From Stockholm World Water Week
I can take you to Stockholm World Water Week saying “water does not come from tap” nicely sketched in a poster there. Then where does it comes from and where does it go? From the top of mountain, from the ocean, under the ground, from lakes, rivers and also from your tears and used for drinking, irrigation, production of energy and industry.
It is expected that 47% of the world’s population will be living in high water stress areas by 2030 (OECD). Can you imagine the planet with high water stress? One of my fellow award nominees for Securing Water for Food was telling that the problem of our food security is having less freshwater as we are living in a salty planet. Therefore, obtaining more freshwater for us is a great task. I never thought our beautiful planet was so salty and agriculture is the biggest consumer of freshwater – 70% of total freshwater withdrawal.
We know we need freshwater for human, other animals and nature. Therefore, what should be the model of our new agriculture? New water solutions? How can we apply nano, bio or solar technology to purifying polluted or saline water? Another interesting poster from IFAD strikes me that tells “a dam and an apple both use water to bring us energy”. I loved this statement. I have eaten many apples in life, seen many dams but never thought of this kind of simple relation. This was fantastic to explain food, energy and water nexus. By 2050, we will need 550% more energy and 330% more water to produce it (WorldBank). Among various sources 62% of hydroelectric potential remains untapped.
There is information here about increasing water efficiency and reuse, reducing food waste, accelerating access, protecting and restoring ecosystems, reducing pollution, increasing affordability, supply, recycling and managing cross border cooperation, combating salinity intrusion in the entire coast. How can we grow more food with less water is a big question. Moreover there is a crisis of safe drinking water and concern for 2.4 billion people lacking adequate sanitation.
On the subject of the USAID Water for Food Award event in the Conference, our innovation was a way to irrigate riverbeds for pumpkin and other crop farming in Bangladesh, transforming flooded unused sand bar to a golden pumpkin land and testing this business model with the extreme poor. During the rehearsal round in the Conference Centre, one of the evaluators praised the seasonal dimension of land; they liked strong evidence in the field and the proven case of pumpkin growing and its low cost simple irrigation technique.
Abdur Rahim- a sand bar farmer and irrigation entrepreneur from Gaibandha, Bangladesh invested around 116 US$ per crop cycle and got a return on 410 US$ per cycle, irrigation cost was around 13 US$, has been continuing last 4-5 years. He harvested 1500 pumpkins from 320 pits. One journalist here did an interview on the case. I told them, similar contexts exist in Asia and other parts of the world. They may use the same technology with a different crop. In Bangladesh we also can grow other vegetables in the sand bar. We welcome processors to make diverse pumpkin food products such as egg pumpkin noodles and invite distributors and buyers to buy it and take it to regional markets, calling investors for commercial finance to the poor farmers to produce in a large scale utilizing those seasonal cheap /free lands.
The topics of other award winners were – drip irrigation in India, salt tolerant potatoes, salinity and rain water harvesting, water purification using simple solar technology, reel gardening, using water pad technology in planting, powering irrigation with river current energy in Nepal, use of logged water in Sudan etc. – all innovative ideas.
My presentation at world water week as an award nominee went well. The applause in the room was enough to make me brave. But there’s a long way to go. Here are 17 innovative ideas of water for food. Not only USAID, SIDA, DFID etc. but many corporates are also working on water issues. Did you know the Coca-Cola Company works to conserve and protect freshwater resources? Do you know Nestle works for access to clean water and nutrition?
I learnt many things about sanitation too. Perhaps we need to combine our business, technical, leadership and environmental perspective together to make change happen. For example, flush toilet technology is a very old sanitation technology. ……. in 1596, a flush toilet was invented and built for Queen Elizabeth I by her Godson, Sir John Harrington. We are still using that in modern life (quoted from a learned speaker).
Do we think about how much water we are flushing away every day in the globe? Can we not find a more water saving technology? On one hand we need to give access to toilet to millions of people but that is not enough we also need to rethink our technological advances. Can you imagine a small sunlight activated lily pad can clean huge waste water from lakes and ponds for us? Not very big …but small technical changes can bring big difference to the world. From all these I can imagine yes poverty (such as income, water, food, energy) can be eradicated but we must be prepared as it has many different faces.2 Comments » | Add your comment
In a country where diarrhoea is the number one killer, it’s good to meet a community which takes the hygiene message so seriously that they wrote a Bangla song about it. And a children’s play. And a cartoon strip. And paintings galore. And assembled 200 men, women, and children to see the results at their community arts show.
The place is a small district on the outskirts of Khulna City, in southern Bangladesh. The people are desperately poor, and they live in bleak, rotting, concrete slum tenements, but their community spirit is amazingly strong. Practical Action has been helping them spread the word about handwashing and hygiene, by developing messages to reach all of the men, women and children who live here. It seems such a small action, but it will save lives.
My colleague Dawn and I were lucky enough to see the show, and the range of media they are using was astonishing. For example, a sketch written and acted by the slum’s children is sure to launch its 7-year old lead ‘baddy’ actor as a star, such was the enthusiasm with which he portrayed faecal bacteria killing children who fail to wash their hands after using the toilet. Another highlight for Dawn and myself was a Bangla song, with a ‘call and response section’ which demonstrated beyond doubt that the 200-strong audience knew all about using soap, helping children wash their hands, and cleaning the loo.
The beat was so catchy that I’m still humming it, and at the risk of a poor pun, I think they may even have a Number One on their hands.
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Before I came to World Water Week I asked whether there would be enough focus on smallholder farmers and on the contribution that decentralised energy can make to water, energy and food security. I was also interested to discover how far the needs of the urban poor are being discussed.
What are my reflections after the 4½ days of intense debate, discussion and the inevitable and useful networking that these kinds of conferences entail? Inevitably there’s a huge variety. It’s a smorgasbord of different styles, pace and quality. There are both frustrations and unexpected delights.
- At least some recognition of the needs of smallholder farmers, irrigation practices they can benefit from, and how energy can contribute. There were even (a few) smallholder farmers and their representatives there. I’m encouraged, but clearly there is a lot more that agricultural, water resources and energy colleagues can learn from each other.
- A good number of sessions on faecal sludge management in urban contexts. As it was noted “it’s no good storing up the shit and dumping it in the street. We might as well have just dumped it in the street in the first place and saved ourselves the trouble”. The momentum is clearly building but there is an urgent need to move from pilots and clever technologies to systems that work at scale and for the urban poor.
- Hearing from great speakers (Kamal Kar in full flow is always an inspiration), and getting answers directly from the people involved. There were eminent experts at every turn.
- Although there are good ideas, it seems that we are a way from turning around ‘business as usual’ models and investment in either energy or agricultural investments that are focused on large-scale energy supply and commercial agriculture.
- The figures are still poorly disaggregated to demonstrate the scale of inequalities in access between urban slums and the rest of the city. The Joint Monitoring Programme said they feel it’s too hard to do in a representative way – so the problem remains under-reported and under-recognised at global levels. While faecal sludge management and community led total sanitation are on the agenda, I still haven’t heard or seen any examples of densely settled urban areas which have been declared open defecation free. Just because it’s challenging, we can’t leave the urban poor behind.
- Equity. Some of the images that will stay with me for a long time are about the truly terrible time disabled and elderly people have crawling through fields of human excrement in rural areas where open defecation is still the norm. If we are aiming for universal access we must involve everyone and make sure that really everyone is able to use the facilities.
- The appearance of a walking, talking piece of shit – part of UNICEF’s Make a Stink campaign to raise awareness of the problem of open defecation in India
- Winning Sandec’s dart board challenge on my first throw (a fluke or a sign of a misspent youth – you choose), with the privilege of taking away a copy of their compendium of sanitation technologies…
World Water Week in numbers:
6 billion The number of people who will live in areas of water scarcity by 2050 (2/3 of a predicted global population of 9 billion)
1.8 billion The number of people whose water supply, on the day of survey, was contaminated with faeces (e-coli) – so those whose water is unsafe for at least some of the year is easily over 2 billion. This despite the world congratulating itself on being ‘on track’ to reach our water millennium development goal.
10,000 The number of villages declared open defecation free in Madagascar in just 3 years.
2 The number of functional waste water treatment and faecal sludge treatment plants operational in Ghana out of a total of 70+ in the whole country.1 Comment » | Add your comment
World Water Week is a key global event for political, social and scientific discussions about one of our most precious resources. The theme of this year’s week, running from 31st August – 5th September, is Energy and Water.
The conference and its organisers have rightly identified the relationship between the two as being at the heart of sustainable development. Water is used in power generation not only in the form of hydropower but also in terms of cooling coal and nuclear power plants (with a lack of water often leading to power cuts). And in turn, reliable energy sources can deliver access to clean water. For example, in drought-affected areas of Kenya, solar pumps that can draw water from deep underground are proving critical in ensuring irrigation for crops and fighting disease.
However, I haven’t seen much evidence that the World Water Week has enough focus on the technologies or policies that are most likely to meet the needs of those who are currently living without access. The majority of the abstracts for the conference and indeed the 2014 World Water Week report Energy and Water: The Vital Link for a Sustainable Future pay little or no attention to de-centralised energy solutions, despite the fact that according to International Energy Agency, 55% of all new electricity supply will need to be in decentralised systems if we are to reach the goal of universal energy access by 2030.
This is particularly worrying in terms of delivering on food security. Currently around 75% of the global population is fed with food provided locally by small-scale farmers, fishers or herders. Most of these farmers live in rural areas, far beyond the reach of large scale infrastructure projects. They farm with little or no access to reliable energy sources that could enable them to power agriculture (e.g. through irrigation, food processing and storage) and ensure reliable crops and food production.
This is why I will use the conference as an opportunity to look back at some of the lessons Practical Action has learnt from our 25 years of experience in community-led decentralised energy solutions, such as micro-hydro projects in Nepal, Peru and Zimbabwe. I will continue to press for a ‘Total Energy Access’ approach, defined as when households, enterprises and community services have sufficient access to the full range of energy supplies and services that are required to support human, social and economic development.
If you want to hear more I will be presenting ‘Potential for Off-grid Community Micro-hydro Schemes to Deliver for Energy, Water and Food Security: Lessons from 25 years of Practical Experience’ in Stockholm at 11.25 on Tuesday and I’ll be tweeting throughout the week from @lucykstevens .2 Comments » | Add your comment
Internal knowledge sharing is vital in our organisation. It is a struggle to keep up with the amazing variety of different work Practical Action is doing all over the world.
Yesterday was particularly illuminating. A video conference in the morning covered the potential of showcasing our work using the global mapping tools on Google Earth. And at lunchtime we discussed private enterprise in the faecal sludge market.
In the city of Faridpur in Bangladesh, the sewerage system reaches very few of the cities’ 30,000 households. And there is no allocated place to dump waste. Most families have pit latrines that are emptied by enterprising individuals who transport the waste by bicycle and dump it wherever they can. This often means in the local river – not a good idea for public health.
Practical Action Consulting have been carrying out a study, funded by the Gates Foundation, is to see whether this human waste when converted into compost can become a marketable commodity.
The municipality of Faridpur plan to build a treatment plant to process the waste and the sweepers who empty the latrines have indicated that they are happy to deliver to the new site, if they are provided with motor bikes as the site is several miles outside the city.
There are three big challenges
- Relationships between the private sweepers and the municipality are difficult and there is also some conflict between Hindu and Muslims organisations of sweepers
- Most households do not have safe or adequate septic tanks
- Rebranding faecal sludge as an acceptable fertiliser which fetches sustainable price in the market
Our staff in Bangladesh are developing a business proposal to test whether or not this is a viable proposition. Any dragons out there keen to invest?2 Comments » | Add your comment
Is your boss not satisfied with our work? What do you expect then? A pink slip? – It makes sense and is perfectly logical! After all, you are hired to meet the expectations of the organisation. However, as a fundraising professional, I have realised that– at the end of the day, there is the only one boss – “The DONOR”!.
I recently participated in a week-long certificate course in fundraising and communications in New Delhi, India. I have always been keen on tapping funds from institutions, trusts, foundations and corporate houses. I was quite determined that my efforts/interactions/discussions during the training will mainly be in this line.
On the very first day, the resource person somehow tried to give us an impression – “fundraising is all about individuals”. I had a reservation, and I was rather convinced that funding has to do a lot more than an individual. As the days passed, we discussed differently on direct mails, cold calls, donor acquisition and retention, and so on. At times, I felt that it was a complete waste of time; the whole discussion each day ended with a conclusion – “It is actually about an individual”.
During a practical session on telefacing, a pretty lady was on the phone talking to a stranger. She talked for about four minutes including her introduction, the cause for the call and the conclusion. I had an impression that the person on the other side gave her an appointment for the meeting. She put down the phone with a cheerful smile on her face. At the end, it is the impression you leave on a stranger. I thought about it over the night and was convinced that fundraising is not possible in isolation. First, it was a cold call that ended up with an appointment, which could turn into a request for a concept note and subsequently a full proposal. No matter how big or small the amount we are proposing, this is exactly the way it works. So, is it all about an individual?
I wrote a case for support, a capacity statement, appeals and many more. I featured Practical Action’s energy and DRR works, because then I could showcase my project to be the most urgent of all. The question was again, why the projects should be considered urgent to receive funding? I remember many projects I have been involved in which were not as urgent as the others, but they were funded. The answer is – the case I proposed was actually URGENT for somebody at the donor organisation. I again took my stand, it is not about “Somebody” who decides; It is about the whole organisation! But remember, evaluation committee in each donor organisation is comprised of a group of individuals. We need to win their heart, soul and mind! It is them who make decision on whether or not to support our project – be it a 2000 worth activity or a multi-million multifaceted project. So, am I convinced that it is all about an individual? Somehow, yes!
Each evening, I analysed what I am doing, and what is my job. I assure quality of donor reports, communicate with them, accompany them to the project sites and make sure they are HAPPY! I swallow all the guidelines on donor call for proposals, and make sure that our proposals meet their needs and criteria. I follow my donors on Twitter, regularly check their sites and update myself on recent happenings. I greet them on their special days, I participate in events/functions mainly because I could talk to them. Every second, I am trying to be nice with them, become conscious on what I communicate, and gently/visibly/widely acknowledge them in every possible activity. What for? Because, I want them to be happy with my organisation and its works. And always, a donor is an individual – to impress whom, we put all our efforts. Having realised all these, what do you think? I strongly believe – “Fundraising is all about an individual”, and a donor in whatever form, ultimately is an individual!
I don’t want to get fired and become unwanted; each moment I have this strong desire to please my boss; Yes, the only boss that I have – “The DONOR”!4 Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action recently completed PRISM project funded by the European Union that aimed to enhance social protection of the informal workers and vulnerable groups dependent on solid waste for their livelihoods. The target beneficiaries are poorest of the poor in Nepal, they make make a living by selling materials they collect from dumpsites, bins and from along roadsides. The 36 month project was implemented in Kathmandu Valley and worked with 8,047 Informal Waste Workers (IWWs). The PRISM facilitated to achieve social protection and recognition to IWWs in Solid Waste Management (SWM) sector and helped to strengthen capacities of groups within informal waste workers for collective bargaining for better price; enhance their technical and entrepreneurial skills and introduced nine different social protection schemes for their better income and secured livelihood.
As one of the schemes was to improve health care, PRISM collaborated with various local health service providing institutions for better access to the health services for IWWs. During the project period 2,775 IWWs benefited from improved health care services. This proved to be a successful model to provide enhanced health services to the IWWs which is one of the very important social protection schemes.
This good practice is now being replicated in other municipalities in Nepal. Recently, in Chitwan, Practical Action facilitated to sign an agreement between Nagar Sarsafai, a private organisation and Narayani Community Hospital, Bharatpur to provide health access to 59 IWWS affiliated with Nagar Sarsafai. The IWWs will receive 50 per cent discount up to NPR. 50,000(1GBP = NPR 165) on all services offered by the hospital. Moreover, the hospital will also provide 15 per cent discount on the services to the family members of the IWWs. Similarly, IWWs of Sauraha, Chitwan are also receiving 50 per cent discount on health services available at a clinic run by Raj Medical and Clinic.
Sustainability of the initiatives taken by the project and scaling up of good practices is a major focus of Practical Action in its project. PRISM has left a mark in the five municipalities of the Kathmandu Valley and has set an example for other municipalities to follow the good work.No Comments » | Add your comment
Around this time last year I had the privilege of spending time in the remote villages of Lorengippi and Lobei in Turkana, northern Kenya.
It was a time for celebration. Practical Action had recently installed a solar powered water pump in Lobei capable of pumping out thousands of litres. The community was clearly flourishing thanks to new school toilets (which had dramatically increased attendance amongst girls), a newly restored market garden where crops were being grown and easy access to clean water for all families.
Meanwhile the village of Lorengippi rang out with song as I witnessed the first gallon or so of water being pumped out of the newly installed solar-powered pump. This community still faced all the problems Lobei had recently overcome, but the overwhelming feeling was one of optimism that a reliable supply of water would bring greater health, wealth and happiness.
Fast forward a year, and the situation isn’t so positive. Since my visit barely a drop of rain has fallen, meaning pastures have failed and the pastoralists who live and work in the region face disaster. In response, (thanks to an agreement Practical Action staff helped broker), most of the men have taken the cattle over the border to Uganda where the pastures will keep their cattle – the only source of income & wealth in the region – alive.
However, although the communities we work in have been left with clean water, sources of food have been harder to come by. The departure of the men-folk has left thousands of women and children with nothing. Our work means that in the communities in which we have installed pumps, people will no longer die from dehydration, but goats and chickens have perished and and left those who are left almost entirely dependent on food aid. Fortunately, a well-co-ordinated response from the regional government has meant that disaster has been avoided.
In years gone by, severe droughts like this year’s were once in a lifetime events. Now they are happening once every decade. The situation in Turkana underlines how we need to confront the causes of climate change and proves that no one solution can ever solve a global phenomena.
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This weekend I heard the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.
Hearing the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities. I’ve recently returned from Southern Bangladesh and having visited, there are two jobs I’ve identified as being my version of hell:
1. Pit latrine emptier
2. Rickshaw driver
It’s obvious how a bicycle plays a role in Rickshaws, but what do bicycles have to do with pit latrine emptying? …and it’s obvious that emptying pit latrines as a living would be a nightmare, but what’s wrong with being a rickshaw driver?
Well rickshaws are definitely at the bottom of the road transport pecking order. Imagine… its rush hour, the roads are jam packed with tuc-tucs, cars, buses and lorries, you have no gears, there’s a passenger or two sitting passively in the back…oh and then there is their luggage…. Now this can be a small briefcase or hand bag, or it can be about 200 kilos of reinforced steel cabling (15 foot long), 100 kilos of mangoes, jack fruit or several 20 kilo sacks of rice… the temperature is in the mid thirties Celsius and the humidity is over 70 percent. Everyone else on the road has priority over you, everyone is hooting their horn at you and the pay you receive is not in line with the effort you exert.
So pit latrine emptying…bicycles, really? Well yes. In order to empty a pit latrine situated deep in the warren of narrow pathways in a slum, you need something to transport the waste that’s small enough to get between the houses but strong enough to cope with loads up to 200 kilos. Practical Action is working with communities of Bengali and Harijan ‘sweepers’ whose lot in life it is to clean the streets and empty pit latrines. With no safety equipment, just their bare hands and a bucket, these men and women remove foul smelling liquid sludge from these latrines and take it away – to be dumped into a canal or a ditch somewhere in the city. Our Safer Cities appeal last Christmas means that now, with Practical Action’s help, they are receiving training and safety equipment, and new sludge transporting bicycle carts. The next step is to work with the municipalities to help them deal with the sludge safely, and to invest in machinery that can be fitted to bicycle carts so that the sludge can be pumped from the pit without needing someone to climb inside.
Bicycle carts play an important role in other ways in this project. Specially adapted carts are used to collect kitchen waste from homes, that is used to create compost for farming, or digested to generate gas for cooking, piped to homes close by.
In communities where safe drinking water is still a dream, bicycle carts bring clean water to be sold for drinking and cooking. So whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities. Helping poor communities access appropriate technologies is still a key part of our work, and a key part of the puzzle in achieving a state of technology justice – where technology is used to for the benefit of all.No Comments » | Add your comment
Safer cities – how Practical Action is bringing safe drinking water, free from Iron and Arsenic contamination, to slum communities in Bangladesh
Satkhira is one of Bangladesh’s oldest municipalities, created in 1869. Bordering the world famous Sunderbans, home to Royal Bengal Tigers and a globally important mangrove ecosystem, it’s a town that tourists pass by, but plays a hugely important role for the people living in the region.
Climate change is beginning to wreak havoc here. Erratic monsoon rainfall, and flooding (which never used to affect this part of Bangladesh) have combined to make subsistence farming incredibly difficult. In recent years more and more farming families have given up their traditional way of life to make a living and find security in Satkhira. This steady flow of climate migrants was beginning to put the town’s resources under pressure. When cyclone Aila smashed the region in 2009 the sudden influx of many thousands of refugees meant that the existing infrastructure failed. Satkhira is still trying to overcome this problem five years later, and every day, the steady influx of economic and climate migrants continues. With very little cash, and only able to find poorly paid jobs, many of these migrants end up living in the informal settlements dotted around the town.
Access to drinking water is a real problem. The natural geology of the region means that shallow wells are contaminated with arsenic and iron. The contamination causes serious health issues including some cancers as well as kidney and liver failure. Coupled with this is the increasing salinity of groundwater caused by the tidal surges of cyclones, the reduction of river flow as water is diverted upstream for irrigation and the switch from traditional rice and jute farming to raising lucrative salt water shrimps. Farmers are allowing the seawater to inundate their land as shrimp farming generates more income than rice paddy can. We passed many of these shrimp farms on the road into Satkhira.
Practical Action is working with the slum communities and the municipality of Satkhira to help find solutions to their joint problems. I was here to better understand the work that has been funded by our record breaking ‘Safer Cities’ appeal, match funded by the Department for International Development, that ran over Christmas 2013. In Satkhira the funding means communities like the one I visited today, called Missionpara, can have access to clean, safe water and sanitation too. Missionpara is a relatively small settlement of around 30 households, with about 180 people squeezed into tiny homes in what would be a long access road between two properties here in the UK.
In Missionpara the community has been dependent on shallow tube wells that supply iron and arsenic contaminated water. With Practical Action’s help, the community now has a brand new sand filter that removes the contamination and pipes clean water to every house in the community (to find out how this simple technology works click here).
The community has organised its own water supply committee and every family pays a small sum (about 50p a month) that contributes to a maintenance fund to ensure the filter, pump, pipes and taps will still be working years into the future. As we arrived to meet the water supply committee chair, a lovely lady called Aklima, the heavens opened. The monsoon is due to start on the 10th June (very precise!) I was told and these showers were the precursor.
As we huddled together under the filter superstructure, I was shown a traditional test that proved the filter was indeed working. Two identical glasses of water were place on the pump housing and guava leaves crushed into them. In a matter of moments, the glass filled with water from the old tube well began to discolour as a black compound began to precipitate out of the water. The glass filled with water from the filtered, piped water system remained clear.
Missionpara is just one slum community that has been helped in this way by our safer cities appeal. I’ll be visiting other communities over the next few days and exploring how our work is changing lives, and you can follow the story here as I blog about my experiences.1 Comment » | Add your comment