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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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  • Bangladesh can eradicate extreme poverty by 2022

    Sofrul Islam
    October 21st, 2014

    Bangladesh has the capacity to eradicate extreme poverty by 2022. To achieve this Bangladesh needs to bring one million extreme poor families out of poverty each year until 2020.  Bangladesh has 2.5 billion extreme poor people or nearly 60,000,000 families in different locations such as riverine areas and chars, according to Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2010. Extreme poverty is often chronic and lasts for years affecting generation after generation.

    To bring down extreme poverty, all stakeholders, both public and private, need to take collective action that includes the design and implementation of a national programme to enable these families to be engaged with the market. MA Quader Sarker, secretary to RDCD, said, “We’ll do everything to ensure that the extreme poor have a fair chance at a free and dignified life.”

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

    Families from Gaibandha

    The manifesto to eradicate extreme poverty proposes three actions:

    1. Design and implement a national programme of livelihood transforming initiatives to rapidly eradicate extreme poverty from Bangladesh.
    2. Systematically monitor and reform public services and social protection transfers to prioritise the need of extreme poor.
    3. Promote the institutional, policy and behavioral changes needed to address the root causes of extreme poverty.

    Time table for action:

    Action Year
    2014-2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
    Design and implement a national programme of livelihood transformative initiatives to rapidly eradicate extreme poverty from Bangladesh. Design the national Programme to eradicate extreme poverty National Programme for the eradication of extreme poverty implemented Bangladesh Free from extreme poverty
    Number of extreme poor families (ref HEIS lower poverty line)
    Raise $3 bn resources for implementation 6m 5m 4m 3m 2m 1m
    Systematically monitor and reform public services and social protection transfers to priorities the need of extreme poor. Dialogue with all public service providers regarding service provision to the extreme poor Systematic reform of public services to improve targeting and address issues of exclusion A system in place that keeps people out of extreme poverty and supports the recovery of those who fall back
    National Social Protection Reform Strategy
    Promote the institutional, policy and behavioral changes needed to address the root causes of extreme poverty A national public policy dialogue about the type of society and economy that Bangladesh wants for the future with a focus on issues of pro poorest income distribution, inclusiveness and gender equity. National Consensus and commitment on the principles of and measures needed to establish a poverty free nation.
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  • A day with Kanchan

    Swarnima Shrestha
    October 17th, 2014

    I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.

    Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.

    The Flashback …

    Kanchan in front of her house

    The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.

    A total of nine people shared these two rooms.

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.

    That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.

    She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.

    For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.

    The Change in the scene …

    After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.

    While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.

    Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.

    At present …

    But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.

    It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.


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  • “Innovation” on low cost faecal sludge collection and transportation

    Sofrul Islam
    October 17th, 2014

    Safe management of faecal sludge is a big challenge for Bangladesh. Only Dhaka City has sewerage facilities for about 22% of the city, which is insignificant compared to the whole country.

    To manage this sludge, people mainly depend on an unsafe manual process which is bad for the environment. Sweepers mainly use traditional equipment like a bucket and rope to collect the sludge from the pit and dump into the nearby open water body, drain, or on open land which is harmful for their health and for others.

    vacutag3Most cities and towns have no management system for sewerage due to a lack of capacity, awareness and willingness.  One type of modern pit emptying equipment available in the market is Vacutag which is very much costly not only for the municipality but also for the private entrepreneur and sweeper.

    The MAWTS Vacutag is very expensive and loan providing institutions both public and private are not interested enough to provide financial support to entrepreneurs for providing this service as a business. In this context, we have developed a low cost 1300 liter capacity mechanized covered van  through our metal development center at Faridpur for sludge transportation to the treatment site and a submersible pump for sludge collection. The cost is around 180,000 Bangladesh Taka (£1454) for the mechanized van and 55000 Bangladesh Taka  (£444) for the submersible pump.

    This is being tested in the field by Practical Action

    Collected from: Dipok Chandra Roy, Programme Manager, Urban Services Programme

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  • Giving voices to slum dwellers – a step towards reducing inequality

    October 17th, 2014

    The rapid urbanisation over the past decade does not go unnoticed in a developing country like Nepal.  As a result of fact, it not only brings economic instability but also a reasonable rise in slums and squatter settlements which needs a proper attention.  By 2030, about 3 billion people will need proper housing and access to water and sanitation systems, states UN-Habitat.  According to a study conducted in 2008 by the United Nations, 47 settlements were identified on the banks of different rivers in the Kathmandu Valley with a precarious living condition which were prone to landslides and flood.  The majority of people living in slums are mostly affected by a decade long conflict which forced them to flee their homes and enter the city hoping for a better job opportunity. While rest of Kathmanduites live in concrete houses, the slum dwellers have to spend their entire lives in shanties along the ever-bad-smelling river sides. And they have nowhere to go, to put forth their voices. They have no access to the facilities provided by the municipality like drinking water connection. That’s a case of sheer inequality.

    iud2On the occasion of World Habitat Day, a one day national workshop on “Voices from slums” was organised jointly by Ministry of Urban Development, UN-Habitat and Lumanti in Jawalakhel on 10 October 2014.  Representatives from different slum/ squatter areas, municipalities and government offices participated in the workshop. The objective of the workshop was to give a platform for the slum dwellers to voice their experiences, knowledge and ideas on improving their living conditions.  “In Nepal, the voices of slums are often unheard by the municipalities and the government officials, hence the workshop aims to serve as a bridge between slum dwellers and the concerned parties,” said Mr. Padma Sundar Joshi, Habitat Program Manager- UN Habitat.

    In addition, Practical Action is also actively involved in promoting systems of decentralised urban governance in Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities through “Delivering Decentralisation- Slum Dwellers’ Access to Decision-making for Pro-poor Infrastructure Services”.  The project aims to empower slum dwellers so that they are engaged effectively in decision-making and delivering improved urban services.  The cases of Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities are also not different from that of Kathmandu slum dwellers.  The slum/ squatter areas are on the river banks and on the foot of a hill which can be easily struck by natural disasters, such as landslides and floods.

    “Slum dwellers who are from marginalised community cannot afford to buy land and also the ones who are living in squatters have not received any legal land certificates,” claimed Ms. Durga Shakya, a representative for Butwal slum dwellers.  Ms. Shakya urged the government to take an immediate action on the issue.  Likewise, Mr. Binod G.C, a representative for Bharatpur slum dwellers shared, “In 2011, the government distributed a temporary land certificate to some of us and more than 50 percent are yet to receive the certificates.  On top of that, with the temporary land certificates, we are unable to apply for loans and credits from banks.”  Mr. G.C voiced his frustration and sought justice from the government.

    In spite of the burgeoning urbanisation, ensuring a proper living condition, water and sanitation is one’s rights.  Therefore, if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, it is “Our” responsibility too.  I pledge we all join hands together and listen to their voices.  I hope the voices of slums will be heard and justice be served.  It will be a major step towards reducing the inequality faced by them. Hallelujah!

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  • Choices of working women

    Sara-Jane Brown
    October 17th, 2014

    I’m a working mother. I choose to work because I love what I do.

    However I do feel under pressure to create the perfect life work balance and I do feel I’m being judged when people ask how many days a week I work and how long after having my baby did I return to work. I’m lucky, I have a great support system and my partner is very hands on. But has anyone asked my partner these questions? No. Does he feel pressure to make sure he is spending enough time with our child compared to furthering his career? I doubt it. Would he have the same considerations if he was offered his perfect job somewhere a bit further from home? Of course not.

    Society now deems it perfectly acceptable for women to work after having a baby but we are still expected to also run the home, cook the dinner, look after and be there for the children in a superwoman type role. The end result is a lot of very tired multi-taskers who may feel like they are spreading themselves too thinly! It’s hard to be a career woman and I imagine this is probably why there aren’t enough women CEO’s and board members in the UK. On the whole women do have to choose between career and home, men don’t. The number of dads and grandparents that are taking on the primary care of children is on the rise but there is still a stigma attached to working career mums.  So much so that Facebook and Apple felt the need to come up with a solution – they will pay for women to freeze their eggs so they can climb the career ladder and then have children.  Really?

    Collecting firewoodBut what about women who have no choice but to work long arduous hours just to feed their family and provide a roof over their heads.  We’re told that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own only 1% of the means of production. In remote Zimbabwean villages women farm day after day with their children strapped to their backs, and walk miles to the nearest water source for washing, drinking and watering the crops, whilst the men work away in South Africa. In Sudan women walk miles and miles over dangerous terrain, risking rape and violence, just to collect sparse firewood.  That’s then used for cooking on stoves that pollute the air so much it is slowly killing them and their family. And in Bangladesh women spend hours growing crops and looking after livestock only for the monsoon floods to wipe the crops, animals and their home away, year after year. This is an inequality.

    The good news is that my employer, Practical Action, is working closely with these women in a variety of ways such as; introducing irrigation, crop rotation, more resilient seeds, smoke and wood free cook stoves, flood resistant crops and early weather warning systems to help them to improve their lives.  But there are millions more who need our help to overcome the inequalities of their life. Find out how you can help.

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  • What is Technology Justice?

    Roselinda Marange
    October 16th, 2014

    Technology is a broad term and covers a broad spectrum of aspects of our daily personal and business life.

    Repairing a borehole in Gwanda, ZimbabweFor me, this is a rights based issue, where depending on what one is trying to address, everyone should also be able to determine what technology best works for you and when.  Inequality becomes an issue if people do not have this right or even the knowledge of what ‘technology justice’ is.

    In order to bridge this gap people need to have sufficent knowledge to make appropriate choices for themselves.  This then becomes their art, craft or skill and how this technology is applied in everyday life to improve livelihoods.

    While it is a diverse subject and covers a lot of aspects from personal to business issues, without technology life would be very dismal.   From some of the very basic things that may be considered less important by others such as indoor plumbing, access to clean water, electricity, things which are key either in a home or business environment to things like internet access,  state of the art medical facilities, communication models, transport systems etc.

    Technology is good as long as it does not bring about technological process that results in the depletion of natural resources and for me this is where the inequality becomes an issue.  When others are deprived of natural resources as a result of someone else’s use of a certain technology, then that technology is no longer good.  We need technology that does not impact negatively on other people’s lives either directly or indirectly.  If this is the case then there is justice and makes life so much easier if well-done and well-developed.

    In summary, technology has the potential to create a high standard of living and improve livelihoods.   When everything has been said and done, I feel that Technology Justices ensures that it is every person’s right to choose and to have access to basic needs and need or service being the operative word here starting from an individual perspective to a commercial one.  Clean water, energy access and shelter are some of the things that come to mind.

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  • Life can be changed by access to energy and water

    Joseph Hwani
    October 16th, 2014

    In Zimbabwe 37% of households have access to grid  electricity of which 83% are in urban areas and 13% are in rural areas, these are mainly schools, growth points, business centers and mission stations.  There is significant  inequality  between  urban and  rural access to electricity. Most rural households depend on traditional fuels for their energy needs, resulting in deforestation and hazardous indoor pollution.

    In rural Zimbabwe the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. Having seen this Practical Action is promoting the use of decentralized renewable energy schemes (off-grid) which have potential to meet the social and economic energy demands of the rural population in a sustainable manner. In electricity, off-grid can be stand-alone systems (SHS) or mini-grids typically to provide a smaller community with electricity. Off-grid electrification is an approach suited to communities with little access to electricity, due to scattered or distant populations such as Mashaba – Gwanda, Zimbabwe.

    The ‘Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC)’ project will be implemented in Gwanda in Matebeland South in an effort to meet the key energy needs for the targeted communities. Mashaba is a rural area about 140km from Gwanda Town and has no access to grid electricity, which is 15km away. The area is an agro based region which is highly dependent on irrigation agriculture which currently uses diesel irrigation pumps which are expensive and dirty. The area has two irrigation schemes (Mankonkoni and Rustlers Gorge) with a total of 56 ha irrigable land and there is potential of adding another 60 ha irrigation scheme (Sebasa). There are business centers, a clinic, and a school which all need energy.

    The Mashaba solar mini-grid is an exciting project that has the potential to greatly improve the socio-economic status of Mashaba communities. This will go some way in redressing the inequalities of rural energy access.

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