Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • Bio-dykes: saving communities and instilling confidence in them


    February 14th, 2018

    As we approached Bangalipur, a closed-knit community of 135 households, dark clouds started covering the sky and a light sprinkle followed after. Enchanted by the fresh, earthy smell wafting from the gravelled road and ducks swimming in the brownish water in the canal running by the road, we thought of delving further into the rural life.

    The surrounding was verdant with freshly transplanted rice. Nearby a young man was ploughing to ready the field for rice transplantation while a group of women clad in bright colours were uprooting rice seedlings.

    Agriculture is the main occupation of people in Bangalipur.

    A man transporting the seedlings was singing a folk song from the depth of his heart. At the village outskirts, the Aurahi River, a distributary of Karnali River, had swollen to its brim. However, nobody was concerned – about the river, floods and soil erosion.

    Over the last 15 years the river eroded three bighas (2 hectares) of agriculture land owned by 10 families rendering some of them landless.

    The river used to erode 4-5 metres of land every year,” said Rongali Tharu, 70, of Madhuban Municipality-2, Phulbari, Bangalipur.

    Rongali Tharu is a witness to the soil erosion caused by Aurahi River.

    The river used to flow among those simal trees,” said Shree Ram Chaudhary, secretary of the community disaster management committee (CDMC), pointing to a row of red silk cotton trees on the opposite bank of the river. “The river would erode our fields and sweep away standing crops every year,” he said. “The river continued eroding our land for 10-15 years.

    For the communities, by the communities

    The river has shifted towards Bangalipur in the last decade and to further stop it from eroding the banks and getting closer to the village, the communities came forward to build a bio-dyke, an embankment along the banks of the river.

    The Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) formed a CDMC and supported technically and financially to build the bio-dyke.

    NFRP has supported financially and technically to build the bio-dyke.

    We worked for 25 days at a stretch to build this bio-dyke,” said Phularam Chaudhary, chairperson of the CDMC. “Two people from each household worked till we constructed 100 metres of the bio-dyke and one person from each household continued supporting the bio-dyke construction.

    Safe communities, safe crops

    The 220 m long bio-dyke has prevented the flood waters from entering the community and eroding the banks of the river. It has also saved the crops in the nearby fields from being swept away by the river.

    This year there has been no soil erosion at all,” said Rongali.

    They are planning to plant more Napier grass and bamboo on the bio-dyke. Since the area falls under the buffer zone of Bardia National Park, animals, mainly elephants from the protected area come and destroy houses and eat crops. So, they have avoided planting rattan, elephant’s preferred food according to them, although it is more beneficial, economically.

    More embankments, lesser the fear

    When we reached Budhi Kulo, the main canal irrigating lands in Rajapur, it had swollen into a wide river. I could see swathes of land being eroded slowly and slowly by the violent waves.

    The Budhi Kulo turns into a wide river during monsoons.

    Due to sand deposits, the water from the Budhi Kulo overflows into the adjacent settlement during the rainy season,” said Dinesh Chaudhary, the sub-engineer working with NFRP. “To stop the bank erosion and water from entering the village, the communities with support from Practical Action built a bio-dyke.

    The recently constructed 150 m long bio-dyke along the banks of the canal has been crucial in preventing the soil erosion and water entering the settlement at Mukta Kamaiya Tole, a village of freed bonded labourers.

    The recently built bio-dyke has stopped floods from entering into the communities.

    Looking at the new sprouts of bamboo and rattan saplings planted on the dyke, it is poised to be a strong green embankment. Adjacent to the dyke was a long patch of marshy land covered with long grass, which otherwise would have been filled with sand. Two little girls were busy cutting grass on the marshland. On the other end of the canal two fishermen were casting their nets in search of fish.

    And none of them feared the ferocious waters!

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  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Financial capital and development, where’s the problem?


    February 2nd, 2018

    When Fritz Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” he used the book to highlight two key challenges. The first that traditional development wasn’t working, he highlighted that it was failing to overcome pervasive and underlying challenges and second, that the economic assumptions guiding this development were flawed. He argued eloquently for a new approach to development, an economic development model in which finite resources were recognised and that the aim wasn’t capital accumulation but human wellbeing. Development in which people not money mattered.

    For the last five years, Practical Action have been working with Zurich insurance foundation on a global flood alliance programme. One of the aims of this programme has been an attempt to measure flood resilience. The degree to which flood resilience can be enhanced at the community level, through wise development choices, choices that enhance flood resilience, that reverse vulnerabilities and reduce risk. These efforts to measure community flood resilience are built upon the sustainable livelihoods framework, and outline an approach to resilience measurement that takes a holistic view across the five development capitals (Figure 1). The framework measures the contribution of components, or resilience sources from each of the five capitals and measures how they perform to either forewarn, mitigate or allow communities to live and thrive in spite of the flood event.

    Sustainable Livelihood Framework (DFID 2001)

    One of the questions we are hoping to answer is what is the role of financial capital? Or more importantly in the rush to generate wealth as the solution to poverty, how critical is capital formation to resilience building? In the context of the 5-capitals approach we are finding that, insurance schemes, microcredit and inadequately financed cash transfer programmes in general do not allow for financial capital formation – at best they enable consumption smoothing. So we want to explore sustainable capital formation, and explore this at multiple levels from the community up to national governments? If by using the tool we can identify measures to build flood resilience, this may allow enough people to be generating profits that allows a capital to accumulate. Is this capital accumulation sufficient to be used to pool risk? To create a proper capital buffer will be very hard, indeed methods currently being trailed in the development community use some form of micro-credit or similar process to enhance local capital accumulation. Preliminary results indicate that this may not be a good way of promoting capital formation.

    Converting the risk into an economic value and then paying this amount into a common pool thereby attempting to share the risk evenly among a large number of people.

    A recent and sobering study of Indian agricultural insurance schemes indicates they were ineffective from a financial perspective. It was found that regardless of their dubious impacts on the formation of the other capitals, they are not even useful for financial capital formation. The job of social insurance must be to smooth consumption shocks enough to allow capital formation, not to extract so much surplus that no new capital formation is possible. Perhaps the real problems are around distribution and redistribution?  Economics as if people mattered, this and other challenges await us as we try to explore the links between wealth creation and development. What we do know is that we need to be looking outside the box and exploring innovative options, not just rolling out business as usual, failed solutions.

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  • Flood Resilience Program extended for five more years


    January 16th, 2018

     

    Practical Action and partners will continue to work to develop solutions for community flood resilience and provide robust evidence for investment in pre-event resilience-building under a new five-year grant from Zurich.

    In July 2013 Practical Action signed a memorandum of understanding with the Z Zurich Foundation for a five-year programme aimed at building the flood resilience of vulnerable communities in Nepal and Peru as part of a multi-sectoral Alliance of partners. In December 2017, we received the excellent new that Zurich Insurance Company and the Z Zurich Foundation had agreed to a second five year phase, starting in July 2018.

    One of the significant achievements of the first phase was the development and piloting of a flood resilience measurement framework and tool. The Alliance and partners have used this tool to measure flood resilience in communities and to empirically validate the results and provide objective evidence of how flood resilience can be built and why. The tool has been piloted in over 100 communities around the world in Indonesia, East Timor, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, the US and Peru in both urban and rural communities. By generating evidence using a robust and replicable tool we aim to influence investments in flood resilience so that ex ante action becomes the norm rather than the exception.

    Practical Action will be leading on the knowledge component of the new phase and we are excited to be the knowledge catalyst for the Alliance in Phase 2. We are committed to the use of evidence to influence policy and practice, combining both the human stories of flood resilience with supporting empirical evidence that can persuade decision makers of what works.

    The Flood Resilience Portal launched under phase 1 will continue to serve as a source of practical knowledge on how to build flood resilience, with lessons and solutions from all of the partners in the Alliance and beyond. The development of two additional locally-focused Portals – for Nepal and for Latin America – is helping to ensure that this knowledge is tailored to local communities and practitioners.

    The successes and failures encountered in the first phase have generated a wealth of lessons at local, national and global scales. These lessons have informed the development of this second phase, in which we aim to scale up our work building community resilience to floods, along with an expanded Alliance of partners. Practical Action greatly appreciates this long-term and flexible funding commitment, which allows us to focus on effective problem analysis and test out innovative solutions through robust community action, as well as generate and capture evidence of what works to influence at policy and practice at national and international levels.

    The new Alliance includes partners from the first phase; the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance company and has been expanded to include Concern, MercyCorps, Plan International, the London School of Economics, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International (ISET) and ETH Zurich University. This enlarged Alliance brings more diverse skills and a shift in ambition to deliver flood resilience to communities at global scale.

    Practical Action is developing exit strategies with communities for the current programme work and ensuring that lessons are learned and knowledge is captured before the local projects come to a close. Looking ahead, Practical Action is extremely proud to be part of this Alliance and looks forward to five more years of innovative work, delivering resilience to flood prone communities around the world. Stay tuned for more.

     

    For more information: Chris Anderson Global Flood Alliance Programme Manager

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23


    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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  • Why the snail’s pace on tackling Loss and Damage?

    We may all be sailing on the same ocean, living together in the same canoe, but it’s clear not everyone has their hands on the rudder.

    OR

    Can the five year work plan of the Warsaw International Mechanism deliver for Loss and Damage and Sustainable Development?

    This week representatives from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known informally as COP23. The president of this year’s summit is Fiji a small island developing state, one of the types of countries most affected by a lack of progress to tackle climate change. It’s worth remembering that this is the 23rd COP, which means that we have been talking about the issue of climate change for 23 years, in fact since the first gathering took place in Berlin in 1995. It was only at the 19th COP in Warsaw that the negotiators finally took the issue of Loss and Damage seriously recognising as a consequence of Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines. This resulted in the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) and an Executive Committee being established[1].

    This year the consequence of lack of action tackling climate change has been well reported. Massive hurricanes in the Atlantic, leading to devastation in the US and Caribbean have been frontline news. The economic damage in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida alone has been estimated at $300Bn. Less well reported are the communities on other Caribbean Islands trying to survive post devastation. Or the 41 million people in South Asia, struggling to rebuild their homes washed away by unprecedented flooding. Or the 38 million farmers across sub-Saharan Africa grappling with food shortages following two consecutive years of drought. These are all testament to the lack of progress on climate change and why Loss and Damage continues to struggle for the recognition it deserves.

    Today at the COP23, Practical Action, along with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) hosted an event at which speakers from Care International, The International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the Climate and Development lab of Browns University and Climate Analytics came together to discuss why this is the case. To shed a much needed light on the issue of Loss and Damage.

    What are the problems that we are struggling with? It is clear that climate change is already having an impact on our ability to adapt and that this is felt most by the poorest and those with the least capacity to respond.

    Three simple measures that could nurture some progress on Loss and damage are as follows;

    1. Take the issue of Loss and Damage seriously. It is clear after only two days at the negotiations that countries, especially in the global south, are getting frustrated with the lack of progress on Loss and Damage. This has been escalated by the recent devastation around the world, but also the failure of the Warsaw International Mechanism to deliver realistic progress.
    2. Finance is desperately needed. Currently the Executive Committee of the WIM has no budget, not even for pilot studies. As a result progress is impossible. Even the Technology Executive Committee has a budget and an implementing arm the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Why isn’t the WIM equally empowered to drive their own work plan?
    3. Evidence and Knowledge of irreversible impacts are in short supply. Many developed country negotiators are still in denial about climate change. Therefore we need to capture the evidence of the irreversible impacts of climate change to be better able to articulate the consequences of inaction. Action not taken today means bigger impacts tomorrow. To try and provide more evidence Practical Action alongside several UK NGO’s who are members of the UK Bond Interagency Resilience Learning Group[2] will explore the actual costs of loss and damage – especially in off grid, non-monetised communities, often missing from global hazard datasets. However, we not only need to capture this evidence of climate impact we also need to better communicate this to policy makers and the general public to galvanise action.

    Finally what about Technology Justice? Everyone at COP23 is aware of the potential role that technology can play in catalysing climate action, I will write more about this potential in a blog later this week. For more information on our partners at the side event please check;

    http://www.icccad.net/icccad-at-cop23/

    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/about/events/171106-COP23.html

    http:// careclimatechange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CARE_COP23_A6Final-2.pdf

    http://climateanalytics.org/events/2017/our-events-at-cop23-in-bonn.html

    http://www.climatedevlab.brown.edu/home/watch-out-for-browns-cdl-at-cop23-in-bonn

    [1] http://unfccc.int/adaptation/workstreams/loss_and_damage/items/8134.php

    [2] https://my.bond.org.uk/group/resilience-learning-group

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  • Pumpkins against poverty and climate change in Bangladesh


    October 26th, 2017

    Pumpkin farming in Bangladesh helps some of the most vulnerable people to cope with floods & climate change and so escape poverty. This reveals critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces.

    How is climate change creating poverty in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh is repeatedly named as the country most vulnerable to climate change. In particular, more frequent and intense rainfall plus rising sea-level is making flooding much more likely. While for some countries coping with climate change is a problem for the future, impacts are already being felt in Bangladesh. The Asian Development Bank reports that more rain is falling and extreme events, such as floods, are becoming more common and severe. Rural areas are being caught in a devastating cycle of droughts and floods. In a country where 70% of the population directly depend on agriculture this is a serious problem.

    Weather events have cost Bangladesh $12billion in the last 40 years, says The World Bank. By 2050, it’s likely that climate change could further reduce the amount of food farmers can grow by up to 30%. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, it will hamper any attempts to improve the poverty and malnutrition that effect vulnerable people across the country.

    To make matters worse, the most vulnerable people are often forced to live in the most dangerous areas. For example, the poorest families are often only able to build their homes and farms on the very edge of riverbanks, which are washed away during floods. As floods become more common people are more frequently losing their homes, livelihoods and food supply – trapping them into cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

    How can pumpkins fight poverty?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project run by Practical Action is working with 6,000 of the most vulnerable people in 26 villages across Bangladesh. The aim is to help build their ability to cope with flooding and climate change.

    While floodwater washes away riverbanks, homes and fields, it also creates new islands (called sandbars) in the middle of the flooding rivers. Practical Action is helping communities to turn these sandbars into pumpkin fields. With the time it takes to dig a small hole, and the addition of a small amount of compost, individuals who lost their fields to floods are guaranteed a harvest. Even better, women are actively participating in pumpkin farming around their household tasks – supporting themselves and their children.

    Practical Action is also helping farmers to sell the pumpkins they do not eat. Pumpkin selling can offer a great additional income for families, especially in the monsoon season when prices are three times higher than at other times in the year.

    The project has generated huge employment for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, and especially for vulnerable women. Pumpkin growing has increased food security and the ability of communities to cope with flooding and the impacts of climate change. It has also transformed individuals into agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them to escape the trap of poverty and malnutrition.

    Why is this an important lesson for the rest of the world?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project is a clear example of how simple technology can build communities’ resilience to the disaster events climate change brings. The project hopes to support the most vulnerable individuals in Bangladeshi society by actively involving women and children, and so strengthen communities from the bottom-up.

    It is widely recognised that local and bottom-up innovations, such as the Pumpkins against Poverty project, are crucial to both cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce the contribution to the cause. Despite this, there is a large gap in our understanding of how practical technology can be turned into successful projects on the ground. To be effective, projects need to carefully consider the local context and involve the community at every step. Practical Action’s Pumpkins against Poverty project is helping individuals suffering from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, it provides critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces: hunger, nutrition, employment and gender inclusion.

    Find out more…

    If you would like to read more on technological solutions for climate change in Bangladesh see the Adaptation Technology in Bangladesh report by the Gobeshona sub-group.

    Alternatively discover other solutions to increase flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal which is dedicated to providing specialist advice and guidance.

    More of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh can be found here.

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  • Learning to fail

    Often we celebrate success and seldom talk about failures. In a modern work-space it is difficult to imagine an environment where we confidently and openly talk about failures. In evaluation meetings we focus our energies on ‘best practices’ but less on ‘lessons learnt’. For me, success and failure are impostors, and I believe that the process leading to either or in some cases neither is key.

    Habitually we do not want to try innovative ideas for we fear failure, and now and again the magic associated with naivetés of trying new and untested technologies is treated as a liability; so (hush hush) these things are off limits as we are super engrossed in conducting evaluations and finishing reports in an ever evolving professional work-space. Getting things right at the first go might be valid from a project management perspective, but is that realistic when we talk about trying to change the world and inspire others by demonstrating something unique or niche.

    When we tried piloting simple low cost water level sensors in the foothills of the Karnali basin, West Nepal, we failed spectacularly. The rationale of trying the technology was not to replace the existing monitoring system but to test if these affordable water level sensors can provide redundancy to the current systems which are rather expensive to operate. First, we tried with acoustic sensors and realized that its capability was limited for large rivers and there was a spider nest in one of the equipment when we tried extracting the data. I was lucky not to get bitten. Nevertheless, three months later we tried again with LiDAR sensors, only to realize that the battery connection was weak and there was no data, yet again after few months we changed the sensor specification and are now nervously hoping that it would record some data.

    Piloting low cost water level sensors in lower Karnali River, West Nepal

    Whilst these sensors worked perfectly fine in laboratory conditions, we were appalled to see irregular field behaviour. Ah! The fallacies of being too research oriented and mechanistic – but the spark generated by the excitement of trying something innovative and trusting ones instinct was unparalleled. Perhaps one can conclude that the senor technologies did not adapt well in mountainous environment. Despite trying multiple times, are we ready to give in to criticism or failures? Nah! We are ready to fail again, not because we have the funding to fail but we are keen to look into the technical issues on why the sensors did not record data and what can be improved? The possibility of the sensors working well with real time data transmission and solar panels excites us. The sheer joy of ‘trying again’ is pure bliss! We are un(cautiously) confident that this technology might work one day and has the potential to change the spectrum of early warning and environmental observations. However, perseverance is critical, and not being deterred is crucial.

    International development is evolving in radical ways and while these changes are happening subtly, it surely does demand that we evolve from normative ways of thinking and styles of working. Yet we still fancy being on the safe side and avoid talking calculated risks. Having failed many times in the past, we are not scared of failing any more rather we are eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fail, and Failing is Fun when you have colleagues and supervisors that support you in the process. When we start celebrating failures as equally as success that is when magic happens.

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  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017


    October 13th, 2017

    International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

    Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

    “The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

    Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

    In 2017 IDDR once again focusses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and manmade hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

    This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

    Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

    The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

    With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

    Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

    Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

    Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

    Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

    What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

     

    [1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

    [2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

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  • Improving understanding of flooding and resilience in Nepal


    October 12th, 2017

    In Nepal, accurate understanding of flood risk is limited by inaccurate or outdated information. Five innovative techniques have been used by Practical Action and partners to address these challenges and share the information with communities and government authorities.

    This blog outlines these five techniques, which are detailed in full in this report.

    Rivers originating from the Himalaya are a vital resource for around 10% of the global population. The rivers irrigate land, supporting the agricultural livelihoods of communities living across the 255 million hectare wide Terai plain in which Western Nepal is located. However, heavy rainfall during the monsoon season can cause a rise in water levels that mean these rivers become a source of devastating floods.

    Practical Action has been working with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in Nepal and an interdisciplinary team of geoscientists, engineers, social scientists and architects from the University of Edinburgh to better understand the flood risk faced by these communities.

    An accurate understanding of the areas at risk of flooding is of critical importance to preparedness and resilience. Access to this information helps communities, local and national government agencies and civil society groups to act effectively to protect vulnerable people, livelihoods and infrastructure. Decisions on where to build emergency shelters and land use can be influenced by this information, for example.

    The Karnali River is highly dynamic, changing pathways, shape and depth as it transports millions of tons of sediment along the river bed

    1. Variable levels of sediment

    Rivers which originate from the mountains in Nepal carry millions of tons of sediment during monsoon season. This sediment can change the shape of the underlying river channel, meaning that the water level alone does not indicate the amount of water in the river.

    Solution: Using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler we measured the amount of water in the river at different times of year and at different cross-sections of the channel. We were also able to use this technology to measure flow velocities for the first time. We also measured the size of sediment grains on gravel bars and in filtered water samples. These measurements were then used to accurately calculate the quantity of water in the river so that flood levels could be predicted – enabling resilient land management, irrigation practices and crop usage.

    2. Outdated topography maps

    Satellite data is crucial for mapping flood risk. However, the maps currently being used in Nepal are based on data from 2001, but the course and elevation of the river has changed significantly since then.

    Solution: We developed more detailed flood risk maps using up-to-date and in-depth satellite data. This allowed us to analyse how flood risk is affected by changes to the river shape and to identify areas at risk that were previously overlooked.

    3. Channel migration and switching

    Channel migration occurs when a river bank is eroded causing the river to move across its plain, while channel switching occurs when the accumulation of sediment causes a river to change course. If either occur during a flood, the new channel position may put unprepared communities at risk.

    Solution: Using optical satellite imagery, we were able to map out the historical channel pathways of the Karnali River and to understand the frequency and patterns of river channel movements. This enabled the identification of areas most vulnerable to flooding.

    4. Social dynamics

    Communities often change as result of development or in response to disasters like flooding. This change can be caused by anything from new economic opportunities or business openings to new community arrivals, people moving to find work or whole families being displaced by flooding. These all contribute to changing demographics and vulnerabilities which authorities need to be aware of in order to protect communities.

    Solution: We interviewed community members to determine how flood risk interacts with their day-to-day lives. We found that the region is undergoing major social transformation which, while increasing the availability of cash and opportunities, is exposing people to new vulnerabilities. For example, the rise in concrete housing construction creates a sense of security in communities, but means that homes are less mobile and more valuable, increasing the potential loss due to flooding.

    5. Construction techniques

    Nepal has many examples of traditional flood-resilient construction methods. However, these have been displaced by modern techniques and materials, like reinforced concrete. Although it is easier to verify the resilience of concrete buildings than comparable traditional designs, they require different skills and technical expertise to build and are more expensive. Therefore, modern construction is not always appropriate for vulnerable communities who may not have the resources to safely construct and maintain modern designs.

    Solution: We studied the construction methods of homes and shelters in a range of settlements and proved the resilience of some traditional techniques such as using timber posts to elevate main living floors. We concluded that hybrid construction systems should be developed, which bring together both traditional and modern methods, and that evolving systems should only use concrete where essential to guarantee resilience without unnecessary costs for households or contributions to climate change.

    Rising water levels put the communities who live near the river at risk of flooding

    Next Steps

    Rivers like the Karnali, which have high and variable sediment loads, directly impact the people living near them, and we need to better understand how their changing behaviour affects flood risk.

    We also need to be able to share knowledge about safe and resilient modern building techniques so that investment in structural development effectively reduces the risks of flooding and other hazards.

    The team conducting this research project was formed from a range of disciplines across physical and social sciences. The benefits from working together and sharing knowledge and learning across the team became increasingly evident as the project progressed, resulting in greater insights into the challenges and potential solutions to those challenges related to flooding in the Karnali basin. Using an interdisciplinary approach to research, whilst challenging, can ultimately lead to unanticipated leaps in knowledge.

    The full report can now be accessed here.

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