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  • Just Throw it On the Ground! Waste Disposal Methods in Nairobi’s Informal Settlements.

    June 29th, 2015

    From May, 2015, three university students joined Practical Action, Eastern Africa, as interns within the Urban WASH team to assist in conducting research for the “Technology and the Future of Work” project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The WASH intern team consists of Eric Mugaa and Charles Kwena, both in their fifth year at the University of Nairobi in the Civil Engineering programme, and Megan Douglas, a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh in the International Development programme. The project is examining the enabling and disabling impacts of technologies on work opportunities among informal workers in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Read about Megan’s reflections from her time in the field…..


    By Megan Douglas. 


    Megan pic


    On a recent research trip to Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s informal settlements, our field guide contact treated me to a large slice of watermelon from a roadside vendor, packaged in plastic wrap to keep it fresh. After finishing my slice, the warm juice running in rivets down my arms and the wrapper growing sticky in my hand, I looked around for a bin to dispose of the waste. “There are no rubbish bins around here,” my contact laughed. “Just throw it on the ground!”  I couldn’t bring myself to do such a thing; throwing waste on the ground just seemed wrong, despite the multitude of old watermelon rinds and plastic wrappers strewn across the road in front of me. After carrying the rubbish for several minutes, the flies began to come. Begrudgingly, I bent down and gingerly laid the rind in a ditch, where it floated away to join the garbage dam choking Nairobi River. The plastic wrapper I ‘nobly’ stuck in my purse pocket, where it later formed a large sugary stain.


    Is it about having ‘principles’ or having options?

    Being from a relatively clean city in Canada, littering feels foreign to me. It is not only illegal in Canada, punishable by hefty fines, but is also considered by many to be immoral in a sense. I had never seen anything like the sheer enormity of human waste competing for space with homes in Kawangware.


    It isn’t that residents of Kawangware produce more waste; it is that there are few viable options for rubbish disposal. Nor are informal residents apathetic. Many of those interviewed make ‘tsk tsk’s with their tongue against their teeth when surveying the carpet of garbage across the streets. “It’s a shame,” expressed one woman, in response to my question about her opinion of the waste situation, then, immediately following, tossed a black plastic bag she had been eating a samosa out of into a ditch. While it was amusing, I didn’t consider her a hypocrite; her littering doesn’t necessarily discredit the genuineness of her displeasure with the amount of waste on the ground. At times, pragmatism must trump ‘moral’ sentiments in the informal settlements. Either she tossed the oily plastic bag, or carried it in her purse (most likely indefinitely, unless she ventured to the outskirts of the district, costing her time and money, all for the sake of not littering).


    Do I not litter in Canada because I am against littering? Or is it because I don’t have to? Most likely, a combination of both, but the two are likely mutually reinforcing.  Some sort of innate concern for environmental conservation isn’t likely the principal reason I grew up with such an adversity to littering. When you have accessible, affordable and sustainable methods of human waste disposal, one never has to be reminded of the volume of non-biodegradable waste you produce every day; garbage is simply thrown in the trash bin, which is collected once a week, never to be seen again. Canada isn’t without waste. It is one of the world’s largest producers of it. But the difference is that garbage is just shipped off to dumps far away from urban centers, or sent across the ocean to fill another country’s dumpsite, allowing citizens the comfort of never having to be visually reminded of the size of their carbon footprint.


    The poorest of the poor in Nairobi, however, must constantly live with their waste and that of others, piled high in mountains and overflowing into rivers, a visual reminder of the spatial and socio-economic and political marginalization of informal residents. The combination of a high concentration of people (60 percent of Nairobi’s population live on only 5% of the total land mass), the increase in non-biodegradable waste, and the lack of a public waste-collection service within informal settlements, culminates in a shockingly large amount of garbage on the ground, leading to a myriad of environmental and health issues.


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  • Climate Smart Agriculture: why avoiding ambiguity is vital to success

    Jack Spoor

    June 25th, 2015

    Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is a phrase that has been gaining increasing prominence in both the sphere of international development and in mainstream media. But despite some powerful backers, CSA has not been without criticism. There are growing calls for clear guidelines in order to distinguish between what is ‘climate-smart’ and what is just business as usual under a different name.


    Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes

    Adapting and building resilience to climate change

    Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible”

    (FAO, 2015)

    These are what the FAO considers the three main pillars of CSA. If you were to ask most development practitioners what they thought of such goals, you would probably get a variation of same answer: “wonderful, but how do we achieve this?”. This is the question asked by Practical Action’s second Technology Justice briefing paper: “Climate Smart Agriculture and smallholder farmers: the critical role of Technology Justice in effective adaptation”.

    More specifically, how do we ensure that CSA is actually achieving its aims?

    This question is an important one because it is underpins many objections to CSA. In October 2014, the Guardian published an article that criticised the involvement of certain large multinationals in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. It warned against “false solutions under vague “climate-smart” rhetoric”, and noted that the “looseness of the term” opened up the CSA label to exploitation. This article echoed the September 2014 paper by the same author from Actionaid International: Clever name, Losing game?, which was also highly critical of the ambiguity of CSA.


    farmer adaptation climate change

    Agricultural farmers in Jequetepeque, Peru


    These criticisms are legitimate and expose serious flaws in a large-scale international initiative. As such, it is imperative that these flaws are addressed as soon as possible. Without clear definitions, CSA is vulnerable to being reduced to a buzzword, to be used to boost green credentials without making vitally important changes to food production systems.

    The risks are twofold: firstly, if CSA initiatives are seen as risky, participation and commitment will wane. Secondly, if the claims of Actionaid International, La Via Campesina and other critics become reality, then massive damage could be done to both the environment and the reputation of future projects.

    Practical Action’s policy brief sets out how the three pillars of Technology Justice – access, innovation, and sustainable use – can be used as a lens for analysing whether CSA initiatives are really ‘climate-smart’. It explores whether these initiatives support smallholders, or simply ‘greenwash’ business as usual.

    For CSA initiatives to achieve equitable and sustainable agricultural development, initiatives must, at a minimum:

    • Improve and support access to agricultural production for marginalized smallholder farmers in a way that minimizes risk
    • Promote user-centred innovation that improves the adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems
    • Facilitate sustainable use of the natural resource base to ensure the viability of continued production and adaptation

    The paper shows how practices that could currently be labelled CSA would be excluded if Technology Justice criteria were applied. For example, the use of inorganic fertilizer for quick returns on investment is cited as something which can be both harmful to the environment and fall under the banner of CSA. However, if Technology Justice criteria are applied, inorganic fertilizer can no longer be classed as climate-smart, as it supports neither accessibility nor sustainability. These principles can be used to assess all agricultural and CSA practices to ensure their long term impact is sustainable and positive for smallholder farmers.


    adaptation climate change farmer agriculture

    Woman farmer showing successful salt-tolerant rice crop, Bangladesh


    The criticisms of CSA in its current form have been effective in highlighting the risk of its exploitation and misuse. However, it is possible to distinguish between the concept’s flaws and its potential. CSA is here to stay; as such, it is vitally important that it is as effective and equitable as possible. Working towards Technology Justice in agricultural adaptation is truly climate-smart.

    Practical Action’s Technology Justice Policy Briefing Series can be found here.

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  • Supporters’ day out!

    On June 13th we held our annual Supporters’ day in London. Taking inspiration from our heritage the theme of the day was ‘Grassroots to Muddy boots’ it was a fantastic opportunity for supporters to get closer to the work their support has made possible – and what a day!

    Margaret Gardner opened the proceedings, followed by our Nepal Country Director, Achyut Luitel who gave an update on the recent Earthquake and, explained our involvement at present and going forward. There was an introduction from Muna Eltahir the new Sudan Country Director, who spoke about why she chose to work for Practical Action, and the work already achieved in Sudan.

    Supporters Day 2015

    Supporters Day 2015

    During lunch there was a drop in session giving supporters the opportunity to speak to our new Country Directors – Muna Eltahir, Sudan, Hasin Jahan, Bangladesh and Kudzai Marovanidze, Zimbabwe. We were also shown some great Technology Justice videos from the education team.

    Throughout the day we had some great workshops such as Doing it better led by Margaret Gardner and Kudzai Marovanidze, who spoke about Marula nut production in Zimbabwe. Supporters heard how we are working with women’s communities who earn their living from marula nut products.

    Supporters Day 2015Supporters Day 2015

    There was an interactive exercise that involved cracking Marula nuts using similar tools to the women in Zimbabwe.  The exercise highlighted the difficulties faced without the right equipment and support.


    Supporters Day 2015

    Rob Cartridge hosted a Project pitch session showing four short videos about Knowledge services in Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Peru. Supporters were asked ‘If they had £5K which project would they give it to?’

    Following the videos and the pitch about each one, they were then asked to vote – the winner was the Krishi call centre in Bangladesh. Supporters were really impressed with the examples they were shown and said “the work was amazing” and “I couldn’t believe it’s so cost effective”. 

    Everyone had a fantastic day and couldn’t wait to get home and spread the word – they were even tweeting from the venue.

    Supporters Day 2015

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  • RECAP: The Energy-Agriculture Nexus

    Glen Burnett

    June 24th, 2015

    This is a guest post from WRI’s Lily Odarno about the joint Energy Engagement Series Practical Action hosts with WRI each month in Washington, DC. This event is meant to be a discussion that brings together leaders in the energy access  space. This summary is from an event we held in May discussing the Energy-Agriculture nexus. 

    Lily Odarno from WRI

    Lily Odarno from WRI

    Discussions on the role of energy in development are becoming increasingly focused on the nexus between energy and other aspects of development. The energy-agriculture nexus centers on the interlinkages between energy, water and food. Water is a key requirement in energy production. At the same time the production of water is dependent on the availability of sufficient quantities of energy. Food production, processing and storage are all dependent on the availability of water and energy resources. The May installment of the Energy Engagement Series focused on the energy-agriculture nexus. It specifically focused on some of the big questions about the nexus and how the most can be made out of it.

    Here are the three key takeaways from the discussions:

    1. There is the need for an approach to addressing nexus issues which integrates the bottom-up with the top-down. Seen exclusively from the top-down, the challenge of maximizing the energy-water-food nexus may be seen as a solely technical one. Such a perspective may translate into purely technical solutions such as making solar water pumps and other technologies available to agricultural communities. Whereas this may be of some benefit in itself, it fails to address underlying political and social inequalities which may impede access to water resources for poor farmers in periods of drought, even though they may be equipped with appropriate technology.


    1. A careful consideration of nexus issues is crucial to designing effective development projects. A development project which focuses exclusively on introducing water pumps for rural agriculture and fails to consider what will be done with the produce from the now more productive agricultural sector could potentially fail in reaching its overall objectives. Here, a focus on the energy-water-nexus will enable provisions for the storage of agricultural produce to be anticipated and planned for early in the development initiative.


    1. We also discussed the need for a greater focus on promoting decentralized energy options where they can plan a role in filling the energy gap in the nexus. Participants agreed that in many cases, the focus on centralized large-scale energy options tends to crowd out the potential role decentralized options could play in addressing nexus challenges. There is an obvious need to build an evidence base for the role of decentralized options and garner the support of governments and other development actors for their implementation, where they can play a role. Likewise, a strong focus on community engagement could facilitate the effective adoption of these decentralized options in agricultural communities.

    The Energy Engagement Series is a monthly event held in Washington, DC. If you would like to be invited to future events, please click here.

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  • Nepal Earthquake: Top Thirteen “Not to Do’s”

    Achyut Luitel

    June 10th, 2015

    Nepal saw a devastating earthquake of 7.8 Richter scale on 25 April 2015. The country was hit by other two powerful aftershocks measuring 6.6 Richter scale on April 26, and 6.8 Richter scale on 12 May. A total of 270 aftershocks over 4 Richter scale were recorded in a period of a month, according to National Seismological Centre (NSC). Over 20,000 tremors including mild ones were felt in this period. These altogether affected over 40 districts, while 14 districts experienced the worst impact of the earthquake.

    One of the oldest and historical Durbar School severely damaged by the earthquake

    One of the oldest and historical Durbar School severely damaged by the earthquake

    According to Nepal Police, until 25 May, a month after the devastating earthquake, altogether 8,673 people lost their lives, while 21,944 were injured with 4,877 still in different hospitals. Likewise, a total of 470, 991 houses recorded to have sustained partial and complete damage in the quake, while Kathmandu Valley alone saw 67,188 damaged houses. Hundreds of temples and monuments of historical importance including the ones enlisted in the World Heritage Sites also sustained significant damages; while the historical tower, Dharahara, has been reduced to rubble.

    According to the Home Ministry, more than 4,000 military personnel and medics from 34 different countries were mobilized in the search, rescue and relief operation in support of Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and Nepal Police including representatives of several organisations and volunteers following the tragic earthquake.

    Although Practical Action is not a relief organisation, it was necessary to get engaged when the country was crawling through the hardest period of modern times. Practical Action immediately mobilised funds to initiate necessary response and recovery works. We decided to focus ourselves in Gorkha and Dhading districts due to our long engagement with people in these districts and coordinated with District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) and District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) of both the districts.

    Relief operation by Practical Action in Gorkha close to the epicentre of the quake

    Relief operation by Practical Action in Gorkha close to the epicentre of the quake

    There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this earthquake. Being vigilant of initiatives and the works of the government, relief organisations, media and social networks and our own working experiences, I have come up with following thoughts.

    1. A designated National Authority to handle disasters like the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in India would have better managed and coordinated disaster management including the rescue and relief. Due to multiple roles across the ministries and departments, the coordination aspect in Nepal had noticeable shortcomings. Countries prone to disasters should have a dedicated disaster management authority to be better prepared and manage similar situations, and the disaster management as a whole.

    2. Almost 17 years have elapsed since the last local elections were held in 1997. The five-year term of the elected body expired in 2002 but the government failed to hold local elections thereafter owing to violence and other political problems. Had there been local bodies, the rescue and relief operations would have been better coordinated. There were many instances of overlapping and lack of statistics that resulted powerful communities getting repeated reliefs, while the needy ones failing to get even for a single time.

    3. There has been no uniformity of approach and relief package across the relief organisations too. The World Food Programme (WFP) is under severe criticism by media and National Human Rights Commission for distributing poor quality rice while many relief organisations provided unusable clothing items. This created severe criticism of relief organisations including the Red Cross Society.

    4. In many villages, food was available since the houses did not fully collapse. Shelter was the main issue as the houses were damaged and unsafe to live in. Many relief organisations had shortcomings in addressing people’s needs.

    5. All relief organisations distributed tarpaulins for shelters. However, distributing tarps is an ad hoc measure – the tarps having limited durability in view of the soon approaching monsoon. This shortcoming was realised by some organisations and instead, they decided to supply corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets. The CGI sheets are useful for building temporary shelters with bamboo and wood available in villages, and can be reused once the affected people are able to build a permanent house.

    6. People developed a dependency syndrome. They were wasting their time queueing up for relief materials although that was not an absolute necessity for many of them. Rather they were expected to be in the maize fields for weeding to ensure food security for the winter.

    7. Inappropriate construction practices have been one of the main reasons for the destruction of houses. Often in the villages, the common practice of constructing house is by using random rubble masonry with mud mortar which is highly vulnerable in case of earthquakes, even of moderate magnitude. There is dire need of developing resilient construction technology and practices.

    8. Because of massive quakes and aftershocks, numerous cracks are formed across the hills making them highly vulnerable towards landslides. The recent big landslide in Baisari of Myagdi which blocked Kaligandaki River for 16 hours even before the monsoon was an alarm to take protective measures well on time.

    9. Media should act responsibly during such hard and trying times. The irresponsible act of some Indian media triggered the hashtag #GoBackIndianMedia and it became a rapidly popular trend across twitter. Likewise, the local media provided space to astrologers which demoralised people’s confidence to get back home.

    10. It was widely accepted that “Drop, Cover, and Hold On (DCH)” is the appropriate action to reduce injury and death during earthquakes. However, this concept does not work in case of failing of structures. Most of the dead bodies were found in DCH position under the tables. Massive awareness is required to identify the best location a person should try to occupy during an earthquake.

    11. There was strong indication to the government that a devastating earthquake in Nepal was already overdue following the 1934 earthquake. But this signal was not seriously respected to reflect in preparedness activities. The preparedness works were limited to celebration of earthquake days. As a result, the protection measures for the cultural, historical and government infrastructure were overlooked.

    12. The government asked to channelise the relief works through government system using one door system. However, this was not possible and also was not an appropriate mechanism given the bureaucratic process of the government that takes time and undermines the urgency of the relief works on the ground. There is still a need to discuss and draw lessons on how the relief works can be expedited at the quickest possible manner to reach the most needed ones at the time of such large disasters by mobilising all stakeholders and individuals

    13. The government asked the rescue teams coming from India, China and from other countries to leave as soon as the rescue operation was thought to be over. But in fact by extending the stay, they could have also been mobilised to deliver relief materials to the remote areas since they came with helicopters that help reaching out to the remote communities.

    Note: Originally published in All India Disaster Mitigation Institute AIDMI’s monthly publication,; Issue 131

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  • European Development Days: Action for an ambitious energy SDG

    We’ve got just three months until world leaders agree a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years …goals that will affect the lives of millions of people.

    There are proposed goals to:

    • eradicate extreme poverty
    • eliminate avoidable child death and hunger
    • provide good quality universal secondary education
    • deliver universal access to clean water and sanitation
    • ensure access to affordable energy for all.

    A few months later, UNFCCC negotiators will meet in Paris to finalise a new climate agreement.

    We have a real chance to take serious action against some of the world’s biggest challenges…one of those being access to energy, which underpins efforts to achieve many of the development goals.

    We need an ambitious energy SDG

    In the run up to the deadline, Practical Action is calling for SDG and UNFCCC negotiators to design goals and agreements on energy that support a ‘no person left behind’ agenda and deliver not only on energy for the poor, but energy for the planet. Please join our EU call for action.

    More than one billion people don’t have access to electricity and nearly half the world’s population cook on open fires using solid fuels like wood and charcoal. The toxic smoke from these fires kills more than four million people a year – more than malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis combined.


    Only a robust, clearly defined energy goal can provide the clarity and targets needed to measure progress and hold countries to account for providing not just any access, but meaningful levels of energy that can be used to create jobs, power medical facilities, and provide cleaner alternatives to the dangerously dirty cooking fuels used today by billions.

    If the level of ambition for an energy goal is not increased, universal access to energy will not become a reality, however catastrophic climate change will. The current phrasing inadequately calls for the world to “increase substantially the share of renewable energy.” This does not offer the clarity or sense of urgency needed to spur appropriate action on the greatest environmental challenge humanity has ever faced. Only a goal of tripling the share of renewable energy can deliver on the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to two degrees.

    Practical Action at European Development Days 2015 (#EDD15)

    That’s why a team from Practical Action are at the European Development Days in Brussels this week. We’re running a session, in partnership with Carbon Clear and UNHCR, highlighting innovative and sustainable energy access solutions that could save lives and our environment. It will specifically examine an innovative project in Darfur, Sudan, which has used carbon credits and microfinance to help 15,000 families replace traditional fires with LPG stoves. The project has not only eliminated deadly smoke from homes and countless hours searching for firewood, but also has reduced deforestation and created jobs.

    The session, ‘Cooking on gas: can fossil fuels save lives and reduce deforestation?’ is at 09:00-10:15 on Thursday 4 June in Room S4.

    We’re also hosting a stand (W3) championing this very topic: showcasing our energy work and advocating the importance of universal access to energy, which is not a standalone issue but underpins efforts to achieve many other development goals.

    “Let’s grasp this historic opportunity”

    “It’s the most important year in international development in a whole generation,” said Melinda Gates at a European Development Days session yesterday. “To make sure of success we need to get citizens around the world engaged in this process. We need to excite people, get them to share information, talk about the goals and stand up and say this is important. Let’s grasp this historic opportunity to make a world where everyone has a chance to live a healthy and productive life.”

    Get involved and influence

    The SDGs have the potential to make a real difference but they are only going to be as good as we make them. That’s why it’s important to get involved and influence this crucial framework for development.

    I’m extremely excited about the conversations that are taking place on this important issue. Join the conversation and follow our activities at @practicalaction and #EDD15.

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  • Beyond the relief phase

    Swarnima Shrestha

    June 1st, 2015

    A month after the 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal, the people from severely affected districts are still struggling to get back to their lives. The people are still overwhelmed about what had happened and degree of loss that they have suffered.
    The earlier phase of rescue and relief has passed. Nepal has gone off the news headlines, the media personnel and rescue team from abroad have returned back and even the Nepalese who were involved in relief work have started getting back to their own daily lives. The heroic phase after the disaster where everyone wants to help out has ended. But the woes of the ones who were affected the most has not!
    The ones who have lost everything still are confused about from where to start rebuilding. Many of the settlements and villages have turned into rubble. Where to start from? Is one question that haunts many.
    The past month was shocking, tragic and chaotic. Everyone acted on the impulse and did what they regarded the best for the situation. But now, it is time that we reflect upon, where we had gone wrong? Why we did not take simple measures that could have saved many lives? Why we did not plan better? And then, How we need to do things differently now? It is crucial to remember that this time – the rebuilding phase is the most important. The future of the people will depend upon how strongly we build back our infrastructures as well as the bond that existed in our communities.
    It is now time to think beyond the relief and plan for a sustainable rebuilding. It is essential that this is done in a participatory way, it is the community themselves that needs to build back their lives, the outsiders can only assist. One of the ways that we can help the communities is by developing their capacities to cope better to the post-disaster situation and build back their own lives and livelihoods.
    Practical Action recently conducted a three-day training called “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading, which is one of the District which was most harshly affected by the earthquake. A total of 22 people were trained during the training, who will now be involved in the reconstruction of the structures in their localities.
    One of the participants of the training opined, “I had been working as a mason from the last 15 years, but only after this training I realised that we have been doing so many things wrong. No wonder so many houses just crumbled down to pieces. Now, I am skilled to construct earthquake resilient houses.”
    These skills not only help for the proper re-construction of the communities but also help in creating better livelihood opportunities for the skilled people.
    Another participant, Chitra Bahadur Thakuri says, “previously, we did not know that the soil or the base of the location has to be checked before the construction of an infrastructure. We learned that construction should be done only after checking the soil. Apart from that, we also came to know about the proper processes and the thickness of the beams and pillars to be maintained for safe building construction.”
    “I am going to convince people to use these earthquake resilient processes while constructing their homes. We cannot let this kind of damage happen again,” adds Chitra Bahadur Thakuri.
    This training is just an example, there are many similar initiatives that can be fundamental during the rebuilding phase. People might have received immediate relief for now, but the real journey of building back has only begun.



    Practical work during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical work during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical session during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Practical session during “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Participants of “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

    Participants of “Training on Earthquake Safety Construction for Mason” in Jyamrung, Dhading

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  • More disastrous for the poor; the Earthquake is unjust

    Swarnima Shrestha

    May 21st, 2015

    The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and the major aftershock of 7.3 on May 12 did a lot of harm in Nepal. The loss of lives, homes and heritages; and the constant fear of losing what is left; has put the whole nation in despair. People are in the state of trauma, with many in serious state of fear and stress. The busy streets of Kathmandu are deserted, small and large businesses all closed down. And it is already almost a month of the first quake.
    The whole disaster has caused a serious damage to the already struggling economy of the country. And the ones who are hit the worst are (always) the most marginalised; the poorest of the poor people. The people who earn their living on a daily wage basis, the ones who already had very little, now are left with nothing.
    The (informal) waste workers in Kathmandu valley are among the most marginalised people. They lived in the most vulnerable parts of the city; in the river banks, renting the oldest of the houses. Thus, they have suffered more loss than the rest of the population. Most of the waste workers from the neighbouring country India, have gone back to their own country. The Nepali waste pickers are mostly from the districts like Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Kavre which has been hit more badly than Kathmandu, leaving them no option to go back to their hometowns.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    “My house at Kavre is totally damaged by the earthquake and so is my rented room here in Kathmandu”, says Thuli Maya Tamang (35), a waste segregator who has been living in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin.
    More than hundred other waste workers like Thuli Maya who lived around Teku area of Kathmandu are now living under tarpaulins in the premises of Waste Transfer Station at Teku, Kathmandu. They are living just by the side of heaps of waste; with no option to move to a better open space. They do not have access to better open spaces, as the people from other (better-off) communities are unwilling to share the space with them.

    As most of the waste workers worked in daily wage basis or were dependent on the waste they collected every day, their earning has suffered a lot due to this disaster. They were not able to work for many days due fear and now they cannot work even if they want to because the ‘Kabaads’ (Scrap house) where they used to work are closed.
    “It is difficult to keep the family fed, as we cannot find any work. And I am so scared that I don’t think that I can work for few more days,” says Thuli Maya.
    They have not received any aid or support from any organisation apart from the support of tarpaulins from PRISM project staff on a personal basis. “We have heard that the earthquake victims are getting relief materials but we haven’t received any yet,” says Thuli Maya.
    Gautam Lama (50) is worried about finding a proper space to live after the aftershock gets reduced. “My house at Kavre is totally damaged. The rented room here has many cracks and is not in a liveable condition. I don’t know how I will be able to find a new place to live, as people were already sceptic about renting rooms to us poor people even before the earthquake,” Gautam shares his woes. Finding a space in Kathmandu will definitely be a challenge to these people as a huge number of houses are damaged and renting spaces are already difficult to find.
    Gautam’s daughter Samjhana’s (25) rented rooms at Balkhu, Kathmandu crumbled down into pieces due to the first quake. She feels lucky just to get outside of it in time with her 11 month old baby. “I could not take out anything from the house. Don’t even have clothes for the baby,” says Samjhana who used to be a waste segregator and is currently living with her parents at the transfer station at Teku.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Maya Tamang, who works at the co-operatives run by the waste workers, shared that children are suffering a lot due to living outdoors. “Children have started to get sick with cough and cold, as it gets cold in the night time. Rain creates more difficulty, so does mosquitoes, other insects and also snakes,” says Maya.
    Maya opines that the only thing that has helped them survive during the past few weeks is the ‘Sanyuta Safai Jagaran’ co-operative which started operation with the support of the PRISM project and is being run by the efforts of the waste workers themselves. “Thankfully, we had been saving regularly in the co-operative. Most of the waste workers are using the saved amount to run their lives in this time of crisis. We would have been left hungry, if not for the co-operative,” Maya adds. “But it is still difficult for most of the families. I have no idea how we all will be able to find a proper shelter and for how long will we have to live under the open sky.”
    Disasters like earthquake harm everyone; but it certainly affects the poor more severely.
    As the world starts to forget about this disaster in Nepal and its coverage slowly starts to fade from the world media, there are thousands of people like Thuli Maya, Gautam and Samjhana who still need help and assistance to build back their lives.

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  • More people grid-connected, but is that energy access?

    Monday (18th May) saw the first release of the summary of the World Bank’s new report on Progress Toward Sustainable Energy – Global Tracking Framework 2015 at the Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York.

    The report measures how the world is progressing toward Sustainable Energy for All, tracking country-level indicators for energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The headlines are that between 2010 and 2012 we made good progress in terms of access to electricity access (up from 83% to 85%). In clean cooking, the figures hardly changed at all (from 58% to 59%).

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    Energy Access Tiers, Kinshasa, GTF summary report pg 32

    What may go un-noticed is the section towards the end about how “traditional methods for measuring energy access significantly underestimate the scale of the challenge”. They illustrate this with findings from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Just counting electricity connections says nothing about the quality of that connection. So for Kinshasa, it shows that although the majority (90%) of residents are officially grid-connected, they are hugely under-electrified. “There are extensive limitations in hours of service, unscheduled blackouts and voltage fluctuations. The reality is that the streets of Kinshasa are dark on most nights and that few households can actually use the electrical appliances they own.” A fully-functioning grid connection should be rated ‘5’ – at the top of the scale. But in Kinshasa, only 0.5% of the population enjoy this level of quality, and 41% have access at Tier 0 or Tier 1 meaning they have electricity for less than four hours a day with 1-2 hours in the evening.

    How many of the 6.2 billion people with an electricity connection on the planet remain ‘under-electrified’? Anecdotal evidence indicates the problem is widespread.

    There are few studies, but findings from our work applying these same tier levels to examples of grid-connected, but remote villages in India and Kenya found a similar pattern (Practical Action Consulting: Utilising Electricity Access for Poverty Reduction). None of the households we surveyed there made it to Tier 3 levels of access which we are arguing is a reasonable cut-off point along these tiers for saying that a person has sufficient energy for it to be truly enabling. Of course, for them to take full advantage many other things would need to be in place, but its absence limits people’s ability to climb out of poverty.

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    Energy Access Tiers from Practical Action Consulting research Kenya and India

    At the same time, counting grid connections ignores the improvements in electricity access brought about through mini-grids, solar-home systems and other off-grid solutions. There remains the unspoken perception that these are a ‘second-best’. However, our findings from India and Kenya show that against some parameters, they are as good as the grid (for example in terms of duration / availability) and on others in particular reliability, they out-perform. The measure of reliability is whether there are more than three unscheduled outages per week of more than 30 minutes each. In 2012, the blackouts in India were widely reported highlighting some systemic problems which will be difficult to overcome.

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Tiers for hours of available energy for grid compared to mini-grid in Kenya

    Practical Action, along with a coalition of 21 other civil society organisations is calling for this proposed framework for measuring energy access to be adopted globally as part of the Sustainable Development Goals due for approval in the autumn this year. This is because it provides a more accurate picture, and will help put off-grid solutions on a similar footing to grid-extension.

    The World Bank’s full report (due for release in June) also includes agreed frameworks for measuring energy access not only for households but also for productive uses and community facilities – giving a properly rounded picture of the energy access needed for development. This took its cue from Practical Action’s Total Energy Access framework, as elaborated in our Poor People’s Energy Outlook. The insights gained from measuring in this way will be essential for assessing the full range of poor people’s energy needs and deserves greater attention.

    Source: ODI and Oxfam America

    How are these findings reflected in financing in the energy sector? Unsurprisingly, as this excellent infographic from ODI / Oxfam America shows for sub-Saharan Africa, business-as-usual is continuing. The grid (and industrial power) continues to be prioritised over extension to those currently without, and over off-grid solutions. Cooking remains a neglected sector even though the investment needs are lower. This is what needs to change if we are to meet our goal of meaningful, truly enabling energy access for all by 2030.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Source: ODI and Oxfam America

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  • Relief supplies arrive in Dhading, Nepal

    Amanda Ross

    May 15th, 2015

    Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team  has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.

    Distributing relief in DhadingWe’re focusing on:

    • Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
    • Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
    • Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
    • Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)

    Please help us deliver this help by donating to our appeal.


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