A group of committed Practical Action staff demonstrated the future effects of flooding in UK and Bangladesh, to raise awareness in the UK and among the Bangladeshi community living in London. At Whitechapel, Embankment and at Westminster tube stations, we distributed leaflets and talked to people about the issue, accompanied by Mr. Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly. It was a fascinating experience for me – something very different!
At the end of the day we met with a group of journalists from Bangla media, both print and electronic. Along with Murad and Nick Milton, Practical Action’s climate change campaigner, I shared the reality of climate change based on the experiences of current Practical Action Bangladesh project Pathways From Poverty. We covered the issues of climate change adaptation and opportunities for the involvement of Bangladeshi communities living in London to help their countrymen to face the effects of flooding and other disasters.
Meeting at City Hall
The most high profile event of my visit was ‘Bridging the Climate Gap between Britain and Bangladesh‘, which took place at City Hall London and was hosted by London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi. Attendees included the Acting High Commissioner and Simon Trace, Practical Action Chief Executive, and members of the Bangladeshi community. Following the speeches there was a lively discussion and plenty of tweeting about the issues.
Meeting With Martin Horwood MP and Lord Chidgey
This was one of a series of meetings with policy makers in London. Both of them were particularly keen to learn more about sandbar cropping.
Birmingham’s Bangladeshi community.
It was pleasure to meet with such an inspired Bangladesh community living in the UK. They were eager to hear about the progress of our work and there was an animated discussion about future funding to help affected communites in Bangladesh.
Reinforced by the support of so many people in the UK, I now go to the UN climate change talks in Doha to work hard to ensure that adaptation to the severe effects of climate change is high on the agenda.No Comments » | Add your comment
Although I have been very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Sudan to visit our projects, I have not visited all of Practical Action’s countries of operation. I have hundreds of colleagues who, sadly, I have not been able to meet in my three and a half years working for Practical Action. We communicate through email and Skype, and although these technologies promote good working relationships, nothing beats having a real conversation in person.
So last week it was a real joy to meet one of Practical Action’s most dedicated project workers, Nazmul Islam Chowdury, from Bangladesh. Nazmul is currently visiting the UK as part of our work campaigning for more political action, leadership and funding for the fight against climate change.
Nazmul is truly inspirational. We speak at length about the Pathways from Poverty project which he manages in Bangladesh. This ambitious project, one of the largest in our history, endeavours to help 119,000 of the poorest women, men and children in rural areas of the country to take the first step to a life beyond poverty.
Many families here are achingly poor, and have been impoverished for generations. Their poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It means starvation, dirty water, ill-health, inadequate shelter, limited access to education. It is the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.
At the beginning of the Pathways from Poverty project, people had lost hope of things ever being different or better. Nazmul’s assurance that, within 12 months, communities would have enough food to overcome their hunger was met with huge suspicion. That suspicion only intensified when Nazmul shared his idea of a beautifully simple farming technique, sandbar cropping, which could secure food for life. “People thought I was mad!” he says.
Floods in Bangladesh don’t just destroy homes and lives when they arrive; they also leave a crippling legacy when the waters subside. The ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmers to tend. Nazmul’s idea was to simply dig holes in the sandy plains and fill them with manure, compost and then plant pumpkin seeds. Within seven days the pumpkin seeds start to germinate fresh green shoots. And hope springs once more.
“I remember one woman in particular who was so delighted with her pumpkin harvest. She told me ‘I’ve fallen in in love with this. Before I hated spending time in the field because it seemed so futile. Nothing grew. But now I want to spend all my time tending to my crop of pumpkins. I’ve never seen so much food. This technology is helping us to grow food in the sand. It’s a dream.’ Listening to stories like this makes me feel immensely proud of the sandbar cropping technology. I think it is the best example of ‘small is beautiful’.”
The Pathways from Poverty project is already having a huge, transformational impact on the lives of some of Bangladesh’s most desperate people.
I ask Nazmul what drives him, and am so inspired by his response:
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Bangladeshi people. Everyone pays their taxes. And those taxes have paid for my education. I feel it is my duty to pay people back. I use this philosophy to inspire my team. I want to see people in my country enjoying their lives, not spending every moment worrying about their survival, about their children’s survival. We may never be rich like the Americans. But I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn what is sufficient for life. Everybody in the world has the right to food, shelter, and education, healthcare. These are the basic rights and choices.”
As I listen to Nazmul’s words, I feel so immensely lucky to work with such visionary people who are so committed to challenging the numerous injustices in our world. Practical Action is an organisation, but our good work is only possible because of people – our committed team of project workers, the people with whom we’re working who revolutionise their own lives, and of course, you – the lovely, wonderful people who support us.No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve been kept pretty busy during my visit to Belgium and the UK attending a series of events on climate change adaptation. I’ve been to many different places and met a wide range of people. The journey started in Brussels.
1. The European Commission
I met with Dr. Costa Papastavros, Senior Environment Officer for Cyprus, current holders of the presidency of the Council of the European Union. This meeting was facilitated by CAN Europe in Belgium and focused on future funding for climate change adaptation work. Like Bangladesh Cyprus is keen to see adaptation go up the UNs agenda as it is increasingly suffering from drought and water shortages due to climate change. Dr Papastavros was keen to hear about the reality of the situation on the ground and about technologies for adaptation tried and tested by Practical Action in Bangladesh. He promised to help us to push this up the agenda at Doha.
2. The European Parliament
I spoke at an event in the European Parliament entitled ‘What can we realistically expect out of the climate change talks in Doha’? It was hosted by theUK MEP Linda MacAvan, the spokesperson on climate change for the Socialist and Democrat Group. Also in attendance was EU Director of Climate Strategy, Artur Runge-Metzger. Arthur initiated a discussion about the climate talks and I followed up with a presentation on how extreme poor communities in NW Bangladesh are adapting to climate change through Practical Action’s Pathways From Poverty Project.
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Why on earth did I agree to do this? Surely I must be old enough to know better! These were the thoughts running through my mind on Thursday, as I stood outside a London tube station clad in wetsuit, mask and snorkel engaging with bemused members of the public. Why, you may well ask?
Many areas of London near the Thames are likely to be underwater by 2100. A small group from Practical Action were handing out tube maps showing what London might look like then – hence the scuba gear.
Londoners fortunately have time to prepare for this but for the people of Bangladesh the crisis is already unfolding. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and already half of the country can be inundated during the floods.
At an event in County Hall tonight Nazmul Chowdhury will be talking about his work with some of the poorest people in Bangladesh. Nazmul supervised Practical Action projects with communities who face frequent flooding. We are building flood proof housing, embankments and refuges as well as providing training for alternative livelihoods for flooded areas such as fish and duck rearing. Floating gardens and pumpkin growing are two of our proven technologies which help people to adapt to the changing climate.
But much, much more needs to be done. Millions of people facing the effects of climate change in Bangladesh should have a chance of adapting to a future of more severe flooding. Currently, less than 10% of climate finance is spent on adaptation – we want this to increase to 50% - join our campaign on Twitter to apply pressure.No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Action’s European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic.
In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh, including our ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project.
Despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.
In Germany, I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organised by our project partner, Germanwatch. The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.
It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Action’s new five-year strategy from 2012-2017.
One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio plus 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.
Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago, flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over 1,000 having to be evacuated from their homes.
Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.
To highlight the issues, I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organised by our Czech partner, Glopolis. Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.
So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics, leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.
Our adaptation work in Bangladesh (promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming) was well received in both Germany and the Czech Republic. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor isn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action, with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field, is in a unique position to do both.
Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival. One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future.”
The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.No Comments » | Add your comment
Yesterday we had the unique opportunity of representing Practical Action in a political stunt organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition. To capture the attention of the UK government we gathered with 250 people from various eco-minded organisations outside the Treasury in London to recreate the famous “Labour isn’t working” poster from 1979. The aim of the campaign was to show key politicians that the green economy is working with one third of economic growth coming from the it.
The twist on the campaign was that “Green is working”. Everyone involved wore green hard hats and spread this message through social media and twitter using the hash tag #greenisworking. This created wide scale impact and helped the stunt to trend in the top 3 twitter conversations yesterday. The event even brought out celebrity dragon Deborah Meaden, who joined the queue, stuck on a hard hat and showed her support toward a more green economy.
It was great to collaborate with a number of individuals and organisations who share the same environmental views and value the prevention of climate change to the extent that we do. By supporting a green economy in the UK, the impact of climate change can be reduced here and also benefit poor communities around the world. This is especially important for Practical Action’s work since climate change is a cross-cutting theme through our four main areas of focus, energy, water and sanitation, food and agriculture and especially disaster risk reduction.
As interns and first time campaigners, the experience opened our ideas to scope of support for green initiatives and we were thrilled to be the voice of Practical Action. We can only hope that it will influence politicians as much as the original influenced the public back in 1979.
Right now it’s so important to keep the “green is working” message current and on politician’s minds. Help us by spreading this message and tweeting with us (@PracticalAction), using the hash tag #greenisworking.
Emily & Nick
See what Helen Taylor from Ecotricity and others taking part in the stunt had to say…
Click here to read the Guardian’s article on the stunt.No Comments » | Add your comment
Here in the UK we’ve probably had the biggest rainfall in years. There have been regular news stories about floods affecting people, houses and roads (apart from the hosepipe ban debacle), and it’s all very inconvenient, and for some, costly.
But imagine living in Bangladesh where nearly a quarter of the country is regularly flooded and at times 50% of the country is underwater. Where people’s livelihoods are swept away in the monsoon season – and others become stranded for months on end. In June this year 100 people died and 250,000 were marooned. Life during the monsoon season in Bangladesh is more than inconvenient. That’s why Practical Action is working with some of the poorest communities to help them prevent the devastation caused by flooding and the unpredictability of the rainy season caused by climate change.
I recently visited some of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh. Here’s my video blog about what I saw.
Help to us to carry on helping those affected by flooding in Bangladesh: take our Nightrider challenge and tell your friends.No Comments » | Add your comment
One casualty of the worst September storms in decades has been the town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. It has been split in two after flooding forced the closure of a major road bridge over the River Wharfe.
The Mayor of Tadcaster, Steve Cobb, said the Wharfe was at its highest level since major floods hit the area in 2000.
He said a number of businesses close to the river had been flooded. “We’re one community but we are split in two today,” Mr Cobb said.
“We are totally dependent on the bridge. It’s a four or five mile trip around without it, just to get to the other side.
“We have a doctor’s on one side, schools on both sides, all sorts of businesses on either side. We’ve got our fingers crossed. We’ve got everything crossed.”
The Mayor of Tadcaster doesn’t know it but he has a lot in common with Kazi Mahmudullah who lives on the other side of the world in Bangladesh, a country which knows all about floods. Every day he has to jostle with hundreds of buses, trucks, cars and other vehicles to get on a ferry to take him across the river Ganges to get to his job in a solar power factory.
Many of the ferries and other boats that cross the huge river are unsafe because they are old and dilapidated so strong currents and high winds can cause accidents. The journey is made more perilous by climate change which means that rivers like the Ganges and the Wharfe now flood far more frequently.
“It takes two to three hours to cross the river,” he says.
“There aren’t many ferries and we have no other alternative than to wait. If there was a bridge then we could cross the river in 15 minutes.”
The Ganges, known locally as the Padma, divides the capital Dhaka from the south of the country, effectively isolating 30 million people.
Building a bridge across the Ganges has been a long held dream of Bangladeshis and it now looks as though it may finally happen.
The BBC have reported that the World Bank are again considering lending the country the $1.2 billion towards the $3 billion needed to complete the bridge. If it goes ahead it will be the biggest infrastructure project in the country’s history.
The bridge would help connect Bangladesh with neighbouring India and Burma on its eastern side. But it would also transform the lives of the 30 million people living in the under-developed south.
It’s to highlight the plight of people like Kazi Mahmudullah that Practical Action is organising a European speaker tour this November featuring the manager of our Pathways from Poverty project in Bangladesh, Nazmul Chowdhury. Nazmul will address the German, UK and European Parliaments before going on to the climate change talks in Doha.
In the meantime Kazi Mahmudullah will continue to have to take his chances on the ferry. Despite being separated by thousands of miles it’s a journey which Steve Cobb could now probably relate to.No Comments » | Add your comment
Have you heard the joke about the drowning man? You know the one in which a man is stuck on his rooftop during a flood and prays to God who first sends a rowing boat, then a motor boat and finally a helicopter to save him… *
In terms of the climate talks in Bangkok which have just finished on 5 September they will probably go down in history as being the motor boat. However, the next set of climate talks in Doha beginning on 26 November will definitely be the helicopter.
So what have the talks in Bangkok achieved? Commentators are divided from the United Nations who have, predictably, praised the talks as making “concrete progress” to the Bangkok Post who have said they have made no progress at all and ended in “stalemate”. The NGOs here represented by Climate Action Network International believe they have made technical progress, which could pave the way for an extension of the Kyoto protocol up to 2020 at Doha but that there are still a large number of unresolved issues on the table. These include the level of cuts different countries are willing to adopt, who is going to pay for climate change and whether the world can agree a new legally binding agreement post 2020. In other words the Bangkok talks have kept hope on climate change afloat – just.
I’ve been attending the talks on behalf of Practical Action and promoting our event at the next climate talks in Doha on 28 November called “Learning the lessons from flooding in climate adaptation”. It reflects the fact that for many vulnerable people around the world in flood prone countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Bangladesh, it is not a case of trying to stop climate change but living with it now.
Adaptation is an issue that has been little on the agenda in Bangkok but needs to urgently be in Doha. Many of the delegates I’ve spoken to here over the last week agree that climate adaptation must go up the UN’s agenda and there needs to be a much better balance when it comes to funding (currently only about 10% of climate finance is spent on adaptation). To do this, they have formed an Adaptation Committee which is due to meet for the first time immediately after the talks in Bangkok. A big part of their work will be to mandate countries to draw up National Adaptation Plans, both for developed and developing nations.
Nationally, the UK should be in a good position to do this, having formed an adaptation sub-committeee of its own following the passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008. Their latest report, published in July, on the affects of flooding and water scarcity, makes fastinating reading. Other developing countries will need more help in drawing up plans but the critical issue, like so many issues to do with climate change, will be who will pay for implementation of the plans.
At the moment for developing countries that funding is due to come from the Green Climate Fund. However, at present the GCF doesnt even have a bank account, let alone a means of distributing money. One of the key success criteria for the Doha talks will therefore be that developed countries including the UK make rapid progress in committing the $100 billion a year they have promised the fund by 2020 and ensuring that at least half goes on climate adaptation.
* A man was stuck on his rooftop during a flood. Despairing of any help he started praying to God. Soon a man in a rowing boat came by and shouted “Jump in, I can save you. The stranded man shouted back, “No, thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowing boat went by. Then a motor boat came by and the driver shouted “Jump in, I can save you.” “No thanks” shouted back the man ” I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the motor boat went by.
Finally a helicopter came and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” The stranded man again declined, convinced God would save him. So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. In the next life he finally met God and angrily exclaimed “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. Why?” God replied, “I sent you a rowing boat, a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”No Comments » | Add your comment