Technology Justice | Blogs

  • Energy Supporter Objects – The Variety of Energy Technologies and Uses in Refugee Settings


    December 5th, 2017

    A blog authored by Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen and Anna Okello. December 2017.

    A ‘missing link’ in humanitarian energy access

    Energy is a critical need for refugees and displaced people: millions of displaced people do not have access to energy, and humanitarian agencies and refugees themselves struggle to work with complex energy technology systems and products – as we discuss in the Moving Energy Initiative Report. Recognising this, Practical Action has developed an extensive portfolio of work on energy in humanitarian settings. This includes current research into how refugees practice and perceive energy, undertaken by working with communities to understand how refugees in Kenya engage with energy technologies and the objects that surround them, funded by the University of Edinburgh among others. By ‘objects’ or ‘energy supporter objects’, we mean items and technologies which are integral for, or attached to, sources of energy to make energy-use possible. These technologies can be seen as missing links between the energy supply (e.g. a solar panel) and the service (e.g. a fully charged mobile phone) – the energy supporter object is the phone charger, because without it the end energy use (charging a phone) is impossible. Other examples would include, matches, wires, cooking pots, vehicles for transport, and appliances such as clocks and headphones.

    Our research shows the extent to which communities maximise their total energy access needs by using a variety of energy objects and technologies. This goes far beyond having solar lanterns and improved cook-stoves, as, for people to use these products effectively, they require a great many additional technologies and objects.

    A comprehensive approach to energy poverty in humanitarian settings

    For humanitarian decision-makers to be fully aware of how communities’ use and value energy, we argue that it is vital that the total energy life of refugees is taken into consideration. Energy supporter objects form a core part of the realities of refugee lives, and systems of support and humanitarian response need to consider these physical things as well as basic energy access technologies to effectively work with communities. For example, a bicycle may not be considered an energy technology, but many people are reliant on this form of transport to enable them to move batteries to be charged, to transport firewood, and to deliver diesel fuel.

    Energy supporter objects in practice: Kakuma Refugee Camp

    One area Practical Action works in is Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is in the Turkana District of the north-west of Kenya. In Kakuma there are many diverse communities; with people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp population is currently estimated to be over 180,000 and has been in existence since 1992. In the past few years, the camp has expanded quickly with new arrivals coming from South Sudan or being relocated from Dadaab camp, which may close.

    In Kakuma, there are a dynamic set of markets, energy products and services available within the communities. During our research several types of ‘energy supporter objects’ emerged as being key to the community, including matches, wires, and phone chargers. The table below provides a summary of some of these objects and the type of ‘traditional energy objects’ they are often connected with or to in the Kenyan context.

    Communities solving their own problems

    While we don’t suggest that humanitarian agencies should provide energy supporter objects as part of their responses or aid programmes, we want to draw attention to the ways local communities are already solving these problems themselves. Many of the refugee and host community businesses that exist within or close to refugee camps are already centred on energy supporter objects and are supplying this demand gap themselves. For example, the picture below shows a refugee business owner who sells solar panels. But in his shop, there are also batteries, matches, torches, extension cables, light bulbs, chargers, speakers, sound systems and radios. By supporting and facilitating these markets, humanitarian responders have an ideal opportunity to also support income generating opportunities and the self-sufficiency of refugees – which can lead to increased human development and wellbeing of communities.

    Refugees’ energy access priorities in reality

    In many cases, our research found that the energy supporter objects were more central to business owners and refugee households than the source of energy itself. The picture below shows a music store in Kakuma camp, the owner of whom has multiple energy appliances: a computer, screens, keyboard, fans, a television and sound system. The source of energy for this business was actually a mini-grid connection, however, when discussing energy, the business owner focused almost exclusively on the appliances and uses of energy. This finding is in-keeping with Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook report series, which has long maintained that it is not the energy supply but energy services that matter most to marginalised people – people care about what they can do with the energy, not where it comes from.

    We suggest that NGOs and practitioners can focus on the way that people use energy and the practical realities of living as a refugee, to more successfully deliver support and energy access technologies. Understanding energy supporter objects is one angle that could be used to achieve this. More information on the energy lives of refugees and displaced people is available from the Moving Energy Initiative and Practical Action’s work on humanitarian energy.

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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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  • Systematic engagement of stakeholders can improve the sanitation situations in Dhenkanal Municipality


    November 20th, 2017

    Written by Ganesh Parida, Senior Project Officer, Project Nirmal

    Dhenkanal Municipality, is a small town in the state of Odisha, India. Witha a total area of 30.92 Sq. km and it spreads over 23 municipal Wards. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of the town is 67,414, out of which 34,864 males and 32,550 females. About 11,105 Scheduled Caste and 4095 Scheduled Tribe population live in the town. The town is having 14908 households. There are 17 notified slums in the city. Dhenkanal city, the district headquarters has a cluster of temples, archaeological remains, and a medieval fort. The majority of this district is covered with dense forest and a long range of hills, which are home to elephants and tigers.

    If we will analyse the sanitation aspects of the city, about 68% of the non-slum HHs and about 16% of slum HHs in the town have access to toilets and the remaining 32% non-slum & 84% slum HHs are practicing open defecation in the open field, river bank, alongside ponds, drains or roadside.
    People without access to individual toilets rely either on public toilets or resort to open defecation. There are public toilets, but toilets are ill-maintained, local people are not using regularly due to a deficiency in proper O&M from the service provider.

    The sanitation facilities in schools and other institutions are also inadequacies and maintenances of these facilities are always questionable. There is no sewerage system in Dhenkanal Municipality. As a result majority of sewage flows through open drain. There are no treatment systems for faecal sludge in Dhenkanal Municipality at present. Disposal of septage is causing serious problems in the Municipality. The collected sludge is disposed of in low lands, open fields, water bodies and drains. There are manual scavengers in the city working informally without any proper personal protection equipment like gloves, eye protection wear, boots and protective clothes.

    About 20 MT of solid waste is currently being generated per day in the city. The major source of solid waste generation in the city is street sweeping followed by households, vegetable market, fruit market, hotels, restaurants, institutions, hospital, fish and meat shops etc. There is a designated dumping yard in Ward No-8 for the disposal of solid waste but not for the treatment.

    Again if we will see the sanitation service delivery system in the city, the Municipality has many challenges to handle the above-said issues due to inadequate infrastructures and facilities.
    With this background, Project Nirmal has been associated with the Municipality since 2015 to improve the sanitation service delivery systems focusing on faecal sludge management. The overall vision is the demonstration of sustainable sanitation service delivery for small towns leading to increased coverage of households and institutions through enabling institutional and financial arrangements and increased private sector participation.

    To make the program effective and sustainable, engagement of the key stakeholders are highly essential starting from community to state level. Different forums have been constituted at the State, district, city and the community levels to ensure the participation of various stakeholders and their contribution towards the implementation of the project.

    Slum Sanitation Committee (SSC) has been set up in each slum to facilitate community mobilization, community monitoring of the sanitation activities, demand generation and preparation of planning at the slum and Ward level. 18 Slum Sanitation Committees are facilitating the community processes at slum level.

    Ward Sanitation Committee (WSC) has been formed under the chairmanship of the Ward Councilor to facilitate in the identification of sanitation issues, demand generation, monitor sanitation service delivery and planning processes at the ward level. 23 Ward Sanitation Committees are actively involved in marginalizing the sanitation-related issues at ward level.
    City Sanitation Task Force (CSTF) under the Chairmanship of the Chairperson of the Municipality has been formed to monitor and extend hands-on support in terms of awareness generation, ensure City Sanitation and service delivery system.

    District Coordination Committee (DCC) under the chairmanship of the Collector and District Magistrate of Dhenkanal Municipality has been formed to oversee, review, monitor and guide the project implementation at the district level.

    Project Steering Committee (PSC) as an apex body of the project has been constituted at the state level under the chairmanship of the Commissioner-cum-Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, to advise, oversee, monitor, review and guide the implementation of Project Nirmal in Dhenkanal Municipalities.

    The major initiative is to establish a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) to address the issue of treating the liquid waste from the toilet pits. The CSTF and DCC have proactively made it possible to allow the required size of land for the construction of the FSTP and necessary supports extended to the Project for early execution of the construction activity. The construction of the FSTP is going on at Dhenkanal Municipality. It is proposed to complete it by end of this year and commissioned in the beginning of next year which would address the safe disposal of liquid waste from the toilet pits. Hope, this would improve the sanitation profile of the city.

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  • From Connectivity to Co-creation: How can ICT accelerate the achievement of SDGs?


    November 2nd, 2017

    ICT is a key enabler for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can ICT contribute to SDGs? – We summarise takeaways from Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference 2017

    The Global Science Technology and Innovation Conference (GSTIC), which took place on 23-25 October 2017 in Brussels, aimed to accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of technological innovations for the achievement of SDGs. With representatives from key stakeholders from national governments, UN and other international organisations, academics and the private sector attending the conference, GSTIC became a platform for finding new technological solutions and co-creating for solving complex challenges in diverse societies. We, the Practical Action representatives, had an opportunity to participate in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as Enabling Technology sessions. The sessions explored how ICT solutions – software, hardware and data – can potentially impact SGDs.

    Connect the unconnected

    It is widely accepted that connectivity is one of key priorities for achieving the SDGs. Approximately 3.9 billion people – that is, around 53% of world’s population – are still offline. According to ITU, we need to “connect as many people as possible”. SES, a satellite operator, demonstrates how connectivity barriers can be overcome. It deploys a satellite-based e-health platform, Satmed, in Vietnam. Satmed connects doctors and nurses in three maternity hospitals across the country. Its broadband capacity transfers live visual data. Doctors can analyse symptoms and give advice online to other doctors and nurses based in other hospitals.

    Adequate regulatory environment

    Regulatory framework has been lagging behind ICT developments. The Policy Lab suggested multi-stakeholder dialog to “define new roles and responsibilities and retooling system” to cope with the current reality. Humanitarian interventions, for example, rely heavily on ICT. Collecting data about migrant flows helps to deliver humanitarian assistance, but at the same time exposes vulnerable populations to new threats, e.g. human trafficking. This should lead us to question the ethics of data collection and use: Who owns and controls data? How long they store data? How data is being used? What data security measures are in place?

    Collaborative partnerships

    New models of partnerships engaging governments, NGOs, CSOs, academics, private sector and citizens – women, young people, farmers and more – should be encouraged. The work of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) is of interest in that respect. The Network actively engages end users and encourages multi-stakeholder participation in co-creating innovative ICT products and services. Prototypes are tested and experimented with in real life, and feedback is used for iterative design process. With 400 international networks, ENoLL is able to launch projects quickly and share their lessons.

    Business incentives

    One of the ways to address the sustainability of ICT solutions is by bringing in private investment. In some cases, the government may only subsidise the early stage of ICT developments. The government of Qatar is implementing the TASMU Smart Qatar Program for improving public services. For that purpose, it aims to spend QR 6bn (£1,19bn) over the next five years. To date, around 100 use cases across key themes, such as transportation and healthcare, have been developed. Half of them are expected to attract private investments.

    To conclude, GSTIC highlighted the roles of ICT as enabler for achieving SGDs. But let’s not forget that technology is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. ICT solutions should equally benefit all members of society especially marginalised communities who are, in many cases, excluded from the debates.

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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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  • Big change starts with a small technology- Aashkol


    September 20th, 2017

    Since independence, having had massive development interventions for women empowerment in Bangladesh, but still rural people perceived that technology is something that needs to be handled by men. Similarly, entrepreneurship is believed to men’s sphere. However, aiming to bring some changes in these gendered domains, under EC- PRSIM project (funded by European Commission), we have distributed Aashkol (jute fiber extraction machine) through a joint entrepreneurship model (one male and female member can take lease of the machine fro 3 years). In this entrepreneurship model, women have significant role to play both for unleashing their potential entrepreneurial skills and earn an income. However, it was not easy for community people to see woman leading an enterprise. Sheuli Begum- one of the woman entrepreneurs of the project stated that;

    I am a housewife and people do not see my entrepreneurship skill in positive way. They never encourage to do such thing. Rather people laughed at me. But I know, I can do this.

    Sheuli helping her husband in jute retting

    Sheuli Begum lives in Bozra, Kurigram with her husband and two children. Her husband is a jute farmer, and she is a home maker. From her husband’s income, it is impossible to save any amount for meeting any emergency need. Seasonal income from selling jute fiber, jute stick is also insufficient. Therefore, to meet their regular expenses such as education expenses for the children and medicine for the family members, often they need to borrow money from neighbors. Since they do not have other sources of income, thus it becomes impossible to pay back the borrowed money. Sometimes, she sells her jewelries to pay the indebted money.

    Ashkol is being used for jute extraction

    With such hardship in life, suddenly she came across about a jute extraction machine. She also heard about a project that would select entrepreneur for Jute extraction from their community. She got surprised to know that women would get equal partnership with men in this entrepreneurship. Without any hesitation, she shared her keen interest with her husband. After fulfilling all the requirements and receiving the training, she got the machine from Practical Action Bangladesh.

    During the season, after meeting all the expenses, she earns 1500 taka per day with her jute extraction machine. Since they have got better quality of fiber, thus she hopes to sell the jute fiber with a higher price (in compare with last year). In her words;

    Before, it required many days for jute retting and fiber extraction. Now with this machine, fiber extraction is done immediately and retting also takes less time. Thus, labour and time both are saved. That’s why, we could have made some profits.

    She informs that due to regular rainfall she was unable to dry the broken jute stick. But she has explored an innovative alternative about the raw jute sticks. She has rotten them in compost bin to make organic fertilizer. She will use the fertilizer in the crop. Along with that, she has plan to use the machine in multipurpose way throughout the year to secure income round the year.

    As a concluding reflection, it can be said that women like Sheuli in rural Bangladesh never (or hardly) have opportunity to give a try to develop and run some sort of enterprise. Sometimes, a few of them get development support and try to do like Sheuli in this case. Among them, a few of them become successful (of course many reasons will work behind) and are considered as role model in the community. But there are others as well, who could not make it a success. As many development interventions, now a day are not comprehensive (like in this project, we do not have any activity like community awareness around on gender & entrepreneurship; which  is very important to sensitize the community). Therefore, the problem that Sheuli has highlighted in her first statement will play around and continue creating problems in her way of empowerment. However, we need to continue putting our efforts some way or others. And if we can carefully and dedicatedly deal the issue, then big change may happen from this entrepreneurship initiative around the small technology- Aashkol.

     

    Acknowledgement:
    Md. Rezaul Karim (Community Mobilizer, Kurigram) for data collection & Sayeeda Afrose (Technical Supervisor, Kurigram) for drafting the case study.

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  • Resilience in the face of increasing risk and uncertainty


    September 14th, 2017

    Practical Action’s strategic plan 2017-2020 states “Our vision is for a world where all people have access to the technologies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reach their potential, in a way that safeguards the planet today, and for future generations”. But with development gains being eroded by natural hazards, I sometimes wonder if we are fighting a losing battle?

    Volunteers rescuing people in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    According to the Economist, there are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970[1]. A trend demonstrated vividly by the extensive flooding in South Asia and the impacts of the current North Atlantic hurricane season with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although Practical Action does not work in developed countries, the fact that cities in the United States, cities with planning agencies, building regulations and investment in mitigation, have been devastated by natural hazards demonstrates the increase in climate risk for communities in the developing world, that lack similar government capacity and struggle with limited budgets.

    In a world of increasing risk, resilience is a useful concept to explore the capacities, assets and behaviours that people, their communities and the societies in which they belong, need to be resilient to shocks and stresses. But resilience itself as an outcome of development, may be foolhardy to pursue.

    Practical Action recognises that technology is a key enabler of human development, that technological innovation has the power to enable a better world. Technology can advance the adaptive capacity of communities to cope with risk. For example a community protected by an Early Warning System have access to the information to allow them to act in advance of a flood event. As more EWS messages are received and successful responses are triggered, the community starts to learn what behaviour keeps them safe and the actions needed to limit the destruction of the flood event. Access to knowledge and information and their increased safety, nurtures experiential learning, they start to learn how to live with the flood.

    In a world in which there is no clear endpoint for development, in which resilience becomes ever more distant, enabling communities to experiment, to learn and adapt their lives and livelihoods will be vital if they are to survive and flourish. Resilience as an outcome is dangerous, it suggests an end state of resilience, whereas resilience is more dynamic. Resilience must consider the role of culture and human agency, and that the development aims of all people, communities and countries need not necessarily align to the same outcome. What builds the resilience of a farmer with a tractor may not be the same as what would build the resilience of a farmer dependent on livestock for motive power. Different vulnerabilities, different contexts, stress the need for different resilience building processes. We must stop focussing on the outcome of resilience and instead concentrate on learning from what we are doing, be brave enough to adapt when things start to diverge from the expected, and most importantly we mustn’t forget that it’s ok to learn from failure.

    [1] https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

    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.

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  • Coping disasters beyond the border : Nepal-India cross-border flood early warning system


    September 12th, 2017

    Written by: Dinanath Bhandari, Buddhi Kumal, Lok Narayan Pokhrel and Kamal Tripathi


    Saving lives from flood disasters beyond the border is possible through early warning systems. It is demonstrated successfully in three river basins between India and Nepal. Bilateral cooperation at government level could make greater changes.

    While many governments are sharing information on cyclones and are helping in taking preventive measures, south Asian countries are yet to root their efforts in working together to save their people. However, civil society collaboration between Nepal and India has saved lives and assets from flooding. The governments in both countries can do better if they realize the importance of cross-border flood early warning systems. There are already evidences from good practice on the ground inspiring authorities to upscale efforts.

    Different countries, changed names but the pain is the same

    People living along the banks of Karnali (Ghagra in India) and Babai (Saryu in India) share the same exposure to floods. Both have lost relatives, assets and face drudgery brought about by the floods. Nepalese communities have less time to escape as they are in the upstream catchment and the flow is fast with less lag time to prepare and respond to particular flood. On the other hand, communities downstream in India didn’t have any information about impending floods until a few years back.

    NDFR Rescue Team Shifting people to safe areas. Photo: PPGVS

    For last few years flood frequency has been getting higher with record floods in West Rapti and Babai Rivers. Babai had devastating flood in 2014, when 32 people lost their lives in Bardiya, Nepal. In India, the flood broke the Saryu barrage dam and 13 people lost their lives. West Rapti has crossed the danger level several times since 2012, up to six times in some years. Loss of lives, assets and livelihoods was an common phenomenon for the people living in flood plains in Nepal and India.

    Changing floods: changing coping strategies

    However, the situation is changing now. In Nepal Practical Action has been working with communities, civil society organizations and relevant government agencies at local to national level to set up and advancement of community centered flood early warning systems in West Rapti (since 2008), Babai (2008) and Karnali (2010). Since 2016 Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) has started sending text messages directly to the people in flood prone areas based on their rainfall and flood forecast in addition to informing related authorities of Home Ministry at center and sub-national level. This has helped to evacuate people at risk to safer places to prevent loss of lives and movable belongings. An institutional mechanism of community disaster management committee (CDMC) has made the EWS operational thanks to efforts of Practical Action together with the DHM and other many institutions for over a decade.

    Community volunteers rescuing people to safe shelters in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    In India in the downstream, Poorvanchal Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS) has established community based flood early warning system in Gonda, Baharaich and Gorakhpur districts since 2012 with technical support from Practical Action along with its long time partners Nepal Red Cross’s Bardia District Chapter, Center for Social Development and Research (CSDR) and Radha Krishna Tharu Jana Sewa Kendra (RKJS). A generous information sharing by the DHM authorities for humanitarian purposes has made this possible. PGVS has been working together with Nepali NGOs and Red Cross to improve collaboration for information sharing to saving lives in the downstream. Following Nepal’s alert, warning and danger level of floods in the flood forecasting stations in Kusum (West Rapti), Chepang (Babai) and Chisapani (Karnali), calibrations have made to different Indian communities along with lead time calculations. Indian communities receive information via SMS sent by community individuals in Nepal built on informal linkages and watching DHM web pages that display real-time flood and rainfall situation. In the communities, trained volunteers take lead to communicate by hand operated sirens, mega phones and door to door visits.

    The Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods 2017

    Babai Flood Rating Curve. Source: DHM

    Strong monsoon winds in the second week of August dumped a lot of rainwater in parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh resulting in huge floods in these countries. Almost every river originating in Nepal enters India. Huge floods in Nepal often cause similar situations for people in parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar in India. On 12-13 August 2017, there was an unprecedented flood in the Babai and West Rapti rivers in Nepal which soon crossed the border and reached India in few hours. Real-time river level sensor of the DHM recorded that the highest level of flood of Babai in Chepang flood gauge station was 9.98m on 13 August 2017 and of West Rapti in Kusum flood gauge station was 8.87m on 12 August 2017. Both were the highest level of flooding on record.

    Cross border cooperation saved lives

    In the August 12-13, 2017 floods, information sharing in between upstream and downstream communities demonstrated its significance. Indian communities and the organizations take care of potential rainfall in the upstream and frequently watch the DHM real-time information. Indian communities also call to upstream communities in Bardiya and Banke, hydrology stations in Nepal and request to inform them about the level of flood and rainfall status in the upstream. The network members brought this collaboration to a new height in this year. They used internet applications and social media to exchange flood information [insert cross border SMS or WhatsApp]. This enables communities to get timely information about potential risk of flood and authorities to help communities. People and authorities in Bahraich, Gonda, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddarthanagar and Gorakhpur received flood information in advance through different media.

    Rating Curve of West Rapti. Source: DHM

    The mechanism proved a success to saving lives of many people in above districts in India. The information was generated in Nepal and shared with members in India. “It helped people to save their lives, movable properties and important belongings”, said Krishna Kumar of PGVS in Bahraich. Once the flood crossed warnings these three rivers in Nepal, members shared information actively. Nepali people relayed flood forecasts and updates from the DHM to their Indian counterparts. The network members made use of social media. These media were also used to inform communities in India. “PGVS sent rainfall and flood risk information using WhatsApp, Facebook and group SMS that helped save lives in this severe flooding”, Kamal Tripathi of PGVS shared. “We sent them to task forces at community level, relevant government officials, media and inter-agency groups and it proved a success”. They reached 2500 key persons instantly through these channels helping over 2,000,000 flood vulnerable people in 6 districts in UP prompting them to evacuate in time.

    The Civil Society Network

    These initiatives taken by civil society organizations have received support from journalists, advocates, and members for chamber of commerce and industries – the business sector in Nepal and India to strengthen the cross border flood EWS. In 2016, they formed Indo Nepal cross border flood early warning network. The network is Co-chaired by Krishna Gautam – President of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya District Chapter and Krishna Kumar Tripathi – Additional Director of PGVS in India as a member secretary to the network. The network aims to demonstrate successful EWS mechanism beyond border to saving lives from floods and influence authorities to collaborate better between two countries. “We are doing this for saving lives, assets and livelihoods from flood disasters”, said Krishna Gautam of Nepal Red Cross Bardiya, “It is based on our humanitarian principles and the collaboration is on humanitarian ground.” According to review in the communities, loss of lives has been brought down to minimum possible in Bahraich, Gonda and Gorakhpur despite unprecedented immense flooding thanks to cross border cooperation. This has demonstrated an example to take up by governments.

    Screen Shot. WhatsApp

    Disasters extend beyond borders warranting cross-border cooperation on prevention, preparedness and response to flooding at all levels to helping each other. There are reasons why governments should invest, collaborate and cooperate with each other in preventing disasters; a shift is required in approaches and practices to address the risks of changing floods. The technology is advancing, access to flood risk information has been possible prompting preventive measures by the communities and authorities beyond the border. Governments should tap the opportunities created by civil societies.

    Find out more…

    Read more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal.

     

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  • Nepal Floods 2017 : lessons in preparedness


    August 27th, 2017

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. The flood disaster in the second week of August in Nepal told us to do better preparedness and ‘bring back better’.

    Disasters test our response capacity. The floods have revealed our strength and weaknesses. It was an exam for decade long interventions by numerous agencies on flood preparedness – District Disaster Preparedness Plans, pre-monsoon workshops and so forth that happened every year in every district for many years. The reduced number deaths and losses despite extent of the disaster is one strong indicator of success. This is significant progress in saving lives. However, not a systematic one.

    The flood early warning system is a last mile solution to saving lives. We should not perceive wrongly that it should do all of preparedness. Introduction of rainfall to run-off models have enhanced risk forecasting and monitoring to let authorities know about the potential risk of floods. Localized mass SMS through NCell and NTC have improved communication of flood risk updates to communities, social media are other means connecting people globally. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) confidently issued flood alerts to flood vulnerable communities at least 24 hours before a flood event. It was not imagined few years back. Models have increased lead time of real-time flow (also known as gauge to gauge) based early warning as well by 2-5 hours. These all improved flood risk forecasting. Had authorities taken meaningful response actions in time soon after they got flood risk information; we could have prevented losses significantly. However the recent flood event showed efforts on preparedness are yet to payback and the cost of negligence reduced the gains. The floods in 12-13 August, 2017 are real time test of our long investment on disaster preparedness, not EWS alone.

    15 years on: EWS to saving lives, properties and livelihoods
    Flood EWS is an integrated system of interdependent systems. We have been working with concerned government, non-government agencies and flood prone communities, too many to name, in respective river basins in setting up and advancing the system. Some components of the systems are equipped with modern technologies – risk monitoring and communication. There are institutional set up down to community level built in last 10 year or so. More people are trained and our security personnel are better organized and equipped to respond.

    Since 2002, we in Practical Action have reached flood prone communities in major (9) river basins and have worked in national mechanism of government for EWS with the DHM. We worked together with partners, allies, vulnerable communities and their concerned government agencies. In some river basins the EWS has been extended to further downstream communities in India to saving their lives. It has set successful example in Karnali (Ghagra in India), Babai (Saryu in India) and west Rapti. Saving people should be a mission beyond borders. For us these flood events were.

    Nepal floods 2017, a Real –time test of EWS
    In this year flood, some components demonstrated success but ultimate response actions had limitations. The weather and flood risk forecasting happened in time, communication were improved but could not generate actionable advisories for particular communities in time. The human and governance parts of the systems are yet to graduate. It lacked specific risk knowledge to take proper actions in right time. As the result there were differentiated flood response actions. Flood early warning should mean people at risk zone are evacuated before flood reaches their location. It’s all about taking people to safety before hazards come. But many people waited flood to arrive at them after they got alerts and warnings. Is it adequate? EWS is part of DRR and preparedness, not a stand alone system.

    Intense rainfall on from 11 to 12 August resulted into big (worst in record in many river basins) flooding from 11-13. Immediate effects lasted for about a week. Government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) had issued alerts and warnings of the potential disastrous events in advance from 8th August and they issued alert for rivers in the east.

    Flood alert for the eastern Tarai on 8th August.

    There were normal rainfall on 9th August but the cloud got dense on 10th. The DHM informed the potential intense rainfall and flood. The active monsoon rains since 8th August but much intense from 11th in Tarai, Siwalik and some of the mid-hills generated highest level of flood in second order rivers (Kankai, Bagmati, West Rapti, Riu, Babai) and the third order rivers/rivulets that originate from Siwalik and Tarai. Considering the potential off intense rain and potential cloud burst situation the DHM issued special bulletin in the afternoon of 10th August and informed EOC of the potential risk. By afternoon of the day, they issued special bulletin and sent to authorities through National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC). It was at least 24 hours ahead of flood event on 11 evening.

    More effect was inundation from local rain. In the rivers – Babai, Rapti, Bagmati, Triyuga-Khando, Budhi Ganga, Kankai, Biring (from west to east), it accumulated tributary input and hill catchment rain as well. Flood alerts were issued considering the rainfall in the downstream catchment as well but authorities do not have proper knowledge of rainfall inundation relationship in specific areas. Throughout the event, the DHM sent SMS texts to the communities when flood reached warning in the flood forecasting station of particular river. The SMS were sent in Kankai, Rapti, Riu, East Rapti (Chitwan), Babai.

    However, response actions on the ground were not taken effectively as anticipated. Many people and agencies did not know about the extent of flood in their locality, neither authority were confident of potential consequences. People shifted their goods in the upper stairs, gathered in home but did not leave it. The system was strong in looking at atmosphere but not generating proper actions on the ground. Many deaths could have been prevented if authorities were serious in taking respective decisions and people were forcefully evacuated in time. Following DHM alerts and warnings, DDRCs and security forces informed the flood risk to the communities but they were not actionable instructions. One survivor said, “We got the information in time but where to go?”

    Where there are community based institutions (CDMC, task forces), preparedness on the ground and people had experienced bad flood within last 5 years or so; they were less negligent, moved to safer places nearby. An example is Babai river flood plains in Bardia. They faced flood in 2014 and sustained huge losses. A ware house of Nepal Red Cross in Tikapur municipality in Kailali eased the relief processes’ after the event. However long-distance and timely evacuation did not take place; many response actions were not in time.

    People are moving to shelter, only when they realized it is not safe where they are.

    Government and communities have realized that early warning helped saving lives to a great extent. However, it is also realized that preparedness as a whole was not adequate and people and stakeholders could not take anticipated action after receiving the flood risk information. According to DRR portal of Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) as of 21 August, 157 people died and 29 are missing in these different events from 11 August. About 70 among them are from landslides. Over dozen people died while pulling logs from the flooded river or crossing them without safety measures. As per the records 43433 houses have been reported fully damaged and 100481 people of 20888 families are displaced. Read more on the 2017 Nepal floods.

    What it tells to us.
    The flood events have been real world test of community centered approaches we worked and discussed for last 15 years. It is been success in totality to reduce deaths but there are numerous things to do. There are weaknesses and disconnects in interventions and are issues around sustainability. The government has supported the efforts but is yet to take in their responsibility and accountability. The preparedness was almost limited to stakeholder meetings; not any actions upon. The current deaths are the cost of that negligence. Flood maps need to be updated. Rivers have changed the dimension; we? Current warning and danger levels should be reviewed.

    Nonetheless, appreciating the value of EWS, we need to take opportunity and build disaster preparedness on this success. It shows the private sector should be in the core team for preparedness. The text messages made differences. Once we connect the dots in the system, raising confidence of actors, authorities and communities to become accountable to disaster preventive practices. A long march it is, therefore, to walk together better. The floods will come one day again and they will come worse.

    After a disaster, people talk about build back better. For an integrated approach on disaster prevention and EWS for flood preparedness, it should be also ‘bring back better’.

    Find out more…

    Related information:
    https://twitter.com/DHM_FloodEWS
    Madhukar Upadhyaya http://www.onwardnepal.com/opinion/understanding-nepalfloods2017/
    http://drrportal.gov.np/uploads/document/1071.pdf
    http://news.trust.org/item/20170824050440-npfwh/

    Read the Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) report: Urgent case of recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal.

    Learn about Practical Action’s work on Early Warning Systems or how we can create resilience in the face of increasing risk. Or more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal

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