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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.No Comments » | Add your comment
Yesterday, World Toilet Day, saw the launch of the ‘report you’ve never heard of’, but it’s significant for the WASH sector. UN-Water’s global analysis and assessment of sanitation and drinking-water (GLAAS) report, produced every 2 years since 2010, looks at the inputs (human resources and money) and enabling environment (plans and policies, monitoring arrangements and so on) for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector. This year it collated information from 94 countries and 23 external support agencies.
Practical Action focuses on the water, sanitation and hygiene needs of the urban poor – so what does the report tell us about whether their needs are being recognised and supported? Here is my analysis of the report’s key findings from that perspective.
Financing for the sector is increasing, but still not enough
- External aid commitments for water and sanitation totalled over $15 billion in 2012 and have increased nearly 30% since 2010. The data available on national budgets and expenditure, though limited, indicate that government spending for water and sanitation is also increasing.
- However, 80% of countries reported that current finance is insufficient to meet targets established for drinking-water and sanitation.
Majority of money to urban: but not for the poor
- 82% of country expenditure and 73% of donor commitments goes to urban areas
However, digging a bit deeper an explanation emerges…
- Over half of all water and sanitation aid (56%) is directed to ‘large systems’, with only 21% supporting basic systems.
To clarify, ‘large systems’ include water treatment plants and pumping stations, large-scale sewerage (trunk sewers and pumping stations) and sewerage treatment plants. Basic systems are the things the poor rely on: such as handpumps, shared water connections, latrines, on-site disposal and alternative sanitation systems.
This finding is supported by other less comprehensive figures recently reported which also show the WASH sector’s addiction to large scale solutions:
- A WaterAid/SHARE study on public finance for urban sanitation in Dar es Salaam found that while 83% of the population rely on on-site sanitation, only 0.9% of public funding on capital investments went to sanitation services. The remaining 99.1% of public funds invested in sanitation infrastructure was directed to wealthier households with access to sewerage and treatment services.
Majority of money to water: but the greater need is for sanitation
We find a similar pattern for the focus on water, sanitation or hygiene. Despite the fact that 2.5 billion people are still without improved sanitation compared to 784 million for water:
- Only 43% of country expenditures goes to sanitation (57% to water) – although this is an improvement from only 20% going to sanitation in 2010.
- For the few countries that could calculate it, only 1% of total WASH expenditure goes to hygiene promotion.
Urgent need for more disaggregated data
These figures show that there is still much to do in the WASH sector to align financing flows to real needs. But beyond that, there were worrying findings from the report about the sector’s ability to provide relevant data. The regular publication of the GLAAS report since 2010 is an important step in the right direction, and there are signs that data collection is improving. However,
- Only 33 countries out of 94 could provide total WASH expenditures from government and external funding sources (which admittedly requires pulling information together across multiple donors and Ministries).
- Only 25 countries of 94 countries were able to provide an expenditure breakdown even at the basic level of urban Vs rural, or water Vs sanitation. Even external support agencies need to be better at disaggregating data in this way. It has not been possible, it seems, to provide figures show a breakdown according to slums Vs the rest of the city.
Not only that, but there is no capturing of some of the issues which make the most different to the urban poor such as whether faecal sludge is safely treated, or how much investment is going to on-site sanitation. The report says “only 37 countries could give any estimate of the proportion of wastewater treated. And that referred almost exclusively to centralized sewered services. Treatment for on-site sanitation is not captured at all.”
Any bright spots?
I started this blog with the positive news that funding in the sector is growing. Could I find something positive about meeting the needs of slum dwellers?
- 60% of countries have a policy or plan for universal access which explicitly includes measures to reach populations living in slums or urban settlements (although only 30 have a monitoring system to track progress).
So perhaps this gives us something to work with – even if there is probably a long way to go to ensure that those plans are actually pro-poor.
I’m posting this from our Dhaka office, and will be spending the next few days visiting three towns where we’re doing some really great work on urban services. I’ll be hoping to post more positive news on what can be achieved with the right kind of funding in the next few days.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Before my journey to Bangladesh I was told to prepare to be stared at, as some of the people I would meet might never have seen a white lady before. So I was expecting comments on my white skin, maybe my blond hair showing from underneath my headscarf, or even my height… at 5ft 7” I must seem like a giant compared to women in Bangladesh. I am sure all of that happened but I was told that what was really causing a stir and a few giggles was the fact that I was wearing boots!
Despite being obviously different the welcome I received when I visited a small village, which had benefited from Practical Action’s support, was simply wonderful. Some of the braver children tried out their English asking me ‘How do you do’ and ‘what is your name’. Abkor, one of the older men an I was told was the ‘unofficial boss’ insisted on having his photo taken shaking hands with me and throughout the visit tried to get his baby boy to call me ‘auntie’! The women all wanted to know how many children I had and how old they all were. I made them laugh when I showed them how tall my boys were.
Then I met Ria. Ria is an 18 year old girl who lives in the village with her husband. She spoke good English so we could speak without an interpreter. She was thrilled that we had visited her village and very quickly invited me into her home and insisted on making me a meal. I am in Bangladesh with the film company Ignite Creative to film for some science videos and Ria was keen to help. She quickly became the ‘star’ in our first video which will show how important water access is in technology justice.
Ria explained how the village has two wells, one is ring well, that takes water from deep in the ground and can be used for drinking, while the other well, a tube well, does not go so deep and the water can be used for washing and cleaning. She said her grandmother remembers before they had any wells and they had to drink water from the pond, just filtering through cloth, and that this often made them sick and gave them skin diseases because of the viruses in the water. They were all very grateful for the wells, as well as the toilets and houses that Practical Action had helped them build.
As I was shown round the village, feeling a bit like the pied piper, I felt incredibly proud to work for the organisation that had helped improve the lives of these lovely people. People who despite being poor and having very few possessions are happy, proud of their achievements and live in a close knit and supportive community. I came away feeling there is an awlful lot we could learn a lot from them.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Bangladesh is considered a success story with regard to its efforts towards universal access to adequate water and sanitation in accordance with Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7. The Joint Monitoring Programme reports published by UNICEF and WHO states that Bangladesh progressed and achieved 97% open defecation free (ODF) and use of fixed place site sanitation facilities (pits and tanks).But the sustainability of this open defecation free (ODF) achievement is at stake because of lack of facilities and services to deal the management and safe disposal of sludge.
The responsibility of the sanitation services in Bangladesh lies with a number of agencies, the Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (WASA) in 4 big cities, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and municipalities/cities in urban centers and rural areas.
All of these agencies face constraints to deal growing faecal sludge management problem – emptying, transportation and disposal. Dhaka’s WASA only has the facilities to treat the waste of 20% of the population in Dhaka city and others depend on municipalities and informal pit emptiers for emptying. The final destination of this collected and uncollected sludge from 98% of the population is the open environment which brings adverse impacts to public health.
Sustainable faecal sludge management services is needed to take care of standards for containment, health and safety, appropriate technologies for collection, transportation and recycling of sludge, public private partnership protecting the participation of informal groups, pro poor business modelling, national awareness and capacity building.
To achieve this Bangladesh urgently needs a coherent national regulatory framework , guidelines and action plans and a coordinated and integrated approach for effective and efficient implementation of these plans.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.
Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.
The Flashback …
The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.
A total of nine people shared these two rooms.
Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.
That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.
She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.
For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.
The Change in the scene …
After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.
While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.
Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.
At present …
But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.
It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.2 Comments » | Add your comment
Safe management of faecal sludge is a big challenge for Bangladesh. Only Dhaka City has sewerage facilities for about 22% of the city, which is insignificant compared to the whole country.
To manage this sludge, people mainly depend on an unsafe manual process which is bad for the environment. Sweepers mainly use traditional equipment like a bucket and rope to collect the sludge from the pit and dump into the nearby open water body, drain, or on open land which is harmful for their health and for others.
Most cities and towns have no management system for sewerage due to a lack of capacity, awareness and willingness. One type of modern pit emptying equipment available in the market is Vacutag which is very much costly not only for the municipality but also for the private entrepreneur and sweeper.
The MAWTS Vacutag is very expensive and loan providing institutions both public and private are not interested enough to provide financial support to entrepreneurs for providing this service as a business. In this context, we have developed a low cost 1300 liter capacity mechanized covered van through our metal development center at Faridpur for sludge transportation to the treatment site and a submersible pump for sludge collection. The cost is around ৳180,000 Bangladesh Taka (£1454) for the mechanized van and ৳55000 Bangladesh Taka (£444) for the submersible pump.
This is being tested in the field by Practical Action
Collected from: Dipok Chandra Roy, Programme Manager, Urban Services Programme2 Comments » | Add your comment
In England our children often start nursery at 3 years of age, legally they have to be at ‘proper’ school by the age they are 5. I remember my daughter’s first day at ‘proper school’ her pinafore dress nearly sweeping the pavement as she toddled along book bag in hand. I felt extremely proud but nervous too, questions whizzing around in my mind, what happens if she hates it? She might be bullied? My mind was put at ease though as the only thing we had to contend with was the odd tummy ache and a grazed knee.
In the UK we are lucky enough to have a choice of schools and still have the right to appeal if our children don’t receive a place in the school of our choice. We conveniently lived right over the road from the village school, we literally rolled out of bed in the morning and there we were. For some children around the world their journey to school can involve a trek of several miles in all extremes of weather, they also run the risk of being kidnapped, blown up, raped or shot. The story of Malala Yousafzai and her campaign for girl’s education that we are so familiar with really brings this reality home to us.
My daughter’s school was bright and welcoming, with cosy classrooms equipped with books and electronic whiteboards. However, in remote areas around the globe lessons can be held virtually in the dark if the school has no form of power. It can be extremely difficult hiring teachers at schools with no electricity; understandably they prefer better equipped schools in the cities.
To make matters worse the school may have no toilet facilities, so children have to go to the toilet out in the open. This is not only degrading but is a health hazard and can be harmful to the environment. With the lack of hand washing facilities children often become sick and miss valuable time at school. When the older girls have their period there are no sanitary facilities and they have to stay at home which further impacts on their studies.
On the bright side, where toilets and hand washing facilities have been built there has been a real impact on absenteeism. The children are enthusiastic about their new facilities and pass the information on to their parents some who have in turn built their own latrines and follow good hand washing hygiene thus improving the well-being of the whole family. Practical Action works with communities to help this happen.
The global injustice is that there are still an estimated 57 million children around the world that don’t even have a school to go to. How will these communities ever work their way out of poverty with no access to education?3 Comments » | Add your comment
Water is a need to all and has no substitute!
More often than not there is confusion between gender equity and gender equality. Equity relates to the just and fair distribution of resources between women, men, girls and boys, whilst equality means the state of being equal in terms of enjoyment of rights, treatment, quantity or value, access to opportunities and outcomes including resources.
With the rate at which urbanisation is occurring some people are observed to suffer than others hence inequality. Despite the fact that it is an urban community, some settlements present a health time bomb as they sprout without being serviced (water pipes and sewer pipes not yet connected to the site) as such they have great potential for disease outbreak and disaster. The sad part is that such settlers have no-where to resort to other than nearby streams which are highly risky and contaminated. They and can only sigh for relief when organisations such as Practical Action receive funding and come to chip in with assistance.
Water access brings with it social, technical and economic repercussions. For ladies, menstrual hygiene, maternal and post natal care, household chores such as laundry, dishwashing are common and critical uses which require plenty of clean and safe water. Vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, the sick, under- fives as well as the disabled equally need a substantial amount of water. Boys and girls need water from as early as childhood for drinking, preparing food, bathing and washing. Gentlemen need water to address economic challenges in industry where they are involved in productive activities such as gardening, either large scale in irrigations or small gardens behind the house, construction and manufacturing. Water is needed to maintain environmental aesthetic conditions through green lawn, trees and blooming flowers. As such the whole society needs water in-order to function well.
Whilst access to water is paramount in manufacturing, transport, education ,mining and textile industries, its management, use and disposal goes a long way in maintaining a sustainable society and ecosystem. Practical Action Southern Africa through working with communities attempts to address the management of domestic water and its discharge. How water users manage and disposal of liquid waste, contributes in determining access to safe drinking water which is a cause for concern especially in urban areas. The woman is most affected as she is responsible for household chores and is expected to fetch the water from far and near places. All the family needs is safe water and a ready meal at the end of the day. Practical Action is implementing a project that promotes participation of community members in discussing factors that influence access to water, its use as well as its disposal, thus ensuring sustainable management of the resource. Dialogue between the service providers and clients will empower urban communities in contributing to improvement access and use of the precious resource.No Comments » | Add your comment
What comes to your mind when you think about inequality? To me, it’s living in a sea of woes. Not because you are unworthy, but due to external factors that persist in the society and surroundings.
Touch someone and be prepared to get ostracised
I hail from a small village in Eastern Nepal and whenever I get to my native place, I like savouring local delicacies. While I was gulping down the mixture of puffed rice and chick-pea curry, an elderly man, in his late fifties approached the shopkeeper with a glass in his hand. The shopkeeper, keeping a distance from the man, poured tea from a kettle into his glass. With other customers, he would go to them with the glasses of tea and serve them with respect.
I know both the men quite well. The tea-seller is a Haluwai whose traditional occupation is making sweets. Another man is a Dom whose traditional occupation is making household items from bamboo and rearing pigs. While the former is free to mingle with anybody, the latter is not even allowed to touch anybody. He is not even allowed to touch a hand-pump from where other people fetch and drink water. People still avoid touching him. And if by chance he touches anybody, he gets severe scolding and one who is touched runs towards a water source. To sprinkle water over his body in order to get purified.
This is inequality to the extreme.
Rare toilets and ubiquitous mobile phones
The next thing that baffles me is the non-presence of toilets. In the urban areas almost every household has a toilet but it is a rare item here and people think having a toilet is leading a lavish lifestyle.
This, to me, is inequality that can be addressed. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued orders to construct 5.2 million toilets in 100 days which turns out to one toilet every second.
While almost everybody here has a mobile set today, people are not willing to construct toilets in their backyards. Since they are able to afford buying mobile phones and bearing the expenses of recharging from time to time, they simply need cheaper toilets. A little bit of change in behaviour and technology support from government and non-government organisations.
Electricity at night means no sleep at all
Adding to the woes is the frequent electricity cut-downs. While rest of the country too faces the power-cuts, the problem here is extreme. It affects agriculture as well. The sea of wires across the fields to run electricity-powered pumps remains useless most of the times during the day. And while people sleep at night, the farmers are busy running their motorised pumps to irrigate their pieces of land.
Coping with the inequalities
In spite of living amongst inequalities, people here are cooperative and always smiling. The scenario of untouchability is changing. People now have started communicating properly with Doms and other so-called lower castes, thanks to the social change and awareness brought by different agencies. Practical Action has supported such communities in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.
While toilets were wonder items in the village, people returning from the Gulf and other countries (where most go to work as menial labourers) have started building toilets. The variety of different technologies used by Practical Action, as appropriate to each community, will be helpful to improve sanitation and health.
Practical Action offers simple solution to sleepless nights for the farmers. The introduction of treadle pumps has increased the income that farmers generate from their land, both by extending the traditional growing season and by expanding the types of crops that can be cultivated. Called dhiki pump, it can be operated by legs. No electricity required!
People are happy that the situation is changing and I am proud that Practical Action is one of the change-makers.1 Comment » | Add your comment
One of the greatest challenges of the coming decades will be the ever growing number of people living in urban areas. More than half of us already live in cities, and by 2050 of a population of 9 billion, 6.3 billion of us will live in cities. Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions.
But let’s think about the implications of that for a moment in terms of the facilities that a city system needs to provide for its residents. If every year, Asian cities are growing by an estimated 40.4 million people, that means at least an extra 6.6 million tonnes of rubbish and 3.7 million tonnes of human faeces every year. We know that most of what is already produced remains untreated and flows directly into water bodies. In urban areas globally 2.1 billion people use toilets connected to septic tanks that are not safely emptied or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters. The people who have to live surrounded by all of this are, of course, the poor. The health implications are terrible – rates of under 5 mortality are higher than rural areas, and the under-nutrition related to repeated bouts of diarrhoea produces stunting and has live-long impacts on brain development.
One challenge is that the reporting of access to water and sanitation routinely under-reports the severity of these challenges.
- Global monitoring systems for access to water and sanitation do not disaggregate for slum populations compared to the rest of the city
- Poverty lines don’t recognise the additional cost of meeting a basic standard of living in urban areas so people are counted as ‘above’ the poverty line – when they are unable to fulfil their basic needs
- Investments in WASH don’t reach those who need it most
- Definitions of ‘improved’ water and sanitation aren’t adequate for urban populations. People may be counted as having ‘improved’ access to water when all they have is a stand pipe with contaminated water that only runs for a few hours a day, or a few days a week.
One of the reasons for progress on the MDG on access to Water and Sanitation has been that we have been able to count and track what is happening. The data available have begun to highlight how far behind we are on sanitation, and that significant inequalities remain. The power of data needs to highlight the massive inequalities within urban areas between rich and poor.
It’s good to see that the Open Working Group report for post-2015 development framework recognises that water safety – not just access – is important. Also that it talks about ‘halving the proportion of untreated wastewater’, achieving adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation.
If national surveys are unable to collect information on slums, the good news is that poor people are already doing it – because they too understand the value of counting and being counted. The enumerations carried out by slum dweller communities, highlighted through the recent #knowyourcity campaign is one illustration of this. We should be doing more to bring this evidence together and shine a light on what it is telling us about the real situation on the ground, to galvanise more action on a problem that is only going to grow in the next twenty years.
Practical Action is proud to have recognised this issue and chosen to focus its WASH and Waste Management programme on the needs of the urban poor. We are committed to continuing to highlight the problem, demonstrate and promote practical and innovate solutions to tackling it, and advocating for changes in policies and investments that will really make a difference.1 Comment » | Add your comment