Water, sanitation and waste | Blogs

  • More disastrous for the poor; the Earthquake is unjust

    Swarnima Shrestha

    May 21st, 2015

    The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 and the major aftershock of 7.3 on May 12 did a lot of harm in Nepal. The loss of lives, homes and heritages; and the constant fear of losing what is left; has put the whole nation in despair. People are in the state of trauma, with many in serious state of fear and stress. The busy streets of Kathmandu are deserted, small and large businesses all closed down. And it is already almost a month of the first quake.
    The whole disaster has caused a serious damage to the already struggling economy of the country. And the ones who are hit the worst are (always) the most marginalised; the poorest of the poor people. The people who earn their living on a daily wage basis, the ones who already had very little, now are left with nothing.
    The (informal) waste workers in Kathmandu valley are among the most marginalised people. They lived in the most vulnerable parts of the city; in the river banks, renting the oldest of the houses. Thus, they have suffered more loss than the rest of the population. Most of the waste workers from the neighbouring country India, have gone back to their own country. The Nepali waste pickers are mostly from the districts like Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Kavre which has been hit more badly than Kathmandu, leaving them no option to go back to their hometowns.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    Tents at Waste Transfer Station, Teku, Kathmandu, where waste workers are taking shelter.

    “My house at Kavre is totally damaged by the earthquake and so is my rented room here in Kathmandu”, says Thuli Maya Tamang (35), a waste segregator who has been living in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin.
    More than hundred other waste workers like Thuli Maya who lived around Teku area of Kathmandu are now living under tarpaulins in the premises of Waste Transfer Station at Teku, Kathmandu. They are living just by the side of heaps of waste; with no option to move to a better open space. They do not have access to better open spaces, as the people from other (better-off) communities are unwilling to share the space with them.

    As most of the waste workers worked in daily wage basis or were dependent on the waste they collected every day, their earning has suffered a lot due to this disaster. They were not able to work for many days due fear and now they cannot work even if they want to because the ‘Kabaads’ (Scrap house) where they used to work are closed.
    “It is difficult to keep the family fed, as we cannot find any work. And I am so scared that I don’t think that I can work for few more days,” says Thuli Maya.
    They have not received any aid or support from any organisation apart from the support of tarpaulins from PRISM project staff on a personal basis. “We have heard that the earthquake victims are getting relief materials but we haven’t received any yet,” says Thuli Maya.
    Gautam Lama (50) is worried about finding a proper space to live after the aftershock gets reduced. “My house at Kavre is totally damaged. The rented room here has many cracks and is not in a liveable condition. I don’t know how I will be able to find a new place to live, as people were already sceptic about renting rooms to us poor people even before the earthquake,” Gautam shares his woes. Finding a space in Kathmandu will definitely be a challenge to these people as a huge number of houses are damaged and renting spaces are already difficult to find.
    Gautam’s daughter Samjhana’s (25) rented rooms at Balkhu, Kathmandu crumbled down into pieces due to the first quake. She feels lucky just to get outside of it in time with her 11 month old baby. “I could not take out anything from the house. Don’t even have clothes for the baby,” says Samjhana who used to be a waste segregator and is currently living with her parents at the transfer station at Teku.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Samjhana, in front of her shelter with 11 month old daughter and 3 year old son.

    Maya Tamang, who works at the co-operatives run by the waste workers, shared that children are suffering a lot due to living outdoors. “Children have started to get sick with cough and cold, as it gets cold in the night time. Rain creates more difficulty, so does mosquitoes, other insects and also snakes,” says Maya.
    Maya opines that the only thing that has helped them survive during the past few weeks is the ‘Sanyuta Safai Jagaran’ co-operative which started operation with the support of the PRISM project and is being run by the efforts of the waste workers themselves. “Thankfully, we had been saving regularly in the co-operative. Most of the waste workers are using the saved amount to run their lives in this time of crisis. We would have been left hungry, if not for the co-operative,” Maya adds. “But it is still difficult for most of the families. I have no idea how we all will be able to find a proper shelter and for how long will we have to live under the open sky.”
    Disasters like earthquake harm everyone; but it certainly affects the poor more severely.
    As the world starts to forget about this disaster in Nepal and its coverage slowly starts to fade from the world media, there are thousands of people like Thuli Maya, Gautam and Samjhana who still need help and assistance to build back their lives.

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  • Help women and children recover from disaster

    Samjhana

    May 2nd, 2015

    It was 3.34 in the morning on 27 January 2010, when the earth starting shaking with the magnitude of 8.8 Richter Scale while I was sleeping safe and sound in the Valdivian City of Southern Chile. Together with my colleagues from the Philippines and Bangladesh, we suddenly moved out of the house. There were several aftershocks, no internet, no telephone, no water, no shopping malls open for food, etc. at least for four days.  It has been five years and I have not yet forgotten a single moment I underwent during this disaster in Chile; and this repeated a week ago on 25th April 2015 in Nepal.

    I was busy preparing for the celebration of my daughter’s birthday, which is actually on 20th April; for some cultural reason, we postponed it to 25th April. I started feeling the movement of my house – which became stronger just in few seconds. From the third floor, I saw a collapsing five-storey house just a few blocks from mine burying 16 people inside. More than ten thousand have died and many more are seriously injured across the country, our cultural properties are gone and the nature has pulled us back so many years of development. What makes me cry over anything else are the children who have lost their parents and loved ones. Nearly a million children are already affected from the earthquake. Many more will be affected due to waterborne and infectious diseases and respiratory infections as they are forced to live under the cold open sky.

    House destroyed from earthquake in Bhaktapur

    House destroyed from earthquake in Bhaktapur

    Hundreds of women have suffered miscarriages due to earthquake, thousands of new moms are suffering with their infants with a hope that things will change, and many have died while trying to protect their kids during the earthquake. While women and children are closely associated, they are most vulnerable. The latest figures from Nepal show that 53% of the affected population from the earthquake are female. This ratio is expected to increase in the coming days due to increased death of women and children if proper water and sanitation services are not provided in time. There are risks that women will suffer from urinary tract infections due to lack of proper sanitation and the taboo attached to menstruation in remote parts of Nepal.

    Focus on water and sanitation

    One of the major focuses of Practical Action during this relief period is water and sanitation. Our belief and actions on promoting appropriate technologies will be realised through the provision of potable water supplies, toilets, awareness on sanitation and hygiene, and management of waste in the temporary camps in Gorkha and Dhading Districts of Nepal. Destruction from disaster can not be undone, but we are confident in reducing the post-disaster deaths mainly of women and children through improved sanitation and hygiene.

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  • Why Urban Resilience Matters

    Glen Burnett

    April 17th, 2015

    One of my colleagues here at Practical Action was recently prodded to talk about the work he does on WASH (short for water, sanitation, and hygiene), and he began to talk about the importance of urban resilience. Instead of letting this discussion float in my inbox, I thought I might add it here.

    urban water kisumuJust over half the world’s population (3.6 billion people) live in urban centres, and by 2030 numbers are expected to rise to 5 billion. “Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions” (UN DESA 2012:3-4). Most of the world’s children of the world will be born into low-income urban contexts in the 21st century

    Rapid urbanisation means that ensuring a equitable start for the future generations is becoming predominantly a challenge of eliminating the “urban penalty” brought about by this urbanisation. Furthermore, as climate change continues to grow, these communities will need to be prepared for its impacts, including longer periods without rainfall – and thus water scarcity, while at the same time also potentially dealing with heavier, more sudden, unexpected rains – and thus flash floods.

    Practical Action focuses our technical expertise on issues of Urban WASH both for poor women and men, their organisations and their partners in the public and private sector environmental sanitation. Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management all combine to become a leading contributor to ill-health and stunting of under-fives leading to a life-long disadvantage.

    The urban penalty is a predominant, generational challenge. We realise that eradicating this penalty requires systems change and Practical Action’s efforts are focused on:

    Totality: If some people have toilets, water, and good hygiene practices, but people next door don’t, then health issues aren’t resolved. We need to work on total coverage.

    End-to-end (From access to safe disposal): Even if people are not defecating in the open, when waste is not safely disposed this is the equivalent of “institutional open defecation”. This requires a focus on the whole value chain, from toilets, to the conveyance of waste, to treatment, until the final, safe disposal.

    City Scale: the political, institutional, and economic factors that determine whether a system is sustainable depends on city-level processes (public agencies and private companies work citywide), so sustainable WASH in slums almost always need to be part of a city-wide approach

    Integrated: we can’t deal just with water, sanitation, or solid waste to get health benefits. They all need to be addressed in an integrated manner.

    Multiple, diverse actors: Household sanitation is seen as a private good, and people are willing to pay for this on their plot, and get the waste off their plot. But after that it’s seen as a public good, and the responsibility of the public sector. There are some ways of making money, so the private sector can play a role, but there’s typically not enough money from what people are willing to pay to get waste off their plot, and from value you can get from recycling and reuse, to make a fully free market of private actors to maintain a fully effective, scaled system. So the city government will need to take a lead and budget for it

    This focus prepares communities for shocks that come from growing climate change, addresses health issues that lead to child stunting, and establishes sustainable networks that can be run on a city wide level, and scaled if necessary.

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  • Talking about shit

    Margaret Gardner

    April 14th, 2015

    Shit – It’s a problem:

    I love my toilet and on days when I have a bad tummy I love it even more!

    But imagine…..

    You live in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh and you pay someone to empty your latrine – where do you think the faecal sludge matter (shit) goes? I’ve just read a survey that says

    • 2.3% is dumped ‘here and there’
    • 43.5% is dumped in an open drain
    • 30.6% dumped in a particular place (undesignated)
    • 8.3% is put in a mud hole and covered with mud
    • 15.3% is dumped in open water

    That is not good!

    Worldwide, according to the UN, diarrhoea largely caused by contaminated water kills more than a 1,000 children under 5 every day.

    So living in your slum in Dhaka with few resources and many demands on your money do you care? Well yes! The same survey shows that most of the people living in the slums are concerned about where shit goes and the problems caused by it being directly dumped in water course or seeping back, for example, through drains that empty into rivers. They don’t have much money but they are prepared to pay more for latrine emptying that is safe and takes the shit away and treats it properly.  They recognise the problem and want to be part of the solution – but in Dhaka there is only one sewage treatment facility and it doesn’t service the slums (its also the only sewage plant in the country – population 156 million)

    Shit matters!

    It’s also a great resource:

    Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

    Treated correctly faecal sludge can be a source of energy – biogas – and compost. Practical Action in Bangladesh has an award winning project on faecal sludge management – latrine pit emptying techniques, faecal sludge treatment and the promotion of safe compost. We also have a huge amount of work on ecosan loos, bio digesters and biogas for cooking.

    There are still however lots of problem with shit – there’s so much of the stuff, issues of land tenure, the cost of treatment plants, competing priorities, even unfounded worries about whether compost made out of human poo is safe, etc.

    While shit is a resource and one we should use – there are lots of things you can do with it – I in no way want to suggest that solutions at scale are easy.

    One surprisingly big problem is that often people don’t like thinking and talking about it. One small example – I recall a conversation with a marketing agency about fundraising for toilets and faecal sludge management projects – their advice was ‘don’t do it no one will give you any money –don’t talk about it,  it’s just too difficult a topic’. So we did the fundraising ourselves.

    I’m proud to say that at Practical Action we have great ideas and projects on faecal sludge management, we like talking about shit, I’m also proud that our supporters ‘get it’ and are prepared to support our projects. But we still need to do much more.

    Treating shit makes a real difference in peoples lives.

    Help us take practical action on shit!

     

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  • So what exactly is Technology Justice?

    Rebecca Morgan

    April 10th, 2015

    If you work in the development sector, the term may be familiar and you may well know the answer. But as an outsider, joining the Practical Action team in Kathmandu for three weeks in January, I had no idea.

    Tuin river crossing nepalHere’s the first thing I found: It does not mean giving everyone an iPhone. Joking aside, it is something more conceptual, best explained through examples:

    Practical Action uses simple technologies to help improve the lives of poor people. For villagers in remote parts of the Himalayas, something as simple as a rope and pulley system to a neighbouring village across the valley, can mean the difference between isolation and access to market.

    For the inhabitants of the Karnali basin, a flood early warning system further upstream warns them when the water level starts to rise. This means the difference between watching their belongings, their hut, their livestock and possibly their family members wash away and getting to higher ground, out of harm’s way in time.

    waste pickers kathmanduFor Sarab Maharjan, in Kritipur, in the suburbs of Kathmandu, a composting machine means that the organic waste he collects from 580 local households can be treated and resold as fertilizer. This machine means the difference between being marginalised and being a recognised, respected member in the community. Sarab is just one of the 4,000 waste workers that Practical Action worked with in Kathmandu.

    Worldwide, 1.3 billion people do not have access to water and 1.2 billion have no access to electricity yet the bulk of global investment in technology research and development continues to cater to the advancement of the world’s wealthiest. Practical Action is trying to close that gap and bring justice in technology to those people whose lives depend on it. That is what Technology Justice  is about.

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  • Communities live with dignity after ODF declaration

    Dev Bhatta

    March 26th, 2015

    It sounds simple to people who have access to basic sanitation facilities. But a technology as simple as a pit latrine is a subject of luxury for a lot of people. It is an alarming fact that even today, more than half of Nepal’s population defecate in open. The trends are changing gradually and the people living in urban areas have fancy bathrooms in their homes, but there still are a huge number of people who do not have access to this very basic facility.

    Only six months ago, people from 197 households in Balapur in Gulariya Municipality-6, Bardiya District of Nepal defecated in open. In a community comprising of total 274 households, only 50 had biogas toilets. Kali Prasad Chaudhary, the Chair of Ward Citizen Forum, recalls the situation caused by regular floods sweeping away limited temporary toilets, lack of awareness and habit of open defecation.

    There were a number of organisations implementing different projects in this community but sanitation was given the least priority. Chaudhary shares, “When a guest would arrive in the community, it used to be an embarrassing situation if they were not used to defecating in open. Various water borne diseases were common mainly among children and elderly people. Instead of getting to know the actual reason behind people would blame God if somebody died.”

    But things have changed for better for this community. At this stage, five communities of Balapur have become Open Defecation Free (ODF) as 247 households have broken off from the traditional practice of defecating in the open after constructing toilets at their homes.

    Indira Chaudhary (34) one of the community member says, “I learned about the negative effects of open defecation, and I did not want to be the one contributing to the pollution of environment and exposing other people to risks. I find it very convenient to use a toilet instead of going to the bush. This gives me privacy to do my business with dignity.” Her five member family is very happy to have a bio-gas toilet installed at their home.

    This change became possible in the community after, Practical Action and Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO) launched SAFA & SWASTHA Gulariya project in August 2014 for two years in collaboration with Gulariya municipality including other INGOs with an objective to declare an Open Defecation Free Gulariya Municipality by 2015. The project operates with an innovative community mobilisation approaches through HCES (Household Centered Environmental Sanitation), CLTS (Community Led Total Sanitation) and SLTS (School Led Total Sanitation) for activating communities to progressively work towards stopping open defecation in the entire municipality.

    Indira Chaudhary  cleaning up her toilet

    Indira Chaudhary cleaning up her toilet

    According to Kali Prasad Chaudhary, “Among all these initiatives, the video documentary and street drama shows on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) were found to be effective in touching the hearts of community people.”

    Likewise, Ram Prasad Chaudhary from Gulariya Municipality opines, “In accordance with the national target on sanitation, Gulariya Municipality has committed to achieve ODF in the municipality by 2015. To make this mission a success, we have started provision of sanitation card.” He claimed that the success of ODF declaration in Balapur was due to the sanitation card.

    The understanding of Sabitra Gautam, President of W WASH CC (Ward WASH Coordination Committee) is different than that others. She claimed that bal hath and stri hath (recurring pressure from children and female respectively) played crucial role to success the mission. From her statement, it is clear that there was repeated effort of children and female to construct toilets.

    “Now, we are living with pride and dignity due to improved sanitation facilities in the community,” said Kali Prasad Chaudhary. “It is not easy for poor families from indigenous groups to spare money required to build their individual toilets when it can be done for free in the fields. Balapur people thank Gulariya Municipality, Practical Action, UN Habitat, ENPHO, W WASH CC and all involved TLOs for their tireless effort to make this happen and succeeding in declaring entire Balapur community Open Defecation Free (ODF).”

    It was not possible from a little effort to construct all the toilets (197) within a short period of time. The joint effort of community people, local institutions and district level stakeholders coming together, working towards ODF target made the mission possible and thus, the people from Balapur could have access to this basic sanitation facility. The importance of such thing a lot of times gets overlooked, but access to technologies like a simple toilet helps people to build a life pride and dignity.

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  • A step towards a JUST world

    Swarnima Shrestha

    March 22nd, 2015

    A proper toilet, water supply and electricity – these are some basic necessities of our lives. What can be more inconvenient than not having a toilet around when you need it? Imagine waking up every day not knowing how you would manage to collect the water required for the day! It might be hard for us to even imagine, but it is a reality that too many people are living every day. While the technologies have advanced to the level where we have self-cleaning high-tech toilets; it is estimated that worldwide 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 1.3 billion to safe water. The world sure in an unjust place.

    Compost-toilet-in-NepalThe people of Shreeramnagar, a slum settlement at Butwal – 4, Rupendehi district of Nepal are a part of that 1.3 Billion. Water crisis is a part of their lives. They have to go to the neighbouring localities to collect water, which is a time consuming and tiring work. The settlement is not recognised by the government which does not support any development of infrastructures in the community so the people have nowhere to turn to seek help. But the people of the community – had had enough of this injustice and took charge to solve their own problem.

    “We didn’t know how to tackle this problem,” says Narayan Lal Ghimere, a local resident. “But now, we are able to come up with a solution after we got training from ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ project. After the training, we have formed a committee to address different kinds of problems existing in our community. With the involvement of community people, we decided that we need to construct a water tank with a huge storage capacity for the equal and uninterrupted water supply in our locality,” he further adds.

    They have formed a committee for the construction of the water tank to carry forward the work effectively and make the whole process participatory. The initiation was led by the community themselves with little support from the project. Everything from the planning stage was discussed and decided by the community.

    A member of the working committee, Sabitra Devi Panthi says, “We were able to learn a lot of things and got inspired to take the initiatives ourselves, after the training provided by the project. So, we made a collective decision to construct the water tank. We were motivated because we received 75 per cent of the construction cost from the project and the rest we collected amongst ourselves. Those who couldn’t pay the required amount, volunteered for the labour work to make up for it.”

    Now, the construction is complete, and people of this community have for the first time in their lives, access to clean water. “We did a grand inauguration of the water tank and water supply lines. It was such a proud movement for the whole community. The regular water supply has made our lives so much easier and our locality is cleaner now. It more beneficial to housewives like us, who had to spend a lot of time fetching water, now we are able to use the saved time in other productive activities,” adds Sabitra.

    She further says, “I did not know that having a water supply could change our lives so much. It has improved our health as well as economic activities. It feels like a privilege to have water supply in our own homes; construction of the water tank is such a huge achievement for us!”

    It sure is a happy moment for the people of Shreeramnagar community; but having a water supply should not be a matter of privilege and so much of hard work – it should be available and accessible to all; irrespective of their location and economic background. But of course, it is not so. Hence, when we talk about these simple basic technologies, it never is as simple as it sounds. A simple thing as a water supply can change people’s lives in too many ways. It saves time for the women who can invest it in income generating activities or in taking proper care of their children. It helps to stay cleaner and healthier. It helps to make human life dignified. It helps to fill the gap of technology injustice and make this world a bit more just place.

    So a water tank is not JUST a water tank but a step ahead towards a JUST world.

     

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  • Urban WASH resilience – What we’ve been up to this week

    improved

    An improved latrine, but is it resilient to flooding?

    The members of the UK Water Network had an meeting with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently about coordination and policy messaging on urban sanitation. Very interesting, and maybe one for another time. In this blog, I thought I’d share some follow-up reflections from side conversations I had with some of the UK Water Network members on that day. We discussed the issue of disease outbreaks that emerge in urban areas, including refugee camps, during humanitarian emergencies as a result of water, sanitation and waste systems not surviving the stress they are put under.

    The people around the coffee table where mostly from humanitarian organisations, organisations that focus on emergency response. That’s why the conversation was framed in terms of emergency response – how can agencies respond quickly and effectively in an emergency situations to ensure that people are still able to access clean water, toilets and hygiene products and that waste, including faecal waste (“WASH” for short), is managed safely, so to reduce the risk of disease outbreak?

    The conversation was just as interesting for me, working at Practical Action, which is a development organisation rather than a humanitarian organisation, as it could be flipped on its head, and create the question: What can we do to promote urban WASH systems that are resilient to stress, and avoid health emergencies, such as a cholera outbreak?

    This question brings together two of Practical Action’s priority themes: Urban WASH, and disaster risk reduction. It’s a nexus issue, the buzz word of the moment it seems. But what is not quite so obvious is that it is also squarely relevant to another strength in our work at Practical Action – market systems. Here’s how.

    (The following is an extract from a draft concept note and capability statement that the Urban WASH team at Practical Action is using to create further discussion and partnership with other like-minded organisations on this issue. So it’s a draft, it’s not exhaustive by any means, and it’s intended to stimulate conversation. Get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss further, and hear more about our experience in this area).

     

    Water access, sanitation and hygiene, and waste management (WASH) are effective and cost efficient health interventions. they contribute to reducing the incidence water and vector borne disease caused by contaminated water. In urban areas especially, special attention needs to be paid to faecal sludge management (FSM). That’s because, where space is limited, planned FSM is essential to achieve safe disposal of the most harmful waste away from water sources. Furthermore, in urban area its important that FSM is sustainable, and achieves total coverage of the urban environment if the health goals are to be attained, and maintained, over time.

    Market system approaches focus on the access and service chains of water, sanitation and waste management, their enabling environment, and the supporting functions on which they depend, and take into account the economics of scaled and sustainable delivery (driven by public subsidy, service user payment and value recovery), and thus provide promising lens to analyse, design, and establish urban WASH systems fit for environmental health purposes. Such approaches should be:

    • Systemic, in the sense that they seek to address the underlying causes of limitations in scaled and sustainable urban WASH and safe disposal coverage;
    • Facilitative, in the sense that the role of the development agency is a temporary, enabling one, avoiding un-sustainably subsidising recurrent costs of functions in the delivery system;
    • Participatory, in the sense that they seek to build on the capacity, processes and interests that exist among actors involved.

    Urban WASH systems designed to ensure safe disposal of waste away from water sources are at great risk of natural hazards, especially those related to flooding, All the lengthy and costly efforts to improve health status by reducing or eliminate instances of water and vector borne disease can be undermined within hours by flooding, causing and exacerbating humanitarian emergencies. Resilience in urban WASH systems – robustness (resistance to shock), rapidity (response rate) redundancy (degree of slack in the system), resourcefulness (innovation in response) – is thus also a critical factor to consider as part of a long-term WASH-based health intervention.

    Taking the example of flood risk, analysis involves answering the following questions and planning for flood scenarios:

    • Where is the flood likely to take place, geo-spatially?
    • What functions of water access and waste (especially faecal sludge) management are likely to be affected?
    • Where are current disposal flows most likely to be disrupted and cause contamination?
    • Which of these points are most likely to affect residents, especially most vulnerable groups?

    Flood risk analysis should also be informed by the projected local impacts of climate change.

    Building flood resilience in Urban WASH systems therefore involves:

    Understanding Urban WASH systems and its core and supporting functions and enabling environment, where a market system lens is promising to take into account the economics of scalable and sustainable delivery;

    Focusing on risk points in these systems where the flood’s likely geo-spatial coverage will affect WASH functions leading to disruption of safe disposal, contamination in areas used by residents, especially at vulnerable groups;

    Making decisions about resilience building activities to build on the following dimensions of resilience at these risk points – robustness, rapidity, redundancy, and resourcefulness.

    A final connection worth making, turning this issue back round to emergency response is the the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) toolkit, where market systems are also at the centre of efforts to provide effect emergency response.

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  • Moments with Bima and her Happy Child Club!!

    Samjhana

    December 1st, 2014

    Having received an opportunity to contribute towards the upliftment of informal sector is something that I always felt proud about. As I was planning my visit to Odisha, the first thing that came to my mind was our intervention for informal waste workers (IWWs) in Bhubaneshwar Municipality. I wanted to relate the beneficiaries, their work and the issues IWWs are facing in India with those in Nepal. I fully trust that the three-year long PRISM project in Nepal (funded by the European Union) has greatly changed the perception of local people towards waste pickers, and has hugely changed the way waste pickers see themselves. As we are trying to replicate many approaches from PRISM project, I was eager to see the early signs.

    One of the IWWs from Reddi Shahi

    One of the IWWs from Reddi Shahi

    The first remark made by one of the beneficiaries, even before we introduced ourselves was -“We are here since three generations and this is the first time somebody has shown interest in us and our work”. Just behind the Bhubaneshwor Railway Station, lies this settlement: Reddi Shahi – home for around 150 IWWs. These people are warned by the Municipality to vacate the place at their earliest for the extension of current railway station. They are not sure where their next home will be. I could easily read the pain and nervousness reflected on their face while they were describing the situation.

    A girl of around 8 years of age, came closer and sat beside me. I was trying to interact with the members of the child club through several questions I had for them. The girl was slowly touching my hands. At first she was hesitant, and did not speak a word for some time. She continued holding my hands and kept smiling at me. I asked the name of the child club – then she spoke with a smile “My name is Bima Reddi and the name of our club is HAPPY CHILD CLUB”. I got excited with the name of the club itself and asked what she does as the member of the club? “We dance, we sing, make jokes, hold meetings and discuss about the funny things we have at our school” – she replied with great innocence. I was expecting a different answer – for example, we clean our society, we talk about hand washing, contribute towards school enrollment, etc. To clarify myself, I asked if they do such things too. They nodded; but they highlighted the fun activities they involve in while being associated with the group. To be sincere with myself, I never thought in that line. I always focused on the number of children getting education, type of activities child clubs do, and the difference they bring about in the community they live in. No doubt, the Happy Child Club conducts campaigns in the community for school enrollment of all school going aged children; they take the responsibility of accompanying those children to and back from the school. They also work in close cooperation with the self-help groups of women to conduct awareness campaigns in the community. The important thing for them was the regular meetings which they start and end with an entertainment activity.

    Bima (sitting next to me) and other members of happy child club

    Bima (sitting next to me) and other members of happy child club

    Tirupati Reddi (12), a child IWW

    Tirupati Reddi (12), a child IWW

    After I had said good bye, Bima whispered -” Tirupati does not go to school. He has to earn for his family of two sisters and a mother, his father died some times ago”. She was talking about her fellow members of their child club. I walked to the corner, where Tirupati was sitting and asked him the reason for not going to school. “I get so much involved in the work that I hardly get chance to smile. In this club, I come to sing, dance and become happy. I am 12 years old and left school while I was at Grade 5. At this moment, I can’t afford school. I hope to go back to school soon”- he replied. I hope the same; I hope that Tirupati goes back to school. Before that, I want to see him smiling and  happy as he is doing now.  After all, children deserve to be happy, and their smile is precious.

    It is great to see that we have gone beyond our target. We have been able to win the hearts of our beneficiaries before we start implementing the targeted interventions. I truly believe that this project has brought about attitudinal change among the beneficiaries and has made them feel that “their existence matters”.

    Through its two-years project “Appropriate technology for safe and healthy environments” funded by the Bernard Van Leer Foundation”, Practical Action is working with the IWWs in five slum areas of Bhubaneshwor Municipality. Reddi Shahi is one of the five slums.

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  • Disaster Risk Reduction: Needs translation from Theory to Practice


    November 26th, 2014

    I recently visited the communities in Banke and Bardiya districts of Nepal who were affected by flood in last August (2014). While we look into the theories and definition of the Disaster Risk Reduction in paired reviewed literatures and sometimes debate a lot on words, for the communities it was very straight forward, why they were affected by flood and how their risk to flood can be reduced.

    Lower terrace of flood plain where poor people liveLower terrace of flood plain where poor people live

    Most of the communities who were affected by flood were living along the lower terrace of flood plain where the river flew in the past. So when there is a rainfall in upstream and river gets swell up, they are the ones who are affected first. Their number one demand was simple – relocation /resettlement to a higher ground can save their lives and properties from flood. For the government, relocation is one time cost to save the losses and compensations that occur on the annual recurrent disasters. However, resettlement is linked with livelihoods of these vulnerable communities which need to be assured wherever they are relocated.

    Some of these communities were freed bonded labourers who were resettled by the government in such flood vulnerable locations. The government could have settled them in a safer place. But unfortunately during the resettlement process, they were located in such vulnerable locations.

    Local houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground levelLocal houses with mud-plastered wall, plinth level at ground level

    Secondly their houses were constructed by mud plastered grass or twig mats. The plinth level was almost at ground 0 level. When there is a flood of even some inches high, the water gets into the house and the mud plastered walls easily dissolve into the water and collapse. Since they were poor, that type of house is the best they could construct. They are very aware of, that if they could raise the plinth level of the houses to certain level which are safe from flood and if they could use bricks or stones or concrete with cement mortar, their houses would be able to resist the flood. But such houses were beyond their financial capacity. The rebuilt houses after the flood were even weaker than they had before.

    A house collapsed by the floodA house collapsed by the flood

    Health was a problem after the flood. It was mainly due to unsafe drinking water as they did not have source of clean drinking water after the flood event. The hand pumps were inundated and they could not reach safe drinking water. Raised hand pumps were the need for the communities. It is not necessary that such hand pumps should be in each household for the emergency use during the time of disaster, but at least if there were adequate number of hand water pumps for the sufficient safe drinking water, they will not suffer from health problems originating from unsafe drinking water.

    The community people opined for having simple raised structures in the communities or in individual houses which can resist the flood where they can assemble for some hours before the rescue teams come and take them to temporary shelters.

    A raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood timeA raised wooden structure innovated by local people where the family members can assemble during the flood time

    They also indicated the needs of rubber tubes or rings in each house which help save their lives during the time of flood.

    In the past early warning through mobile telephones was very effective. But in this monsoon, the mobile telephone did not work effectively as they were unable to recharge the batteries for several days. The electricity line went off for 2 to 3 days before the flood event. They suggested for solar mobile battery chargers which can work when the main line electricity gets cutoff and such charger should work even in a very poor sunlight as the sun radiation becomes very week during the monsoon due to cloudy weather.

    New house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new housesNew house after the previous was collapsed by flood. The new one is weaker as the people have no resource to invest in raising new houses

    They were very clear that they cannot reduce the flood level, but there are several ways that they can reduce live and property losses to flood. But it is almost not possible on their own as their financial resources is very poor to invest on the interventions that they know of.

    Flood mark inside the houseFlood mark inside the house

    We think that these are very simple things and technologies, and why the people are not using, but the poor people still do not have access to these simple technologies and they have lack of resources in their hands. Because of which they are losing their properties every year and flood is actually suppressing them from coming out of vicious cycle. And to reduce the disaster risk of these poor communities, there is no need of high academic education and sophisticated technologies, it needs to support their ideas that comes out of their struggling with flood every year; it is a matter of helping them access to technologies and resources, and assisting to improve their livelihoods.

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