With a number of challenges on the field and off the field, the team in India has managed to deliver some good sustainable practical solutions in last couple of years. Moving ahead for an eventful 2017 and with added challenges and milestones, I thought of ending the year with looking back at the sustainable practical solutions we have served so far.
Development is a process as we all know and in Practical Action the biggest learning so far I have got is how to make this process a sustainable one. Here I have documented 10 different projects and interventions which have been sustainable or aiming at sustainability delivering practical solutions.
- ACCESS cook stoves
Access Grameen Mahila Udyog, in Koraput which is nurtured by Practical Action has been instrumental in manufacturing and marketing of improved cook stoves. The cook stoves generate less smoke, save fuel and time.
It has contributed to less carbon emission and has resulted in healthier living environment in rural tribal houses.
2. SOURA RATH (Solar Power Cart)
Practical Action India developed a portable solar-powered cart (Mobile Solar Energy System) that provides energy for 72 hours to power mobile phones, laptops, lights and water pumps. The cart can serve up to a capacity of 5KW and can be used during the post-disaster emergency and is easy to be relocated from one place to another.
This model is applauded by Government of Odisha and is now being showcased at the Solar Park for public. We strongly feel this can add value to the cyclone shelter houses if used appropriately
Young girls and women in 60 slums of Bhubaneswar have formed Sakhi Clubs and spreading the knowledge on menstrual hygiene among other girls and peers. Our innovative radio Programme ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ has broken the taboo and enabled a conducive environment for discussion on menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls. The first ever radio show on menstrual hygiene Sunolo Sakhi is instrumental in bringing about change in the menstrual hygiene practices and behaviour of these young girls resulting in better health.
The comprehensive programme Sunolo Sakhi is also providing Audio book for visually challenged and video book for hearing and speech impaired girls in the State.
Community led water management has helped this tribal village Sundertaila in Nayagarh district to be self-sufficient in getting clean drinking water. Not only practical solutions but introducing user friendly and sustainable technology options at the last mile and serving them with basic needs is something what Practical Action tries to invest in its program efforts.
18 years old Sunil Tadingi of Badamanjari is now a successful entrepreneur and continues education in Semiliguda College. Despite all odds he is able to mark this achievement as his village is now electrified with the help of a self-sustained micro hydro power generation unit.
Badamanjari has set an example in Koraput district by generating around 40KW electricity to provide light to all the households of the village and people are able to watch TV and use fans as well. Rice hauler and turmeric processing units are also running with additional energy generated, as a result creating entrepreneurs like Sunil.
60 poor families in Kalahandi district of Odisha once deprived of access to electricity are electrified now. The wind and solar hybrid system by Practical Action has solved the basic energy need of the villagers with street lights, home lighting and fans.
Kamalaguda and Tijmali, these two villages are on the top of the hills where it was a day dream for getting electricity to fight with the night. Now, the villagers are capacitated to manage the systems by themselves without any external support.
At the backdrop of poor sanitation facilities in small and medium cities of Odisha, ‘Project Nirmal’ supports two fast growing urban hubs like Dhenkanal and Angul municipalities with a pilot intervention for appropriate & sustainable city wide sanitation service.
Project Nirmal aims at benefitting both the municipalities to set up Faecal Sludge Management systems by establishing treatment plants to treat the faecal sludge
“I felt very happy the moment I received the Identity Card from the Dept. of Labour and Employment, Govt. of Odisha” Says Salima Bibi a 25 year old informal waste worker from a Slum near Dumduma under Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Many informal waste workers in the state are being formalised and now accessing and availing their legitimate citizen rights.
9. LITRE OF LIGHT
Light comes from water bottles. Litre of Light is an open source technology which has been successfully experimented in 120 households in the slums of Bhubaneswar. It has now lessened the use of electric light during day time.
Small children can even study and men and women can do delicate cloth weaving and other productive activities during day time with the light provided by these solar water bulbs.
117 children of informal waste workers have been enrolled in schools in one day and are continuing their schooling; they were engaged in rag picking or related works previously.
While working with alternative energy, Practical Action focuses on advocating and influencing the society for a step ahead towards meaningful development5 Comments » | Add your comment
Written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini
A hot, sunny afternoon in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar does not evoke the imagery of a drab, lazy life that it typically must. One can hear the din from a distance, hard rubber balls hitting against wooden bats, followed closely by the voices of young boys appealing instinctively to an invisible umpire. As we walk along the dusty paths, the roads wider than the adjacent houses, a number of young girls flock to us, greeting us with coy smiles. Young and old women, sitting on verandas, welcome us with pleasantries and call out to their daughters, “The Sakhi Club Didis are here!” We stop in front of a small pakka house, the purple paint shining brightly in the slanting afternoon sun while the rice lights from Diwali night hanging down the roof wait for the evening to be lit. 15 year old Sailaja comes out of the little door, wiping her hands and wearing an infectious smile on her face as she briskly lays down the mats for us to sit down. She then speaks to us about the Sunalo Sakhi program and her participation in it.
Sailaja was 13 years old when she first got her periods. Anxious and fearful, she informed her mother about it. She knew very little about menstruation before the onset of her menarche. In fact, even after she got her periods, she had very little knowledge about the process and had harbored a number of misconceptions that she had begotten from her previous generations. She recalls that when she got her periods for the first time, she was isolated from everyone and kept inside her house owing to the customary practices of her culture. Moreover, she was placed under a number of restrictions by her family in terms of moving and playing, interacting with boys and men and speaking openly about periods. Sailaja had been using cloth to prevent staining back then. She was facing a number of difficulties in keeping herself clean since she had to wash the cloth on her own and dry it. It used to be inconvenient during the monsoons and winter as there would be no sunlight and the cloth wouldn’t dry up. Add to that, she was not even aware of the health repercussions that using unhygienic methods like cloth instead of sanitary napkins might bring about. Sailaja tells us that when the CCWD and Practical Action program ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ started in her community, a lot of young girls and women were reluctant to go and join the meetings. With the constant efforts of the community mobilizers, the Sakhi Club was created in the area as a forum for dissemination of knowledge and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene and related issues. A number of women and girls started actively participating in the programme. The community mobilizers used a number of strategies like audio visual screening, radio podcasts, visual charts, action learning, songs and dance in order to educate the participants about the various facts related to menstruation. They discussed the scientific reasons behind menstruation and busted many myths regarding periods. They also discussed various health issues pertaining to menstruation, ways to maintain hygiene during periods and practices to be followed for proper healthcare during adolescence. Gradually, the girls who were initially reluctant began to open up and started discussing their own menstrual problems with the community mobilizers who tried their best to clarify their queries. Sailaja herself was facing problems with her menstrual cycle. Her menstrual blood was thick and clotted which caused her severe abdominal pain and nausea. She spoke about it to the expert doctor on the radio programme ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ and the doctor advised her to drink 4-5 liters of water every day. She followed the doctor’s advice and noticed changes within a few days.
Today the Sikharchandi Sakhi Club has 32 members. All of them, including Sailaja have switched to sanitary pads instead of cloth. Sailaja now changes her pads 3-4 times per day and disposes the used pads by either burning or burying them. She monitors her periods using a calendar. She uses the methods suggested by the community mobilizers like hot water press and ajwain water consumption to handle her abdominal aches during periods. Her problem with blood clot has also been completely resolved. She tells us that the conversation regarding menstruation has changed a lot at her home and in her community with most women now speaking openly about it and discarding the taboos and myths in favour of factual understanding. All the girls in the area now go to school during their periods while they were earlier stopped by their families. Sailaja now exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet and takes care of her health. She promises that she will keep spreading the message of the club among her younger friends and urge them to not be fearful or reluctant, to take care of their health and hygiene as well as to listen to the Sunalo Sakhi programme by Practical Answers on Radio Choklate so that their issues can be addressed.
(Ms Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Student of TISS, Mumbai interned with Practical Answers and was engaged in Sunolo Sakhi project)1 Comment » | Add your comment
Technological advances have increased the quality of life expectancy, productivity and income. However, as technology advances, developing countries have consistently missed out on the opportunities to increase their production potential in the varied development fields. Appropriate technological solutions are not easily accessible to poor people who need them most. Food production, for example, offers a clear distinction between technology justice and injustice. The lack of appropriate technology to improve systems denies vulnerable populations off sustainable food production. There is technology available for enhanced food security when appropriate resource management systems are employed.
It therefore behoves development practitioners to review access rights and supply needs with a bias to safeguarding human rights. Practical Action is leading in maintaining the challenge to the world to see technology ‘as the bringer of consumer gain’ and its potential as a world changer – ‘a lever out of poverty.’
Practical Action Eastern Africa focuses on areas that impact the poor through an integrated – approach, taking into consideration the unique demands in society realizing that each individual requires solutions customized to their needs. The overall aim is to ensure that communities gain sustainable livelihoods that create a food secure society and we shall illustrate how.
Sustainable food production technologies
Access to adequate and nutritious diet is a major challenge among pastoralists’ communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL’s) in East Africa. The region remains highly dependent on food aid. The persistence for this is not a lack of potential but rather a misconception of policies and reluctance to invest in sound agricultural technologies that are responsive to the changing climatic patterns. The persistence of this challenge requires urgent attention and adoption of more practical options to secure sustainable food production.
Practical Action’s work in Northern Kenya (Mandera and Turkana) is geared towards ensuring food security (increased availability, access and utilization) to the most vulnerable groups; women and children through increasing their access to appropriate technology, knowledge and skills for equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Through participatory processes, Practical Action engages with the communities to undertake activities and approaches that touch on all aspects of their livelihoods from agriculture, environment, governance and social equity.
In order to achieve this, Practical Action has adopted the vulnerability to resilience (V2R) framework. This holistic approach assesses the needs of the resource poor communities and identifies skills and opportunities for them to build more secure and resilient livelihoods. This is to empower the communities to meet their food security and nutritional needs. It also enhances their capacity to cope with the recurrent hazards; drought, floods, livestock disease outbreaks and resource conflicts that are endemic in Northern Kenya.
Improvements to pastoralist production systems
Practical Action through the Food Security, Agriculture and Disaster Risk Reduction programme makes sustainable improvements in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist production systems through providing simple technology solutions and promoting ecological utilization of the natural resources.
This has been achieved through direct and people centered technical assistance on rain water harvesting (sand dams, earth pans, rock catchments) and water lifting technologies (foot pumps, hand pumps and solar water pumping systems),micro-irrigation systems for food cropping (Drought Tolerant Crops) and environmental conservation measures (agro-forestry, contour bands and trapezoidal bands). Practical Action also empowers the pastoralists with skills needed to increase the productivity of their livestock assets through improved animal health and husbandry practices, through the Pastoralists Field Schools (PFS). We use our unique approach; Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) to improve the marketing of livestock and livestock products and generate profit and incomes for the pastoralists.
Over the years Practical Action has undertaken to promote equitable use of natural resources through interventions such as; Land Use Planning and Management, Pasture Management/Grazing Patterns, Soil and Forest conservation. This has enabled the creation of wet and dry season grazing zones to cushion pastoralists against climatic shocks and provide opportunities for diversification of livelihoods into other dry land production systems; aloe vera cultivation, beekeeping, poultry rearing, and agro-pastoralism as alternative options for pastoralists.
In order to reach impact at scale Practical Action is working with partners and policy makers in developing policies that promote, sustain and create an enabling environment for pastoralism and dry land production systems. Specifically, Trans-Boundary Animal Mobility and Trans Boundary Animal Disease surveillance policies are key for ensuring enhanced productivity of pastoralist systems and have been Practical Action’s priority areas of influence. Due to the changing land use needs, expansion of extractive industries and the demographic surge, Practical Action is leading in influencing adoption of favorable Land Use and Natural Resource Management policy aimed at responding to the threats to pastoralism and their livelihoods by the emerging land use demands.
The overall goal of Practical Action’s intervention in Northern Kenya is to establish productive and disaster resilient systems for food production and improved livelihood security for the well-being of the communities. This will be measured through increase in food availability, access and utilization, strengthened marketing systems and improved management and governance of natural resources.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Runner Up Entry to Practical Action Strategy Contest
In June 2016, in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for the Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.
Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action. A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the contribution awarded runner up, written by:
Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso
The award of 80,000 CFA was presented to the winner on 2 September 2016 at 2IE. You can read the winning entry here.
Our world is experiencing spectacular advances in the field of technology and the speed of progress shows no sign of slowing down over the years.
In a decade the internet of things, already well known by its English name, will enable the development of more sophisticated tools, accessible to a much bigger portion of the world’s population. We can easily imagine that by 2027, technology will occupy a determining place in all human activities and have a direct influence on people’s lives, and on existing models and structures.
The proliferation of technological applications in the near future does not however signify prosperity and peace for all sectors of society. The rich countries, which will be the instigators of this future thanks to their immense technological potential, will take advantage of it, and the gap between rich and poor countries will widen.
In such circumstances the contribution of NGOs which work to combat poverty, such as Practical Action, will prove interesting to the extent that this NGO aims to make use of technology to take concrete actions to benefit poor communities. To do this Practical Action should support, accompany and promote projects to develop digital applications in the areas of health, environment and education for all, which will benefit the world’s poor. These projects will enable us for example to: provide remote medical consultations for the poor; to monitor environmental issues and raise awareness of pollution and to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the same quality of education, as children of the rich, through online training.
By Ibrahim Neya, Student of Electrical and Energy Engineering at 2iE
Runner up in our Fit for the Future Competition
Winning Entry of Practical Action Strategy Contest
In June 2016, in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.
Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action. A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the winning entry by:
Ms. MAATCHI Audrey NTAFAM: Master of Engineering, Infrastructure and Hydraulic Networks (IRH) HYDRAULIC ENGINEER from Cameroon.
The runner up was awarded to Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso. You can read his entry here.
The award 80,000 CFA award was presented to Maatchi on 2nd September 2016 at 2IE.
“… Africa must broaden its knowledge and skills in science and technology. Whether it’s to increase agricultural productivity or energy production, to improve efficiency and accessibility of ICT services or to provide skilled workers for the extractive industries, it is absolutely essential to strengthen our human capital in science and technology…” (Makhtar Diop, 2014).
Practical Action has anticipated this issue and worked on it for the last 50 years, with a strategic vision to continue to do even more. This vision, based on technology justice, should be used to arouse a desire for research, creativity and innovation among young people, who constitute an inexhaustible potential for the future of Africa. Indeed since technology is the future, the training of young Africans in science, technology and mathematics must be strengthened.
This can be achieved through research and development programmes initiated by Practical Action in partnership with schools and universities, training and research centres, and youth associations. One way for example, as currently happens in some French schools, is to give groups of say 3 students the task of developing an innovative, feasible idea.
Examples might be:
- To set up software to track crops on smallholder farms or monitor pregnancies
- To design closed systems so that farmers reuse crop residues and waste as fertilizer for the next crop, and so on.
The best idea is rewarded not necessarily financially, but by monitoring the practical implementation of the idea. Another way is to organise challenges, contests which enable young people to show their talents and for the winners to turn their ideas into action. This challenge open to students of 2iE, for the best ideas for a strategic vision of Practical Action, is an example of this.
Practical Action should focus its initiatives on an increasing scale, ranging from the youngest elementary school pupils to adults, accompanying all who not have means to achieve their ambitions. Access for the poorest and for young girls, to quality training must be improved. Many rural establishments have no laboratories or libraries. Practical Action could work in partnership with local authorities to establish exchange systems to enable the best students to move to the city to complete their training. A culture of technology must begin at the grassroots level. This means fostering in the very youngest, a taste for creativity oriented towards clean development; producing films in partnership with people in positions of authority and local elites, showing how to make organic fertilizer from water hyacinth, design autonomous irrigation systems or solar powered water supplies.
Moreover Practical Action should direct its policy to look at how to increase project financing by local elites. Experience shows that African elites do not have much involvement in funding social initiatives. Organising competitions in their name may help to win their support, as they are being held up as role models for the younger generation. One example of this is the “Aliko Dangote Prize” which focuses on the topic of greener production of cement and on sharing experiences.
Practical Action promotes inclusive development, one of the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is a major advantage because almost all emerging countries (in sub Saharan Africa in this case) have aligned themselves with this goal. Proposing to governments and donors, actions to strengthen the capacity of rural people, such as participatory support for agricultural initiatives, providing electricity (solar panels), teaching techniques for transforming, recycling and reusing waste, will leverage their desire to fund them.
As President Macky Sall (2016) said: “Science, technology, mathematics and innovation, used in the service of the community, can contribute to finding solutions to the major problems of Africa such as food insecurity, the energy crisis, poverty, climate change and public health. ”
By Audrey Maatchi, Student of Master in Engineering (Option Water) at 2iE, Winner of Fit for Future Competition
Healthy communities are the outcome of effective sanitation practices. Life and livelihood of people largely depends on their health and hence, sanitation holds a major role in it. Thinking beyond toilet, it’s time to ponder about treatment of the human waste and reuse it for the betterment of environment and a healthy life.
As per the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP 2011) India contributes to 58 per cent of the world’s population defecating in the open. And according to last census in 2011, an overwhelming 1.7 lakh households (48.33%) or 8.5 lakh people in the slums of Odisha defecate in the open.
It is noted that, if 1 truck of sludge is exposed unsafely then it is equivalent to 5000 people defecating in open. In this context, if we go by the mission of toilet for all, there will be a huge amount of scarcity of water and also the faecal sludge will be the next problem we will have to face.
Looking at the smart approach of our urban planners and urban development practitioners, now it is highly essential for all urban settlements to come up with solution to deal with faecal sludge. Having proper disposal and a well-planned faecal sludge management is highly needed and should be given much importance in the current context. What if we achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and we achieve hundred percent toilets in the state and country. And we do not have a sludge management policy which will lead the disposal of solid sludge into our river bodies and also open field. What are we aiming at!!! From open defecation to mass defecation, where are we heading?? Are building toilets will solve the problems or will create a new sanitation challenge??
Let’s look beyond, while addressing a problem also let’s also address the broader sanitation challenges ahead. According to report by Odisha Water Supply and sewerage board, out of the 60 Lakh people staying in 23 Urban local bodies, 31 percent approx. are defecating in open and among people using toilets, only 49 percent households have septic tanks.
This is again sad, that only 2 per cent liquid waste are treated in the state and 98 per cent either percolates to ground water or adjoining water bodies through surface drains without treatment. Waters from Rivers such as Brahmani, Daya, Kathajori can hardly be used for further drinking water purpose. Discharge from insanitary latrines, sewage flowing in drains, effluent from septic tanks, septage, and rampant open defecation are polluting the environment and having adverse health impacts to all of us residing in the state. At present no ULB other than Puri has any sewerage system inside the urban limits. This is shocking and we need to act upon it immediately.
Here, comes the solution. The Faecal Sludge Management and treatment is the need of the hour. The untreated human waste what we call faecal sludge needs to be treated. Be it household level or institutional level, it needs to be treated and an appropriate system needs to be in place if we want healthy life and healthy community.
There are few things which can major take away for an effective FSM policy and management. Decentralized FSM can be a good demonstration on these public utilities and Possibility to introduce decentralized FSM in newly developing areas, public institutions like schools, universities, hospitals, apartment etc is something which needs to be addressed by planning bodies. A conducive environment for private sector and the promotion of PPP model in FSM Private Sectors will create more scope for funding opportunity for infrastructural development. Onsite sanitation solutions seemed necessary to disseminate with sanitation stakeholders for their possible promotion.
If we look at the government initiatives, now Septage management in nine cities / towns of the State (Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Baripada, Balasore, Bhadrak and Puri has been included under ‘AMRUT’ launched by GoI. The draft DPRs for septage treatment facility in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Baripada has been prepared by OWSSB. Pre-requisite measures like land identification and acquisition are in progress. In order to regulate construction, cleaning, maintenance, treatment and disposal of septage in urban areas, government has formulated the Odisha Urban Septage Management Guideline 2016. Government has taken steps for procurement of 86 nos of 3KL Cesspool Emptier for 57 ULBs. All these information has been shared by OWSSB in public domain but still there is a long way to go. There has been experiments faecal sludge treatment in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Philipines, Argentina, Ghana and Brazil etc. Even in India there have been few experiments in Bangalore. But no urban local body has come up with a proper plan of action for the same. However, in Odisha the state government has partnered with few philanthropic organisations and there has been two pilot projects of faecal sludge management are happening in Dhenkanal and Angul Municipality. If these proved efficient use of faecal sludge then Odisha can be the pioneer in setting up a system for disposal of human excreta.
Further to add on, the amount of water being wasted in toilet, if the faecal sludge treatment is not combined with waste water management then, in coming days, there will be a huge scarcity of water. This may also lead to dearth of drinking water, which may break the nerves of any government creating challenge for the urban governance. When a comprehensive sanitation plan is being developed, faecal sludge management must be integral part of every sanitation plan, which builds on on-site sanitation facilities. Sludge management is an indispensable part of the maintenance of these facilities. However, in reality sludge management is often neglected in sanitation planning because the need for it is less apparent than it is for the provision of water supply or toilet facilities. Even when a sanitation plan foresees a component for sludge management, its implementation is often impaired for the same reasons. Sanitation planners and decision-makers must recognize the importance of sludge management.
As we have seen the adverse impacts of human excreta causing harm to human health and hygiene now, its time we must be proactive. With the campaigns of building toilets we must be tighten our belt for proper disposal mechanism. On the eve of toilet day, the urban sanitation planners must look at the mechanism of proper faecal sludge management.No Comments » | 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 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
We’re drawing our 50th anniversary year to a close at the end of August, by celebrating 50 successful technologies, which have had a huge impact on communities across the world.
We asked our supporters to vote for their favourites and these are the three they chose.
There was quite a wide range of response. Rating technologies isn’t easy! And we’d love to hear your views as well in the comments below.
How do you choose between such a variety of different technologies? Our energy access work demonstrates how vital energy is for raising communities out of poverty, but a lack of clean water and sanitation is life threatening.
Rural communities we work with might vote for one of our agriculture and food technologies. Being able to grow enough to feed your family is a key concern for millions of farmers in the developing world.
This focus on choice goes to the heart of Practical Action’s philosophy. We work with communities to help them find the solutions to those problems they prioritise themselves. And we make sure that those solutions are sustainable for those communities as well as for the planet we share.
Our solutions rarely address single issues. The problems caused by poverty are complex and demand a range of responses, not all of which involve technology. Consequently our scope is immensely varied and covers many different areas of work.
And over the last fifty years we’ve tried out many things in many places and worked with many different people. And this has brought a huge range of learning, which we share as widely as possible in the form of free to download technical information. And because we believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we encourage others to copy and scale up our work.
For me these two EF Schumacher quotes sum up our approach:
Knowledge is power
“The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge. A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things
Small is still beautiful
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”
Our world is changing rapidly and we need to make sure that rapid technological change doesn’t leave poor people behind. Innovation should centre on solving the great challenges the world faces today ending poverty and providing a sustainable future for all.
Let’s hope that before the next 50 years have passed we’ll have achieved this and Practical Action will be working to keep the world a better place for everyone.1 Comment » | Add your comment
“Sustainable…Participatory…Resilience”…I have to admit that I hate buzzwords – they get thrown about so much that they can often lose their real meaning and ability to do any good. That is why to me the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is so important. The Alliance works not only to increase the resilience of communities to floods but also to determine once and for all what makes a community resilient?
Resilience is complicated; there are hundreds of papers, discussions and frameworks floating around the development space. Yet there are no empirically verified frameworks that lay out the contributing factors to resilience. If we don’t know this how can we tell if we are successfully building resilience?
To address this, the Alliance has developed the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. Working jointly, the Alliance has identified 88 different sources that contribute to flood resilience and is currently halfway through a two year testing phase.
Here is the most exciting part, the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool has been developed into a web based tool and an App. The web tool allows the user to design a study that can be sent directly to the designated field worker’s Android App in their local language. Working offline the field worker fills in responses directly to the app just like a regular survey. The data is easily synchronised to the web tool which generates a summary and collates relevant data together for simple comparison. A simple A, B, C, D grading exercise is then carried out across all 88 sources by team members before a summary is then automatically produced.
Why is this good for the community?
The App: Saves our beneficiaries time during data collection so they can get back to doing what matters to them. Automatic uploading of data saves our teams time so they can spend more time working on things that really matter.
The Grading: Generates informed discussion and gives our teams a greater knowledge of where they work, allowing them to make more informed decisions.
The Web Tool: Simply presented results that can be looked at under a variety of lenses allowing us to make links which may have previously been missed.
The Big Data Set: Data is entered into the tool from a variety of different contexts and countries by several different organisations. Through testing pre and post-flood events researchers hope to identify global trends in community resilience and determine once and for all where to focus disaster risk reduction interventions for maximum community impact.
 Thomas Winderl, “Disaster Resilience Measurements: Stocktaking of Ongoing Efforts in Developing Systems for Measuring Resilience,” United Nations Development Programme, February 2014,1 Comment » | Add your comment