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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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  • UN Climate Change Summit – Lets talk about results?

    Margaret Gardner
    September 26th, 2014

    The UN climate change summit is over. Lots of press coverage but did anything happen?

    • Well, I loved the people power – hundreds of thousands of people marching in New York and around the globe. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, marched with them.
    • People turned up – world leaders, actors and business people. Okay so maybe this shouldn’t be seen as a great result – but actually sometimes the right people – decision makers – don’t make it to even vital conferences.
    • President Obama said climate change is “the most important and consequential issue of the 21st Century”.
    • Economists and business people talked about the cost of delaying action on climate change and called for urgent action now.
    • There was truth – with Graça Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow) cutting through the high blown rhetoric and some self-congratulation in the final moments of the conference saying There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today”.

    There is a mismatch.

    I may be naïve but I find myself believing all of these people – I believe Ban Ki Moon, business leaders, President Obama and the millions of people who took part or who cheered on the climate change marchers. I believe they want to take urgent action. I also believe Graça Machel and find myself asking what’s stopping us from making a substantial response.

    The money required is huge – but the cost on inaction is greater. The money also exists. For example in 2012 as a world we spent $1.8 trillion on weapons, that’s roughly $249 for each person in the world and 2.5% of GDP. By contrast one of the most commonly used estimates of the cost of tackling climate change puts it at 1% of annual GDP. So if we as a world find the money for weapons why can’t we find the money to protect our planet? It seems to me the money’s there – it’s about choices.

    But what’s stopping action on the scale needed happening? Why do even world leaders feel powerless? I am genuinely not sure, although I worry we have systems in place that maintain the status quo and discourage change – all put there for good reasons but now working against the urgent change required.

    Kenyan women march against climate change

    Kenyan women march against climate change

    I feel passionately about climate change because I’ve seen the impacts of the already changing weather patterns and the increasingly erratic weather on the people Practical Action works with – if you are poor and few resources you are most at risk. Not exactly a surprise!

    I came across this quote from Benjamin Morrell: “Morale is when your hands and feet keep on working when your head says it can’t be done.” It seems to me with climate change it’s operating in reverse.

    Maybe we need each and every one of us – from Ban Ki Moon and President Obama – to me and you to start to take action now so that it becomes a habit. Then when it gets to the difficult times our hands and feel will keep going on tackling climate change, even if our heads start to say it can’t be done.



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  • Community flood resilience in Peru

    Linda Costabile
    Piura, Peru,
    September 26th, 2014

    I have joined Practical Action in Peru for a six-week secondment as part of the Zurich Global Flood Resilience Program, which joins the company I work for, Zurich Insurance, with Practical Action in a common mission to strengthen the resilience of communities to assess, manage, and recover from the impacts of flooding. Just over a week into my secondment, I had the opportunity to visit Piura, a town in the north of Peru particularly at risk for flooding. While there, I joined colleagues for a regional forum on El Niño and climate change as well as a visit to the river basin and surrounding communities. This experience was both eye-opening and thought-provoking for me.

    The forum was a full day of presentations to over 200 local and regional government officials, civil servants, NGO representatives, hydro-meteorological scientists, educators, and others. Through the research I am doing here, I am seeing that the common themes of a shared vision, collaboration, accountability, and engagement among flood resilience stakeholders are critical to success. It was encouraging to see the forum presenters and attendees come together resonating those same themes and voicing their commitment to building flood resilience in the region.

    The day after the forum, I joined a small group for a visit to the river basin outside of Piura. Nearby, we stopped at the home and studio of Santodio, a local ceramics artisan. He led our group through his space consisting of dirt floors, a tin roof, a wood fire surrounded by bricks that he uses as his kiln, and several shelves of beautiful handmade ceramics of all shapes and sizes while explaining how he decorates his beautiful ceramics with white paint and a black resin derived from mango leaves. Santodio is no stranger to flood risk – a few short years ago, the area where he lives and works was completely flooded due to El Niño.

    MairaLater that day, we also met 22-year-old Maira, who has seven siblings and two children of her own. She invited us into the family’s three-room home and small yard where they raise three pigs, two turkeys, and several hens for income. They lack so many things, like access to running water and basic sanitation, but are glad for what they have and the programs that assist them.

    The intense flooding that comes with El Niño can be devastating to people like Santodio and Maira. The riverbed is completely dry now, but the amount of rain that will come in a few months can exceed the river’s capacity twice over. The river then risks overflowing into town and the surrounding more informal settlements, carrying trash, construction materials, and people’s belongings with it.

    In my short time here, I can already see the incredible impact that Practical Action´s work has in managing flood risk and am grateful to both Practical Action and Zurich for this opportunity to contribute to these efforts to build resilience.

    Read more about the Zurich Global Flood Resilience Program

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  • Flooding in Sudan – part 1

    Yassir Abdelmutalab
    September 10th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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