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  • Fascinated by the Incas

    Amanda Ross

    January 15th, 2015

    I had the good fortune to study ancient history – a subject that fascinates me.  However, my studies only covered classical civilisations so my knowledge of the Incas is minimal.  So when I was in Peru in December and visited some Inca sites, I was enthralled and keen to learn more.  I’m delighted that the BBC has just begun a new series ‘Masters of the Clouds’ which will enable me to do this and especially to consider how technologies of the past can help to deal with modern problems such as climate change and disaster resilience.

    "Pisac006" by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    “Pisac006″ by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    From the first episode it became clear that the Incas knew a thing or two about climate smart agriculture. They developed complex water harvesting and terracing systems which enabled them to produce enough food to store surpluses in their vast granaries against hard times.  As a result of having a secure food supply the population increased and the Inca empire was able to expand to cover nearly 690,000 square miles – from modern Colombia to Chile.  Practical Action is using similar techniques in the high Andes to support farmers who face low rainfall today as a result of climate change.

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Earthquakes are a regular hazard in this region is earthquakes and the Incas developed building techniques to minimise the effects.  Leaning their walls slighting inward, excellent masonry skills and rounded corners have ensured that Macchu Picchu’s stone walls still stand despite 500 years of shaking.

    Once again Practical Action looked to the past when helping with the reconstruction efforts after major earthquake, using traditional quincha techniques for greater stability.

    Technology also proved to be their downfall.  Inca soldiers armed with spears and bow and arrows were up against the Spanish forces equipped with horses, cannon and firearms.  Smallpox and measles also brought by the invaders devastated the population and the Inca Empire folded. I’m looking forward to finding out more this week.


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  • Robbed at COP? A novice’s view of the talks.

    Simon Trace

    December 18th, 2014

    Attending the second week of the UNFCCC COP meeting in Lima, Peru has been a challenging and a bewildering experience, for a first timer and non-specialist in international climate talks.

    First of all there is the terminology – the main text that is being developed at the moment, and which should form the basis of final negotiations for a new global climate convention in Paris next year, is known as a ‘non-paper’ for example. Not a very inspiring name for something that is absorbing the attention of so many people! Then there are the conversations that are sprinkled with acronyms to the extent that it sometimes feels like you are listening to a text message rather than a human being – COP, CMP, INDC, SBSTA, GCF, CIF, and so on.

    Then there is the content of the ‘non paper’ itself. I had a quick glance at a version on Wednesday. It was around 40 pages long and seemed, from a quick read, to be a jumble of contradictions. Almost every clause or commitment or resolution in the document contained 2,3,4 or more alternative options for text, sometimes variations on the same sentiment, but sometimes options that completely contradicted each other (for example in the final version published on the UNFCCC website the section on adaptation options for paragraph 25.2 include both “establish a global goal for adaptation” and “no global goal for adaptation”). The plan is that this text will gradually be honed down by working parties over the coming year to something that can form the basis for final negotiations in time for the Paris COP in 2015. All I can say is that I wish Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat, and her staff all the best with that task!

    I was privileged to hear Ms Figueres speak at the COP. Practical Action is part of an alliance with the Zurich Insurance Company, and 3 other organisations working together on developing new ways to help poor people in the developing world reduce their vulnerability to floods. (as a side note – floods not only affect more people globally than any other type of natural hazard but the associated economic, social and humanitarian losses are expected to grow as the climate change leads to increase in extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels). The Alliance was lucky enough to win a UNFCC Momentum for Change award (or M4C – another acronym!) for its work and Ms Figueres (and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon) spoke at the awards ceremony on Wednesday. She spoke passionately and from her heart about the low point of the COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 from which everyone had come away depressed and downhearted, with a sense that progress towards a global climate agreement was impossible. She talked about the need after Copenhagen to create a momentum for change and a new positive picture of what could be achieved. The M4C awards were a (very modest) part of that process, showcasing examples of people and organisations taking concrete actions on mitigation or adaptation.

    She also talked about how far things had moved post Copenhagen and how different and more positive the atmosphere was at the Lima talks. Certainly the China / US agreement prior to the COP lifted the atmosphere and those who had attended previous COPs told me that the language was gradually changing for the better – one example was the use of the concept of national carbon budgets by many of the official delegations – something that would have been an anathema a couple of years ago.

    But there are still reasons for a good dose of pessimism though, many related to the US, despite Australia doing its best to be the ‘bad guy’ by winning more ‘fossil of the day’ awards (given by the NGO community to official delegations for outrageous behaviour) than any other country. In a nutshell ‘conventional wisdom’ says that a Republican Congress won’t ratify further significant financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund and won’t countenance the concept of reparation to developing countries for ‘loss and damage’ – another theme of the talks. Verification was also an ongoing issue. Countries have agreed to submit ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ in time for the Paris COP next year to explain their plans for cutting carbon. European nations have been pushing for the UN to provide independent verification of progress against these targets but others, China and the US included, have resisted any commitment to external verification, throwing doubt over the solidity of the commitments being made. Finally, although there was much talk about adaptation being mainstreamed in the talks much more than in the past, a presentation on existing climate finance in one side events I attended showed that finance for adaptation remains the poor cousin, accounting for less than 10% of current climate financing, with the remainder going to mitigation.

    Government delegations were not the only ones attracting negative press last week however. There were those amongst the NGOs that felt Greenpeace should have been given a ‘fossil of the day’ award for a publicity stunt that went badly wrong. A group of the NGO’s activists decided to use the Nasza lines as a backdrop for one of their protest events. The Nazca lines are a series of huge ancient patterns inscribed into the desert coastal plain of Peru that can only really be appreciated from the air. Created simply by clearing stones and debris away from fixed lines, the patterns have remained intact for hundreds of years in the arid conditions and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Greenpeace activists spelt out a slogan about solar power next to one of the most iconic patterns for Peru, a hummingbird. Although they were careful to avoid damaging the lines themselves (the letters were just made out of cloth laid on the ground) the tracks of their vehicles left a maze of marks on what until then had been the undisturbed ground around the pattern. The Peruvian press was incensed at the damage done to their site and there were reports from that the ministry of culture would be suing Greenpeace for damage.

    For me though, one of the abiding images from the various side events I attended was a graph from a Royal Society presentation on its new report “Resilience to extreme weather”. The graph (see below) shows an inexorable rise in the annual global economic loss, given as a % of global GDP, over the past 30 years. The graph was a salutary reminder of why the UNFCC process is so important, as climate change continues to drive growth in extreme weather events. But it also made me wonder how much it was an under representation of the true social cost to the poor and marginalised communities in developing countries, those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they rely on land that is already marginal for farming or live in informal urban settlements most at risk from flooding and natural disasters. In % points of GDP their losses may not amount to so much, but in terms of human deprivation their losses are already immense.

    Reactions to the final outcome of the COP are varied, even amongst civil society actors at the event.  For example the World Resources Institute in the US concludes that  “delegates in Lima laid the groundwork for a successful international climate agreement in Paris next year” , whilst in the UK the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Saleemul Huq is quoted in the Guardian as saying “It sucks. It is taking us backwards”, whilst WWF claims “We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome”.

    CaptureWas a potential transformative agreement at COP20 stolen from under our noses at the last minute, despite the positive omens at the start of the conference? I have to confess, as a COP novice I have no bench mark to compare these talks to and so no idea. But, despite the challenges to progress there undoubtedly have been, I found it difficult to leave the COP20 meeting without being infected to some degree with the positivism being radiated by Christiana Figueres and Ban Ki Moon. The road ahead is still a long and difficult one, but I like to think there’s just a chance that we could look back at the Lima meeting in a few years’ time as the turning point when the world started to take climate change seriously and started to work together on finding a solution.

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  • Hope for better life through micro hydro and PMSD initiatives in the Koraput district of Odisha

    Arun Kumar Hial

    December 15th, 2014

    Our day started at 6am and we headed towards Badamanjari (a project field site) over 60km from the district headquarter Koraput. We took about 3 hours to travel through good roads, bad roads, rough and rocky roads in the hilly terrains and passing by the highest peak of Eastern Ghats (Deomali). There was intermittent mobile coverage on our way and we could see very less vehicles usually over-packed with people. All of us traveling had a WOW feeling inside, that Practical Action is working in such interior pockets and delivering technology solutions and services to the poor where the poor benefit to the fullest. The closer we go to the village the more excited we were and a sense of belonging was mounting in our minds and hearts which outburst during the overwhelming welcome and response of the villagers.

    High Hills of Eastern Ghat

    High Hills of Eastern Ghat

    Badamanjari is one of the project sites of the Sustainable Micro-hydro through Energizing Rural Enterprises and Livelihood (SMRE) Project in Koraput district of Odisha. The village inhabits 93 households and is surrounded by nature and its greatest gifts, one of which is in the shape of a perennial water source which is used by the villagers for a Micro Hydro Project with a capacity of producing 30 KW of electricity. This project was supported by various donors and implemented by a well-known NGO from the district. The Project was initiated in 2003 and was commissioned to the people in 2006. The people got uninterrupted electricity up to the year 2013 and somehow there was problem with the machine and it did not work from then. The SMRE Project initiated by Practical Action in partnership with Koraput Farmer’s Association (KFA) aims to rehabilitate and renovate the Micro Hydro Project to function to its fullest potential and help people increase their income with the use of the PMSD approach.

    Badamanjari Village

    Badamanjari Village

    Suresh Tadingi (23) lives with his wife, daughter (2 years), brother, mother and grandmother in Badamanjari village. His ancestral property of over 6 Acres of agricultural land is being used by four families with a total of 21 members. He is busy in the agriculture and allied works throughout the year except January and February (during these months he goes to nearby town to work on contract). Even though they do farming of Zinger, Beans, Vegetables, Raggi, Millets (varieties) and Paddy, they live in a subsistence economy and it is not enough for everyone. It is the SMRE Project which has brought a light of hope for him, his family and the community at large.



    Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

    Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

    Suresh along with four other youth members are interested to take up Turmeric Processing Unit as one of their income generating endeavors through the SMRE Project. They will be responsible to collect raw turmeric from 9 nearby villages, process, package and market the products to gain profits. These five young men will get the agreed share of the earning and will share part of their earnings to the community fund from where it will then be used for benefits of the community and its members. If everything works well, then Suresh and others like him need not go outside of the village to work as daily wage laborers, but in the contrary they will get a dignified earning through the business of their own and multiply their income as per their efforts to live a better life in their own village itself.

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  • Alpaca farming threatened by climate change

    Amanda Ross

    Puno, Peru, Taraco | December 8th, 2014

    Farmers are not renowned for their optimism.  Grumbling about the weather, crop or livestock prices is a recurrent theme.  So it was refreshing yesterday to meet Modesto Hunan, an alpaca farmer from the Puna region of Peru, who has so many positive things to say about his work.modesto family Modesto trained as a kamayoq – a  local agricultural extension worker and for the last three years has been part of the Melgar Alpacas project which is helping farmers in the high plains of the Andes to improve their livelihoods.  The work is addressing three main areas -pasture enrichment, better animal breeding and improved marketing of their main product, alpaca wool.

    Modesto lives with his wife Doris and three sons in a remote area about 3 hours drive from Puno.  His farm is a breathtaking 4,200 m above sea level and covers 116 hectares. Two of his sons are studying at university in Puno and return at weekends to help on the farm.  He owns just over 200 alpacas – half of the more expensive Suri breed and the rest the more common Huacaya.  The project has helped to strengthen the herd by providing a number of high quality male alpacas for breeding.

    irrigation systemTo provide better pasture for his animals, Modesto has installed an irrigation system fed from a small rain fed reservoir.  This enables him to cultivate small areas of land with improved grazing for animals at key stages of their life –  those in their first year as well as pregnant females and nursing mothers.  This has led to better survival rates, better quality wool and healthier animals.  He also cultivates grasses with higher nutritional content such as clover and alfalfa which would not grow here without irrigation.  He is also planning to grow potatoes and quinoa for the family.

    Before the project Modesto earned around 6 soles (£1.50) per pound for his wool,  but as a result of the improved quality of his product he now gets 10 soles (£2.50) per pound  and sometimes twice that for good Suri wool.  The community currently sell their wool in the local market, where the price is lower but the project is working to create a co-operative to sell the wool together to a bigger enterprise to obtain a better price.

    But  despite their current success there is a blot on the horizon which threatens all this family’s hard work – climate change.

    Modesto and his familyThe rainy season in this area usually lasts from November to March (summer) and it is not usually necessary to irrigate at this time.  But Modesto’s reservoir was barely a third full as there had been so little rain this year so far (in early December).  He is extremely concerned about the effect of climate change on his livelihood and told me;

    “As well as the lack of rain, the winters have become much colder with snow and hail and dramatic thunderstorms.  Only last week 3 people in the region were killed by lightening.”

    He recorded a message (in Spanish) for the UN COP20 meeting in Lima describing the problems he is facing to urge the international community to take action.

    Let’s hope that they listen otherwise the way of life of Modesto and the other alpaca farmers in this challenging environment may no longer be viable.

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  • Supporting local regeneration – moving from energy policy to energy economies

    Simon Trace

    December 4th, 2014

    Here’s a second blog on my learnings from attendance at Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference. In my last blog I talked about problems when community projects generate too much energy, drawing parallels between experiences from Scotland and Nepal.

    There were many more parallels I noted during the two days. These included very practical issues around educating communities over power requirements for different appliances so as to manage peak loads (as one lady put it, how do I stop everyone using their electric hair curling tongs at the same time – which trips the system!). There were also the expected common problems around limited access to finance for building new projects and also policy problems – for example the difficulty and lengthy procedures necessary to get a licence to be allowed to sell power to consumers in Scotland (a problem we have only just resolved for a micro hydro project we’re working on in Malawi).

    There were also interesting parallels between the Scottish experience and Practical Action’s around where community managed energy projects were being built (remote rural communities, often relatively poor, with few economic opportunities).

    What caught my attention most however was a really refreshing address from Chris Stark, Head of Electricity, Energy and Climate Change for the Scottish Government. Chris talked about decentralisation of electricity generation as something that was desirable, as opposed to just an approach to closing access gaps. He also talked about a systems approach that was more than just creating a good energy policy but was also about building energy economies. His argument was that a holistic approach to local energy systems, which looks at the potential inter-relationships between waste, heat, transport, the efficiency of building stock, consumers bills and local generation capacity, could form the basis for the renewal of local economies currently in decline. This idea of building local economies, retaining value in communities and doing things locally where possible rather than importing skills and services, was a recurrent theme throughout the conference and something that chimes closely with Practical Action’s Schumacherian roots.

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  • First day of COP20 in Lima


    December 1st, 2014
    Energy Minister of Peru speaking at an event on "Isolated rural Electrification" at COP20 in Lima

    Energy Minister of Peru speaking at an event on “Isolated rural Electrification” at COP20 in Lima

    Interactive screen in the Energy auditorium at COP20 in Lima

    Interactive screen in the Energy auditorium at COP20 in Lima

    Dancers waiting to greet the President of Peru at COP20

    Dancers waiting to greet the President of Peru at COP20

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  • Climate change is real!

    Roselinda Marange

    November 28th, 2014

    Climate change and variability is a very worrying subject for me and I hope for many others as well who understand its negative impacts on human and animal life. We have observed this through the changes in rainfall, temperature and wind patterns among the major climate indicators. On average daily temperatures have risen significantly and our rainfall comes late and often inadequate.

    Climate change does not take effect overnight; it is a long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. This may vary from one region to another. Some call Climate Change global warming. The questions that come to my mind are; Who or what is the cause? Who or what can stop this development and how? Currently, most pointers are pointing to the continued rise in carbon dioxide levels from our fossil fuel burning as the main driver of global warming. What does this mean to you and me? Scientists point to the emergence of industrialisation as the major cause of this climate challenge and among the main actor is MAN. Within our context in Southern Africa we are an agro dependent population where our livelihoods and source of income comes from. Women are in the majority of this population and they are responsible for the agriculture output of the economy.

    For me it means that I have a role to play, it means I can contribute even in small way in the way and manner that I live starting by taking care of the environment around me. Some of the thoughtless actions of our daily choices results in suffering of other if we are not careful and this will cause a huge gulf of inequality between the benefactors and those sidelined. If we can all start by changing our life-styles and contribute in small ways the aggregate effort will result in amazing results and lessen the gap of inequality. It’s these small actions that may seem unimportant now that will make a huge difference and impact in the future as we do them, we adapt easily to Climate Change. When we anticipate Climate Change’s adverse effects, we are in a better position to take appropriate action in order to minimize the damage it can bring about hence we can take advantage of opportunities that may arise where ever we are. This is likely to save money and lives in the long run while eradicating the issue of who suffers most – inequality!

    Planting tomatoes in Himalaya, ZimbabweGlobalization of the industrial system has also contributed to global warming causing extensive fragmentation and degradation of ecosystems which in turn resulted in the destruction of vast habitats of indigenous plants and animals across the planet. This has brought about mass global extinction of species.

    Some of the adaptation measures that we can take advantage of include using scarce water resources more efficiently, developing drought-tolerant crops, engaging or assisting in re-afforestation initiatives, ensuring that our immediate environment is clean and taking care to practice proper recommended waste disposal methods as well as using less of plastic whenever we can among other things. The list is in exhaustive but with these few pointers, we can go a long way in not only adapting but also in terms of resilience. If we can start somewhere now, we have potential to serve ourselves and generations to come a lot of heartache. We have to act quickly to help those around us adapt now!

    It is increasingly realized that mitigation and adaptation should not be pursued independent of each other but as complementary. This has resulted in the recent calls for the integration of adaptation into mitigation strategies. This together with other initiatives then becomes a building block to resilience which is our capacity to mitigate or diminish impacts of Climate Change or adapt/respond to change. The differences in our capacities to adapt of respond if ignored may cause a hug gap of inequality especially between developed and non-developed communities. Resilience signifies the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances and surprises. It can mean the ability to reorganise so as to retain the same essential function, structure and identity. Resilience is an inherent quality of all healthy living systems. It is a state of dynamic equilibrium which enables systems to grow and evolve while keeping their coherence. Achieving resilience means learning to understand the natural laws of our living systems so that we work with Nature rather than against her.

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  • Technical education an alternative of local level adaptation for breaking the vicious cycle of poverty

    Halim Miah

    November 26th, 2014

    Child labour is a big concern in Bangladesh.  The situation is worse in the northern region when natural disasters like riverbank erosion, tornado and hailstorms cause their poor parents loss of their crops, shelter and employment. It has been revealed that  in recent years frequency of climatic disasters increased with unpredictable effects and these environmental victims take shelter on the embankment after losing their home and livelihoods.

    Both qualitative data and quantitative tools were used in this study, which was conducted during September and October 2013 under “Pathways From Poverty”  project of Shiree and Practical Action Bangladesh .

    Time trend analysis and other qualitative data shows that parents of child labourers were often also child labourers themselves.  Children of illiterate parents are also more likely to become child labourers. Children of parents with the skills of reading, writing and using different scale are less susceptible to be child labourers as they had higher earnings . They have the scope to be enrolled in different crafts and artisan work where minimum reading and measuring skills are required  Existing studies also found that child labourers with no literacy are more likely to work in agricultural and labour intensive work and they are lower paid whereas current child labour with five or more years schooling are found in technical based employment like workshops, carpentry, motor repair and driving. Children working in technical areas earn more compared to child workers in agricultural and other daily wage sectors.

    11311Gender parity is an issue among the extreme poor living in embankments. Girls are more likely to work as low paid domestic workers often with experience of physically torture.  Domestic workers and agriculture labourers have similar experiences as this work does not bring long term economic resilience.   Some positive changes have been revealed among the poor parents. If there are more more children in the household parents send the elder one to work and invest money in education for the younger children. Therefore younger children have better opportunity to work in a job with higher earnings and scope of to be small entrepreneurs.

    Therefore the study recommended that policy implementation needs to be reinforced in the Primary Education so that poor parents can understand the importance of completion at least Primary Education both for girls and boys. Also some social protection measures need to be taken in the climatic  hot spot areas particularly for the children of extreme poor households where they will have scope to learn vocational skills along with formal basic education so that they can compete better in the changing situation.

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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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