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  • Disaster Risk Reduction: Needs translation from Theory to Practice

    November 26th, 2014

    I recently visited the communities in Banke and Bardiya districts of Nepal who were affected by flood in last August (2014). While we look into the theories and definition of the Disaster Risk Reduction in paired reviewed literatures and sometimes debate a lot on words, for the communities it was very straight forward, why they were affected by flood and how their risk to flood can be reduced.

    Lower terrace of flood plain where poor people liveLower terrace of flood plain where poor people live

    Most of the communities who were affected by flood were living along the lower terrace of flood plain where the river flew in the past. So when there is a rainfall in upstream and river gets swell up, they are the ones who are affected first. Their number one demand was simple – relocation /resettlement to a higher ground can save their lives and properties from flood. For the government, relocation is one time cost to save the losses and compensations that occur on the annual recurrent disasters. However, resettlement is linked with livelihoods of these vulnerable communities which need to be assured wherever they are relocated.

    Some of these communities were freed bonded labourers who were resettled by the government in such flood vulnerable locations. The government could have settled them in a safer place. But unfortunately during the resettlement process, they were located in such vulnerable locations.

    Local houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground levelLocal houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground level

    Secondly their houses were constructed by mud plastered grass or twig mats. The plinth level was almost at ground 0 level. When there is a flood of even some inches high, the water gets into the house and the mud plastered walls easily dissolve into the water and collapse. Since they were poor, that type of house is the best they could construct. They are very aware of, that if they could raise the plinth level of the houses to certain level which are safe from flood and if they could use bricks or stones or concrete with cement mortar, their houses would be able to resist the flood. But such houses were beyond their financial capacity. The rebuilt houses after the flood were even weaker than they had before.

    A house collapsed by the floodA house collapsed by the flood

    Health was a problem after the flood. It was mainly due to unsafe drinking water as they did not have source of clean drinking water after the flood event. The hand pumps were inundated and they could not reach safe drinking water. Raised hand pumps were the need for the communities. It is not necessary that such hand pumps should be in each household for the emergency use during the time of disaster, but at least if there were adequate number of hand water pumps for the sufficient safe drinking water, they will not suffer from health problems originating from unsafe drinking water.

    The community people opined for having simple raised structures in the communities or in individual houses which can resist the flood where they can assemble for some hours before the rescue teams come and take them to temporary shelters.

    A raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood timeA raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood time

    They also indicated the needs of rubber tubes or rings in each house which help save their lives during the time of flood.

    In the past early warning through mobile telephones was very effective. But in this monsoon, the mobile telephone did not work effectively as they were unable to recharge the batteries for several days. The electricity line went off for 2 to 3 days before the flood event. They suggested for solar mobile battery chargers which can work when the main line electricity gets cutoff and such charger should work even in a very poor sunlight as the sun radiation becomes very week during the monsoon due to cloudy weather.

    New house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new housesNew house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new houses

    They were very clear that they cannot reduce the flood level, but there are several ways that they can reduce live and property losses to flood. But it is almost not possible on their own as their financial resources is very poor to invest on the interventions that they know of.

    Flood mark inside the houseFlood mark inside the house

    We think that these are very simple things and technologies, and why the people are not using, but the poor people still do not have access to these simple technologies and they have lack of resources in their hands. Because of which they are losing their properties every year and flood is actually suppressing them from coming out of vicious cycle. And to reduce the disaster risk of these poor communities, there is no need of high academic education and sophisticated technologies, it needs to support their ideas that comes out of their struggling with flood every year; it is a matter of helping them access to technologies and resources, and assisting to improve their livelihoods.

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  • ‘Community-Based Adaptation’ and ‘Technology Justice’

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah
    November 24th, 2014

    Adaptation helps species to survive and evolve. Just imagine a polar bear strolling on a floating ice sheet or a humming bird sipping nectar from a flower while hovering or a dormant desert plant waiting for one quick shower to complete its life-cycle. After getting quite significantly evolved over the last couple of million years, human’s adaptation continues: to bad traffic, to economic meltdown or to changing climate!

    Artificial aquifer tubewell, Shyamnagar

    Artificial aquifer tubewell, Shyamnagar

    Climate change challenges our effort to sustain and develop. So we can say adaptation to climate change basically comprises measures or actions that “keep development ‘on-track’”. If it is so, then what is community-based adaptation? Let me try to explain it by reflecting on four issues.

    First, who are the actors? Is community-based adaptation made up of actions taken ‘only’ by a vulnerable community, without any outside help? Or actions ‘for’ a vulnerable community, but by the outsiders? Or measures taken ‘with’ the vulnerable community? I believe all three are correct depending on the situations. I explain this in the next points.

    Second, community-based adaptation also has space and time dimensions. It basically argues that, under changing climate, a specific location is facing and will face specific problems – causing vulnerability of its people. So, it needs specific solutions with those people to build their resilience. And, these actions are not only for now, but also for the future.

    Third, community-based adaptation is about direction as well – top-down or bottom-up. While strategies, policies and programmes for adaptation are mostly top-down, community-based adaptation is essentially bottom-up in nature. But, top-down elements are also needed. For example, for channeling resources, technology transfer, sophisticated  information (e.g. on weather or on flood), or understanding the long-term impacts of the adaptation actions.

    The fourth issue is perception. Different people perceive community-based adaptation differently. Some may say it is a celebration of vulnerable communities’ experience. Others may call it a demonstration of community empowerment. Some may still see it an opportunity to showcase a mix of traditional/local and modern knowledge. Nevertheless, ‘community-based adaptation’ is a relatively new concept. Some may call it an approach. (I, however, find philosophy in it.) Whatever you call it, it is still evolving, so are its definition and image before us. Community-based adaptation cannot be found in the first four IPCC assessment reports. It has, however, made very strong presence in the 5th IPCC Assessment Report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) published earlier this year.

    But, how can simple, low-cost technological innovations help community-based adaptation? To answer this question, I will give you three examples from Bangladesh that I followed closely.

    Salt tolerant rice cultivation (BINA 8) in Atulia union Shyamnagar Satkhira by Md  Asadujjaman Practical ActionResearches of Bangladesh in recent years have invented several rice and other crop varieties that survive up to certain salinity levels. It is therefore important to keep the salinity of irrigation water as low as possible to maintain soil salinity tolerable. In a recently tried model on the coast, monsoon rain is caught in small ponds to irrigate nearby rice fields in the winter. The pond owners not only get benefited from the rice farmers for their service, but also from farming low-salinity-tolerant fish almost all-the-year-round.

    On the saline coast, several options already exist to tackle sever drinking water problem, such as, rain-water harvesting, Pond-Sand Filter, piped supply of uncontaminated groundwater, and conserved rain-fed ponds. But, in the last option, over-harvesting causes severe pollution of these ponds. Innovative ‘artificial aquifer tube-wells’ installed by contaminated ponds help villagers to get clean drinking water, especially in winter months.

    My final example comes with sea-going boats. Due to climate variability, sea now gets rough more frequently than before. As a result, bottom planks of wooden fishing boats weaken quickly as they hit submerged sand dunes more frequently than before. Simple, low-cost modifications in the existing boat design, like steel frames, reinforce the boats and save lives of the fishermen from drowning.

    These examples highlight the characteristics of community-based adaptation I indicated above: the actors, space specificity, time dimension, process direction, and the perception. Although innovation helps community-based adaptation, it is a never ending process. It is needed for new areas, at new times, to face new challenges. Floating gardening, a traditional agricultural practice of Bangladesh, offers a good example to explain this.

    There are issues beyond technological innovation. Governance structure needs to be adaptive to changing situation. The existing ‘Union/Upazila Disaster Management Committees’ of Bangladesh, for example, may need to be transformed into ‘Union/Upazila Disaster Risk Reduction-Climate Change Adaptation Committees’ to handle new actions under the climate change regime. Prevailing concepts and approaches need to respond to changes too. Resilience, for instance, has been emerging in a big way demanding integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Financial mechanism needs to be adaptive as well for, for example, channeling national funds to the local level. Similar changes are needed in the monitoring and evaluation system to follow and measure adaptation actions.

    Community-based adaptation and technology − do they have anything to do with ‘justice’? A new concept called ‘Technology Justice’ is slowly emerging as a rallying cry. Technology justice can be defined as the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.

    If we analyse the key elements of ‘community-based adaptation’ and ‘technology justice’, we can find a few commonalities. Both put people in the centre, focus on technology, allow people to make own choice, give them freedom to have a safe life, appreciate collective strength of people, and consider both the present & the future. These connections can help these philosophies – ‘community-based adaptation’ and ‘technology justice’ − to help each other and to help the poor communities vulnerable to climate change.

    Adaptation appears to be adjusting to a ‘challenge’. A challenge may come from ourselves or outside, but is generally considered negative. But, does climate change as a challenge have anything positive to offer? I believe it has. It gives us the opportunity to improvise, to innovate and to maximize our collective efforts, not only to survive, but also to evolve as a better species.

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  • Practical Action, floods and the Bolivian Amazon

    Margaret Gardner
    November 24th, 2014

    The Amazon. Its big. Very green. Amazing. And scary.

    After 11 attempts that’s the best I can do as a description. Sorry!

    marg Bolivia + 124 My first attempts were poetic in a bad poetry kind of way. Reading them back I hit delete each time. Fortunately though one of the reasons I’m here in Bolivia is that Sam Jones, The Guardian Global Development Correspondent, is also here to see Practical Actions work – and Sam from what I’ve seen so far is brilliant with words.

    But let me tell you a little about our work and the people we are working with.

    As a result, probably of climate change, the Amazon region is experiencing more, and more severe, weather events. The communities we spoke with yesterday talked of once in a generation floods happening twice in the last 3 years. The rivers rise by 4 or 5 metres and everything is washed away. People are trapped. Everything is lost.

    Practical Action started working with these communities before the last and most severe flood improving nutrition through diversifying and enhancing farming practices but when the floods came the emphasis had to shift firstly to help re-building with new and more resistant seeds, re-stocking animals and helping communities put plans in place so they were as ready as possible –for example so that everyone knows what to do the next time a flood comes. We are working on this now. We are also exploring other support the communities are desperate for  like access to a decent, clean water supply – getting technical drawings in place so together we can work to get permission to build (in the Bolivian Amazon building is now tightly regulated) and starting  to look for funding.

    I’ll let Sam tell you more when he writes his article.marg Bolivia + 100

    However I do want to share 5 things that have stuck in my mind

    • It might have been harder to believe what people were saying about the extreme river level rise if I couldn’t still see the marks of the flooding in the trees.
    • People talked about how they were stuck without help for 27 days and the children – who wear flip flop type shoes – got ill and their feet affected by water.
    • Animals can swim and are desperate too.
    • The communities we visited were some of those closest to the towns – for example 100 minutes by boat and a 35 minute walk through the jungle. Others were more than 10 hours away.
    • The Bolivian met office is forecasting heavy rains again this year – although hopefully not as bad as last (desperately hope they are right).

    And finally I want to talk about dogs. As we walked through the jungle and got closer to the village first one man and then another joined us each had dogs with them. The first dog I saw was a mid-sized terrier type wagging its tail and sticking close to its master. When I looked more closely, just below its neck, at the top of its shoulder the dog had a very nasty raised pink wound – when I looked again it had obviously been caused by teeth – too big for any of the other dogs I saw. A few minutes later I saw another dog with a whole series of bite scars down its back. Sam who is fluent in Spanish asked about the cause – and we learnt that the dogs protect their people and the domesticated animals from pumas.

    The Amazon is immensely beautiful but a very difficult place to live. Living with the threat of floods made worse by climate change is scary.

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  • My five biggest worries

    Andy Heath
    November 18th, 2014

    This morning I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia after a 30 hour journey from the UK. For the next four weeks I will be blogging from Latin America as I meet up with journalists, film crews, vicuñas, alpacas and the hurly-burly of the COP 20 talks in Lima at the start of next month. The trip is by far the longest I have done since starting work at Practical Action, and, for me, it will present me with some major challenges.

    Project Amaguaya BoliviaBelow are the five most things I am most worried about in Peru and Bolivia.

    1) Altitude – At the moment, my main concern is not getting, or at least coping with, altitude sickness in La Paz – the highest capital city in the world at 3,500 metres above sea level. I’ve felt light headed and breathless throughout the day here, but tomorrow I go up a further 1,500 metres to Apolobamba to see Vicuña farmers herding and shearing their animals against a stunning backdrop. Either that, or I turn green, vomit and spend a humiliating two days next to an oxygen tank.

    2) Language – I aware of how annoying us Brits can be with our refusal to learn other languages using the age old tactic of bellowing loudly until we make ourselves understood, so I have been diligently trying to brush up on my Spanish in the weeks leading up to this trip so that I can interview the people we work with and interact with my colleagues properly. Trouble is, when confronted by some machine-gun fast Español, any confidence rapidly drains and the blank look on my face gives the game away…

    3) Getting heard at the COP talks - I´ve managed to get entry into the COP20 talks later this month, so that I can help our policy team get their messages across to the politicians who hold the purse strings and the power. This represents a fantastic opportunity for me to do all those things I´ve been asking my colleagues to do all this time. On the other hand, it is also a huge intimidating event, the likes of which I´ve never experienced before. Achieving what we want will undoubtedly be a challenge.

    4) Speaking at the University in Bolivia - in a moment of unparalleled weakness I agreed to speak to up to 200 Bolivian students about my work & the British media in a sort of a Q&A session, alongside Guardian journalist Sam Jones. The scale of the task, not to mention the weakness of my Spanish, is now dawning on me. I am truly terrified.

    5) Filming in Peru - BBC World are putting together a new series of their Horizons programme in 2015, which looks at the use of technology to overcome problems we face in the world today. Naturally, Practical Action´s work is a great fit for them, so they approached us to see if we had any ideas. Recklessly, I told them I would be in Peru looking at how we use mobile phone technology to help predict landslides and guard against them in future. The result? This section of the programme will now consist of a fly-on-the-wall style documentary looking at my visit and interviews with the people involved in the project. Cue more terror.

    So that´s that…keep up to date with whether they come to pass here!

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  • Day One at the UNISDR Preparatory Committee for the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

    Colin McQuistan
    November 18th, 2014

    Today in Geneva the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk opened.  This meeting of the representatives of states, major groups and observer organisations has been tasked to review the zero draft of the new global agreement to address Disaster Risk Reduction currently known as the Hyogo Framework of Action 2 (HFA2).  This is the proposed successor agreement to the previous Hyogo Framework of Action signed ten years ago in Japan less than three months after the devastation of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26th December 2004.

    In March 2005 the world was very different than today.  In the post tsunami devastation in which many people of the affected countries, as well as significant numbers of tourists were killed, political will for global agreements were high.  The financial crisis was yet to materialise and therefore nations were still confident that continued growth in the global economy could support the technological and financial demands that would be required to prevent unavoidable natural hazards resulting in avoidable human disasters. Thirdly, the world was finally waking up to the threat of climate change and although attribution of increasing natural disasters to climate chaos remained unproven, with many natural disasters caused by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis which have tenuous climatic links, still a global agreement in Copenhagen seemed possible. A lot has changed in the last ten years. Can 2015 be a new watershed in human progress or will it be worse than 2009 with its botched climate change agreement?

    From the progress in the meeting today a lot more still needs to be done to finalise a global DRR agreement. No one can be 100% resilient and protecting development however modest will require an ambitious, actionable framework for disaster risk reduction. Therefore, all nations have a stake in the success of these negotiations, this was apparent by the packed plenary session at the start of day one. Although everyone agrees with the principles of disaster risk reduction each state and agency has its own perspective on the draft text and many actors have their personal preference on the language. Hopefully this will not get in the way of the need to complete the zero draft in adequate time for nations to commit to the agreement at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Sendai, Japan in March 2015.

    WCDR Prep com 2 small

    For Practical Action the four following issues remain critical for the draft text to deliver the type of agreement that will reduce risk of disasters for marginalised groups and communities by mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) into all development processes.

    Firstly, the post 2015 DRR framework must avoid a top down approach and shift the focus to action at the local level and prioritise action for the poorest and most vulnerable. This will require empowering people and their communities. Citizens’ participation in decision making must solicit top-down support that delivers what is needed in a timely and empowering way for an effective grassroots focussed response to each disaster.

    The role of technology must be recognised especially in a world heavily reliant on technology and the threat of technology amplifying disaster risk.  Technology justice in DRR requires the involvement of the poorest and most vulnerable in the development of solutions so that technologies deliver the biggest impacts for the most vulnerable and are not driven by profits alone. This requires a critical examination of not only how technology reduces vulnerability but also how the use of some technologies can exacerbate disaster risk. This must be retained in the final draft especially as effective global policy could stimulate a shift in the design parameters for new technologies.  Technology justice and the design and use of technologies that are based on actual needs and enhance the synergy between people and the environment, rather than technologies that meet people’s wants but cost the earth.

    Thirdly, the agreement needs to maintain a strong emphasis on the underlying risk factors such as unsustainable development and the threat of climate change.   Disasters caused by climate-related hazards will exacerbate other stressors so there is a need to centre resilience building on prevention and links to development.

    Finally, there is need for policy and implementation coherence between all the UN led emerging post 2015 processes. We live in an increasingly interconnected world where social, economic, environmental and technological risks interact and do not fit neatly into separate conceptual frameworks. Climate change and poor development are exacerbating existing risks and creating new ones, and these risks materialise as disasters. Therefore the HFA2, the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change must be harmonised.  Only when the global frameworks dealing with disasters, sustainable development and climate change are connected in a strategic manner can they be effective in reducing the underlying drivers of risk.

    In the next twelve months the UN is expecting to complete negotiations and sign into agreement not only the successor agreement to the Hyogo Framework of Action (, but also formulate and agree the new Sustainable Development Goals ( as well as finalise a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change (  It’s going to be a hectic twelve months, but learning will be vital.  The negotiations will require dedicated teams, which are talking to each other, are well-coordinated with openness, transparency and respect. The texts will require a willingness on parties to accept wording that is perhaps not perfect but that provides a platform to deliver and learn.  The agreements must be practical and generate knowledge and understanding as they are played out in the real more disaster prone world, so that we learn from our mistakes and get better at avoiding risks in the first place.

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  • Energy Engagement Speaker Series

    October 27th, 2014

    EES Logo

    Practical Action, the World Resources Institute, and the United Nations Foundation are pleased to launch our first in a series of discussions on bringing energy access to the rest of the world. This series will focus on bringing together both policy and practice actors who focus on mini-grid, off-grid, household energy, integrated resource planning, and our other established areas of expertise. We expect this will be a great environment for a comprehensive look at different approaches to meeting energy challenges.

    Our first topic, Bringing Policy and Practice together, will focus on several issues. How does energy access for all play out in policy and practice, and how can we work together to address some of these issues? How can actors such as the private sector and civil society play innovative roles to change the conversation about how energy is generated and delivered?

    Confirmed Panelists

    Ms. Allison Archambault, EarthSpark International

    Mr. Jem Porcaro, United Nations Foundation

    Dr. Ryan Shelby, USAID

    Ms. Davida Wood, WRI

    We will take a salon style approach, where distinguished panelists are featured, but the audience size is limited in order to encourage open and active audience discussion. The first 5-15 minutes focus on the invited panelists and their expertise, but audience members are invited ask questions and provide their own insights throughout. All attendees should come expecting to participate! The goal is to get feedback from a variety of actors from different sectors. Practical Action will moderate to ensure that the discussion is inclusive, stays on topic, and finishes on time.

    Thursday, November 6, 2014
    8:30 AM-10:00 AM

    World Resources Institute
    10 G Street NE Suite 800
    Washington, DC 20002, USA
    Metro: Red Line, Union Station stop, WRI is west of Union Station.

    To RSVP for this event, CLICK HERE.

    People think big at the beginning of the day, but we know some of you may need help. Coffee and refreshments will be provided.

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  • Tree planting can reduce risks of climate extremes

    S M Alauddin
    October 27th, 2014

    The coastal area of Bangladesh is the most vulnerable to climate change;  it is prone to salinity, sea-level rise, cyclones and tidal surge. The trend of cyclonic events has also been increasing in the recent years. Sidr, Reshmi, Nargis and Aila are some evidences of such climatic extremes in Bangladesh.

    The Government and NGOs are implementing adaptation programmes, but these are inadequate. Onetree planting initiative by a small local CBO Rupali Sangha is an encouraging example, where Practical Action Bangladesh provided support under its Climate Change Adaptation Project. Rupali Sangha is from the north western Kaliganj Upazila of the Satkhira District adjacent to the Sundarbans. They planted mangrove trees on both sides of a local government/Union Council road following participatory  agreement with concerned parties – the Union Council and land owners. Practical Action Bangladesh facilitated the process. As well as the environmental benefits of this planting, the share of probable profit was settled as 20% for the UC/20% for the land owners/60% for the Rupali Sangha.

    mangrovesMembers of Rupali Sangha voluntarily repaired a 320 meter road in 2012 and planted trees on both sides of the road. They received support of 100,000 taka under a government safety net programme for repairing the road and planted 150 mangrove saplings. As well as the environmental benefits of carbon emission reduction, protection of the road from erosion and protection from the risks of cyclonic storm there were also financial benefits. The Sangha did the plantation with support from Practical Action Bangladesh. Out of 150 saplings, 55 died, and were supposed to be replaced soon. A Caretaker was employed for caring and maintenance of the planted saplings and Rupali Sangha members voluntarily perform the maintenance work.

    After a year they will be able to harvest kewra fal (fruits of kewra trees). After 3-4 years, they should be able to harvest a substantial quantity kewra fal  and earn regularly by selling those in the local market. Each tree should produce 20 kgs of kewra fal/year. Each kg kewra fal costs Tk.10. So, they could be harvesting a total of 3000 kgs (20kgx150) of kewra fal/year that cost Tk.30,000/yearly. The cost of kewra fal will increase gradually in the near future and they will be able to increase their profit. Besides, they will be able to sell dead branches for  fire wood for 5-10 years that will earn some income as well.

    After 15-20 years, when the trees are mature, the price will go up and they would be able to sell each tree for Tk.15,000-20,000. They will develop a fund with earning/profit and expected to spend the money for development of their village such as road maintenance, vaccination of cattle and scholarships for poor students.

    The mangrove tree plantation has diverse benefits in regard to economic, environmental, and protection of road communication and above all development work with its earning including contributing to reducing the risk of climate extremes.

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  • The Inequality of coping with floods

    Carlotta Weibl
    October 16th, 2014

    After days of torrential rains in central Europe in 2013, a huge surge of water came down the Elbe and flooded big parts of north-western Germany. The flood killed 89 people in Germany, Russia, Austria, and the Czech Republic and left a damage of more than 12 billion Euros only in Germany. With a water-level of 12,89 metre is was the highest flood in Germany since 500 years.

    Clearly this flood meant hardship for many families in Germany, but I also associate this flood with good-humoured people working together in the sun, while enjoying a cold beer and fresh fruits.

    How that is related? Well, the whole emergency aid was impressively well organised and especially, through social networks like Facebook, many young people came to the dykes to help.

    As many others, my mom and me decided to render ourselves useful on a nice Sunday, so we grabbed our shovels and drove to a dyke, of which I knew from Facebook that there was help still needed.

    Arriving at the dyke, people laughed about our old, dented shovels and we got new ones from the German Army. Since it was a very hot day, caps from the Army, watermelon and water were handed out to the working people. Furthermore the army distributed proper meals and getting a cold beer was obviously no problem as well. I mean we are talking about Germany here.

    Packing sand bagsWhile actually having a great day helping people, I had to think about the circumstances under which people in countries like Bangladesh or India have to cope with floods. These people are often cut off of civilization for days before any help reaches them, while in Germany people are packing sand bags as an afternoon activity during their holidays. We enjoyed cold drinks during the working breaks while people in development countries often have to fear for their lives while drinking, due to polluted water, especially during floods.

    Do not get me wrong, I really enjoyed the atmosphere while working with all these motivated people. I was moved by individuals telling me how far they drove, just because they heard that this particular dyke is at higher risk to break. And I was impressed by the German efficiency and organizational skills, which are often content of a joke in other countries.

    Nevertheless Germany is just one example of a developed country coping with floods. It is indisputable that here tragic stories are happening, about families losing their houses, family members or friends during flooding. But so do people in development countries and they do not have the opportunities and the money to handle floods like we do.

    It is certain that floods will occur more often in the future, due to climate change, and it is proven that the western countries are most responsible for the increasing climate change. It is time for us to think about those who suffer the most from what we are creating by polluting the environment. The world’s poorest people are often hit hardest by natural disasters and they obviously have least capacities to recover from it.

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  • Is climate change threatening floating gardens in Bangladesh?

    S M Alauddin
    October 16th, 2014

    Climate Change (CC) is considered the greatest threat to mankind in the 21st century.  Its impacts are evident across the world. It’s a global process and the poor countries of Asia and Africa are the most vulnerable. This is a huge global injustice as these countries have contributed so little to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing our planet to heat up. Though it’s a global problem, it has particularly devastating local impacts in Bangladesh on agriculture and food production; water, ecosystems and health; extreme events and disaster preparedness; sea level rise and salinity intrusion. Mitigation and adaptation are the major means to addressing risks and vulnerabilities. But, poor countries like Bangladesh, who emit much less carbon, concentrate on adaptation measures, rather than mitigation.

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    Hydroponic gardens consist of plants grown without soil. Because rapid climate change is having such adverse negative impacts on agriculture and fishery ecosystems i.e. coastal, floodplain and drought regions, various adaptation options are practiced in Bangladesh. Of those, floating bed vegetable gardening has been a major potential and effective adaptation option in the floodplains and waterlogged areas of Bangladesh over the last two decades. Hundreds of farmers depend on floating gardens for their livelihoods on floodplains where there are very limited agricultural options (one paddy per year).

    Floating bed vegetable cultivation, or hydroponic vegetable gardening is a five hundred year old practice in the low-lying flood prone districts of Bangladesh, particularly, in the south-central and southern areas,  Gopalganj, Madaripur, Pirojpur and Jhalokathi Districts.

    The floating bed crop cultivation is known as ‘gato’, ‘baira’ and ‘dhap chash’ in the areas, where, earlier plants of different vegetables were mainly produced in the rainy season and after the recession of flood water, farmers would use the waste as compost. Over the last two decades, floating garden techniques have been improved a lot. Farmers produce mainly the leafy green plants like pumpkin, water gourd, turmeric, ginger, chichinga, lalshak, puishak, ladies fingers, karalla, arum, tomato, turturi, etc. The production of vegetables from these floating bed is very high, more than double that of normal land. The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) has been expanding its cultivation in the haor basin, where there is no salinity but huge scope for floating bed vegetable gardening.

    Water hyacinth is the main material used to prepare the floating bed. However, floating bed cultivation has been threatened due to salinity in Gopalganj District, particularly, in Tungipara Sub-district according to local farmers, as the increased salinity of the water is hampering the growth of water hyacinth. The impact is similar in other areas. Farmers are not getting enough water hyacinth for floating bed preparation. A number of farmers informed me that currently their floating beds have been reduced by at least 30-35% for each farmer than the past years. What will happen to these farmers if floating bed gardening becomes impossible? Climate scientists, researchers and the DAE need to think about this.

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  • The value of going back: livelihoods in the catchments of the ‘mad river’

    Eight years ago, when we proposed the Strengthening Livelihood Capacities to DRR in Nepal project (2007-2010), the communities knew their local environment was changing, but climate change was only a debated theory.

    Kirtipur is a village situated on ancient colluvial or landslide deposits in the upper reaches of the Deusat stream – further downstream in the Terai it’s known as the ‘Baulaha’ or ‘mad’ river. For those living in Kirtipur, extreme flooding during the rainy season, together with droughts before and after, have been indicators of something going wrong in their environment.

    One of the communities downstream is Bote, whose residents used to rely on traditional fishing and boat ferrying for their livelihood. Fishing and ferrying is no longer an option for the landless community on the riverbank – the river where they used to ferry and fish is now part of a protected area, and new bridges mean boats are no longer needed to cross the river.

    Those families now depend on off-farm labour – either in the nearby towns along the national highway, Narayanghat, or as migrant workers elsewhere. Those that remain, mostly women, rely on risky agricultural activities in the river margins. Floods were common and often destroyed their low-lying crops. The project supported and organised funds from different agencies for building an embankment to protect the land. The community have been able to reclaim their land – but would the ‘Mad River’ let it stay?

    Tapping ecological opportunities to reduce disaster risks

    To improve the chance of controlling the river, longer term solutions needed to be found, but these would be in the upper reaches of the watershed where slash and burn agriculture was changing the landscape.

    To cut a long story short, the issues of mitigating floods and securing food and protecting the environment were discussed with communities all along the watershed. In the hill village of Kirtipur, opportunities to improve agriculture through irrigation were identified. A small dam and modest piping enabled the community to produce food close to home and agree to rehabilitate the hillsides and stop the slash-and-burn agriculture practice. Through the irrigation alone, over 80 families have benefited, growing one more cereal crop and vegetables in winter, and being able to plant and transplant summer crops in time without depending on the rainfall, which has now become more erratic. Groups were formed, including women’s groups to improve vegetable production, and a savings co-operative was born.

    Institutionalisation of good practices for long-term adaptation

    Since the end of the project in 2010, the community has moved onwards and upwards. The former slash-and-burn areas have become community-managed forests and the proceeds from aging or dead trees have been used to build a school and a road which has enabled better access to markets, secondary schools and health services. The new school has enabled them to upgrade their primary school to also include lower secondary. The availability of potable water close to the village has reduced the women’s workload by over three hours a day.

    During the 8th CBA conference, a group of international participants had the privilege of visiting these communities and seeing how a few simple investments – a potable water supply, a simple gravity irrigation system, community organizations, vegetable growing skills, community managed forest has enabled the community to innovate and transform village life, and continue to develop and adapt to climate change. This project was not designed as a community-based adaptation project, but it provides a very good example of how building capacity and empowering disadvantaged groups enables long term adaptation. As one women from the community said to the CBA8 delegates: “We had to get up at 3 in the morning, now we can sleep until 6.” “We might have needed to migrate out otherwise,” added Min Bahadur Soti, a community leader.

    It is the capacity-building activities that empowered the community, gave them confidence and the ability to continue to innovate. The women now have assets and the confidence to manage their own affairs. They have elected leaders and speak up, where before they were silent. The co-operative manager, a chairperson of the community forest and other village leaders now connect with the district authorities and other service providers. The very fact that three years has passed and the co-operative continues to grow, and permanent forest crops are being established on the former slash and burn areas, is evidence that the watershed is being protected. Livelihood projects continue to be born: a testament to the approach, organise build capacity and empower communities and adaptation will follow.

    The journey has to continue

    The community plans to keep up the good practices they have adopted for climate resilience. They would like to implement a forest management plan, extend the irrigation channel further, and improve agricultural practices to keep up with the changing climate, and some of these initiatives will need financial investment and technical assistance.

    The Glacier Trust is funding us for two years to support community-led schemes that will help them become resilient to climate change. These include increasing the gravity flow of irrigation channels, making better use of available water for crop production, restoring vegetation to the hill slopes, promoting agro-forestry, and mitigating the risk of forest fires through better forest management.

    The community have agreed to invest in each initiative and will also organise resources locally. The project fund will support materials and skills that are not available locally, and our local partner NGO – SAHAMATI have shown commitment to make this happen.

    Dinanath Bhandari and Chris Henderson

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