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 .No 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.1 Comment » | 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
Acts of violence against women continue to shock the Indian national consciousness. While open defecation remains the scourge of India and has ratcheted gender and social inequalities to breaking point, one state is putting the wheels of change into motion.
Gauging commitment to the rights of women and girls
India has one NGO for every 600 people. Uttar Pradesh contains more NGOs than any other Indian state. Five organisations explicitly dealing with women and girls appear in the A-C categories alone of an NGO state directory. These were merely the English results; the majority of organisations are titled in Hindi or Urdu.
At the end of May in Uttar Pradesh two girls from impoverished Dalit families without a toilet in their home were gang raped and murdered while they were in the fields looking for a safe place to relieve themselves. Only yesterday another girl was murdered in the same state, in the same circumstances. In light of the relentless brutalities Ratna Kapur writes in The Hindu: ‘India is a country that is at war with no one — and yet, the levels of violence that are inflicted on women and that have come to be tolerated seem comparable to levels seen in conflict zones.’
Last month Odisha released its final draft State Policy on Women and Girls, calling for action to address safety and empowerment issues for women and girls in sectors as wide ranging as special needs and transportation.
Uttar Pradesh has no such policy, at least no updated version, illustrating the disparity and incoherence that exists between states regarding actions of NGOs (who may or may not be registered and active), other actors implementing change on the ground, and the policies formulated at state level.
Therefore, in some areas the existence of state policy papers, rather than NGO presence, is more effective in gauging the extent to which initiatives will be implemented locally, such documents pertaining to a will at strategic level to change lives.
Our Communications Director has voiced the wider issues surrounding violence against women here.
Pinky Das is 8 years old and goes to school in Odisha. Like many women and girls across India who lack access to proper sanitation facilities she faced the dilemma of waiting for a safe time to go to the toilet, a habit which practiced over extended periods of time can lead to urinary tract infections. The alternative was to go into the fields to practice open defecation, leaving her vulnerable.
As there were no sanitation facilities accessible to Pinky in school (except a ‘teachers only’ toilet), she was forced to go to the fields on a regular basis, and eventually decided to stop because of unwanted attention from male students. Holding her bladder led to infection, and she eventually dropped out of school.
Practical Action began interventions in Odisha in a number of thematic areas including urban services and Pinky was able to benefit from the changes. She heard news about the sanitation upgrades while at home. When she recovered was able to come back to school and now attains full attendance.
Pinky’s story illustrates that women and girls across the social spectrum face a common dilemma when it comes to open defecation. While she had no amenities at school, many lack a toilet at home.
Extending protection to women and girls from Dalit families
The girls from Uttar Pradesh had no toilet in their home. Ban Ki-Moon called it ‘appalling‘. They were from Dalit families who are even more vulnerable because hardly any social protection measures are extended to them. Crimes against Dalits often go unreported, investigations fall through and there is a vast backlog of cases. Conviction rates are low for the few crimes that are followed up and police collusion with perpetrators to cover up crime from dominant castes is rife. Amnesty International have called for police personnel found to have refused to register or investigate complaints to be held accountable, aiming to address not only explicit attacks but the deeply ingrained crimes of omission when it comes to women and girls from Dalit backgrounds.
The draft Odisha policy contains a section on provisions for ‘Women and Girls with Special Needs,’ which includes marginal groups (19 other vulnerable types of girls and women have been identified under this category including HIV/AIDS affected women, abandoned, divorced and deserted women, the elderly, the disabled, prison inmates, unmarried women, bonded labourers and more have been referred to). The draft goes a long way in reaching out to women who find themselves vulnerable for all kinds of reasons. Women and girls from Dalit backgrounds would be provided for under this section.
There is also a ‘Safety, Security and Protection’ section which includes strategies to:
- Establish specialised units in the police department to guide, monitor and support investigations pertaining to violence against girls and women.
- Fix timeframes for completion of investigation and trial in matters of crime against girls and women.
- Establish specialised and designated courts for rapid trial of sexual offences.
The draft policy on Women and Girls was released on 8th May, days before the series of Uttar Pradesh murders. Its lament speaks not just for Odisha but the whole of India when it reads: ‘There is a disturbing trend of brutal incidences of violence which has shaken the collective conscience.’
If shared, built on and integrated with other services and targeted NGO work, initiatives like this will pave the way for the collective conscience to effectively turn outrage into action.
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Listening to the news this morning I realised that the two young girls in India, aged 14 and 16, who had been gang raped and murdered died as they had gone into the fields looking for a discreet place to go to the loo. Somehow it made it even sadder. Sanitation is a pretty easy fix given money and will to provide latrines, sludge management and hygiene education. It’s truly do-able.
The girls remain nameless as it’s illegal under Indian law for the media to identify the victims. The fact that we don’t know their names seems somehow wrong – but that may just reflect our news norms in the UK – we want to sympathise personally and share in grief and support. It also makes them representative of the millions of young girls who each day risk attack just by looking for somewhere to go to the toilet, walking to fetch water or firewood for their families, or carry maize to a mill for grinding.
Women are frequently at risk – you only have to look at some of the other stories from India.
But the stories from India are not alone. Also on the Today Programme this morning were reports of a woman in Sudan convicted of changing her religion from Muslim to Christian, who has been sentenced to death (commuted for 2 years – and hopefully for life!). She was forced to give birth in a prison cell (rumoured to have been shackled throughout). And a third which told the story of a pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned to death in public by her own family for marrying the wrong man. The man she married had already murdered his first wife by strangling but was let off prison as his son forgave him.
The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no longer in the news.
What draws these stories together is a view of women and girls that somehow says we are lesser – viewed as unimportant, as processions or to be controlled. We have no voice.
At Practical Action we work on the practical things in life – like loos. We also work with people trying to help them – women and men – gain voice. We call this material and relational well-being – material well-being is about having the things you need for a decent life, relational well-being is about having a say in your society and how things are shaped. Both are needed for sustainable development.
I was horrified by each of these stories.
But strange attitudes to women, women somehow invisible are not just something that happens in countries far away from those of us who live in the UK.
Not on the same scale but a story closer to home had me shouting at my Twitter feed the evening before. It was an image of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Jimmy Carter to talk about how we remember those people who died in the holocaust – the meeting consisted of lots of men in suits. Not one woman. 2 million women died.
(I do know there are women on the Holocaust Commission – my question s why when there are 7 people visible around the table are all of them men?)
And finally – on my catch up weekend – I came across the just released list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Angela Merkel is ranked number 1 – probably politically not completely aligned with me but even so as a woman taking centre stage she made me smile! And it felt very good to read a news story about women, women with power and influence, that could make me smile.
Let’s remember the girls in India. Let’s work to make women more visible, let’s work to make women around the world less afraid, let’s aim for an equitable view of women and men.
I want to hear great stories of women doing brilliant things as I listen to my radio in the morning – not stories of oppression that just make me so sad. And I want those great stories to be because we have a world in which women are free to flourish.6 Comments » | Add your comment
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