Terrence McKee, CEO of Interlock, writes on the organisation’s innovative approach to tackling the issues of poverty and rural-to-urban migration. Read how their alternative development strategy is providing clean and reliable energy to rural India and improving the health of the poorest communities.
To lift millions of people out of poverty and to avoid migration to cities, the development of rural economies is of key importance; in this regard the access to energy is a critical component.
Solar energy is on its way to becoming the most cost-efficient option for rural electrification, beating the conventional energy options, such as diesel-based power systems and the extension of the grid. Interlock believes that the time is right for piloting new opportunities, models and partnerships posed by solar energy. In fact, a new initiative has recently been launched by the organisation to pilot stand-alone solar plants in Vadad Hasol, in the rural Ratnagiri district of India. By testing the design, construction and operation of the technology will build a working model which will be used at scale across the country.
Access to solar electricity has many health and educational benefits, in addition to giving opportunities for new income generating activities. Stand-alone solar plants have allowed Interlock to pioneer their new telemedicine programme. Access to solar energy interlocks doctors in urban hospitals with rural solar clinics allowing the provision of health to rural communities. Getting medical treatment to rural areas has always been difficult, doctor visits are costly and the lack of infrastructure (road access, accommodation and communications) causes obvious setbacks. Yet, now with the introduction of solar energy it is possible to interlock the rural communities with the urban. With internet connectivity, powered by the alternative energy, doctors can visit the most remote villages ‘virtually’. Solar resources will be able to give power to community centres with IT facilities to resource the medical facilities needed.
As well as using alternative energy, Interlock promotes and uses an alternative development strategy through the use of ethical tourism. Tourism has been proven by the organisation to be a sustainable factor in rural village development. at the Interlock HQ there will be a small rural hospitality and catering school where people from the village can be trained to staff their paying guest units. This Catering school will be built in conjunction with a small ecology hotel of 25 + rooms, developed at the Interlock centre.
The Hotel and Catering College will provide much of the funding required for the expansion of the telemedicine programme. Tourism in India is growing at a rate of 15-17%, Interlock have recognised the opportunity of this and believe that hotel guests can be the commercial footing for the telemedicine programme. Interlock Clusters are to be the hub of the rural villages, giving access to knowledge and communication to large numbers of individuals.
The project will impact the lives of thousands of individuals. Not just in the future but now. The technology is there, all that is required is the will to make it happen.
Read more about the work of Interlock or get in touch with Terrence McKee to find out more- Terrence@interlock.co.uk . Interlock aims to facilitate sustainable development solutions to poverty-related issues within rural communities.No Comments » | Add your comment
Recently, I was in Rangpur, met some of our colleagues (includes partners) and had opportunity to discuss about the associations our pumpkin producers established. This piece is based on information and insights of that discussion.
Since 2009 years, Extreme Poverty Programme has been working with river eroded community to support their livelihood and empower them economically. As such, pumpkin production in a sandy land is one of the solutions that has been helping them to move out of poverty. However, PfP Shiree (Pathways from Poverty- Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment leading project of the programme dreamed to facilitate the thousands of extreme living in river embankment of Tista river to enhance their capacity, skill and knowledge, particularly in the areas of agricultural production and marketing of their produced goods. In the year of 2013-14, 5000 households were engaged in sandbar cropping who felt necessity in developing producer group and association for better product marketing of their product. Thus, 250 producer groups and 20 associations were formed by the project beneficiaries.
How it is formed?
The project supported the beneficiary through group approach where in each producer group there were 30 farmers. From each producer group 3-4 members were selected for the association (considering points were vocal in negotiating, have skills on organizing people and have interest in marketing work). Representatives from each producer group are the general members of the association. The association is run by a -10 member committee including one president, two vice presidents, one general secretary and one marketing information secretary and general five members.
How project has helped?
The producer group members were oriented through
workshops about marketing, different market chain, pumpkin post-harvest management, storage, group marketing, selling pumpkin in weight, and grading pumpkin before selling etc. The pumpkin grading is very important to add value of their product as well as to maintain long lasting relationship with buyers. The workshops also made them aware about how to bargain with buyers for better price, importance of keeping communication with buyers and benefits of selling to local agent etc.
How does it function?
The association projects their production amount. They do organize meeting, seminars and workshops among themselves with relevant market promoter. Taking the advantage of project support, they started establishing linkages with relevant government agencies, private companies. Apart from this, the association leaders also organize exposure visit to potential market players for better marketing their pumpkins. They collected mobile numbers of almost all wholesale market actors and maintain communication with them so that they can get some information proactively. They have been encouraging producers to set up storage space at their home and sell at the collection centre later which will get better price. They also collect and keep updated information from different level market players.
In ensuring relatively fair price, the pumpkin producer association has been playing an important role for poor farmers. In the la
st production season, 41MT pumpkin was exported to Malaysia through the association. From this, 210 farmers household were benefitted. The producers got BDT 2.5/ per kg more in compare with local market price. Like many farmers, the producer group members Md. Bakiul Mia (Vice president) and Azizul Hoque (Member) are very satisfied to see the previous group activities and their success. They are willingly to continue out the old producer’s group activities for getting better price. Similarly, it is also observed that because of the association, now farmers are better united, and they are making storage the pumpkin through grading system in order to sell to wholesaler in group approach.
In the last production season, the farmers produced 4000 MT pumpkin. Thus, in compare with the production size, the exported amount is significantly low. Therefore, alternative markets either in national or international needs to be explored. Additionally, the buyers prefer to buy only particular size of pumpkin (2-6 kg of weight) but the farmers mostly produce large size of pumpkin. Hence, exploring suitable and alternative markets is the ultimate priority work of the group. Lastly but not the least, the association is just crawling to move forward; thus, perhaps they need some technical supports from local authority or any development organization for few more production seasons.
The author acknowledges contribution of Md. Abdus Salam and Mizanur Rahman, Pumpkin against Poverty (PaP project), Rangpur Regional Office.No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action has established associations for pastoralists in Gadarif to help improve livelihoods.
Financed by the banks, these associations offer vaccinations and other health care benefits from the Department of Livestock and control of epidemics in Gadarif. There are more than 70 such associations.
The project, working in collaboration with the livestock department, has intervened to raise women’s awareness of how to raise and care for animals. Three training courses have been completed in the region, each with 15 women attending.
These women have been trained on drugs, first aid, wound treatment, injections and optimised animal feed. They were also shown how to identify common diseases among humans and animals, and how to avoid them.
The advantages of this training will be reduced animal mortality, increased productivity, better animal welfare and women’s involvement in primary health care.
At the political level, the Legislative Council praised Practical Action on the training for the women pastoral association about the basics of primary veterinary care and reducing losses of animals.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? The one that asks the question ‘what if she never caught that train?’
A colleague and I were exchanging ‘what if’ questions recently and I told her my favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if Coca Cola was never invented?’ I started outlining my current theory which includes a lot of yoghurt-based drinks like India’s Lassi or Turkey’s Ayran.
My colleague told me her dad’s favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if there was no Google?’ We both rolled our eyes of course, laughing at what a typical dad-type question that was. Amidst the sarcastic giggling, there was something about this question that struck a chord. Being the life-hack addict I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to once again experiment on myself and I decided then and there to abstain from Google and all other search engines for a month.
I started excitedly buzzing about my plan to ‘go Google-less’ and a friend suggested that I fundraise off the back of my crazy experiment and donate to Practical Action’s Technology Justice work. Given my tendency to give up on things halfway, I figured fundraising for a worthy cause would spur me on to achieve my goal so I set up a Just Giving page and the rest is history.
Actually, I only wish it was history – my experiment started just a few days ago, at the beginning of September…
If I’m honest, I had very little idea what it would be like without instant access to information apart from the obvious: London would be tough to navigate without Google Maps, my poor memory of song/band names would be exposed once and for all and (the most scary perhaps) I would never know when to take my umbrella with me. Less than a week into my ‘Life before Google’ experiment, I am already on quite a different type of adventure.
If I could name one thing that has truly impacted me so far it would be the simple act of asking for help. Instead of feeling ‘help-less’, asking friends and family for information has made me feel much more warmth and connection with other people in my life. Today I asked my Colombian friend to translate the word ‘Chévere’ which I had seen being used online. His answer was: ‘it’s a very Colombian word. It means “cool” or pleasant, nice, fun… yeh, more like cool and fun’. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of his wonderful, personalised answer and the subtle shades of meaning he conveyed – a far more enjoyable experience than frantically using Google Translate in the cab en route to an Airbnb.
Asking for help is sometimes a bit scary too, especially when you think you already know the answer. For example, I am forever getting confused between sea bass and sea bream. Last night I was convinced that I’d finally remembered the long skinny one (my favourite) was called sea bream. Unfortunately my boyfriend was of the opinion that this was actually sea bass. After several minutes of debate, I habitually reached for my phone but then remembered: no Google during September. There I was in the kitchen, the realisation slowly dawning on me that I might have no other option than to trust my boyfriend (at least for September). A scary thought for someone like me who is always right!
I remember my dad saying to me once that when people can help you, it makes them feel really special. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks I’m about to make a lot of people feel special. Either that or they will stop answering the phone when they see who’s calling them to ask for help… again.2 Comments » | Add your comment
The three states of eastern Sudan – Kassala, Gadarif and Red Sea – are among the poorest in Sudan. Chronic poverty and food insecurity are widespread. More than two thirds of the region’s population live in rural areas and just over a third of poor households in these states keep livestock.
Despite Sudan raising more than 15 million livestock in 2012, this sector remains severely under-developed. Once of the main problems in the sector in Sudan, and Eastern Sudan in particular, is the high prevalence of animal diseases, including trans-boundary diseases. These have the potential to seriously affect the health, productivity and trade of livestock and therefore constitute a real threat to rural and pastoral livelihoods.
Practical Action is implementing a €3.5 million European Commission funded project to reduce hunger and poverty by improving the health of livestock. It will focus on training women in rural communities, who traditionally spend more time in their homes and on basic animal husbandry.
A lack of knowledge and infrastructure means that many animal diseases cross borders to and from Eritrea and Ethiopia via huge trading markets in which livestock is bought and sold. The resulting problems undermine the entire region’s ability to trade and export cattle to the rest of the world through the traditional gateway of Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Veterinary authorities lack the resources and capacity to detect, monitor and control trans-boundary animal diseases. This is compounded by the weakness of veterinary services and poor infrastructural facilities across the region. Nevertheless, there is considerable potential to increase the level of protection of livestock keepers from threatening animal diseases by strengthening institutional capacities for epidemio-surveillance and coordination of trans-boundary animal disease control at the state level.
The overall objective of the Livestock Epidemio-Surveillance Project (LESP-ES) is to reduce poverty and increase food security in Sudan by strengthening the livelihoods and resilience of rural smallholders through livestock productivity. The project will implement animal disease surveillance and control is in the three eastern states of Gadarif, Kassala and Red Sea in Sudan.
Enhancing animal health, production and trade
The protection and enhancement of livestock health, in particular for small ruminants, is the entry point for the project because most of the vulnerable rural households keep animals to support home consumption of milk, eggs and meat. It also provides a coping mechanism to earn income from the sale of animals and their products to domestic and export markets.
There is huge potential for increasing the level of protection of livestock keepers from threatening animal diseases and subsequent improvement of food security and income generation of a large number of smallholders and agro-pastoralists including women, by
- Strengthening technical capacities for epidemio-surveillance and coordination of trans-boundary animal diseases control at states levels and in the sub-region
- Improving diagnostic capacities for recognition of priority livestock diseases to comply with OIE and WTO standards required for trade of livestock commodities
- Enhancing the access of smallholders and pastoralist communities to livestock husbandry extension services focusing on awareness creation on improved animal health and resilience against epidemics with the aim to improve household food security and income generating livestock activities in rural areas.
- Capacity building of veterinary personnel and community animal health workers with regard to epidemio-surveillance and the control of trade-relevant livestock diseases.
It is expected that the ongoing implementation of the proposed interventions strengthen the technical capacities for coordinated epidemio-surveillance and control of trade-relevant animal diseases to enhance animal health, livestock production and trade in the Eastern Sudan region bringing tangible benefits to a large number of agro-pastoralists and smallholders in Kassala, Red Sea and Gedaref states.
How this project will help
These interventions meet the basic demands of the target groups for increased income generation from livestock raising, supporting increase of food security and improvement of livelihood for a large number of smallholders, agro-pastoralists, including women in Kassala, Red Sea and Gedaref states.
Also their knowledge and understanding concerning enhancement of livestock productivity, improvement of disease control and resilience building against environmental hazards will rise through tailored training and dissemination of extension packages.
Target groups were involved in the design of the programme and development of main interventions. Stakeholders were encouraged to implement feasible activities which certainly improve animal health and protection of their livestock against the devastating impact of trans-boundary animal diseases. As a result they willso that they will benefit from improved productivity of their animals, and from the economic benefits of the trade and exportation of livestock towards improvement of their rural livelihoods.
This project aims to improve livelihoods and resilience against food insecurity of about 427,000 vulnerable rural smallholders in the region, through reinforcement of technical capacities for epidemio-surveillance and control of trade-sensitive & trans-boundary animal diseases.
The technical capacities of regional veterinary services will be strengthened through the training of key technical personnel and community animal health workers, who will be identified by local state veterinary authorities.
LESP aims to improve
- The technical capacity for coordinated epidemio-surveillance and control of trans-boundary animal diseases at state level
- The diagnostic capacity of veterinary laboratories and quarantine facilities at state and local levels
- The awareness and skills of rural livestock producers and other stakeholders concerning animal health, production and trade
This project should enable the very people who need this most to take control of their livestock and their lives. The scale of the work means that we can deliver real change to the region over the three years it is running.1 Comment » | Add your comment
“I’m so glad that Practical Action didn’t look down on me like everyone else. They picked me up and dusted me off.”
Juliet lives in Kajiado, Kenya and Practical Action supported her by helping her to access a loan to start up her own water business. Juliet no longer has to struggle to earn a living by making charcoal which was back-breaking and dangerous work.
In the mountains and forests where she used to burn charcoal to make her hand-to-mouth living, she encountered wild animals and bandits. She was once bitten by a snake and came close to standing on a poisonous viper. Her most frightening experience occurred when she was pregnant: she went up the mountain and was confronted by a man in a mask. She fled and he followed; “he wanted to rob and rape me”. Hungry and expecting a child, Juliet had to stop running. Fortunately, when she stopped she noticed three other men sat down – “they were my salvation”. The men stood up and ran after the attacker.
Just before Juliet had her baby, she could not make it up the mountain to get her charcoal and it got stolen. After she had her baby, her husband brought the charcoal down from the mountain for her and Juliet then sold it. But it was not making Juliet enough money and so she had to supplement her income. She washed clothes for her neighbours but she still struggled to afford enough food to feed her family. “I reached my end. I’d even decided to buy poison and kill myself because I’d reached my end! No-one wanted to associate with us. I was dirty; I was so black [from the charcoal].” Juliet could not afford water to clean herself and local people said that she would “die soon” as she was so thin. The day after she gave birth to her youngest son, Juliet went out to sell charcoal. No one helped her and no one knew she had had a baby because she was so malnourished.
Juliet recounts having a premonition that she should come back to her local town and start selling water. A friends’ mother told Juliet about a local mentor who was creating awareness of a loans scheme. Juliet carried on living in the bushes for a month burning charcoal as well as doing other jobs alongside to earn enough money for a loan. She stayed in the forests for days on end, to ensure that people didn’t steal her charcoal. She made 200 Kenyan Shillings (KSH) per day – equivalent to around £1.50. When Juliet went to clean for people, she took her baby with her and would have to leave him outside the house, making somewhere comfortable to lay him. Through her constant work, Juliet managed to save 2000 KSH to access the loan. Juliet built a savers group of 10 people – which was hard to build due to her status – and each member had to contribute: their group loan was 50,000 KSH.
Juliet said: “There was no connection from the water company, so I couldn’t fill my tank before I bought it. My daughter and I saved money and we didn’t tell my husband. We got the connection and I surprised him! We managed to buy the water storage tank.”
Once the water tank arrived, Juliet began to sell a lot of water which ensured that her local community had access to safe and clean water. The money she made from the water enabled Juliet to go back to the bank and ask for another loan to buy another tank. However, when they received the loan, Juliet’s husband took 12,000 KSH (almost £1,000) of it, as he wanted to go back to his home town to sell some land. He told Juliet he would buy a motorbike and set up a grocery shop for her to run, but he left her with his debt. “He was away for 2 months and he called me. He asked me for 2,000 more. I helped him because he was supposed to be setting up a better life for us.” Juliet did not hear from her husband for a further month and found out through his son that he had sold the land. When he did call, he was in a disco and told Juliet she was too old for him now. “He is 67 and has no teeth!” Juliet exclaimed.
Juliet’s husband had received money from the land he sold and instructed the new land owner to call Juliet and warn her not to look for him. He went to Tanzania for a 2 week holiday and “surrounded himself with beautiful women because he had money. I continued running the business and saved enough money to buy the second tank”. Julia repaid the loan and now has her own savings.
Her estranged husband found another woman and told her that he had a successful water business, that it belonged to him and that his ex-wife had stolen it. They arrived at Juliet’s home to take the business, but Juliet “chased them away with a machete.” The husband went to the police and reported the business stolen. Juliet went to the police station armed with her documents and explained what had happened. Her husband was told to go and never come back.
Despite her struggle for money and being accused of stealing the business, Juliet is determined to succeed. She has even set up another new business, rearing poultry. “It was good that my husband left. I have gone to hell and back. He tried everything to make my life hell; he even tried to sell my water tanks… My husband left me with debt. He left me with a baby. But I am free, I am happy and I will not stop! I want my own land; I am working hard and praying hard.”2 Comments » | Add your comment
Insights from a flood vulnerable community in Sirajganj
As interest in resilience gathers momentum on the international stage, the need to address the question what do we understand by resilience becomes more important. To explore this question I recently visited flood victims in Sirajganj, Bangladesh.
Layli Begum from Char Saidabad trained as a volunteer on primary health care as part of Practical Action’s From Vulnerability to Resilience project. We visited her house when the flood water receded to find her busy making repairs.
“After 20 days we came home and our houses are not useable , we are trying to repair and clean,” she said wearily.
“Almost every year flood comes in this area but this year it was higher than the prediction.”
“We have experienced many floods before and people suffer from lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation. Water used to enter the village silently and the sufferings of the people knew no bounds. People had to depend on relief and external support.”
“But this year though there were no relief activities, there was no major humanitarian crisis!” says Layli with confidence.
So what’s the secret for their survival for twenty days without external support?
“I got the message on my mobile phone that water was increasing in the Jamuna River and it might cross the danger level within two days. I called a community meeting to disseminate this message. As volunteers we took the initiative to announce this message using our hand microphone. We prepared to shift with our belongings, dry food, firewood, torches, cook stoves, water jars, money etc. just as we had learned about preparedness in our meeting two months ago.”
“When water started to enter the village we moved to the community house yard. After five days when this flooded we moved to another safe place. It was not so easy to move at that time as there was water everywhere and there were no transport. With the help of Practical Action we, the community people made a float with plastic drums and bamboo. It helped us hugely and we rescued many people and their valuables like cattle, goats, refrigerators, TVs, cots and bedding.”
As a health volunteer Layli also helped take a pregnant mother to hospital.
Access to information, early warning messages, social capital like community organization, human capital like skilled volunteers, knowledge, awareness that lead preparedness are the secret to building people’s resilience.No Comments » | Add your comment
On Wednesday night one of our brilliant projects in Bangladesh was featured on BBC One in the much anticipated ‘Chronicles of Nadiya’ a two-part series featuring Great British Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussein.
Nadiya travelled to Islampur village, Sirajganj in the north west of Bangladesh and met two of our beneficiaries – Zohurul and Hamida who have benefitted from our project helping people to adapt to the effects of climate change. Sirajganj is a highly flood-prone part of the country.
In the area Nadiya visited, people are often left without an income if one area of their livelihood is disrupted. Zohurul and Hamida were trained by Practical Action to produce and sell chanachur (bombay mix to you and me!) at their local market.
Nadiya helped them to make a batch and proclaimed it the ‘best chanachur I have ever tasted’ – praise indeed!
Previously, Zohurul was working in a local loom factory for 1000 taka per month, now he earns 6000 taka per month which has completely changed the lives of his family and given them stability. His eldest children have now joined the family business and his youngest daughter is in school full-time.
The project has helped hundreds of people like Zohurul and Hamida to turn their lives around through training in food processing and support in establishing a small business. Their success is a shining example of the long term benefits that knowledge and training can have on the lives of poor families.
The programme was fantastic from beginning to end. It brilliantly portrayed both the beauty of Bangladesh and the devastating problems that affect so many of its people.
- If you missed it, watch it here
- Find out about our current projects helping communities affected by climate change
- How you can help
‘Water and jobs’ is the theme of World Water Week this week and at Practical Action it’s a focus that we welcome because water is so integral to employment.
The theme is focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.
Millions of water related jobs ensure that water is made available every day for domestic use, for removing our wastes, as well as for sustaining our production of food, energy and other goods and functions.
But a lack of skilled water workers, due to a lack of investment in managing jobs in the sector, is holding back progress towards a world where everyone has access to safe water. Millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or even protected by basic labour rights. This needs to change.
At the same time the daily livelihoods of millions of people depend on well-functioning and well-managed water systems.
Growing their way out of poverty with water
In Zimbabwe, farmers like Elizabeth and Lindiwe Mukonje have struggled to grow enough produce even to sustain their families as their fields are left barren by drought.
They try to irrigate their land using pumps powered by diesel engines but they are expensive to operate and maintain and when they stop working, families are left in serious poverty and hunger.
“We were failing to fully utilise our plot because of the faulty and old irrigation system that we had,” said Lindiwe.
We worked with Oxfam on a project to help families survive future droughts, put food on their tables and sell surplus crops to earn a living by powering irrigation schemes through micro-hydro and solar-powered mini grids.
As a result, Lindiwe said: “We realised a good income from the sale of the sugar beans and this has enabled us to send our children to school, buy food for the family and clothes for everyone.”
Improving health and saving time
For a poor person with no access to safe water at home, buying water can be a huge drain on their meagre salary. Many people have no choice but to compromise their health and earning potential by spending hours each day walking miles to collect water from unsafe sources. They are often sick from this water which impacts on their ability to work.
We’ve been working with people like Eva Nyamogo in Kitale, Kenya – training and empowering her to work with her community and council to improve access to safe water and sanitation. Before, they had no access to clean drinking water. She said that people would have to walk four miles, every day; just to collect water from the stream, which was unsafe. People were often unwell and she explained that “they thought it was normal to be sick.” The community now have access to a water kiosk nearby providing clean water every day.
Dying for a drink in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, every day 20 million people are drinking water contaminated with naturally-occurring arsenic. Each year 46,000 of them die.
Terminal illnesses caused by arsenic poisoning include liver, kidney, bladder and skin cancer, lung disease, nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.
The vast majority of people who suffer from arsenic poisoning live in poor rural communities and drink from shallow tube wells, built in the 1970s. Many of the wells have not been tested for arsenic and people using them have a choice between paying for bottled drinking water, which is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of families, or take the risk of drinking from an untested source.
Liza Akhter, 21, from Bagerhat said: “We are surrounded by water, but there is no water for drinking. This area is arsenic affected. If you collect water from the shallow wells then you would get arsenic water.
“I have heard there are people who have been suffering from diseases caused by arsenic. The thing about arsenic is you get poisoned slowly so you don’t know who has been affected around you already.”
Practical Action launched its new project after staff witnessed people they work with battling symptoms of arsenic poisoning, but unaware of what was causing their illness, and powerless to do much about it when they were.
With your help, we are:
• Providing clean and safe drinking water – simple technologies such as arsenic removal plants and rainwater harvesting can help communities access clean water
• Educating people on the health implications of drinking contaminated water
• Testing water points so that communities can see which water is contaminated
If we are to achieve the Global Goal of water, sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030, or indeed Global Goals on decent work and economic growth, on health for all, we need to recognise that better water for all workers is essential – and now is the time to act.
With your support we can help more people like Liza access safe, clean water.No Comments » | Add your comment
The year has been marked by a number of unusual climate events. Not only was 2015 the hottest year on record, with 2016 appearing on track to exceed this, but the year has also been unusually wet. In the US state of Louisiana, 13 people died and large areas are still struggling to cope when a “no-name storm” dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina. This disaster manifested despite the US having the largest global disaster emergency organisation and associated budget on the planet. But in countries with limited resources the challenge of flooding is more severe. Northern India went from extreme drought to flooding in 45 days with the poorest and the elderly struggling to survive as a scorching summer gave way to an above-average monsoon; people who were praying for rain are now fleeing from it.
So how can we respond to this increasing flood risk in a way that doesn’t waste valuable resources? For example in Assam state, India, the state government depends on embankments to protect communities from the routine flooding of the Brahmaputra River. This year the Narayanguri embankment in Baksa district was washed away, this is the third time this has happened since 2004. Each time it is rebuilt to protect the local communities. Despite the presence of the embankments, villagers in Assam report losing their houses on multiple occasions. Why have successive governments in Assam continued to rely on hard infrastructure as the only solution? Especially when the local development needs are huge and local government budgets are limited. Embankments are not cheap with an estimate that for the last three years Assam has spent £56 to £80 million, building and repairing flood embankments each year.
People forced to flee when the Narayanguri embankment failed
How can local governments and communities maximise their investment in flood resilience building in the face of a changing flood situation. Clearly floods are getting worse, more people are living in flood prone areas and money alone does not seem to be the solution. So how can we maximise investment in floods management to minimise the negative consequences? Last week I was fortunate enough to join colleagues from a number of global organisations to explore the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of this challenge.
This workshop brought together experts from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), WWF, Asian Institute of Technology, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) with Zurich flood project staff from Practical Action. We gathered to explore how natural and nature-based methods can minimizing flood risk while maximizing social, environmental, and economic co-benefits of flood management approaches.
One of the sessions explored the question, “if nature based solutions are relatively cheap and freely available why aren’t they used more often”?
The underlying logic of two of the groups are presented above. Based on these examples, clearly, political will, entrenched positions and understanding are vital obstacles to the mainstreaming of nature based solutions. As one participant eloquently put it, local politicians are unwilling to risk nature based solutions, fearing the question “How will planting trees protect me from a flood event, what am I supposed to do, climb the tree when the flood comes?”
There is clearly a knowledge gap. We need to do more to highlight not only the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of increasing flood risk, but also the economic potential of nature based options to expand flood resilience to greater populations. The knowledge gap of appropriate nature based solutions, understanding of how nature based and more traditional approaches can be combined and a lack of evidence of how they can work and the benefits they can deliver. Nature based options are locally available and in many cases much cheaper then hard infrastructure. They can be managed using existing traditional practices and can therefore be maintained and repaired using local knowledge and local materials. Without even realising the workshop was making a great case for why Technology Justice must be central to deliver effective flood resilience building efforts for current and future generations.
“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F SchumacherNo Comments » | Add your comment