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  • Where the big money goes in the WASH sector

    Yesterday, World Toilet Day, saw the launch of the ‘report you’ve never heard of’, but it’s significant for the WASH sector. UN-Water’s global analysis and assessment of sanitation and drinking-water (GLAAS) report, produced every 2 years since 2010, looks at the inputs (human resources and money) and enabling environment (plans and policies, monitoring arrangements and so on) for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector. This year it collated information from 94 countries and 23 external support agencies.

    Practical Action focuses on the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of the urban poor – so what does the report tell us about whether their needs are being recognised and supported? Here is my analysis of the report’s key findings from that perspective.

    Financing for the sector is increasing, but still not enough

    • External aid commitments for water and sanitation totalled over $15 billion in 2012 and have increased nearly 30% since 2010. The data available on national budgets and expenditure, though limited, indicate that government spending for water and sanitation is also increasing.
    • However, 80% of countries reported that current finance is insufficient to meet targets established for drinking-water and sanitation.


    Majority of money to urban: but not for the poor

    • 82% of country expenditure and 73% of donor commitments goes to urban areas

    However, digging a bit deeper an explanation emerges…

    • Over half of all water and sanitation aid (56%) is directed to ‘large systems’, with only 21% supporting basic systems.
    Figure 5.1, GLAAS report 2014, page 49

    Figure 5.1, GLAAS report 2014, page 49


    To clarify, ‘large systems’ include water treatment plants and pumping stations, large-scale sewerage (trunk sewers and pumping stations) and sewerage treatment plants. Basic systems are the things the poor rely on: such as handpumps, shared water connections, latrines, on-site disposal and alternative sanitation systems.

    This finding is supported by other less comprehensive figures recently reported which also show the WASH sector’s addiction to large scale solutions:

    • A WaterAid/SHARE study on public finance for urban sanitation in Dar es Salaam found that while 83% of the population rely on on-site sanitation, only 0.9% of public funding on capital investments went to sanitation services. The remaining 99.1% of public funds invested in sanitation infrastructure was directed to wealthier households with access to sewerage and treatment services.


    Majority of money to water: but the greater need is for sanitation

    We find a similar pattern for the focus on water, sanitation or hygiene. Despite the fact that 2.5 billion people are still without improved sanitation compared to 784 million for water:

    • Only 43% of country expenditures goes to sanitation (57% to water) – although this is an improvement from only 20% going to sanitation in 2010.
    • For the few countries that could calculate it, only 1% of total WASH expenditure goes to hygiene promotion.


    Urgent need for more disaggregated data

    These figures show that there is still much to do in the WASH sector to align financing flows to real needs. But beyond that, there were worrying findings from the report about the sector’s ability to provide relevant data. The regular publication of the GLAAS report since 2010 is an important step in the right direction, and there are signs that data collection is improving. However,

    • Only 33 countries out of 94 could provide total WASH expenditures from government and external funding sources (which admittedly requires pulling information together across multiple donors and Ministries).
    • Only 25 countries of 94 countries were able to provide an expenditure breakdown even at the basic level of urban Vs rural, or water Vs sanitation. Even external support agencies need to be better at disaggregating data in this way. It has not been possible, it seems, to provide figures show a breakdown according to slums Vs the rest of the city.

    Not only that, but there is no capturing of some of the issues which make the most different to the urban poor such as whether faecal sludge is safely treated, or how much investment is going to on-site sanitation. The report says “only 37 countries could give any estimate of the proportion of wastewater treated. And that referred almost exclusively to centralized sewered services. Treatment for on-site sanitation is not captured at all.”


    Any bright spots?

    I started this blog with the positive news that funding in the sector is growing. Could I find something positive about meeting the needs of slum dwellers?

    • 60% of countries have a policy or plan for universal access which explicitly includes measures to reach populations living in slums or urban settlements (although only 30 have a monitoring system to track progress).

    So perhaps this gives us something to work with – even if there is probably a long way to go to ensure that those plans are actually pro-poor.

    I’m posting this from our Dhaka office, and will be spending the next few days visiting three towns where we’re doing some really great work on urban services. I’ll be hoping to post more positive news on what can be achieved with the right kind of funding in the next few days.

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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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  • Exciting Initiatives in Agriculture

    Achyut Luitel
    November 17th, 2014

    Usually we have agricultural interventions in most of the development projects. In the Water and Sanitation Sector, which used to be one of my initial engagements in the development sector, we used to promote kitchen gardening from the waste water coming out of community tap stands. This was quite unique as women could sell some vegetables and make some money which was helpful in raising their status both at household and community level.

    Practical Action is quite unique as we apply different kinds of technology to help poor people to reduce drudgery and make some incomes to fight poverty. We have a number of agricultural initiatives within other programme areas, mostly in the vegetable sector. We have introduced better inputs, technologies, promoted off season varieties, and linked them with markets. They have yielded results and created impacts. This has always encouraged me. However, last week when I visited our project site in the eastern part of the country, I felt truly excited.

    I visited a number of sugarcane and rice demonstration plots at the IFC funded Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) sites in Sunsari district. In both rice and sugarcane sector, we are working with lead firms who should take over the project after a couple of years.

    Sugarcane Demo Plot

    Sugarcane Demo Plot

    I could see young trainers who graduated from Rampur Agriculture College only a year ago, confidently training the local farmers and providing tips to enhance productivity. We observed it in the demonstration plots and the technical expert who was visiting the site with me claimed that the sugarcane of these demonstrated plots are expected to yield at least 50 per cent more than the conventional ones. That was quite encouraging. However, with the only sugar factory’s monopoly and the government’s inability to fix the annual rate of sugarcane on time, the farmers are not getting payment on time. That really frustrates them.

    Directly Seeded Rice (DSR), Swarna variety

    Directly Seeded Rice (DSR), Swarna variety

    I was more excited with the rice demonstration plots with flood resilient and climate resilient varieties. Some four varieties of Directly Seeded Rice (DSR) were ready to harvest and the grains (and panicles) looked healthy. Our Rice Technical Expert told me that the yield is better than the average and plantation cost is much lower (at least Rs 10,000 less per hectare compared to the conventional practices). However, this requires some additional skills and our extension workers can do it quite easily with a number of farmers.

    This excited me as it looks like a feasible alternative to conventional transplanted puddled rice (TPR) that requires less water, reduces labour requirement, mitigates green-house gas (GHG) emission and adapts to climatic risks. The yields are comparable with transplanted rice if crop is properly managed. Unlike the conventional method, which is also called TPR, the plantation should be done with a machine which is not costly at all. As the country is facing labour shortage due to out migration, this technology can really offer lot of opportunities to the farmers. If the state promotes this technology, this can also contribute to address the current food insecurity issues. It can also offer response to current climate change implications.

    It is always a motivation to see new initiatives being implemented that can possibly make a difference in the lives of the poor people. And, the visit this time really excited me to do something more of this kind.

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  • An evening at Chilaw Lagoon

    Upendra Shrestha
    November 17th, 2014

    Recently, I visited one of our project sites in Sri Lanka – the Chilaw Lagoon. The “Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihood Project” is working with the lagoon fishers to establish a model for community-led lagoon governance simultaneously addressing livelihoods and natural resources issues. The project is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, UK which is directly benefiting 20,000 fisher families in Sri Lanka.


    Lagoon fishers in action – putting stake net

    We reached the lagoon in the evening, just in time to see the fishers arrive and put the stake net in the lagoon. They were geared with a locally made fishing craft, nets stakes and wig lamps. The leader of the group identified an appropriate place to put the net and the group started to fix the net as directed by the leader. It was almost dark by the time they completed fixing the net. For light, big wig lamps were hung above the net on the sticks – light is very important as the prawns and shrimps move towards the light.

    Putting stake net is very cumbersome and requires a lot of effort but the fishermen have fun and enjoy the whole process. Usually the net fixing activities start in the evening around 7 pm and they wait for the catch until there is sign of in-flow from the sea to lagoon.

    The stake net is placed according to out-flows (water moving from lagoon to sea) in the lagoon which is significantly affected by the cycles of the moon. On a full moon day, they fix about 8 stake-nets and will reduce to 1 or 2 during a normal moon day. During full moon, the out-flow (lagoon to sea) is higher and at this time fish and other aquatic creatures move towards the sea as they do not have to make any effort to reach the sea.

    The net is monitored frequently to collect the catch. They usually look for high value species like wild prawns and shrimps. They celebrate their first catch by cooking and consuming the catch in a three stone hearth by the side of the lagoon. They enjoy the first catch with a hearty laughter. This motivates them to stay awake during the night as well as provides them strength and nutrition.

    The first catch

    The first catch

    The whole process completes around mid-night. The collected catch then is sorted by the female members of the community. The middlemen wait until the catch is ready. They negotiate the price, make a payment to the fishers and take the catch to the market. A good catch can provide up to 40,000 Sri Lankan Rupees in a single day. The accumulated money is divided equally within the group members.

    The project is working with such lagoon fisher communities in 18 lagoons. The lagoon fisher communities are fully dependent in the lagoons for their livelihoods so they are aware of the importance in preserving those resources which they have been utilising since hundreds of years. The community management measures for equal distribution of fish harvesting and inclusion and exclusion of lagoon catch harvesters to reduce fishing pressure and controlled fishing are some of the significant practices in the communities for sustainable harvest. The lagoon is self-governed by the community and the project is building the capacity of the fishers as well as the relevant government officers from different decision making levels and lagoon fishery market chain actors for collaborative governance of the lagoon.

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  • Building HOPE for women farmers in Chikwawa

    Martha Munyoro Katsi
    November 14th, 2014

    In September, I spent a few days in Chikwawa, in Malawi’s lower Shire region. My mission was to collect case studies on the current situation facing farmers before the implementation of the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project.

    Esnath WillisonDuring this process, I got to hear and witness some of the difficult situations women in the area face. Indeed women can do anything to ensure that there is food on the table to sustain their families.

    Thats the story of Edith Willison, a smallholder farmer in Chikwawa. She is a single mother and she is responsible for fending for her family. Life has not been easy for her and her children. She wakes up very early every day and walks up to four kilometres to fetch water for her family’s domestic use before she goes to the fields. She grows maize, cassava and vegetables which she sells to get money to buy food and to pay for her children’s school fees and upkeep.

    For the crops to grow well she uses a treadle pump to irrigate the crops. This is no easy job especially on an empty stomach given there are times when there will be nothing to eat in her house. She spends about five to six hours pedalling the treadle pump in order to water her plot.

    Edith is now suffering from back pains because of all this hard work. When she gets tired from using the treadle pump, her 11 year old son Musani takes over this task.

    Chikwawa-2This system of pumping water which Edith and other farmers in the area are using is not reliable. As a result, Edith had low harvests and is struggling to provide food for her children. During these hard times, she resorts to borrowing from colleagues who also do not have enough so at the end of the day the family can retire to bed with empty stomachs.

    Practical Action will be introducing solar powered irrigation to farming areas in Zimbabwe and Malawi. The areas which the project will be implemented from are so poor and remote. They are not connected from the national electricity grid and unlikely to ever be connected because of their remoteness. Even if they were, the cost of the electricity would be exorbitant. However, using the abundant, free resource of the sun for solar voltaic panels to power pumps, water can be drawn from significantly deeper depths than a treadle pump. Instead of spending up to six to seven hours incessant pumping to irrigate their farms per day, Edith and other women can be using this valuable time to do other things like household chores, start small businesses, and attend to their children. Furthermore children can also attend school. With this technology the farmers can be sure of a viable and consistent supply of water for their crops.

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  • Has Gender Sensitivity Increased in Bangladesh? Some quick reflections of an activist…

    Mokhlesur Rahman
    November 12th, 2014

    Bangladesh is one of the South Asian countries who has achieved significant progress in many human development aspects over the last few decades.  Gender equality is one of such areas where Bangladesh comes to spread hope in the regions. My recent field visit highlighted progress, so I thought I would reflect on it.

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, BangladeshLast month I facilitated 4 workshops on gender with staff of Practical Action and its Partners, Municipality Staff and Counselors and programme beneficiaries. The workshops were held in four field offices of Practical Action namely Sathkhira, Faridpur, Rangpur and Sirajganj and I would like to reflect on my experiences of the workshop, particularly what changes I have noticed.

    During 2004-09, as a gender expert in different positions with different organizations, I had to facilitate several trainings on gender and had to share research findings. For those, I had to travel different parts of Bangladesh (and beyond) to work with local NGOs, local government authorities, and community leaders including social and political activists. My experiences with these actors were not always easy.  In contrast, this time it was different. I observed a few changes which are promising for the movement of gender justice in Bangladesh.

    1. Acceptance of gender concerns at different levels of the society has undoubtedly been established . Additionally, attitudes of community leaders and public servants to gender sensitivity have improved a lot.  However, understanding of the issue still remains as challenge, where we need careful intervention.
    2. Before men were not  facilitating space for women’s empowerment. Moreover, there were many barriers to talking about gender equality with communities which has been dramatically improved. Now, this is much more positive and ready for action.
    3. Facilitating any training or workshop on gender for men was very challenging. Women activists were skeptical of accepting men in the field. Surprisingly, this time, I experience major change in women’s generosity accepting men in the gender equality movement/work.
    4. Previously skills on gender issues were mostly found in INGO staff or staff of some big NGOs. Recent experiences indicate staff of local NGOs are now better informed about gender issues than INGOs.

    A number of elements have played a critical role in bringing about these changes. Massive awareness initiatives by several organisation and taking the issue seriously from top level of the state were important factors. A group of young professionals with relevant academic backgrounds came into the development sector with more analytical insights, and last but not least several INGOs have taken the approach known as ‘working with men for achieving gender equality’ which has contributed to these changes.  I think this is because of, over time, many donors, INGOs and Government agencies have taken lots of initiatives for building capacity of front line staff of the implementing (local) organizations.  Whereas, capacity building for INGOs staff (beyond project activities) has been in gradual decline.

    These observations are from a limited perspective, and the analysis is very rapid. However, I will stop here and hope to hear the opinions of others.

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  • Better business environments for all

    Alison Griffith
    October 31st, 2014

    The relevance of business environments may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering the universal development goals and targets designed to end global poverty. They will replace the MDGs, which finish in 2015, so the debate on what’s in and what’s out is gradually heading towards a conclusion. A staggering 17 goals and 169 targets are proposed, a number viewed by many as far too ambitious for countries to measure.

    info cartoon (more…)

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  • Why Bangladesh needs a new framework to deal with faecal sludge management

    October 23rd, 2014
    Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

    Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

    Bangladesh is considered a success story with regard to its efforts towards universal access to adequate water and sanitation in accordance with Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7. The Joint Monitoring Programme reports published by UNICEF and WHO states that Bangladesh progressed and achieved 97% open defecation free (ODF) and use of fixed place site sanitation facilities (pits and tanks).But the sustainability of this open defecation free (ODF) achievement  is at stake because of lack of facilities and services to deal the  management and safe disposal of sludge.

    The responsibility of the sanitation services in Bangladesh lies with a number of agencies, the Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (WASA) in 4 big cities, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and municipalities/cities in urban centers and rural areas.

    All of these agencies face constraints to deal growing faecal sludge management  problem – emptying, transportation and disposal. Dhaka’s WASA only has the facilities to treat the waste of 20% of the population in Dhaka city and others depend on municipalities and informal pit emptiers for emptying. The final destination of this collected and uncollected sludge from 98% of the population is the open environment which brings adverse impacts to public health.

    Sustainable faecal sludge management services is needed to take care of standards for containment, health and safety, appropriate technologies for collection, transportation and recycling of sludge, public private partnership protecting the participation of informal groups, pro poor business modelling, national awareness and capacity building.

    To achieve this Bangladesh urgently needs a coherent national regulatory framework , guidelines and action plans and a coordinated and integrated approach for effective and efficient implementation of these plans.

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  • Last week I fixed my own iPhone

    Paul Smith Lomas
    October 22nd, 2014

    Like lots of people in the world I own a mobile phone, and common to many in the developed world, mine is a smart phone. An iPhone 4 to be precise. My smart phone is an amazing piece of technology. It helps me to keep on top of news, do emails, texts, take photos, and listen to music. I can even make phone calls with it. (Actually as a friend who works for Apple admitted to me the other day – it’s not too good at phone calls! But that’s another story!)

    iphoneSo my phone is a few years old now, and it was beginning to show signs of age. The back was cracked after I dropped it. The camera had a crack across the screen too. However it was suffering from a serious problem – the home button was getting increasingly unreliable. This, as any iPhone owner knows is a major problem. If the home button doesn’t work – you’re stuck. I had tried the trick some blog sites advocate – pressing home & off buttons at the same time to “re-calibrate it” – but it didn’t fix the problem. I was about to do what most people do at that point. Buy a new phone. However – I happened upon a You Tube video where I discovered that it’s possible to fix your own phone.

    So last weekend, armed with a range of new bits costing around £10 bought off the internet, and my laptop, with the appropriate ifixit video running on You Tube, I set about fixing my phone. I can’t pretend that it was all plane sailing. It turns out that to replace the home button you need to disassemble almost the entire phone, and as the ifixit presenter says “there’s a whole lot of tiny screws that you need to remove”. Things definitely got tough when everything was in pieces, and the video ended – leaving me with the challenge of assembly by running the video in reverse. Not too easy.

    Happily, my son, who is rather more confident with small computer-type bits & pieces, was around, and helped a bit. OK, he helped a lot, and maybe he did most of the work, and I helped! The whole exercise probably took a couple of hours, but now I have a fully functioning phone again, and I’m back in touch with the world. I even fixed the camera, so can also take good quality photos without a crack across the middle! What is perhaps interesting in this story is the reaction of so many of my friends who passed by and witnessed my repair attempts. Everyone said “great! Well done! But why didn’t you simply buy a new phone?”

    I guess this is exactly what most people, at least in the UK, would do. In fact, most people in the UK replace their phone every 12 to 18 months. While some old phones are sold on, and others recycled, many are simply thrown away. This contributes to a massive and growing problem of e-waste. Last year nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide – or about 7kg for every person on the planet. Not only is this a problem for pollution, it also represents a huge loss of valuable metals. Many phones include precious metals like silver, gold and platinum. Some manufacturers like Fairphone are designing phones with recycling in mind from the very beginning. Others are developing modular phones, which will make it easier to replace or upgrade sections of a phone, without having to buy a whole new one. This kind of approach to consumer goods ought to be more mainstream. It should be great for consumers, but also in line with our vision for technology justice, where new technological is focussed on meeting people’s basic needs, and improving the sustainability of our planet. In the meantime, I’m happy to have extended the life of my phone. However, I’m sure that I shouldn’t have a couple screws left over….

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  • Enhancing equality in energy access through mobilising women in low income areas

    Patience Samhutsa
    October 22nd, 2014

    How can electrical connections and electricity consumption be increased among poor people, particularly women who cannot afford the cost of getting connected?

    This has been a major question for government departments or parastatals or independent power producers who want to expand grid connections to poor people with very little disposable incomes. The concern about support for rural electrical line extensions in low-income areas with low population density is the lack of sufficient customer load to pay even for operational costs, let alone capital costs. On the other hand low consumption of electricity undermines the profitability of these institutions and sustainability of the utility.


    Though electricity can have benefits such as lighting, charging, television, refrigeration, agro-processing etc., the reality is that these rural communities are left with no dreams of ever getting connected in their lives. This however can be a cause for inequality in enhancing energy access denying communities their right to energy. I will leave this as an open question subject and as an issue for discussion.

    Some projects have tried to address this inequality in Macomia District (Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique) by increasing rural households’ connections and consumption of electricity from the national grid for productive use. The focus has been to increase awareness of electricity benefits for rural communities, particularly women, by demonstrating various energy equipment, gadgets and household appliances to women and showing their time and labor-saving benefits.


    The women community workers undergo capacity building sessions and motivational lessons (in the form of videos or exchange visits) to give them the skills and knowledge they need to set up and run viable businesses using electricity. Once communities had graduated from the training and mentoring sessions they will linked to financial institutions or institutions that had the ability to give them capital to get connected and start businesses in the form of loans or grants.

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