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  • Knowledge for resilient livelihoods – Bidhya’s story

    Upendra Shrestha

    April 27th, 2016

    This story dates back to couple of months ago when I visited one of the Practical Action projects in mid-west Nepal. Funded by the Zurich Foundation, the Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) is building the resilience of vulnerable communities to flood risks.

    Bidhya in her mushroom farm

    Bidhya in her mushroom farm

    I met a very enthusiastic beneficiary of the project – Ms Bidhya Kumari Chaudhary (28). During our conversation she was happy to describe how the project helped her to increase her resilience to flood.

    Bidhya lives in Rajapur, Bardiya with her 10-member family. Her husband is a contract farmer and income of her husband is scarcely sufficient to maintain the expenditure of the family members’ basic needs. Due to the low income of the family they were not able to make any saving from the income which they could utilise responding to their needs in hard times.

    However, now things have changed since Bidhya learned about mushroom farming from NFRP.  With this practical knowledge she started farming and since last year (2015) she was able to make 10 thousand Nepali rupees (around US$ 100) from it. She invested this income in goats.

    Bidhya with her goats

    Bidhya with her goats

    Now she has four goats as the goats she purchased gave birth to two kids. She earned another 10 thousand rupees from mushroom farming this year, out of which she invested six thousand rupees in her children’s education and household needs and saved four thousand rupees.

    This year Bidhya is planning to expand her mushroom farming and expects that she will be able to make a profit of 30 to 40 thousand rupees. To take her farm to a commercial level, she is now asking the NFRP to connect her with a good input service provider for mushroom seeds.

     

    How all these made Bidhya and her family resilient to floods

    Bidhya’s village is at risk of floods from the Karnali River every year during the monsoon season. Earlier, due to lack of savings the family was vulnerable to the effect of floods and used to take long time to revert back to the same socio-economic condition. But now since she has an extra income and savings, she thinks that it has increased the resilience of her family. She says,

    “With the increased income and savings I feel more resilient to floods and other hazards as I can use the savings to rebuild my livelihood.”

    Bidhya has become the vice president of the Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC). She understands the early warning system procedures established by the NFRP well and instructs fellow villagers about the early warning signals, communications channels, evacuation route and safer shelter.

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  • It’s a happier life with biogas

    Refaat Bashir Mohamed

    April 26th, 2016

    Biomass energy (firewood, charcoal, and crop residues) makes up more than 80% of primary energy consumption in Sudan. Over many years, it has become evident that high dependence on biomass energy is a major factor in forest cover depletion, environmental degradation and desertification. Successive drought cycles that have stricken the Sudano-Sahelian countries since the early 1970s, and from then on, Sudan has suffered lasting, disastrous effects and the encroachment of the desert. The desert and semi-desert represent 51.5% of the total area, and if the low rainfall savannah zone is added, the figure jumps to more than 80.6%. This indicates that the problem of desertification and desert encroachment is of a serious magnitude in the Sudan. The total area affected by desertification amounts to around 1.3 million square kilometers (50.5% of the total area of the country).

    biogas KassalaIn the far east of Kassala state, birds sing remorsefully.  They have no shady trees in which to build their nests.  The trees stand bare because their branches are cut by villagers for shelter, lighting, heating and cooking food. Children are denied the chance to play games under the trees’ shadow as the trees are naked of leaves. Animals do their best to find shade after their long journey fetching fodder. Women and girls were always in the bushes collecting firewood for cooking shouldering their fear of the unknown with the risk of wild animals and sexual assault.  This situation had evoked compassion in policy makers, development practitioners, and development organizations to lend a hand to those vulnerable groups with special focus on women and children.

    The majority of the rural and peri-urban poor in Sudan rely on fuel wood or charcoal for cooking on inefficient stoves or three stone fires, and on kerosene and candles for light. This programme aims to reduce the consumption of biomass energy (wood and charcoal) which has devastating environmental and health effects particularly for women and girls who are primarily responsible for cooking.

    biogas KassalaPractical Action Sudan’s objective is to improve the social welfare of the peri-urban and rural population, contribute to poverty reduction and gender equality and to reduce the environmental impact of energy by having access to clean, reliable and affordable energy services for 20,000 direct beneficiaries and 595,000 indirect beneficiaries by 2017.

    Practical Action, as key player in this field, brought together governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to adopt Total Energy Access (TEA) as an approach to define and deliver energy to the billions of poor people who need it.

    Sustainable Energy for All

    The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative has three goals:

    1. Achieving universal energy access
    2. Doubling the annual rate of energy efficiency
    3. Doubling the share of renewables in the global energy mix

    Practical Action Sudan has a wealth of experiences in achieving access to clean energy which is affordable, accessible and available, through the promotion of user friendly technologies such as improved stoves, LPG gas and recently a biogas pilot project.

    The biogas pilot project was implemented in Elgabrat and Shambob in close collaboration with Program Development Fund (PDF), Sudan University for Science and Technology (SUST), the World Bioenergy Association (WBA Sweden) with research capacity from the Kassala Women’s Development network (KWDAN) and the Elgandoul network. It covers four dimensions:

    Health

    Zahra biogas KassalaWHO reported that 4.3 million people, mainly women and children, die each year from Indoor Air Pollution.  The  use of firewood for cooking also causes numerous respiratory diseases as well as headaches, runny nose and red eyes and  diseases.

    Zahra from Shambob spoke to the team,

    “You can see yourself that my family is free from allergic and other respiratory diseases and accordingly no more money is paid to cure such diseases, thank God, Biogas is innocent from all these crimes”.

    Social

    Unfortunately it is women and girls who shoulder the burden of walking long distances to fetch firewood for cooking. Hence they were vulnerable to sexual hazards, dropped out of school dropout and were unable to meet their household obligations as well as having insufficient time for leisure with their family. Biogas released them from this trap.

    Economic

    Most of poor family’s income is devoted for securing charcoal and firewood for domestic use, such as cooking and lighting, at the expense of other things such as school fees, clothes, shelter improvement and other social obligations. Biogas is a breakthrough in improving the livelihoods of poor families.  Animal dung is no longer on the rubbish heap in the backyard and annoying the neighbours, it actually contributes to the eradication of poverty of poor and marginalized groups, and creates of new employment opportunities and income generation sources.  It has opened a window and given a new spark of hope for a better tomorrow to a vast number of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

    Mohammed Osham from Elgabarat village said,

    “Now I can tear up the invoices of charcoal and fire wood for cooking!”

    One great challenge still is the high cost of the biogas unit ($400) which is unaffordable not only for lower income groups but also for middle income ones.

    Environmental

    Numerous environmental hazards result from the massive cutting of trees for firewood and other purposes.  There is drastic deforestation, land erosion, desertification, shortage of fodder, little underground water storage, poor rainfall, and even limited biodiversity. Now the turning point is that biogas can leapfrog older technologies of obtaining cooking energy (firewood and charcoal) and invest in cheaper and more environmentally friendly technologies which sustain the environment for generations to come.

    Biogas addresses the issue of inequitable access to energy and contributes to technology justice.

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  • Nepal earthquake: my country one year on

    Today marks the year anniversary since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated my country. I have just returned from Ashrang – a village in Nepal that was near the epicentre of the earthquake. One year on, houses still lie in ruins and children are terrified – too scared to sleep.

    A house lies in ruins in the village of Ashrang, Gorkha, Nepal

    A house lies in ruins in the village of Ashrang, Gorkha, Nepal

    I still remember the last time I visited Ashrang in Gorkha back in 2014. I was up on the roof of one of the schools overseeing the entire village. The view was just amazing. I could not get enough of it.

    It was early morning and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Kids were playing with a ball, dogs were barking and men were singing and laughing as they walked down the hill with a shovel and a plough. I sat there for a while gazing at the scene.

    Fast forward two years and I was at the same place but this time things had changed dramatically. Life here was at a complete halt. After the massive earthquake in April 2015, Ashrang was completely shattered.

    As I walked down the streets, I could see ruined houses left unattended and piles of rubble at every turn, as if it just happened yesterday.

    I spotted an elderly man sitting alone in front of a small transitional shelter (t-shelter). His clothes were shabby, eyes were blood-flecked and face was timeworn.

    Nepal earthquake victim Khadananda Bhatta, 79, in front of his shelter in Ashrang, Gorkha

    Khadananda Bhatta, 79, in front of his shelter

    Mr Khadananda Bhatta, aged 79, has been living under the t-shelter since his house collapsed in the earthquake.

    “One of my sons is in Canada and the other one is in Malaysia,” he said. I am waiting for their arrival. Until then I am taking refuge under this shelter.” His voice was weak and fragile.

    “Sometimes I go to bed on an empty stomach…Lately it’s too cold to even sleep at night.”

    “Sometimes I go to bed on an empty stomach because it is too much work for me to cook.  If I feel like eating, I cook; if not then I just ignore it. Lately, it’s too cold to even sleep at night; I can’t wait for the sun to come out.”

    I can see the feeling of despair and loneliness in his eyes. He is counting days until he is reunited with his sons but it seems to be a battle for him to keep going.

    I came across another small t-shelter where a family of eight people was taking refuge. I asked a mum who was holding a small baby about the earthquake.

    Sajida with her family inside her emergency shelter.

    Sajida with her family inside her emergency shelter.

    Mrs Sajida Khatun, aged 27, was eight months pregnant when the first earthquake struck. She was feeding her four-year-old son when suddenly everything started to shake. “I thought this was the end and I was going to die. The thing that bothered me the most was the baby inside me who hadn’t seen the outside world yet,” she said.

    The roof of the house started to crumble and the walls fell apart. Sajida grabbed her son and rushed towards the exit. Her in-laws and brothers in-laws were already out. They ran to the nearby open space and sat there as they watched their house turn into rubble. “It was very surreal,” she said.

    “The only thing that that kept me alive was hope.”

    There were many aftershocks that followed. Sajida recalls the following months to be the worst of her life. “The nights were long and cold and we had barely anything to eat. The only thing that that kept me alive was hope.”

    On 17 May she gave birth to a baby boy. There were continual aftershocks and they were still living under a tarpaulin. She was more worried about the baby than herself. “I tried to keep the baby warm by covering him up with whatever I could find, from bed sheets to rugs but I was not able to prevent him from getting jaundice,” she sobbed.

    For almost a week, she did not even get medicine for her little one. The village health post ran out of supplies. “We would wait inside the tarpaulin hoping for someone to appear with food and medicine supplies, it was like building a castle in the air,” she said. She was embittered against the odds of nature but was thankful to the relief effort shown by Practical Action and our partner Goreto-Gorkha.

    “If it was not for Practical Action, who knows, I wouldn’t be chatting with you at this very moment,” she said.

    Practical Action’s emergency relief and recovery work

    Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicenter of the earthquake.Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicenter of the earthquake.

    Practical Action emergency relief supplies arriving in a village in the Gorkha district at the epicentre of the earthquake.

    Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to provide life-saving food, repair drinking water systems and footpaths and construct temporary shelters and toilets for more than 7,000 households at the earthquake’s epicenter. We also trained people in activities to improve their livelihoods.

    But what has worried me is people’s lives after we completed this recovery work. What will happen to Sajida and Khadananda? Will their lives be normal again? I am sure there are many people who have been having sleepless nights in extreme weather conditions, hoping for a better shelter and basic living standard.

    All they need is a simple house

    It is time for us to place ourselves in the shoes of the vulnerable ones and help them achieve what they deserve. I do not want to see their basic rights of human survival being denied nor do I want to see their hopes being washed away. We are not talking big here; all they need is a simple house with a basic living standard where one can enjoy a good night’s sleep.

    The monsoon season is not far away. The thought of children having to shelter from its deluge under just a few windblown tarpaulins fills me with sadness.

    People like Sajida and Khadananda have suffered so much, which is why it is vital to build earthquake-proof houses now. This is a once in a generation chance for people to build safer, stronger homes like the ones we had already built in the Kaski district, which withstood last April’s earthquake.

    Practical Action’s long-term work to rebuild lives in Nepal

    We’re embarking on the next phase of our earthquake work in Nepal – helping families Build Back Better. This not only means building homes that will withstand future earthquakes, but also stopping families from inhaling smoke from open fires in their homes that slowly kills them, by installing smoke hoods into the new homes.

    We will improve agriculture productivity and rural income, food and nutritional security. We also intend to rebuild and improve drinking water supplies and provide energy services.

    How you can help people Build Back Better in Nepal

    You can find out more on what we’re doing here. But we can only do this with your help. Please support our Build Back Better programme and give families like Sajida’s hope for the future.

    I hope to see the same smiling faces of those innocent kids, the never ending humours of those hardworking men, and the village that once was the beauty of Ashrang Gorkha. Amen!

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  • Sustainable Development Goal 11 and South Asian urban poverty

    Halim Miah

    April 15th, 2016

    The South Asian region comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, The Maldives and Afghanistan. It accounts for 14% of the world urban population and by 2050 most of the population of South Asian countries will be residing in urban areas. However the future for South Asia is greater urban population although most parts of individual countries are rural in nature.

    Urban population of South Asian Region

    Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

    Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

    Urbanisation has happened unevenly.  Some megacities have a high concentration of urban population like Delhi, Mumbai, Dhaka, Korachi, Kolkata and Colombo. But there is unequal resource concentration in some areas of those countries and a large population forced to migrate from rural areas.  People migrate for reasons like disasters, conflicts and there are also some pull factors like employment and standard of living.

    Dhaka is the epicentre of Bangladesh’s urban expansion. The World Bank labeled it the world’s fastest growing city, with an estimated 300,000 to 400,00, mainly poor, rural migrants arriving each year. (MHHDC: 2014;World Bank: 2007). A study by the Power and Participation Research Centre in 2010 revealed that only 21% of urban populations were born in the city they resided and this dropped to 16% for Dhaka (PPRC, 2010).

    Table1: Urbanization in South Asia, 2011, UNDP 2014

    Country Urban Population (1000) % of total population living in urban areas Annual rate of change of urban  population (1980-2011)
    India 388,286 31.3 2.87
    Pakistan 63,967 36.2 3.41
    Bangladesh 42,698 28.4 4.19
    Afghanistan 7,613 23.5 4.05
    Nepal 5,176 17.0 5.74
    Sri Lanka 3,175 15.1 0.37
    Bhutan 263 35.6 5.96
    Maldives 132 41.2 4.38
    South Asia 511,309 30.9 3.04

    Disparities in urban areas

    South Asia is the second fastest growing region of the world, with most of the economic growth taking place in urban areas while cities contribute three quarters of the region’s economic output. Though cities make a major contribution to economic growth only a minority benefit from this.  We see high rise buildings and luxurious apartments alongside shanty houses on the street and the growth of slums where millions of poor people live.  The number of slums show the extreme inequality of South Asian cities. 35% of the urban population live in slums in South Asia (State of the World’s Cities 2012/13).

    The  Mahbub ul Haq Centre report 2014 reveals that the extent of urban poverty cannot be understood only by income indicators, it should also focus on its intensity and severity. The urban poor have to buy everything at a higher cost than others and are unable to earn enough to attain a decent standard of living. Besides, income, the poverty of urban people in developing countries also deprives them of benefits like health, education and gender equality.  More than a fifth of children of urban areas in poor and middle income countries are estimated to be stunted and the incidence is higher among lower income groups. A recent ICCDR,B study in Bangladesh shows that three out of four slum households are in the lowest two quintiles (poorest and poorer)  compared with one in five in  non-slum areas.

    Table 2: Socio-economic Status Index, Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2013, ICDDR,B

    Wealth quintiles City corporation slum City corporation non-slum Other urban
    Poorest 41.9 7.4 27.5
    Poorer 32.5 14.3 22.4
    Middle income 18.5 19.3 21.5
    Richer 6.1 24.5 19.3
    Richest 1.0 34.4 9.2
    Total 100 100 100
    Total Households 14,806 25,385 10,707

    This study also reveals that only 45% of women in slums completed at least primary education compared with 79% in non-slum and 69% in other urban areas.

    Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth

    Cities are the dominant drivers of the South Asian economy attracting huge numbers of people and generating significant economic activity. According to UN-ESCAP urban centres  contribute three quarters of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP).   The service sector makes a significant contribution to the total GDP of these countries. Earlier the agriculture sector played a major role but gradually the economic contribution of agriculture in these countries has been shrinking significantly.

    The South Asian economy has scope to improve its growth with development initiatives for cities and urban people.  To make cities liveable for current and future generations  as well as places of innovation,  it is essential to make existing economic growth inclusive. However the rate of urban poverty is lower than the rural poverty but the total number of poor people in urban area is alarming. For the sustainability of recent economic achievement in poverty reduction urban development initiatives must address poverty reduction. Recent population growth and trends show rapid urbanization, but development policies in South Asian countries are biased towards rural initiatives as the majority of the population live in rural areas.

    #SDGs 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainableSustainable Development Goal 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG11)

    All United Nations countries have committed to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years.  In this global development agenda goal 11 gives priority to urban settlements with 10 targets.  The first is to ensure safe housing and basic services and upgrade slums and the third is to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacities for participatory integrated sustainable human settlement planning and management.

    Practical Action has successfully implemented this kind of urban development project in the South Asian region (Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) in the project Delivering Decentralization: Slum Dwellers Access to Decision making for pro-poor Infrastructure Services (IUD-II Project). The objective was to build the capacity of 44,260 slum dwellers, their organisations and six Local Authorities to plan, deliver and sustain community-led infrastructure services. The project, enabled the most excluded urban poor (untouchables/dalits) to negotiate with city authorities for their infrastructure development, raising funds by themselves for their own community development in addition to municipality grants.  Poor people’s access to other government and development agencies resources has increased, along with the influencing capacity of community organizations, the empowerment of women and raised income levels with demand led skills development.  This project could provide a model for designing similar projects in other cities by linking it with SDG11.

     

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  • Integrated Resource Planning and the April Energy Engagement Series

    Glen Burnett

    April 14th, 2016

    What happens when we approach energy access from a perspective of how to provide energy services instead of simply focusing on expanding the supply of kilowatt hours? Underserved populations require consideration of latent demand as well as supply options, but to do this, planners often have to change how they approach these issues.

    At Practical Action and WRI’s most recent Energy Engagement Series event in Washington, DC,  Gilberto Jannuzzi talked about his work in Brazil delivering energy efficiency programs for low income urban households in Brazil. He’s a champion of Integrated Resource Planning (IRP), an energy planning tool which is able to evaluate both demand side and supply side resources to best meet future energy requirements of a region. What follows is a summary of our group discussion, though, if you’d like to see some of the handouts used for talking points, you might like to read those here.

    IRP looks at the developmental needs of a country, the potential for energy supply that energy service providers can deliver, and the other resources available.  Integrated Resources Planning (IRP) is one tool that can help include these opportunities in an energy planning process.

    The process for Integrated Resource Planning

    The process for Integrated Resource Planning

    At the top of this, you see the national plans set out by a government. Inside of this discussion a major part of IRP depends on setting parameters around what resources you are considering who you want to work with, etc. Our group discussed how this is often an area where the most advocacy needs to be done for disempowered groups, and it is also the area where planners really need to make sure that all voices are being heard. Once parameters are set, there is an attempt to connect the efforts of energy planners (listed along the left side inside this parameter box), and the developmental targets. Energy planning is pretty quantitative, and is within the comfort zone of the planners who are usually involved, but developmental targets are a more complex space, because they require stakeholder consultations, and inputs that come from outside the energy space. These two components are used to analyse how to use resources for given aims. In this way IRP shifts the conversation from one about how to increase kilowatt hours to how to better use existing resources.

    IRP can be used to figure out how consumers will use energy, but how you determine the consumer patterns you want to have depends a lot on who is doing the IRP in the first place.

    Another useful application of IRP is deciding pricing. It’s an issue for customers and utilities. Even though people may be connected they aren’t able to afford it. In addition, some of the subsidy schemes in Brazil mean that energy companies supply lighting and refrigerators as part of a required subsidy. But since they often supply high energy consuming products, their customers can’t pay for it, and stop using it a year after it is given through the subsidy. Energy efficiency really helps here, and IRP can be used to weigh the benefits of that. For example, a focus on rooftop solar pv could be used to sell energy back to the grid in poorer environments, which can then offset the cost of the service when it is used in the home, and can also help eliminate subsidies or tariffs over time.

    A great example of this from Brazil was two separate utilities that looked at IRP holistically, considering resources including recyclable products. Because IRP was also looking at trash collection services, as one of the resources to consider, they realized that poor customers could pay their energy bill by recycling goods for cash in conjunction with the energy utility. As a result, more goods are recycled than would have been, and energy bills get paid. Interestingly, the price for recycled products is set on the energy content, and it is all done using the mobile phone.

    Our group discussed how you might do this in other countries. For example, REDD+ programs for deforestation in Sierra Leone have an uncertain future due to a loss in funding. Our group discussed how to change accounting so it could use trees as a resource that could then pay for energy use.

    One major question is who owns the IRP process.  In Brazil it should go to the National Energy Commission. But this depends on the players in the energy system. For example, in some energy markets the private sector utilities might be best positioned to champion IRP, if government has issues with corruption or inefficiency.

    IRP is ultimately conceptual. It won’t fit everything but it is a good approach for initial mapping, and it changes the focus from one that only talks about technology to a focus that also considers the influences around a given energy technology, helping eliminate technology bias that is sometimes common in government evaluations.

    IRP has challenges getting data, and dealing with trends. From the planning perspective there is  have a power balance issue, for example, in Brazil, there are serious influences for the supply side, as the hydropower sector is very powerful.

    One question is who makes the call for the mix of energy use versus resource recovery. Starting with the right criteria is needed from the beginning, and it often times requires feedback from many different stakeholders. This takes time. Multi-criteria decision making assigns weights that the regulator then chooses to prioritize one effort over another.  For more equity, you have to have civil society absolutely engaged, as they can better represent the needs of energy customers with less social capital. For example, In South Africa, NGOs get trained to do IRP. If you target groups that can serve as multipliers, that can be a good strategy.

    But it also sheds a light on a different part of this discussion: TVs and refrigerators are often times the first things that populations want when they get energy access. But perhaps there is a time when a call should be made to prioritize one energy approach over another.

    The IRP approach sometimes brings out the need for soft support, for example, teaching people on usage, changing values etc. One example of this was a solar and diesel plant in the Amazon which ran well, but then users began to use refrigerators, which pushed the need for diesel power. To overcome this, they looked at replacing refrigerators and build an ice factory that could use solar power instead, but the challenge was that refrigerators had such a strong cultural link, which would require more of the soft side of engagement.

    At the same time, IRP is only as good as those that use it. For example, South Africa, by law, is supposed to use IRP, but in our meeting people stated that in practice, the result is that the choice comes down to bringing on whatever ESCOM the utility wants. IRP may still help with thinking that through, so even in this case, South Africa has made some decisions that show its influence.

    One issue that was also found in Brazil is that planners are not always interested in overall savings. They don’t do planning to provide for undeserved people. IRP is a different way to consider supply, thinking about how to alter where resources go, using the same energy supply and giving it to different groups. But the concept is still tough to grasp, because planners are often thinking about how to get more kilowatts into an energy system, not how to use what they have more efficiently.

    In addition to being a fellow at WRI, Jannuzzi is also the Executive Director of the International Energy Initiative , a Southern-conceived, Southern-led and Southern-located South-South-North partnership.

    If you’d like to join us at a future Energy Engagement Series event in the US, join our mailing list by clicking here. Next month’s event will be on how health centers and schools can be used to bring energy into communities that otherwise wouldn’t have access.

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  • Krishi call centre helps fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    Halim Miah

    April 8th, 2016

    Krishi Call Centre, a low cost solution to the extension challenges of the fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    “Hello, I am Ahsan Habib from Kishoreganj, my fishes are dying due to skin ulcer. What are the treatment measures for carp ulcerative syndrome? “

    Ahsan Habib is a small scale farmer. He has a pond with an area of 60 decimal (800 sq m approx). He farms carp, tilapia and local catfish in his pond. This season he stocked his pond with carp and tilapia fish. But, during first week of January he discovered his fish were dying with red ulcers on their bodies.

    He knew about the Krishi Call Centre from one of his neighbours, so he called 16123 for suggestions. The fisheries executive suggested he use lime and salt to disinfect the pond water and KMnO4 (potassium permanganate) to help the fish recover. After two days he called back to say that his fish were better now and wanted some suggestions for a proper feeding scheme. After few months, we learned that Mr. Shahidul saved his fishes and expected a 60 to 70,000 (£6,000-7,000) taka net profit. Every day Krishi Call Centre gets this type of call from local farmers about their problems.

    Fisheries for poverty reduction

    fishery BangladeshAttaining higher fisheries growth is a key factor in poverty alleviation in rural areas. Bangladesh has extensive aquatic resources and fish and fisheries are an indispensable part of the lives and livelihood of the people of this country.

    Bangladesh is a south Asian country, situated between latitude 20°34′ and 26°39′ north and longitude 80°00′ and 92°41′ east.  Hundreds of river crisscross the country. The river water is the soul of our country and provides fertility for our motherland. The climate of Bangladesh is congenial to fisheries and the country is endowed with many inland bodies of water. Our country has productive freshwater fisheries comprising 6,27,731 hectares of enclosed water and 40,24,934 of open water. The Bay of Bengal marine resources covers a huge area of 46,99,345 hectares. Bangladesh has 710 km of coastline and 25,000 sq. km of coastal area with a huge population, supporting a variety of land uses.

    The deltaic country is rich in fishery resources including 260 freshwater fish species, 475 marine fish species, 24 freshwater shrimp species, 36 marine shrimp species and other important species. In 2013-2014  Bangladesh produced 34,10,254 tons of fishery products and fish provides about 60% of our daily animal protein intake. In Bangladesh, fisheries sector plays a vital role in our national economy regarding employment generation, animal protein supply, foreign currency earning and poverty alleviation. More than 11% of the total population depends directly and indirectly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood.  The fisheries sector contributes 4.37% to GDP, 23.37% to agricultural GDP and 2.01% of the country’s export earnings. Fish is one of the most familiar, popular, tasty and nutritionally enriched food items of the world including Bangladesh. As a result of the global market economy along with so many food items, garments, and pharmaceutical products,  fish and fishery products also get the opportunity to enter the global market. Thus the fisheries play a crucial role in the national economy of Bangladesh.

    Challenges and opportunities in extension services

    krishiSmall scale pond farming has great potential for contributing to the increase in aquaculture production in coastal regions. These fishery resources are facing a severe threat of depletion because of lack of proper guidelines. The latest communication facilities like newspapers, radio, television and internet are used for disseminating knowledge to farmers.  There is no doubt that ICTs can play a vital role in giving better access to information in a cost effective way to the millions of poor, smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs. Mobile phone based call centers play a role in agribusiness in many countries. In Bangladesh, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions reached 131.085 million at the end of February, 2016.

    It is therefore timely for farmers that the Krishi Call Centre offers real-time advice on farming issues in Bangladesh. The Centre was launched in June 2014 by the Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury by dialing to the number, 16123, whilst addressing the National Digital Fair at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city. This is an initiative between Practical Action and the Agricultural Information Services (AIS), of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    Farmers can call 16123, the number of the centre from any mobile operator to seek advice on any problem related to livestock, fisheries and agriculture production. A farmer from any part of the country can contact to the Krishi Call Centre by dialing mobile number 16123 at the nominal cost  of 0.25 taka for a minute and share their problems/queries related to farming in local dialect. The specialists at the Krishi Call Centre provide suggestions to the farmers immediately. If the call centre operator is unable to address the farmer’s query, they consult with other specialists and then provide feedback.

    The southern part of the country is endowed with vast aquatic resources where aquaculture is a promising sector. But aquaculture is beset with numerous problems, especially disease. Fish farmers face immense problems when their farms are affected by diseases. Very few support centres are available in Bangladesh where they can get crucial information. Sometimes they go to their fisheries officer but fisheries officers are busy most of the time due to lack of enough manpower. It is also almost impossible for officers to visit farms and solve their problems in a single day. Hence, a large number of fish die and farmers lose faith in fish production.

    Another promising sector in aquaculture is shrimp farming.  The government earn a huge amount of foreign currency from this, but its is not free from problems. A viral disease can wipe out a farmer’s whole stock of shrimp and many fish farmers have lost everything. If farmers had enough guidelines regarding shrimp farming, they could easily avoid this horrendous loss.

    DRR and climate change risks solutions in the fisheries sector

    Climate change is an emerging challenge for the fisheries sector. The erratic weather makes our farming and fishing communities more vulnerable. Bangladesh is a low lying country which makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.  It is ranked first in countries affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Every year farmers face massive losses due to heavy rain or flooding. Flooding happens recurrently in some regions in Bangladesh but climate change has made this seasonal phenomenon more unpredictable. Earlier the rainy season lasted from mid of June to September but now it rains even in late of March and carries on until October.

    Practical Answers in Bangladesh have uploaded 500 questions and answers related to DRR and Climate Change adaptation solutions for better farming. These 500 questions and answers have been collected from farmers who are most at risk of flood and other environmental disaster. Zurich Flood Resilience Program has been supporting this. Those questions and answers are validated by the national experts from the Agricultural Information Services and uploaded in the repository of the Krishi Call Centre for answering the questions of farmers throughout the country.

    There are other problems small fish farmers face which hinder them from profiting from their farming, such as feed prices and the adulteration of fish feed. Feed industries do not maintain the appropriate composition of the feed according to their specification. But farmers can prepare their own on farm fish feed with proper guidelines.

    Fish farmers are often exploited by middlemen when they sell their fish to consumers through middlemen. If farmers are regularly updated with price information about their products, they can secure their expected price.

    The government does have some support programs for fisheries and fisher community.  But, due to lack of literacy many farmers cannot attain those services. By asking the Krishi Call Centre a small farmer or new entrepreneur can benefit without intermediaries.

    incoming call rate pie chartAt present of the total incoming calls to Krishi Call Centre, about 71% are agricultural calls, 17% livestock calls and 12% fisheries related. The call rate in case of fisheries is comparatively lower than others. Among the total calls in fisheries, about 43% are disease related, 27% management related, 26% culture related and 4% have other aquaculture related queries. Most of the calls on fisheries come from the northern part but fisheries dominate the middle and southern part of the country. It is necessary to disseminate information about the call centre and its importance to every corner of the country to ensure a golden revolution in our agricultural sectors. Different media workers, newspaper agencies, government offices and NGOs should come forward to publicize Krishi Call Centre services among the grass root level farmers.

    Other contributors: Md. Aminul Islam and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan

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  • Sheep rearing to reduce the impact of climate change

    Anwar Hossain

    April 5th, 2016

    Lessons from the southern coastal area of Bangladesh

    The people of the southern coastal part of Bangladesh are experiencing the severe impacts of climate change on their lives and livelihood. In 2009 the devastating cyclone Aila killed many people and devastated the livelihoods of million in the coastal community of Bangladesh. The severe cyclone and saline water intrusion made their life more vulnerable. It directly affected the natural ecosystems, natural resources and has had a negative impact on the poverty situation and livelihoods, agriculture and food security.

    sheep rearing bangladesh cyclone

    In 2011 there was no grass following Cyclone Aila in 2009. Livestock were struggling to survive without grass and fresh water.

    In 2011-2013 Practical Action Bangladesh piloted a community based adaptation project in the Satkhira district and demonstrated a number of adaptive technologies.  I recently visited the project area and captured the people’s adaptation and the changes in their lives.

    History says once the coastal districts Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat was rich in livestock like buffaloes, cow and goats.  Two recent extreme weather events, cyclones Aila and Sidr, hit this habitat and destroyed it. The intrusion of saline water changed the soil properties for agricultural activities. Due to increased salinity, absence of agricultural practices, lack of grazing land and acute fodder problems, livestock resources were reduced seriously in the coastal area.

    Cultivating saline tolerant native grass

    In 2011-2013 Practical Action Bangladesh demonstrated saline tolerant native grass cultivation and improved management technologies for sheep rearing. Sheep rearing is an important and potentially adaptive livestock option in the context of increased salinity. Sheep are stress tolerant and fond of a local grass named ‘Samna’ grass (scientific name is Parapholis strigosa Sea Hard-Grass in English) is highly saline tolerant (>18ds/m) and adaptive.

    House for sheepRearing sheep is increasing gradually in the coastal area as a household based adaptation and alternative income option. It requires a small house (5 x8 feet)for 5/6 sheep. Sheep eat almost everything. Samna; a local grass is the major feed for sheep and grows well in saline soil.  The grass can be cultivated on land adjacent to the homestead.

    In April the grass has to be transplanted with no tillage. Some urea fertilizer and irrigation may be required for rapid growth. Besides this grass, sheep eat a wide range of feeds like kura (waste from rice husking), and other grasses – whatever is available in the locality or the leaves of trees.

    coastal sheep rearing Bangladesh Vaccination and deworming should follow to avoid diseases and unexpected death. A sheep of 5/6 months could be sold for Tk.1500-2000 (£15-£18). Sheep-dung is used as saar (compost) for vegetable production and as fuel. One can get fuel of Tk.450/monthly from 5/6 sheep for cooking.

    This community has adapted sheep rearing to become an important and potential adaptive livelihood option in the increased salinity context. Sheep rearing can contribute to employment creation and eradication of poverty of the poor and marginal, specially, as household based income generation option, where, employment scope is a major problem.

    Improved breeding and market linkages could also help these farmers to earn more to increase their resilience.

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  • ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ : An experiment that needs further support

    Birupakshya Dixit

    April 4th, 2016

    “Sunalo Sakhi” is a small demonstration project started under the banner of Practical Answers at the beginning of 2016. The local partner CCWD happily agreed to partner with us for 3 months to implement the program in 15 slums of Bhubaneswar. This Bhubaneswar based NGO has strong grass root level presence and as this project was for a small period. We decided to use the already existed groups formed by the local NGO for the successful running of the project.

    The project focussed on educating adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene. Many development organizations have comprehensive programmes on and around this issue. But what made us different from others is the multi faceted campaigning through radio shows, podcasting, individual counselling, focused group discussion, and film screenings in slums and in nearby high-schools.

    We are happy to share that in Bhubaneswar we broadcast the first ever radio show exclusively on menstrual hygiene.

    Some of the notable achievements of this three month project are;

    1. Through radio we are reaching out to directly around 2000 young girls and women in 15 slums
    2. Through our community outreach programme we are reaching out to more than 3000 girls and women.
    3. Through film screening we are reaching out to more than 500 school going girls
    4. 15 Kishori Clubs have been revived with 386 members and many change agents have been identified to keep on sharing the knowledge with their peers

    As the radio has a 25 KM radius cover of Bhubaneswar it is reaching even more adolescent girls of the city than those in our project area. During the radio shows our community workers are ensuring their presence in the field where the adolescent girls are able to ask their questions through telephone calls and our resource person is immediately answering the questions.
    IMG_2637 (Cópia)

    It was really nice to hear the experiences of Usharani, Babita and Auropriya in the sharing workshop. Auropriya said that these shows helped her to prepare herself as she was about to attain puberty. Now she knows how to maintain hygiene during her periods. Usharani and Babita said that this has really helped many young girls as they were not able to ask anyone their concerns and the radio shows have addressed many of the issues of their fellow girls.

    The project has successfully identified many blind beliefs associated with menstruation and developed knowledge products to address those. There are 436 slums in the city and many girls are deprived of such knowledge. I must accept we need further resources to expand the programmes. Hence, we are exploring partnership with some of the like minded organizations. But there are a few key things that I hope the project team will work on:

    1. Sharing our recordings with other community radio stations managed by non-profits and requesting that they broadcast these in their operational areas
    2. Sharing the knowledge products with other organizations
    3. Ensuring Kishori club members keep sharing their knowledge with their peers.

    The sharing meeting opened up new windows to educate more girls in different regions. Using community radio across the state, this kind of programme can now reach out to thousands of other girls in need of resources.  Technology has now forward a step in witnessing a change in the hygiene practice of young girls and we wish to spread this knowledge with more communities.

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  • Voice messages warn communities at risk of flooding

    Halim Miah

    March 29th, 2016

    In 2010 Germanwatch estimated that Bangladesh sustained losses of US$ 1.8 billion in damages between 1993 and 2012 from a variety of natural disasters at a cost equivalent to 1.8% of GDP. The 1998 flooding that affected over two-thirds of the country resulted in estimated damages and losses of over US$2.0 billion, about 4.8% of GDP. Research revealed that improve early warning and weather forecasting (EWF) can reduce loss and damage to lives and property at community level due to recurrent multiple disasters.  A qualitative assessment shows that receiving voice messages via mobile phone saved crops with worth $50,000 for some flood vulnerable communities of Sirajganj, an upstream region in Bangladesh that recurrently faces flood. Voice messages were sent to 250 mobile phone users. This amplified to additional 10-15 households and motivated people living in areas at risk during the last year’s monsoon to prepare against an upcoming flood.flood

    In 2015 dependency on nature and uncertainty of poor farmers like Anisur has changed because they received flood forecasts at community level. As a result they had the opportunity to plan for the flood and protect their lives and resources.

    Practical Answers initiated this bulk voice messages system as an experiment during the monsoon in the Sirajganj district amongst people at risk.  This service system was designed for the Zurich Flood Resilience project in Sirajgnaj district.  The voice message from Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB, Flood Forecasting Centre) said that there was the possibility of raised water height and forecast a risk of flooding for the next five days for communities living by rivers such as Jamuna.

    The original message created by BWDB was shared among a limited number of people. Practical Answers Zurich Flood project team collected the message and disseminated it to 250 stakeholders in  vulnerable communities.  It took an average of 36 hours to process and channell this message through a bulk voice message system to our responsive stakeholders.

    Farmer, Anisur Rahman, lives in Paikpara village by the side of the river Jamuna in Sirajgonj district. He told us how he benefited from this flood forecasting system. He heard the flood forecasting information from a volunteer of the project named Asanur Begum.

    “I have a small pond where I cultivate fish but that pond does not have sufficient boundaries that could protect my fish from flooding.  When there was lower rainfall I could save the fish as the pond did not submerge. Asanur apa, a project volunteer, organized a group meeting and shared the voice message about the rising water of the Jamuna river. Listening to her advice and after hearing the voice SMS I caught most of the fish from my pond and sold them for TK 6000 (£6).  Otherwise all my fish would be gone, as in past years and I could not get this amount of money. Short messages saved my fishes and helped me to earn money by selling the fish. So this message should be continued and we should all be responsive to the messages”.

    Other contributors: Mokhlesur Rahman, Guru Das Biswas and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan

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  • Participatory planning and inclusive urban governance

    S M Alauddin

    March 23rd, 2016

    There has been encouraging evidence in influencing inclusive urban governance necessary to face future challenges of unplanned rapid urbanization taking place in most  developing countries including Bangladesh. Rapid growth of slums is an obvious part of unplanned urbanization. Bangladesh experienced the fastest urbanization compared to other middle income countries, with 6% growth rate per year since independence (UPPR, UNDP, 2011). The urban population was 30% in 532 urban centers (2001), which is likely to be 50 million by 2021 and may exceed 60 million by 2031 (CUS 2008, Bangladesh Urban Forum, 2011).

    Urbanization is a process of development. However, unplanned urbanisation creates a lot of pressures on urban infrastructural services, like, water, sanitation, electricity, drainage facilities, etc. (UPPR, UNDP 2011) as they are often excluded from urban planning and development interventions. Besides pressures on infrastructural services, such rapid growth of unplanned urbanization and slums creates social problems that resulting in suffering for the city dwellers and urban governments.

    The urban poverty rate is 21.3 %, while, 7.7% are extreme poor (HEIS, 2010). However, the urban extreme poor, mostly migrated from rural to urban areas are the main sources of laborers in different urban sectors and the urban economy now contributes 60% of the national economy. But slum dwellers suffer from multiple problems of housing, employment, water and sanitation. So, planned urbanization inclusive with the slum dwellers and low income settlement people is very vital.

    participatory planningPractical Action has worked in 82 communities (slums) across 6 cities in Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka from 2012-2016 with partners following a participatory planning process in collaboration with municipalities. A regional workshop was held on 28 February 2016 in Dhaka to mark the end of the project by sharing its learning and experiences, which, showed remarkable changes on the empowerment and living conditions of the extreme poor.  The project was funded by the European Union and UK Aid.

    This blog is mainly based on the experiences and learning of Bangladesh (Faridpur and Jessore Municipalities). It is relevant to mention that the IUD-I project was implemented in Faridpur Municipality only from 2006-2009. The project covered 30 slums (24 in Faridpur and 06 in Jessore) with 10,962 people (5511 female and 5451 male). Most of them are day laborers, van/rickshaw pullers, cleaners, sweepers, pit-emptiers. Of those, a good number of the laborers are engaged in cleaning for the municipality, hospital/clinics and other Government offices. Open defecation is 6% and 8% respectively, in Faridpur and Jessore Municipalities.

    Participatory planning is an effective tool in mobilizing, engaging and integrating a wide range of stakeholders including community, GO-NGOs and municipality.  It followed steps like community mobilization, formulation of a Settlement Improvement Committee (SIC) formulating Community  Action plans (CAPs) and building a Community Improvement Federation (CIF) in streamlining them in the governance, planning and delivery process of infrastructural services. SIC representatives formulated the Community Action Plan (CAP)/year based on assessment and their priority ranking with existing resources, those included identifying community problems, needs, actions and strategies for implementation. SICs, from the needs assessment, their prioritizing, validation and formulating CAP, engaged representatives of municipalities and relevant stakeholders and finalized the CAPs.

    Diagram

    The process has made the opportunity of participation and empowered the urban poor to reach inclusive urban governance. The CIF (with representatives of all SICs) is now empowered to represent and influence the municipality, district and upazila level Local Government Institutions, IGA, education and other support services. Representatives of SICs and CIFs actively participate in municipality level meetings of TLCC, PRAP, GAP and WMSC and contribute to decision making process including government relief operations during disasters like floods, winter clothes distribution, etc.

    waste collectorsFor the first time in the history of Jessore Municipality, the socially excluded Harijan community participated in a budget sharing meeting. All CAPs formulated by SICs are compiled and again shared and validated by the representatives of municipality, which they integrate with their own plan and make inclusive budget allocation.

    Under PRAP and Gender Action Plan (GAP), the Faridpur Municipality has approved BDT 1,72,00,000.00 for urban poor people for infrastructure services in the fiscal year 2014-15, which, is higher than the previous allocation  of BDT 1,45,70,000.00 of 2013-14 and BDT 1,22,00,000.00 of 2012-13, which reveals the increased investment by the Municipality for the people living in urban slums, their participation and representation in urban governance and contributing to the urban development process. The Mayor of Faridpur has given a room for CIF Secretariat at the Municipality building, which has strengthened poor peoples’ participation and empowerment in inclusive urban governance process and contributing to the urban development, spporting SDG Goal 11 that specifically focus on inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for integrated and sustainable human settlement. The process is adopted in Government UPPR and UGIIP II projects, which need to be scaled up and mainstream throughout the entire urban governance process to the cause of a more safer city and urban lives of the city dwellers.

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