions mainly because I could talk to them. Every second, I am trying to be nice with them, become conscious on what I communicate, and gently/visibly/widely acknowledge them in every possible activity. What for? Because, I want them to be happy with my organisation and its works. And always, a donor is an individual – to impress whom, we put all our efforts. Having realised all these, what do you think? I strongly believe – “Fundraising is all about an individual”, and a donor in whatever form, ultimately is an individual!

    I don’t want to get fired and become unwanted;  each moment I have this strong desire to please  my boss;  Yes, the only boss that I have – “The DONOR”!

    4 Comments » | Add your comment
  • The beginning of the end for oil?

    Simon Trace
    July 14th, 2014

    Jeremy Leggett, ‘social entrepreneur’ and founder of SolarAid and SunnyMoney, alerted me to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper here in the UK. The full article can be see here but, in short, the piece suggests that the oil industry is the new great ‘sub prime’ investment of the current economic cycle, replacing the US housing market which, you will remember, triggered a global recession in 2008. Investment is pouring into exploration in oil shales and deep fields in the Arctic and elsewhere, but these investments are not yet returning any cash and, indeed, require higher oil prices to deliver a real profit.


    Solar powered water pump in Kenya

    Whilst gambling on higher oil prices might have seemed a fairly safe bet a few years ago, there are now two potentially significant threats to making money out of oil. Firstly, if a global deal is eventually done to maintain atmospheric carbon levels at 450 ppm then, according to the International Energy Agency, two thirds of the oil reserves that oil companies currently have on their books will have to stay in the ground, unburnt, as ‘stranded’ (i.e. unusable) assets. This means the book value of the oil industry is vastly overstated and we can expect to see a mass withdrawal of funds, or a demand for profits to be paid out as dividends rather than re-invested in more drilling, as this eventually becomes clear to the big institutional investors.

    Secondly, the article notes that “staggering gains in solar power – and soon battery storage as well – threatens to undercut the oil industry with lightning speed”. The author (the Daily Telegraph’s International Business Editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard) goes on to note that photovoltaic energy already competes with fossil fuels in much of Asia without subsidy and that “once the crossover point is reached……it must surely turn into a stampede”, predicting that the energy landscape “will already look radically different in the early 2020’s”.

    For this sort of article to be penned by the business editor of the Telegraph, a newspaper associated with the British establishment and business, is, as Jeremy remarks, truly momentous. The world’s current addiction to a fossil fuel based economy represents a massive inter-generational technology injustice – with the choice to use carbon emitting technologies by this generation having potentially profound negative consequences for future ones.

    One can only hope that the Telegraph’s analysis is correct in this instance and that we are, indeed, seeing the beginning of the end of the age of oil.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Building a forest, building a future

    Liz Frost
    June 20th, 2014

    I’ve just sent the final report to the innocent foundation on Practical Action’s cloud forest project, ‘New Life to the Forests, New Life for the Amazonian People in Peru and Bolivia’. Really hope they like the report, but more importantly I’m sure they will be as proud as we are of the incredible impact that the partnership between Practical Action and the innocent foundation, together with fellow funders of the project, the Waterloo Foundation and Z Zurich Foundation, has achieved over the last three years for communities living the tropical forests of the Amazon.

    If you watched, ‘I bought a rainforest’ on the UK’s BBC tv over the last three weeks, by the film director, Gavin Searle, which follows the journey of Charlie Hamilton James when he bought 100 acres of Peruvian rainforest, you will have seen the kind of challenges he experienced if he was to preserve his purchase from being felled.   By living and working with the local people he begins to realise that the way to help protect the forest is not just to buy it, but to engage with the people living in it, and to work with them rather than against them. Just the way that Practical Action has been working with the indigenous Awajun and settler families in Bolivia and Peru – working with them to better manage the cloud forests sustainably so that they, and generations to come, can make a living without removing majestic trees such as the mahogany, without growing crops and then leaving the land degraded and without having to resort to livelihoods such as illegal logging and mining, which destroy not preserve one of the riches ecosystems in the world, home to amazing flora and fauna and to more than 3.5million native and migrant people.

    two girls holding  tree seedlings

    We set out to work directly with almost 1,500 people living and working in the forest, and to indirectly help a further 20,000 people, through sharing lessons and good practice. At the end of the three years, we have improved the livelihoods and lives of not only the families we worked directly with, but have improved the quality of life for at least a further 63,000 men, women and children. Equally importantly, the communities, with the Foundations’ and Practical Action’s support, have begun to rebuild the forest, and to build a better future for their children, by planting over 105,000 indigenous trees, trees that will bring shade to their crops and will capture over 630,000mt of CO2 . With skills and knowledge now in place, with the Government supporting the work being carried out, this not the end of the project, but the beginning of a new life for the forests, a new life for the Amazonian people in Peru and Bolivia.

    Practical Action is keen to talk to Trusts and Foundations who would like to support our work in energy, access to markets, disaster risk reduction and urban water and sanitation.  Visit our dedicated Trusts and Foundations site for more information:

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Markets for Disaster Risk Reduction

    Colin McQuistan
    May 23rd, 2014

    “A private sector committed to Disaster Risk Reduction can steer public demand towards materials, systems and technological solutions to build and run resilient communities”. 5th Global Assessment Report, UNISDR

    The critical role of the markets and the private sector for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and resilience building has been widely recognized during implementation of the first Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005 – 2015. Despite the development community’s focus on the impact of overseas aid, the vast majority of investment in developing countries, 70-85% (UNISDR 2013) comes from the private sector. This investment is targeted around business plans which are shaped by markets at local and macro-economic levels. Today most communities are dependent on markets for the provision of their food, utilities, shelter, for the sale of their products, for agricultural inputs and for employment. Markets also define the delivery of key services, especially healthcare, extra curricula education and care services. Markets contribute significantly to the livelihoods of people, especially the most vulnerable, and their failure when a disaster strikes can have critical impacts on those people who are least able to cope. Although markets engage with people at the local level we must not forget that these markets are connected to national and global market systems which influence their behaviour. Therefore we need to look at the role of the private sector and of markets in particular to identify ways that they can contribute to building the resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable, with the objective of not leaving anyone behind.

    CBA Nepal 02“Small and medium sized enterprises are particularly at risk; a single disaster may wipe out all or most of their business capital.”

    Participatory Market System Development (PMSD)[2] is Practical Action’s approach to inclusive markets that reduce poverty and protect the environment. Markets, can act as a powerful platform to give marginalised people in developing countries, and those who provide services to them, access to valuable networks, technologies, experiences and assets that can help them work their way out of poverty. Using the PMSD approach, Practical Action is interested to explore the incentives and market mechanisms to create the conditions for investment decisions to be made that build resilience and reduce disaster and climate risk. We need to explore ways to help the private sector be more accountable for disaster risk reduction and resilience building, so that when disasters occur (which directly or indirectly affect their investments) the most vulnerable are not disproportionately affected, do not suffer unfairly and benefit from having a more resilient supply chain. With the private sector contributing some 70–85% of investment at the local level, markets and the decision made to support them have far reaching consequences on risk accumulation and on the underlying risk drivers, thus it is important to understand their potential to exacerbate and/or reduce risk. The ultimate goal of DRR is to reduce or ultimately avoid the shocks and losses due to disasters through increasing the resilience of society, this could only be achieved when all the actors, including the private sector and the markets in which they operate, are themselves resilient  (a win-win scenario).

    Practical Action also has expertise and credibility around a PMSD tool, the Emergency Markets Mapping and Analysis (EMMA)[3] toolkit, which has helped numerous humanitarian agencies ensure that their relief and response efforts are considerate of markets. But EMMA is a post disaster response tool, what is needed is a pre disaster assessment mechanism to ensure that we are reducing and avoiding those risks to which we know the market is vulnerable.

    As part of our DRR programme, Practical Action will be attempting to tackle the question. “What can we do to support markets actors to strengthen market systems to the natural hazards they face, so that when a disaster occurs the poorest and most vulnerable do not suffer?”  Some of the critical dimensions to this question are outlined in the diagram below.

    Blog 17 slide

    To explore this issue, Practical Action will use the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework[4] to examine the five capitals; Human, Social, Physical, Environmental and Economic to identify the key combination of factors that contribute to resilience.  For each factor we will measure the following key dimensions of resilience: Robustness, how resistant are assets to shock?, Rapidity, how fast are assets able to respond to shocks when they strike?, Redundancy, the degree of slack or excess capacity in the process?, and Resourcefulness, the capacity to innovate among/between assets available? By systematically exploring the DRR and Markets question and capturing the lessons learned Practical Action will contribute knowledge and key influencing to the negotiations for a successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework of Action.  By integrating the resilience building potential of markets and the private sector in the new Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA2 or HRA+) we have the potential to drive change at global scales.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Learning about climate change from trees

    Amanda Ross
    April 25th, 2014

    I love trees and we are all well aware of how important they are for the health of our planet.  So yesterday, I was fascinated to meet a dendrochronologist for the first time.  Dr Aster Gebrekirstos is a scientist at Erlanger University and the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi and is a specialist at interpreting climate fluctuations of the past through tree rings.

    WP_20140423_009Dr Gebrekirstos was one of two inspiring winners of the AfriCAN climate research award, which promotes the role of women in climate change research in Africa.

    Her research involves measuring the spaces between the rings of trees (cut down after they are dead) which indicate the amount of growth each year.  These show narrower rings relating to periods of drought.  Analysis of oxygen isotopes in trees shows their different reaction to carbon when under stress.

     It is vital that we are able to make informed decisions in our efforts at adaptation and mitigation of climate change.  Currently there is little data available relating to historic climate fluctuations in Africa, but the efforts of Dr Gebrekirstos will play a key role in supplying this valuable information.

    baobab treeThis research will enable tree species that are most resilient to climate change to be identified and to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right place.  This is just one of the many aspects of Climate Smart Agriculture addressed by this week’s AfriCAN climate/FANRPAN conference in Pretoria.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Poverty, carbon and Sudan

    Margaret Gardner
    April 24th, 2014

    If you were to rank countries in terms of their carbon emissions, where do you think Britain and Sudan would come?

    The answer is we would come 10th and Sudan (including both Sudan and South Sudan) would come 91st. In the UK we produce  8.5 tonnes of carbon per person, Sudan just 0.3. I was therefore shocked when I read some of the comments readers left about a Guardian article on our work in Sudan, written by our own Mary Gallagher. The article talked about women, our LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) clean cooking project in Darfur and how we are using carbon financing to help scale it up.

    Some readers questioned whether the work is environmentally friendly – others, much more worrying to me, whether in a carbon constrained world these women should be allowed to use up precious carbon – or should be forced through lack of other options to continue to use wood as fuel.

    I visited this project in 2009 when the work on LPG was just starting.  I am tempted to write THIS IS DARFUR and ask you to imagine what it was like. In reality there was very little water and for poor people little food. The conflict meant that every time a woman left her village she faced the threat of attack. Due to deforestation there were few trees and women had to walk huge distances to collect firewood.

    One woman I spoke with talked about the pain in her neck of carrying heavy burdens  and then placed her hands over her heart and talked about the pain she felt there too (literally not figuratively). Beyond the drudgery, the possibility of assault and rape there were also issues with burning precious wood. Basically the smoke from the cooking fires can kill you –4 million people a year die as a result of indoor air pollution. You die from cancer, from chronic pulmonary disease, etc.  Young children (carried on their mums back or kept inside for safety) are particularly vulnerable.

    I care hugely about climate change but if I was to suggest who should make sacrifices to protect our planet. I wouldn’t start with these women.

    As the project progressed, word of its impact spread from woman to woman. The stoves also started to appeal to women who were just unable to collect fire wood and so were burning charcoal. Practical Action realised that there were opportunities for different forms of financing. As I said before, working for Practical Action, I wouldn’t say that these women have no right to use up some carbon – when we in richer nations use so much. But carbon financing offered a great opportunity to reach out to more women and to help them and their families. Because of positive benefits for the environment – cooking with charcoal uses twice as much carbon as cooking with LPG and the move away from wood fuel allows for the possibility of the forests starting to recover and because of the strength and determination of the women the project is flourishing.

    Reading the comments on The Guardian website, I remembered the women I met, I was also very aware that I drive a car and have a gas cooker. I wondered about the carbon usage of those people who had commented negatively – how many times the carbon usage of a woman in Darfur?

    But above all as I wrote in my comment on The Guardian website – in a very sad week in the news  I wanted above all to encourage people to rejoice – we have so little good news in our world – this truly is a positive story.

    If you would like to know more , hear one persons story, get a sense of how we are scaling up this work or even donate


    2 Comments » | Add your comment