Urban | Blogs

  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

     

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Trade-offs and choices: realities in urban sanitation projects

    Development charities don’t often talk about the difficulties; about the delays and frustrations. They will tell you of the awful situation people faced, and then “ta dah” here’s our solution. Why? Because we don’t want to apportion blame or appear somehow incompetent. But shouldn’t we try to look at the underlying difficulties: alert others, adjust our programming and try to make the system work better? Isn’t there value in being a little more transparent about the difficulties?

    My visit to 3 small towns in India’s Odisha State brought these issues home to me. We have been working there to improve the sanitation situation through a range of technology options, new social and community engagement structures, new partnerships with pit emptiers, and constructing treatment plants for the safe final disposal of the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks.

    We have faced pressures for swift action on the construction of physical infrastructure. This links to the Swachh Bharat Mission – a flagship program of the national government, aiming to make the nation open defecation free by 2019 (the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Ghandi) and to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging. Although it is ultimately the responsibility of municipalities to build and maintain water and sanitation infrastructures in the city, NGOs and civil society can support the process, and work in partnership to help achieve the government’s goals. As a result, NGOs like Practical Action have been given tight targets or deadlines to deliver on their activities. We have been asked to complete all infrastructures within a year. At the same time, the approvals process continues to be slow.

    In two of the towns, the focus of our attention has been on the successful completion of some ground-breaking pieces of infrastructure (in particular faecal sludge treatment plants which will be among the first in the state). If they can be shown to work successfully, they could be a trigger for others to follow, and for the municipalities themselves (who in this case see themselves as integral partners in the exercise) to champion the work. Dealing effectively and safely with faecal sludge is a fast-emerging issue which will only become a higher priority as the Swachh Bharat Mission moves fast on the construction of new toilets.

    Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

    As a result, it has been an incredibly busy and complex time for the team of Practical Action and our local partner organisations. Some of the barriers they have had to overcome have included;

    • The need for approvals for construction, both to secure land and then for designs to be approved. For different types of infrastructure this has involved a whole range of different agencies at different levels, and can be extremely complex and time-consuming.
    • The lack of structure and clear plans at the municipal level for city-wide sanitation or waste management have meant decisions need to be taken from first principles each time.
    • Frequent changes of officials are common, but in some cases key municipal staff have changed 5 or 6 times over 12-18 months. A huge amount of time has to be invested in re-starting these relationships and ensuring understanding and commitments
    • Political pressures towards rapid completion of infrastructure, has squeezed the time available for adequate planning and engagement of all stakeholders in agreeing roles and responsibilities for system operation
    • The need for close interaction with government schemes which shape the available solutions, and which technologies are acceptable. For example, local rules apply to the quality of toilets that can be constructed, what subsidies are available under Swachh Bharat and how the up-front costs can be financed.

    With the Chairperson and Chief Officer, Dhenkanal

    What we have learned is that there are trade-offs and difficult choices to be made. For example:

    • To make any progress at all, especially in the early days of a relationship with a municipality, infrastructure may need to be delivered quickly, squeezing the time available for ideal amounts of planning and engagement with all stakeholders
    • Pressures of time, local regulations and common practices, used to try to ensure good quality construction can counter intentions to use labourers from the local community, or community engagement in other aspects of construction (such as procurement, quality checking, or keeping track of materials)
    • Pressures to start with things that are more within our own control, and which look impressive, ahead of less visible things that might in fact make the greatest difference to slum dwellers. Working on these may have to wait a little until we have built up trust.

    Taking an optimistic view, the pressure to complete construction, for example of the faecal sludge treatment plants, early on in the project (after one year of a two year project for example), does at least give us more time to work on getting the systems right and to monitor operation. In fact, this will ideally require longer than the year we have left to ensure all the hiccups in operation are addressed and resolved. The biggest challenges in the sanitation sector are all about sustained use, operation and maintenance. Community structures are in place to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making, but the detail of O&M still needs to be worked out.

    Community discussion on sanitation

    The World Urban Campaign’s vision is for the #cityweneed. A vision in which all residents have the opportunity for safe, healthy, and productive lives. Building on this, the New Urban Agenda endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016 commits governments to urban development which ‘leaves no-one behind… providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services”. It promotes approaches which are “participatory, promote civic engagement, and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants”.

    New Urban Agenda

    Achieving this as the direction for the achievement of SDG11 and in fact of all the SDGS in cities, will require pioneers, leadership and expertise. Demonstration of what is possible will help turn the tide on rampant inequalities and entrenched power bases. At the same time, the path can be full of obstacles both practical and political.

    • We need to learn, share and influence others to overcome these to achieve results in the best interests of the poorest residents.
    • We need to build trust in new ways of doing things so we can work in ways closer to the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

    There is a need for trust-building everywhere and increased capacity. Peer learning can be a powerful means of developing that, and it is something we hope to be able to foster more of over time in our programme in Odisha: between municipalities, between slum dwellers, between groups of informal workers.

    At Practical Action we will continue to learn and share our experiences, including the challenges. Watch this space!

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • 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.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Toilet trouble in the slums of Odisha


    July 21st, 2017

    Last week I travelled to Choudwar in the state of Odisha, India to visit a project being funded by H&M Foundation.  We took along with us two influential fashion and beauty vloggers Dress Like a Mum and Ms Rosie Bea to show them the realities of a life without adequate sanitation.

    The women and children that we met in the community are forced to relieve themselves in an open field, exposed to prying eyes.  They risk sexual assault as well as snake bites and contracting malaria from mosquitoes. If this wasn’t bad enough, women who are on their periods have absolutely no privacy.

    But all that is about to change. With funding from the H&M Foundation, we will be building toilets, a faecal sludge treatment plant and rainwater harvesting systems to change the lives of the women and children that we met (and the men too!).

    I spoke to a few people today about my recent trip to India (including a woman who stopped me in the street to say she enjoyed my photos (thank you again) It was such an honour to be invited to work with @practical_action & @hmfoundation – to actually see direct results and to meet the wonderful people who will benefit from the life changing projects they are working on. The things I saw, people I meet and places we visited will stay with me for life, at times I felt like I was inside a TV program – it was unreal, humbling and inspiring. Thanks for all your kind words, support and for following my trip – videos to follow next week x And big thanks to @practical_action for all that you do for the world ❤️ #dresslikeamuminindia #india #practicalactionindia #practicalaction #hm #hmfoundation

    A post shared by Zoë de Pass (@dresslikeamum) on

    It was fantastic to open Zoe and Rosie’s eyes to these issues, to help them understand the problems that people are facing and how we are going to work together to fix them.

    We were given such a warm welcome, particularly when we arrived laden with make-up for the teenagers in the community. We lost count of the number of fingernails that were painted and blue eye shadow that was applied!

    Working with ‘social influencers’ like Zoe and Rosie is a new thing for us but is really helping us to reach new audiences with our work. We’ll be back in November once the toilets are under construction – watch this space!

    Watch Rosie’s video about the visit

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Imagine bringing up your toddler here?

    I recently visited Kisumu, Kenya, where Practical Action is working with two local partner organisations (KUAP and Umande Trust) in a five-year project to transform the sanitation situation for 64,200 residents of the city’s informal settlements.

    Drains polluted with waste and human faeces, Obunga, Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    We visited families to understand the extreme challenges faced by parents and carers looking after children under 5 years. As a Mum of two, the youngest of whom turns 6 next month, I could easily make comparisons. There are so many different stages babies, toddlers and children go through in those years, and so many challenges to keeping them healthy and happy. This area has been acknowledged as a blind spot within the already blind spot of understanding how to make progress on sanitation.

    If my children catch one of those nasty ‘winter vomiting bugs’ I know I’m in for a hard time. All that extra washing and cleaning up, and trying to bleach every surface I might have inadvertently contaminated.

    Now imagine dealing with 10 month-old twins with diarrhoea and vomiting with cloth nappies which have to be washed by hand, and where you can’t afford expensive cleaning products. No wonder the whole family got sick.

    Family from Obunga, Kisumu, with their older boy and one of their 10 month old twins (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Children are generally taken out of nappies far earlier in developing countries than in the UK – and it seems that can mean more accidents, that can be hard to clean up where floors are not just mud or concrete and not easily wiped.

    And when children are old enough to manage their own toileting, the pit latrines adults use are not places for children. They are often filthy with excrement on various surfaces, and not designed to be used with little legs. Parents would rather put down old newspapers for children, or get them to use a potty, with the contents disposed in the toilet. But then again, sometimes children have to be left while the parent is at work in which case they are more inclined to just use an open space outside.

    Latrines are often generally avoided by young children (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    This is not uncommon. In a global study in countries with poor sanitation, UNICEF found that over 50 percent of households with children under age three reported that the faeces of their children were unsafely disposed of. Even among households with improved toilets or latrines, some unsafe child faeces disposal behavior was reported by caregivers.

    Every time these children and carers want to wash their hands they need to get the basin, soap and container of water out separately. It’s enough of a struggle to remind my children to always wash their hands and that’s when the basin is right there with soap on hand.

    Handwashing (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Practical Action is working to transform the situation – using a combination of school-led and community-led total sanitation, which uses visual demonstrations to explain how an environment polluted with so much faeces is damaging everyone’s health. Encouraging handwashing and making it easier is also an important focus. We’ve been running the programme for a little over a year with good results so far, and action will be ramping up in the coming year. With the support of Public Health Officers and a cadre of amazingly motivated ‘natural leaders’ from the community we think the collective behaviour change needed will be ignited.

    As one Public Health Officer told me: “it’s one thing to force people to build toilets, but that’s not the answer. What matters is that they are used by everyone all the time.” And that’s the change we’re aiming for: a shit-free environment and a healthy future for Kisumu’s children.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • CLTS making an impact on sanitation in Kisumu

    Over the last year or so, Practical Action and our partner organisations KUAP and Umande Trust, have been rolling out a programme of urban-adapted CLTS (community-led total sanitation) in informal settlements in Kisumu. The work is part of a five-year project supported by Comic Relief.

    Last week I visited and was treated to a demonstration of some of the team’s favourite tools, as they described both what works best, and some of the challenges of taking these tools designed for rural contexts, into urban environments.

    Open Defecation hotspot in Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Differences in context

    Two years ago, I visited similar work in Nakuru, and summarised 11 differences between urban and rural CLTS. Many of these also apply in Kisumu. The local team themselves identified these features of urban areas as the most important in making collective triggering and behaviour change more challenging:

    • Large areas with large populations, with the need to break this down into smaller chunks to reach more people
    • Large numbers of tenants, with the need to persuade landlords to invest in better sanitation
    • The opportunity to reach people through the area’s schools, with children taking messages home from ‘health clubs’
    • A diverse, shifting, population where attempting to persuade your neighbour to change their ways may be seen as disrespectful
    • Open Defecation does not only mean hotspots, but can also mean polluted latrines, leaking and ‘hanging’ toilets open to the drains, flying toilets, open dump sites with waste such as sanitary towels and nappies, burst sewer lines, and the work of pit emptiers where the contents of a pit is emptied directly onto open ground.

    We have mapped all these sources of open defecation through transect walks using GIS technology and combined all the information to generate open defecation ‘heat’ maps. The aim of a CLTS approach is to help communities to eliminate all of these.

    Open Defecation Hotspot Analysis for Obunga low income settlement, Kisumu

    Favourite triggering tools

    In CLTS, it is often the ‘triggering’ process that is the most dramatic. This is the moment when, through demonstrations and visual tools, community members realise the drastic environmental situation they find themselves in, where they are, in all likelihood, eating each other’s poo.

    Public Health Officers trained by Practical Action have been supporting the process through their cadre of community health volunteers. At the same time, natural leaders have emerged from initial triggering events. These passionate and committed people have done the bulk of the triggering events so far. Many of the tools they use are familiar to CLTS practitioners such as:

    • Mapping of landmarks, houses and open defecation hotspots
    • Transect walks to open defecation hotspots and broken latrines
    • Bread and faeces side by side to watch the flies move from one to another
    • Clean water which is then polluted by faeces on a stick, and people no longer want to drink it
    • Calculations of the volume of faeces present in the community
    • Health cost calculations of the amounts spent on treating diseases caused by an environment polluted with poo

    Among the most impactful of these was reported to be the health cost calculation because in urban areas, people are acutely aware of the cost of everything.

    CLTS triggering in action, Nyalenda, Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    In the area of Nyalenda called ‘Dago’ where we met the team, there has been a dramatic improvement. A major search had to be mounted to find any faeces with which to demonstrate! It was reported that almost all the plot-owners had now built toilets. But this area was more spread-out with enough space for digging simple pit latrines and fewer tenants. The process will likely be slower and need to involve many more stakeholders and different technology choices in more densely populated areas where soils either collapse too easily, are too rocky, or where the water table is high.

    We are learning from our recently completed work in Nakuru, and as the process moves forward we will share more highlights. The Public Health Department are keen to learn from others and celebrate the first communities becoming ODF. That may require some local adaptations of the verification protocol relax the requirements for hand washing facilities at the toilets, which is what has blocked settlements in Nakuru from achieving this status.

    As the process moves forward, we’ll share more updates and insights via our blog.

    Together with Plan International and the CLTS Knowledge Hub at IDS, Sussex University, we are compiling experiences of urban CLTS to create a new guide that will be launched later this year. This builds on the ‘Addis Agreement‘ which shares experiences of urban CLTS published in 2016.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business


    June 20th, 2017

    Public Toilet at Gulariya Municipality

    During one of my field trips to Gulariya, in the mid-western Nepal, a gender friendly public toilet caught my attention. Peeping through the vehicle’s window, I decided to visit the site after completing my meeting with Gulariya Municipality Office and following up on the new activities of the Safa Swastha Gulariya project.

    The public toilet has not only male and female sections but also a separate section for third genders. A bright new paint applied to the facility and a shop with colourful display of snacks adjacent to the toilet was completely new from what I had seen during its early construction phase.

    Gender inclusive toilet run by a woman

    Nilam at her shop adjacent to public toilet

    As I entered the toilet premises, I saw a woman in charge of the shop. The public toilet facility operator, Nilam Chaudhary hails from Khaire Chandanpur. She recalls, “About 5-6 months ago, my husband came back home from work and said he had signed an agreement with Gulariya Municipality to operate the public toilet with a shop and I needed to operate the both.” Being a housewife, she was afraid at the beginning but now she is getting familiar to running the facility.

    She operates the facility from 8:30 in morning to 6:30 in the evening. She also takes care of her two-and-half-year-old son and household chores. She thinks it would have been easier to manage the time had there been a room to stay. She could operate the facility for more time as well. However, she doesn’t find any difference between the male, female and third gender toilet designs.

    Designed for self-sustainability

    Practical Action implemented Safa Swastha Gulariya project in Gulariya Municipality of Bardiya District from August 2014 to July 2016. The project, funded by DFID under UK Aid match fund, was implemented through Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO), a national NGO. One of the major activities of the project was to declare ‘Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015’. For the improvement of the public sanitation aspect, the project constructed the public toilet in the bazaar near the police office and district hospital area. This public toilet, unique in its inclusive nature, has separate facilities for both male and female as well as a separate cubicle for third gender.

    The facility earns income through the user charge, parking charge for vehicles and sale of goods from the shop. The income from the toilet and shop is kept separately but the expenditures are not kept separately. Nilam told the facility operates almost at breakeven and sometimes the income is not enough to pay the monthly lease fee to the municipality. Comparatively, most of the toilet users are males followed by third gender and then by women. The male toilet users mostly are the pedestrians, travelers and public transport drivers.

    Social aspects of managing a public toilet

    Different sections of public toilet

    The social aspect of engagement of women in public sanitation business is not so negative. When someone asks her about job, Nilam tells them she operates both the shop and public toilet in the same building. She also has never got negative feedback from others that she is in the business of operating a public toilet.

    One of the most common answers she gets from users when asked about user fee is, “Why she charges user fee for a service provided by the government.

    The business aspect of operating a shop in public toilet comes into use when a person pays for user fee and asks for candies, bubble gum, etc., in lieu of small change.

    The predefined traditional perspective of sanitation service, especially public toilets being managed by the so-called lower castes, the untouchables placed lowest at the social hierarchy can be changed. The successful engagement of women from different social and economic strata can create a changed outlook of public sanitation business. This also helps being inclusive, not only in terms of service to different genders, but also engaging middle class families to support their livelihoods.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Making the invisible Eco-Warriors; the informal Waste Pickers, visible


    April 24th, 2017

    I see few of them every morning; first while going for my walk and then while going to my office. They come to the locality little early before the municipal authorized waste pickers come for the waste collection so as they can segregate the reusable items beforehand, collect those and then can sell it to the kabadiwala. I am talking about the “informal waste pickers” who play a big role in keeping the city and neighborhood clean, but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Bhubaneswar generates around 600 tonnes of solid waste per day and the city is providing habitation to around 1500 numbers of waste pickers and their families.

    Some research report shows 90% of discarded recyclable PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in India gets recycled, ahead of countries with formalized waste management. Most of these are collected by informal waste collectors who sell it to middlemen who then resell to recycling factories. In most of the cities the same business model is working.

    Go and meet few waste pickers you will clearly observe that lower caste or Dalits and other minorities are mostly performing this task. They belong to the most marginalized sections of the city. Most of them are uneducated and even their children perform the same task. And yes they are associated with dirt. The stray dogs bark at them and even the most of the city dwellers look at them differently.

    The misery is that they clean and appears dirty and we dirt the city and appear clean. Do not you think they do a great job !!! They need recognition for this job which they perform for their livelihood.  As most of them are not educated they are cheated by the middle man and sell their collected materials at a lesser price. As they are not into formal sector they perform the task without any safety gear and put their health at risk. I accept they do this job as per their own wish but from a different angle, they perform the task of the local municipality without being paid for that.

    We at Practical Action initiated a project among the children of the informal waste pickers few years back. And one component of that project was to formalize the informal waste workers and provide them with valid identity card so that they can take the benefit of the government schemes. I am not going to discuss the whole project achievement here, but the field team managed by a local NGO called as CCWD made tremendous efforts with technical support from Practical Action in influencing the municipality to recognize the work of the informal waste works. The project was funded by BVLF for 2 years.

    BMC Mayor Sri Ananta Narayan Jena handing over ID card to waste workers of Bhubaneswar

    When it came to the social security of the Informal waste workers, the state had no provisions for them and one of the major reason was, these waste workers were not identified in the labour category. We continued our advocacy for more than a year with taking up a lot of initiatives. We formed the ‘Abrajana Gotali Mahasangha’ the first of its kind formal union among the waste pickers of the city. A series of training programmes on different safety measures and awareness on getting their basic facilities from the municipality were organised. The union later took this up and went ahead to meet the municipal authorities along with the project staffs. After several meetings and approach, the authority finalized acknowledged the informal waste workers of the city and a process of identification was initiated.

    Deputy commissioner BMC Sri Srimanta Mishra among the waste workers with their ID cards

    The municipality agreed to provide valid identity card to the informal waste pickers and also some additional benefits in terms of safety and social security was assured. Though the project is over but a constant supervision has led to a number of 755 informal waste workers being provided with the identity card. They are now recognized as labours in other category and this makes them eligible to get benefits from various government schemes.

    Yet again, this number is not enough. This is the story of just one city. Odisha has more than 100 urban local bodies where we can find the similar set of people. This is high time, other municipalities and urban local bodies must consider the informal waste workers and provide them with the required social security and safety what they deserve.

    ( Download ‘LIFE DIGNIFIED’ a case study compendium on the said project here. )

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

    During the conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressing the following issues:

    Why work on FSM  The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

    The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh
    Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”.  Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

    Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference

    • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day
    • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.

    • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.

    Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.

    FSM Business ModelTaking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues.

      • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
        • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
        • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
        Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector,

    e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

    Outstanding questions and food for thoughtPreliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

    • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
    • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
    • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

    For more information about why our sanitation work matters, watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Promoting inclusive urban growth


    January 3rd, 2017

    Stories of urban cleaners society in Bangladesh

    by Md. A. Halim Miah, Makfie Farah, Uttam Kumar Saha and Hasin Jahan

    History reveals that there were a special group of people who, unlike other artisans like smiths and weavers, worked at cleaning sewerage and drainage system in the old urban civilizations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. They were mostly enslaved. We are now under the charter of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights where every man has equal rights to choose their profession and lead a decent life with dignity and equality.

    Urban cleaner is a caste or class?

    FSMAs well as that Indus civilization as we also had a thousand year old urban centre named Pundra nagar. That city had also had a ‘cleaner class’, a special artisan community culturally called ‘Harijan’.

    Among the society of cleaners in Bangladesh there are broadly two communities based on their religious identity – a Hindu or Harijan community and a Muslim sweeper community.

    In the Hindu religious system society is segregated into a caste system of four professional groups. The Harijan community is one of these. Mahatma Gandhi, a famous Indian political leader renowned for his non-violence movement and social reform, worked for the rights of those human groups who did not have minimum dignity as human beings.  He tried to bring them in the main stream Hindu society by giving them a new name. He called them Harijan (hari means most honourable) and that was officially declared as ‘scheduled’.

    There is no social stratification in Islam but in practice lower status communes exist in  society who are exploited in many ways due to their low status profession like ‘Kulu’ (traditionally oil producer), ‘Jhula’ (weavers) and ‘Hajam (circumcision).  As today many people from rural peasants society have moved away from their land and traditional livelihoods due to natural disasters and are forced to take shelter in urban and peri-urban areas. These poor people, who do not have skills that fit with the urban economy, are  engaging in this type of lower skills based employment. They face economic, social, and cultural marginalization.

    Political economy of cleaners

    participationAvailable statistics show that there are around 150,000 Harijan in Bangladesh.  If we include Muslim cleaners in this profession then the number is higher and is gradually increasing with urbanization.  There are around 532 urban centres in Bangladesh representing 35% of the population and contributing 80% of national GDP (MHHDC, 2014). Experts suggest that rapid urbanisation will mean that this number will reach 50% by 2030.

    Each day 13,333 MT of urban waste is generated – per capita this is ½ kg per day. This study was conducted in 2005 when there were 512 urban centres and the total urban population was around 25%.  This increased to 35% in 2016 so waste generation today could be around 20,000 MT per day.

    For a liveable city and healthy urbanization we need improved and modernized cleaning services and a professional group with skills and adequate logistics. We can not expect these improvements immediately, but need a priority plan to take the country and our economy to the stage of middle income countries where per capita gross national income starts from  US$1,026 to $ 12,475.

    How do we expect to do this when we ignore around two million people whose services are required daily to foster our urban economy and production? Are they being exploited? Is their work less economically valuable than that of other artisans among the urban classes? We cannot afford to ignore the cost of negligence of proper sanitation cleanliness.

    A study ‘The Human Waste’, conducted by Water Aid and Tearfund shows that  in developing countries 80% of disease is due to poor sanitation. People suffering from water borne diseases occupy half of the world’s hospital beds. Poor sanitation causes an increased burden of disease, numbers in hospital, a daily work loss, lower participation of children in school and the long term effect on health from anaemia and stunted growth.

    The report also reveals that school sanitation programs increase the enrolment of girls annually by 11%. My 12 year old daughter was admitted to a new school after her graduation from class five to six. In the beginning she reported to me that her school toilets were not cleaned properly so she did not want to continue at that school. She repeatedly reported this to her class teachers and she is now fine with her present school. So we can see how the social and economic value of this cleaning works!

    Why are cleaners not a development priority?

    The Bangladesh constitution confirms equal rights for every citizen under the article 19(1) “the state will attempt  to ensure equal; opportunities for all the citizens” and also article 20(1) where every citizens rights are agreed with same value  regardless of their caste, class, religion and sex. But in practice what we see is that communities like cleaners are deprived in many ways of equal access to basic citizen services.

    A recent study conducted by Professor Ainoon Naher and Abu Ala Mahmud Hasan among the harijan of northern Bangladesh (HEKS/EPER, 2016) shows that, “In general, the common feeling among the Dalit is that they have always been looked down upon by the mainstream/dominant groups who tend to avoid Dalit in public spaces”. It also reveals that Dalit women are the ‘marginalized among the marginalized’.

    Social safety nets are a major instrument of the Bangladesh government to reduce poverty and hunger. The allocation of safety nets is mostly rural biased with safety net packages more than three times higher in rural areas compare to urban (House Hold Income and Expenditure Survey , 2010, Pp. 72, BBS).  Girls from extreme poor communities who live in urban slums are not entitled to school stipend program as metropolitan cities are excluded from that safety net policy.

    The Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) network Bangladesh organized a national convention of pit emptiers on 7th December 2016 in Dhaka. Around 92 pit emptiers from 20 municipalities attended. It was an exceptional day for the development workers as well as for these most marginalized people. They identified plenty of eye awakening issues (revealed in the table below) about what we need to know if we really want to change the world

    Table:  Extent of deprivation of cleaners

    Health & SecurityEquityDignityFair income
    “We want equal attention in health care centres when we become sick”“We want to play together with all the children”

    “We are avoided in social events even though we attend we are humiliated”“What we earn monthly that is enough for twenty days and rest of the days we have to live with borrow from informal money lenders with high interest of repayment”

    What is the solution?

    Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary of the United Nations commented that ‘No- one left behind’ is the underlying moral code of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. He  emphasized that people who are hardest to reach should be given priority.  Practical Action Bangladesh have implemented a four year (2012-2016) multi-country (Bangladesh, Nepal & Sri Lanka) project named Integrated Urban Development ( IUD2) that focused on participatory planning for inclusive urban governance.

    The findings of this project are encouraging for development thinkers and policy makers. It followed a participatory approach to include urban cleaners in the development process with a drive to demonstrate pro poor urban governance.  Narratives from project beneficiaries show that they were enlightened by understanding the democratic process and how to identify problems and solutions through a participatory planning process. “We can arrange election in our SIC reformation, exercise and enjoy democracy”,  said Rumpa Begum, Slum Improvement Committee, Faridpur.

    We learned that to create an enabling environment for interaction between two classes of people (elite and proletariat) governance improvement is essential. At the same time a focus on improving skills and reducing health and safety risks is important for transforming any economic sector.

    Customized gulpher for emptying pitIn the history of human society the dominant class has always controlled advanced technology. So creating access to technology for this class can make change happen. I found this to be true for the cleaners’ community of the Faridpur municipality. At the beginning of this year Urban and Energy Service Program of Practical Action, Bangladesh organized an impact review and learning workshop. One of the main stakeholders of this program was city /municipality government. Anisur Rahman Chowdhury, an honourable counsellor of the Faridpur Municipality, who commented in one of the learning sessions on Practical Action’s engagement in the development of his city:

    “Earlier I myself never give space to stand my side any mathor (Cleaner) but when I found that they are now use machines for emptying pit. They do not get down into inside of the pit. I found there is no any bad smell with their body. They are doing like other mechanic or civil engineering works. So I sit with them in a same table at tea stall”.

    I think this is the way to change social perspectives and change the lives of the most disadvantaged communities in any country.  This has also been recommended by Mr. ABM Khurshed Alam, Chairman of the National Skills Development Council to make available modern tools and machinery which could change their status. He also suggested for arranging certificate course for increasing skills of the people of this profession.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment