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  • Poverty, Carbon and Sudan

    Margaret Gardner
    April 24th, 2014

    If you were to rank countries in terms of their carbon emissions, where do you think Britain and Sudan would come?

    The answer is we would come 10th and Sudan (including both Sudan and South Sudan) would come 91st. In the UK we produce  8.5 tonnes of carbon per person, Sudan just 0.3. I was therefore shocked when I read some of the comments readers left about a Guardian article on our work in Sudan, written by our own Mary Gallagher.  The article talked about women,  our LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) clean cooking project in Darfur and how we are using carbon financing to help scale it up.

    Some readers questioned whether the work is environmentally friendly – others, much more worrying to me, whether in a carbon constrained world these women should be allowed to use up precious carbon – or should be forced through lack of other options to continue to use wood as fuel.

    I visited this project in 2009 when the work on LPG was just starting.  I am tempted to write THIS IS DARFUR and ask you to imagine what it was like. In reality there was very little water and for poor people little food. The conflict meant that every time a woman left her village she faced the threat of attack. Due to deforestation there were few trees and women had to walk huge distances to collect firewood.

    One woman I spoke with talked about the pain in her neck of carrying heavy burdens  and then placed her hands over her heart and talked about the pain she felt there too (literally not figuratively). Beyond the drudgery, the possibility of assault and rape there were also issues with burning precious wood. Basically the smoke from the cooking fires can kill you –4 million people a year die as a result of indoor air pollution. You die from cancer, from chronic pulmonary disease, etc.  Young children (carried on their mums back or kept inside for safety) are particularly vulnerable.

    I care hugely about climate change but if I was to suggest who should make sacrifices to protect our planet. I wouldn’t start with these women.

    As the project progressed word of its impact spread from woman to woman. The stoves also started to appeal to women who were just unable to collect fire wood and so were burning charcoal. Practical Action realised that there were opportunities for different forms of financing. As I said before, working for Practical Action I wouldn’t  say that these women have no right to use up some carbon – when we in richer nations use so much. But carbon financing offered a great opportunity to reach out to more women and to help them and their families. Because of positive benefits for the environment – cooking with charcoal uses twice as much carbon as cooking with LPG and the move away from wood fuel allows for the possibility of the forests starting to recover and because of the strength and determination of the women the project is flourishing.

    Reading the comments on The Guardian comments I remembered the women I met, I was also very aware that I drive a car and have a gas cooker. I wondered about the carbon usage of those people who had commented negatively – how many times the carbon usage of a woman in Darfur?

    But above all as I wrote in my comment on The Guardian website – in a very sad week in the news   I wanted above all to encourage people to rejoice – we have so little good news in our world – this truly is a positive story.

    If you would like to know more , hear one persons story, get a sense of how we are scaling up this work or even donate http://practicalaction.org/nafisa

    Sudan

     

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  • Adaptation: Science, pessimism and planning

    David Flint
    April 22nd, 2014

    I went to a Castle Debate on climate change earlier this month. It wasn’t – fortunately – a debate but a briefing. It was realistic, and therefore depressing.

    The consensus, based on the latest IPCC report and work by PWC, was that though it’s still POSSIBLE to keep the temperature rise below two degrees it’s likely to be four degrees. That’s not really ‘four degrees’. We’re on track for four degrees by 2100 with substantial increases thereafter. And, given the uncertainties, a likelihood of four degrees means means the possibility of five, maybe more, even by 2100.The first speaker, Dr Celine Herweijer of PWC, presented these facts and the IPCC view on impacts – falling food production, dying coral reefs, loss of summer sea ice from the Arctic. In fact the usual stuff. She also drew attention to the UK’s vulnerabilities – we import 40% of our food and our 350 largest public companies own overseas assets worth £10T (that’s £10,000,000,000,000) many of which are vulnerable to climate change.

    24603 The most vulnerable sectors include energy, mining, utilities and manufacturing.Next up was Anthony Hobley of Carbon Tracker. Hobley acknowledged the science and mentioned that whole civilisations can fail. It’s happened repeatedly in the past though never globally. Of course, ours is the first global civilisation so that qualification is not entirely encouraging. These failures often followed environmental changes and the ruling elites failed to respond because their wealth shielded them from the impacts of those changes until it was too late to act. Hobley did not make the obvious connections but I will:

    • Climate change has increased in parallel with increasing inequality.
    • The super-rich are increasingly powerful and increasingly isolated from the problems that beset the rest of us.
    • London’s economy is increasingly dependent on the richest 1%.
    • Some of them use their wealth to stop governments addressing the problems.
    • Therefore, a sharp reduction in economic inequality is an essential step in addressing climate change.

    But back to the meeting! Hobley tried hard to be encouraging about the prospects for the 2015 UN Climate Change conference in Paris which he clearly regarded as our last hope. However he struggled to be optimistic and implied that the most plausible success scenario was a global crash programme that he called the Lastminute scenario. This is similar to my Emergency Braking scenario.

    The final speaker was Lord Krebs of Wytham. As Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the  Committee on Climate Change he was very well qualified to explain his committee’s thinking and recommendations. In short, last year’s National Adaptation Programme was based on climate projections made in 2012. These projections included rising temperatures and sea levels, drier summers, wetter winters and more extreme weather events. Specifically they expect 1 in 100 year events to occur every ten years.

    So a science-based plan?

    Actually no. In answer to a question from me Krebs explained that the projections were based on two degrees of warming “because that is the government’s target”. He accepted that this approach is inadequate and would need to be revised (though I didn’t get much sense of urgency from his remarks).

    I will go further. The current National Adaptation Programme is essentially dishonest because it implies that it is appropriate to the actual threats. Only a programme based on the most likely projection – four degrees by 2100 – can be honest. And, given the uncertainties, an honest programme must at least consider the possibility that things will be worse.

    First published on the Climate Cassandra blog

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  • Living below the line

    Helena Molyneux
    April 17th, 2014

    In less than two weeks I start living below the line for 5 days, spending £5 or less on food and drink. I made this commitment to Practical Action a couple of months ago not long after taking over as Chair of Trustees. And now I am feeling OMG, what have I let myself in for. It will be hard.

    101012 Upper Guruwe - livelihoods improvement agri processing - peanut butter making

    Making peanut butter

    Truthfully, there are aspects which will not be hard. I like rice and pasta simply flavoured. I don’t mind forgoing meat.  Porridge is a great filler in the morning. I am OK with drinking lots of water – hot or cold. I will give what I would normally have spent on food and drink as a donation to Practical Action.

    But I will miss: a morning coffee, having lots of fruit and vegetables, a glass of wine and probably most of all, spontaneous decision making about what I eat. Living on £5 for the 5 days requires planning and research about where I shop. But these limitations and frustrations are what most people live with every day of every year.

    Reflecting on my experience of the five days is one of the things I want to get out of it. And that’s apart from raising awareness of the work Practical Action does in enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty by accessing simple, useful know-how and technology and of course raising funds for that work. If I can have the optimism and lack of self pity during these 5 days that the people I met in Zimbabwe when I went to visit Practical Action’s work there have, that will be something.

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    I took this photo in northern Zimbabwe, a place called Upper Guruwe where Practical Action has enabled local communities to improve their vegetable growing. And not just that, but also enabling people to create higher value-added food products which they can sell at market and so earn more money for themselves and their families eg. peanut butter making also pictured here. One of the things that really impressed me was how people make sure that the elderly and the sick in their communities get the benefit of these vegetables – not just keeping them all for themselves or for selling at the local markets.

    Do have a go at Living Below the Line too.  Who knows what you might learn from the experience or how much money you might raise if you get people to sponsor you. And if anyone wants to sponsor me, please do.

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  • Harnessing the power of mobile

    Rob Cartridge
    April 15th, 2014

    The Practical Answers call centre in Bangladesh is now live – giving us a great opportunity to increase our reach exponentially. The initiative – which we have been piloting for a couple of years, is a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture. Apparently it’s completely unique – because the Freephone short code (16123) has been recognised and endorsed by all the main telecom operators in the country.call centre
    There are no shortage of call centres in Bangladesh – where the mobile phone seems almost ubiquitous. We have had a lot of debate about the business model behind the call centre – why should we be subsidising anything that the private sector could do more effectively? And how do we make it sustainable in the longer term?

    The answer on this occasion is that private sector initiatives have not reached the poorest farmers (where knowledge can have most impact) because of their high call charges . And in the medium term we are looking at an annual very low subscription service – rather than cost per call, which shouldn’t get in the way of accessibility.
    The new Krishi Call Centre is going to be advertised through national tv, and will handle enquiries on livestock, agriculture and fisheries. According to a government press release – it could benefit a staggering 20 million poor farmers – by supplying them with cutting edge information.
    Every answer from the call centre – will be of the highest quality, having been approved by the experts in the Ministry themselves. The call centre will also be proactive in generating new knowledge based on the work done by Practical Answers’ extension agents who are out in the field meeting farmers every day.
    Check back here in a few months and we’ll let you know how it’s getting on.

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  • Rwanda: a one people nation

    Denyse Umubyeyi
    April 11th, 2014

    Practical Action Consulting has worked in Rwanda for a number of years and recently opened an office there.  Denyse, accounts and admin officer, reflects on the transformation she has witness in her country.

    Monday, April 7, 2014 was the official opening of the 20th commemoration of genocide against the Tutsi people; different countries sent delegations as well us United Nation and African Union Commission to comfort Rwandans during this difficult time of painful memories.

    Remember, unite, renew

    Rwanda’s commemoration slogan is ‘Remember, unite, renew’

    For the last three months young Rwandans have been carrying the flame of remembrance to all district of the country and this gives hope since three quarters of Rwandans are under 30 years old (they are the new Rwanda).

    Having experienced the 1994 genocide 20 years ago I wouldn’t have imagined Rwanda this way.  Personally I thought that the world had come to an end and all we wished was for a less painful death e.g. being shot.

    A few months after the genocide we thought it was a bit safer but most of us were prepared for another war considering the situation from Tutsi survivors, other Tutsi family from abroad ( exiled in the preview Hutu massacres) who really had power and a thousand reasons to seek revenge on Hutus. I personally never imagined going to school again, making new friends,  eating food harvested in Rwanda, not surviving on aids from UNIHCR, UNICEF, and other international organizations.

    But now look at Rwanda, we have become a one people nation and after all we have one culture, one language which proves that we have been, are and will be one not considering other invented ideologies to separate us.

    Rwandans have chosen truth, unity and reconciliation.  Rwandans have chosen to forget about tribes, forgive and admit what happened then focus on building the better future that the results are palpably seen on the ground.

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  • How to get a Christmas appeal with a national newspaper (and is it worth the hassle!?)

    Andy Heath
    April 10th, 2014

    The run up to last Christmas was the most exciting and exhausting time for me as a media officer at Practical Action.

    We had been chosen by The Guardian to be one of four charities to benefit from its Christmas appeal, Future Africa. At the same time, our Safer Cities Christmas appeal was in full swing. This was being match funded by the Department for International Development and had a substantial communications commitment from us, in which we promised to reach 400,000 members of the UK public with our message.

    Safer Cities campaign to tackle urban poverty in Nepal and Bangladesh

    Since then, I’ve had calls from other charities eager to know how we managed to get chosen by the Guardian, what we had to do and whether it made a big difference to us, so here is the excitingly titled: “Guardian and Observer Charity Christmas Appeal: The Inside Story, in bite-sized chunks” (it sounds better if you read it with a US TV announcer’s voice)

    • We were in the right place at the right time. The Future Africa theme was dreamt up by the bigwigs at the Guardian, and it fell perfectly into our work, helping the poorest people in Africa via clever technological solutions to the problems they face every day.
    • Make your own luck – because I like to think we did that. Although the Guardian chose their charities without a formal application process, I phoned them in autumn and discovered they were planning on doing a technology-based agriculture appeal. I then wrote an email detailing just how well we fitted into that category and listed our relevant work. I can’t say for certain that even got to the right people or led to anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
    • We had to work effectively across our teams. When we got a call from the Guardian, they asked us to put together a list of our technologies we use in Africa within 24 hours. It was a daunting task, particularly as I was going on leave the following day, but thanks to regular updates from our international teams and with the help of fundraising manager, Matt Wenham and our programme teams, we were the very epitome of dynamism and managed to get a comprehensive list submitted quicker than you can say ‘everybody panic and start shouting’.
    • For a couple of weeks, our plans were thrown into disarray and it was absolute madness. The Guardian decided they wanted to focus on our Zimbabwean work and gather the stories within a fortnight. It was a very tight deadline and imperative that we had a discussion about what was feasible from the point of view of the team out there. Due to the political situation out there, The Guardan used the very fine services of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu and we identified two projects we felt would showcase how technology can help development – knowledge transfer via podcasting and the use of hydroelectricity to power change in the Himalayan region of Zimbabwe.
    • It felt like we were a hair’s breadth away from disaster at times. Martha Munyoro, our communications officer in Zimbabwe had already booked leave at the time of the trip and the team there requested that I stepped in to help. Again, thanks to the hard work of Killron Dembe we arranged the trip and managed to help Ray file to fantastic stories detailing the impact of our work in Zimbabwe.

      Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

      Guardian freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu (back in red) listens to a podcasting session given by an agricultural worker in the Gwanda province of Zimbabwe.

    Was it worthwhile?

    • On a purely financial basis, the cash was very welcome, but not game-changing. The appeal raised around £340,000. Half of that went to the Guardian’s project in Katine, which they run with Farm Africa and we shared the remaining cash with the two other charities featured, Worldreader, Solar Aid.
    • But it was about much more than just up-front donations. We also gained details (with permission) of some the people who donated to the appeal, which gave our fundraising team the opportunity to contact potential supporters and ask them if they would be interested in making regular gifts.
    • We also gained fantastic exposure from the Guardian and Observer. The appeal was featured daily in the newspaper and on the home page of the Guardian’s website. The Guardian editor, and one of the most respected men in journalism, Alan Rusbridger, mentioned our call for Technology Justice in an editorial piece and dozens of Guardian journalists took part in a telethon event where they voluntarily gave up their time to speak to people over the phone in return for donations – a truly admirable effort by them all, and a great way of raising our profile amongst their staff.

    So there you have it, the inside view of one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, few months of my professional career. I’ll give a similar insight into the DFID match-funding process when my hair starts growing back.

    Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

    Killron with me after a whistlestop tour of Practical Action projects in Zimbabwe

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  • Water – don’t take it for granted


    April 10th, 2014

    I’ve never been one to drink much water, I don’t really like it, tea’s my poison and failing that a nice diet coke goes down well. During my week doing live below the line however, my relationship with water really changed. It became my crutch. It became my best friend –  the one thing that I could have that kept me feeling full and sweetened the horrible taste that was permanently hanging around my mouth from the poor diet I was enduring.

    child drinking safe clean water in Kenya

    Communities in Turkana, Kenya, get access to clean, safe water for the first time!

    About half way through the week I went to the tap to fill my bottle up, on the way through the office, my eye was drawn to a photo on the wall of a woman collecting water from a dirty pool.

    As I stood at the tap letting it run until it was cold enough, I started to think. It’s all very well living on £1 a day, it was really making me empathise with the tedious lack of choice and eating to survive rather than eating for pleasure, but the very people I was doing it for had another problem…they couldn’t just go to a tap and keep hunger at bay with a glass of clean water.

    It might shock you to hear that 758 million people are without clean safe water. We live in 2014 and yet millions of people have no access to something as simple as clean water. It really made me think. Without water I would have been more hungry, felt weaker and without doubt would have felt worse. It almost felt like cheating!

    The good news is that my efforts living on £1 a day have helped solve just a teeny weeny bit of the problem. Last year Practical Action helped 68,000 improve their access to drinking water and sanitation. The money that I raised might be a drop in the ocean (pardon the pun!) but every little helps and until all 758 million people have access to clean water, living on £1 a day suddenly feels like a walk in the park!  

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  • Smelling the coffee


    April 7th, 2014

    Last week, the Practical Action team spent four days exhibiting at the London Coffee Festival. Thursday and Friday were attended by those working in the coffee trade, and the weekend was open to coffee loving members of the public. I arrived early on the Friday and wasted no time in locating the Green & Black’s stand – yep chocolate for breakfast – but after deciding it was too early to find the Kahlua, I donned my Practical Action apron.Coffee Fest

    The atmosphere was buzzing throughout the day; traders spoke passionately about their products, and coffee enthusiasts stocked up on freebies to last them a lifetime. There seemed to be people there from all over Europe, and from all kinds of exciting coffee-related initiatives. We were there (armed with free flapjack) because Practical Action supports coffee farmers in places like Peru and Bolivia. Not only were we keen to share this with people, but we also wanted to find some challenge participants for Live Below The Line.

    Blackboard

    Live Below The Line is a world-wide campaign to raise awareness of extreme food poverty, which the World Bank has recently defined as living on $1.25 a day. This equates to £1 a day for those living in the UK, so we have been asking people to take on the challenge of spending just £1 a day on food and drink for 5 days.

    You’d think that people who routinely spend about £3 on one cup of coffee would declare the challenge impossible, but no! Over the course of the Festival over 200 people signed up to Live Below The Line and raise money for Practical Action.

    We made sure that we weren’t throwing people in at the deep end by sending them off equipped with a memory stick loaded with an example shopping list, recipes and a participant starter pack. In keeping with the Festival, we also gave them a free Practical Action mug, magnet and flapjack.

    Next weekend, we’re taking Live Below The Line to Spitalfields Market in London, but this time we will be providing shoppers with LBTL lunches at just 40p a portion. There’s still plenty of time to sign up for Live Below The Line - on the website you can find links to participant blogs, and recipes for inspiration.

    Jamie London Coffee Festival

     

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  • The Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15


    March 31st, 2014

     The Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15

    The publication of the Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15 launched by the Overseas Development Institute can serve as a challenge to ask – who are the chronic poor and how are they being impacted by Practical Action’s programmes?

    Chronic poverty as a term captures something of the experience of people who endure long term gruelling poverty etched out over extensive periods of their lives (living permanently below the poverty line) and will most probably be transferred to their children. Up to half a billion people are chronically poor, the majority of whom live in vast rural swathes of South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside the publication of the 2014/15 report the ODI released a set of infographic case studies, illustrating the multidimensional factors which characterise the life trajectories of chronically poor people:

    life-history-map-emanueli_531b7c99dedae_w1500life-history-map-amin_531b7d49e67f6_w1500

    Amongst other sources the report uses household panel surveys to show that since the turn of the 21st century, descents into poverty have been nearly as widespread as escapes from poverty over certain periods of time in many developing contexts, and to this end argues that three approaches need to be taken: 1/ addressing chronic poverty 2/ preventing impoverishment (falling back into poverty) 3/ sustaining poverty escapes.

    However, Duncan Green’s blog on the report: ‘Is Getting to Zero Really Feasible?’ reflected on the potential cross purposes the approach could generate, given that ‘governments and donors have only limited cash…in some contexts, prevention may provide better social return on investment than a cure…the report may have scored an own goal, inadvertently making the case for not targeting the chronically poor in some situations.’ Which begs the question: will the impetus fall on preventing the slide back into chronic poverty for ‘new escapees’ rather than address those who have always been chronically poor?

    This made for an interesting thread of debate on the blog, where Chiara Mariotti (one of the authors of the report), said of the approach: ‘it reminds us that chronic poverty is not an issue separated from other problems,’ and Charles Knox-Vydmanov at HelpAge reflected: ‘The real question for me is whether people are chronically poor because of who they are (and belonging to a certain “vulnerable group”) or because of what happens to them…if we believe the latter, then surely we need to focus on targeting these things, and not the people…poor people are not all poor all of the time, so who exactly do you target?’ This is reflected in the case studies; the lives of Emanueli and Amin are punctuated by events which might raise them above the parapet of the poverty line for a time (e.g. when Emanueli gained income and assets from fishing), illustrating the picture painted of ‘the poor’ is never black and white, nor are the complex systems in which they are engaged.

    What do Practical Action’s programmes do to help step people up from chronic poverty, and are the wider aspects surrounding the chronic poverty debate (above) addressed via programmes? Some snapshots below provide examples of programmes impacting the chronic poor:

    SHIREE/Pathways from Poverty, Bangladesh  

    Practical Action’s ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project is contributing to SHIREE (the Bangla word for steps and an acronym for Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment), a massive multi-stakeholder programme between the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to lift 1 million people out of extreme poverty by 2015. The people benefitting from SHIREE fall well within the poorest 10% of the Bangladeshi population. This marginalised segment of the population includes households who are often affected by chronic malnutrition; insecure employment; lack of shelter; landlessness; limited or no assets; little social or political capital; limited ability to withstand shocks; and poor access to health, education and other basic services. Pathways from Poverty will reach 31,850 households by 2015 through asset protection schemes, generation of employment opportunities and diversification of livelihoods options. Overall SHIREE is helping the poorest households who have failed to benefit from economic growth, social protection mechanisms and other development programmes. In particular the focus is on:

    • Those who are economically active yet marginalised (e.g. fragmented female-headed households and socially excluded ethnic minorities).
    • Those who are economically inactive and rely heavily or solely on charity or government safety nets (e.g. the disabled or elderly without family support).
    • Women and children in the above categories. In trying to halt the inter-generational transfer of poverty, the programme targets women and children in extreme poor households.

    Socio-economic Empowerment of Tsunami Affected Communities, Sri Lanka  

    The report highlights the increasing polarisation between the poorest and the rest of the population, particularly evident in patterns of land ownership: ‘The stories of the poorest are full of lost access to common land and water bodies through privatisation, land grabs or evictions.’ SET (Socio-empowerment of Tsumani Affected Communities) made possible via Big Lottery funding, is impacting the lives of chronic poor fisher communities by enabling them to increase their income through interventions such as rehabilitation of abandoned water bodies for fishing, improved access of water for agricultural and domestic purposes and ice manufacturing to reduce fish wastage. Fishermen in Koggala have noted a 3 fold increase in income from prawn fishing. One major success of SET was the establishment of strong community institutions through Village Coordination Committees, which has led to the inclusion of some of the most marginalised communities in the fisheries sector development programmes, including the indigenous Vaddha community. Practical Action is currently working with the Dutch Development Agency ZOA to replicate aspects of the SET project model.

    Reducing Vulnerability in North Darfur, Sudan

    The 2014/15 report devotes a section to conflict, stating this as the biggest challenge in, echoing the UN who state that by 2015 an estimated half of the world’s poor will be living in fragile states. The International Fund for Agricultural Development says ‘Poverty in the Sudan is deeply entrenched and is largely rural. Poverty particularly affects farmers who practise rain-fed agriculture. People living in areas that have been or continue to be affected by drought and conflict – particularly in the south and Darfur – are the most vulnerable to poverty.’

    In North Darfur dispute over natural resources (mostly over water for drinking and agriculture) and migratory routes have caused conflict. Practical Action has been working with communities in North Darfur to support 15,000 families across 30 villages with the tools and capacities they need to plan development and distribute both internal and external resources equitably through three interventions: 1/ Conflict and natural resource management (e.g. promotion of early maturing crop varieties that allow farmers to harvest before the incursion of animal herders on to their farms). 2/ Livelihood and food security (e.g. supporting community organisations which aim to increase production and productivity by reclaiming more wadi (clay) land). 3/ strengthening farmers’ voices and influencing development polices. A new Integrated Water Resource Management Programme funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to commence this year aims to  directly benefit over 87,000 farmers and agro-pastoralists through the construction of 3 dams and 1,000 terraces so that water resources are better shared and utilised for community livelihood practices.

    The 2014/15 report states that ‘aid will continue to be extremely important in low income countries but few donors have displayed real interest in tackling chronic poverty.’ The examples provide only snapshots of the diverse nature Practical Action’s programmes addressing chronic poverty, and the organisations it works with to deliver them. This is an encouragement given the broad spectrum of their global outlooks and processes, and illustrates the broad range of donors who do have an appetite to address not only chronic poverty but the wider complex systems in which the chronic poor live and work.

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  • New IPCC report highlights Climate Related Risk

    Colin McQuistan
    March 31st, 2014

    31 March 2014 – A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been released[1].   This is the latest in a series of reports that will constitute the benchmark documents for the state of climate change, the fifth assessment report (AR5). The report released today, which inadvertently overloaded their servers, was from Working Group II and examines the impacts of a warming world and makes some recommendations on what we can do now to adapt and reduce those impacts.

    As we are all fully aware in the UK the climate is not what it used to be.  The UK has just experienced an exceptionally wet winter, the wettest in England and Wales since records began in 1766. This extreme weather followed a cold winter of 2010/11, a wet summer of 2012 and the cold spring of 2013[2].  So we should all be cognisant that things are getting more uncertain and the weather more variable[3]!

    The new report makes the case that climate risk is the combination of; Hazard, how much the climate will change; Exposure, what assets we have and Vulnerability, what is our sensitivity to harm?  The consequence of changing climates is an increase in risk related to the overlap of these three factors.  Thus, the biggest impacts of climate change are going to be felt by the poorest and most marginalised, who live in regions that are susceptible to changes in the climate, for example drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa, or in marginal areas such as floodplains or unstable hillsides.

    10 Flooding 001

    Bangladesh house in Char area susceptible to regular flooding

    Here in Practical Action we are working with poor and marginalised communities around the world to reduce their climate risk.  For example in Bangladesh, where the M4C project[4] is building up the assets of farmers who live in the char lands on the banks of the Jamuna River, an area threatened by increasing flooding.  This project doesn’t hand out money or goods to poor households, but instead builds on the char farmers’ capabilities to work out mutually-beneficial solutions to their problems, recognising that asset security will enable farmers to cope during times of flood.

    Alternatively in Peru we are working with Cusco University to develop effective local early warning systems that reduce people’s vulnerability to highly destructive mudflows.  These systems aim to provide advance warning to communities living in the valleys of the threat to their lives and livelihoods. Dealing with hazard is more complicated, but doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  So we are working with poor communities to identify ways to reduce the impact of a climate hazard on their livelihood. For example in Sudan we have been working with farmers in the Sahel on conservation agriculture[5].  This project recognises that the climate is the major threat and looks at ways to build up the natural resources upon which local people’s agricultural productivity depends.

    10 IPCC 002Student from Cusco University explaining the pilot Early Warning System

    The report released today makes the case that climate extremes are likely to be more “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and that we need to start to doing something about it now.  The report reiterates that Greenhouse Gas emissions are altering the Earth’s energy budget, the driver of climate change; although those who are hardest hit bear the least responsibility for causing the problem in the first place.

    However, the report rather than trying to shock us into action is taking a more measured approach to the threat highlighting what can be done now to reduce the impacts.  Practical Actions suggestions are that we need a genuine commitment to Mitigation governed by a legally binding global agreement so that emissions in GHG’s can be halted and ultimately reversed.  There is an urgent need for increased funding for Adaptation and Technology transfer to allow developing economies to leapfrog the carbon dependent trajectory and respond to the accelerating impacts of climate change to the poorest and most vulnerable.  And finally resources must be set aside for Loss and Damage to compensate the most vulnerable for the losses they are already experiencing.

    Do we need any more evidence?  Hopefully, the AR5 will catalyse the political will necessary to get a global agreement back on the track starting at the COP20 in Peru in December 2014.

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