News and campaigns | Blogs

  • Is the snail accelerating?


    November 13th, 2017

    With the first week of the conference done and dusted, where are we in negotiations?

    In September I wrote about the Government of Fiji’s ambition[1] for the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The first week of the conference is now over and the high level segment is about to begin. So are we any closer to a comprehensive deal to tackle climate change? A deal that needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophic social systems failure, that puts in place mechanisms to help people in developing countries adapt to the challenge of climate change and for those where climate action is already too late, put in place a mechanism that responds to their Losses and Damages. A mechanism that helps them pick up the pieces and find a new life despite climate change exacerbated floods washing away their homes, sea level rise making their homes unliveable and fields unproductive or the multitude other ways that climate change impacts are already exceeding the capacity of the poorest to adapt.

    The negotiations are complex from a technical as well as a political perspective. Countries ultimately want to see an equitable deal that delivers on keeping climate change to within 1.5oC. A deal that recognises the different needs and builds from the contributions that each country can make.

    Based on progress during the first week the following three areas must not be forgotten by political leaders as they travel to attend next week, tasked on behalf of all of us to finalise and approve what need to be ambitious conference outcomes.

    First, get serious on mitigation, keep coal in the ground and shift from oil and gas to renewable sources as rapidly as possible!

    Location of coal power plants in the EU in 2016, circle diameter indicates capacity, country colours depict coal use per capita (darker shading indicates higher coal use per capita)

    Second, mainstream climate change in all development, ensure mitigation action doesn’t undermine progress on adaptation and vice versa!

    We know that to end poverty, we must reverse climate change as quickly as possible.  Without doing so, we risk pushing more than 100 million people back into poverty by 2030 from the impacts of climate change alone[2].

    Thirdly, pre 2020 ambition, the two year period before the Paris Agreement comes into force should be a race to climate excellence, not to be climate laggards!

    Prior to the COP starting the U.N Environment Programme released a sobering report[3] detailing the gap between what countries pledged in their initial Paris Agreement commitments — their nationally determined contributions — and what they will need to do in order to keep global warming below the ideal of 1.5oC. Unfortunately for future generations current commitments cover only approximately one third of the emissions reductions needed to be on a pathway of staying well below 2°C. This isn’t a surprise to delegates at the COP, what is alarming is the lack of progress on ramping up this ambition, particularly leadership by the developed world, leading by example on mitigation, and providing the technical and financial support needed to deliver on Adaptation and Loss and Damage to ensure that we do stay on the track agreed in Paris.

    [1] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/fijis-vision-for-cop23/

    [2] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/11/08/rapid-climate-informed-development-needed-to-keep-climate-change-from-pushing-more-than-100-million-people-into-poverty-by-2030

    [3] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22070/EGR_2017.pdf

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • From Connectivity to Co-creation: How can ICT accelerate the achievement of SDGs?


    November 2nd, 2017

    ICT is a key enabler for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can ICT contribute to SDGs? – We summarise takeaways from Global Science, Technology and Innovation Conference 2017

    The Global Science Technology and Innovation Conference (GSTIC), which took place on 23-25 October 2017 in Brussels, aimed to accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of technological innovations for the achievement of SDGs. With representatives from key stakeholders from national governments, UN and other international organisations, academics and the private sector attending the conference, GSTIC became a platform for finding new technological solutions and co-creating for solving complex challenges in diverse societies. We, the Practical Action representatives, had an opportunity to participate in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as Enabling Technology sessions. The sessions explored how ICT solutions – software, hardware and data – can potentially impact SGDs.

    Connect the unconnected

    It is widely accepted that connectivity is one of key priorities for achieving the SDGs. Approximately 3.9 billion people – that is, around 53% of world’s population – are still offline. According to ITU, we need to “connect as many people as possible”. SES, a satellite operator, demonstrates how connectivity barriers can be overcome. It deploys a satellite-based e-health platform, Satmed, in Vietnam. Satmed connects doctors and nurses in three maternity hospitals across the country. Its broadband capacity transfers live visual data. Doctors can analyse symptoms and give advice online to other doctors and nurses based in other hospitals.

    Adequate regulatory environment

    Regulatory framework has been lagging behind ICT developments. The Policy Lab suggested multi-stakeholder dialog to “define new roles and responsibilities and retooling system” to cope with the current reality. Humanitarian interventions, for example, rely heavily on ICT. Collecting data about migrant flows helps to deliver humanitarian assistance, but at the same time exposes vulnerable populations to new threats, e.g. human trafficking. This should lead us to question the ethics of data collection and use: Who owns and controls data? How long they store data? How data is being used? What data security measures are in place?

    Collaborative partnerships

    New models of partnerships engaging governments, NGOs, CSOs, academics, private sector and citizens – women, young people, farmers and more – should be encouraged. The work of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) is of interest in that respect. The Network actively engages end users and encourages multi-stakeholder participation in co-creating innovative ICT products and services. Prototypes are tested and experimented with in real life, and feedback is used for iterative design process. With 400 international networks, ENoLL is able to launch projects quickly and share their lessons.

    Business incentives

    One of the ways to address the sustainability of ICT solutions is by bringing in private investment. In some cases, the government may only subsidise the early stage of ICT developments. The government of Qatar is implementing the TASMU Smart Qatar Program for improving public services. For that purpose, it aims to spend QR 6bn (£1,19bn) over the next five years. To date, around 100 use cases across key themes, such as transportation and healthcare, have been developed. Half of them are expected to attract private investments.

    To conclude, GSTIC highlighted the roles of ICT as enabler for achieving SGDs. But let’s not forget that technology is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. ICT solutions should equally benefit all members of society especially marginalised communities who are, in many cases, excluded from the debates.

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Pumpkins against poverty and climate change in Bangladesh


    October 26th, 2017

    Pumpkin farming in Bangladesh helps some of the most vulnerable people to cope with floods & climate change and so escape poverty. This reveals critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces.

    How is climate change creating poverty in Bangladesh?

    Bangladesh is repeatedly named as the country most vulnerable to climate change. In particular, more frequent and intense rainfall plus rising sea-level is making flooding much more likely. While for some countries coping with climate change is a problem for the future, impacts are already being felt in Bangladesh. The Asian Development Bank reports that more rain is falling and extreme events, such as floods, are becoming more common and severe. Rural areas are being caught in a devastating cycle of droughts and floods. In a country where 70% of the population directly depend on agriculture this is a serious problem.

    Weather events have cost Bangladesh $12billion in the last 40 years, says The World Bank. By 2050, it’s likely that climate change could further reduce the amount of food farmers can grow by up to 30%. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, it will hamper any attempts to improve the poverty and malnutrition that effect vulnerable people across the country.

    To make matters worse, the most vulnerable people are often forced to live in the most dangerous areas. For example, the poorest families are often only able to build their homes and farms on the very edge of riverbanks, which are washed away during floods. As floods become more common people are more frequently losing their homes, livelihoods and food supply – trapping them into cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

    How can pumpkins fight poverty?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project run by Practical Action is working with 6,000 of the most vulnerable people in 26 villages across Bangladesh. The aim is to help build their ability to cope with flooding and climate change.

    While floodwater washes away riverbanks, homes and fields, it also creates new islands (called sandbars) in the middle of the flooding rivers. Practical Action is helping communities to turn these sandbars into pumpkin fields. With the time it takes to dig a small hole, and the addition of a small amount of compost, individuals who lost their fields to floods are guaranteed a harvest. Even better, women are actively participating in pumpkin farming around their household tasks – supporting themselves and their children.

    Practical Action is also helping farmers to sell the pumpkins they do not eat. Pumpkin selling can offer a great additional income for families, especially in the monsoon season when prices are three times higher than at other times in the year.

    The project has generated huge employment for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, and especially for vulnerable women. Pumpkin growing has increased food security and the ability of communities to cope with flooding and the impacts of climate change. It has also transformed individuals into agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them to escape the trap of poverty and malnutrition.

    Why is this an important lesson for the rest of the world?

    The Pumpkins against Poverty project is a clear example of how simple technology can build communities’ resilience to the disaster events climate change brings. The project hopes to support the most vulnerable individuals in Bangladeshi society by actively involving women and children, and so strengthen communities from the bottom-up.

    It is widely recognised that local and bottom-up innovations, such as the Pumpkins against Poverty project, are crucial to both cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce the contribution to the cause. Despite this, there is a large gap in our understanding of how practical technology can be turned into successful projects on the ground. To be effective, projects need to carefully consider the local context and involve the community at every step. Practical Action’s Pumpkins against Poverty project is helping individuals suffering from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, it provides critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces: hunger, nutrition, employment and gender inclusion.

    Find out more…

    If you would like to read more on technological solutions for climate change in Bangladesh see the Adaptation Technology in Bangladesh report by the Gobeshona sub-group.

    Alternatively discover other solutions to increase flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal which is dedicated to providing specialist advice and guidance.

    More of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh can be found here.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Learning to fail

    Often we celebrate success and seldom talk about failures. In a modern work-space it is difficult to imagine an environment where we confidently and openly talk about failures. In evaluation meetings we focus our energies on ‘best practices’ but less on ‘lessons learnt’. For me, success and failure are impostors, and I believe that the process leading to either or in some cases neither is key.

    Habitually we do not want to try innovative ideas for we fear failure, and now and again the magic associated with naivetés of trying new and untested technologies is treated as a liability; so (hush hush) these things are off limits as we are super engrossed in conducting evaluations and finishing reports in an ever evolving professional work-space. Getting things right at the first go might be valid from a project management perspective, but is that realistic when we talk about trying to change the world and inspire others by demonstrating something unique or niche.

    When we tried piloting simple low cost water level sensors in the foothills of the Karnali basin, West Nepal, we failed spectacularly. The rationale of trying the technology was not to replace the existing monitoring system but to test if these affordable water level sensors can provide redundancy to the current systems which are rather expensive to operate. First, we tried with acoustic sensors and realized that its capability was limited for large rivers and there was a spider nest in one of the equipment when we tried extracting the data. I was lucky not to get bitten. Nevertheless, three months later we tried again with LiDAR sensors, only to realize that the battery connection was weak and there was no data, yet again after few months we changed the sensor specification and are now nervously hoping that it would record some data.

    Piloting low cost water level sensors in lower Karnali River, West Nepal

    Whilst these sensors worked perfectly fine in laboratory conditions, we were appalled to see irregular field behaviour. Ah! The fallacies of being too research oriented and mechanistic – but the spark generated by the excitement of trying something innovative and trusting ones instinct was unparalleled. Perhaps one can conclude that the senor technologies did not adapt well in mountainous environment. Despite trying multiple times, are we ready to give in to criticism or failures? Nah! We are ready to fail again, not because we have the funding to fail but we are keen to look into the technical issues on why the sensors did not record data and what can be improved? The possibility of the sensors working well with real time data transmission and solar panels excites us. The sheer joy of ‘trying again’ is pure bliss! We are un(cautiously) confident that this technology might work one day and has the potential to change the spectrum of early warning and environmental observations. However, perseverance is critical, and not being deterred is crucial.

    International development is evolving in radical ways and while these changes are happening subtly, it surely does demand that we evolve from normative ways of thinking and styles of working. Yet we still fancy being on the safe side and avoid talking calculated risks. Having failed many times in the past, we are not scared of failing any more rather we are eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fail, and Failing is Fun when you have colleagues and supervisors that support you in the process. When we start celebrating failures as equally as success that is when magic happens.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017


    October 13th, 2017

    International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

    Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

    “The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

    Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

    In 2017 IDDR once again focusses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and manmade hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

    This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

    Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

    The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

    With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

    Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

    Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

    Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

    Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

    What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

     

    [1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

    [2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Better veterinary services in remote areas


    October 12th, 2017

    The EU funded Livestock Epidemio Surveillance Programme for Eastern Sudan (LESP-ES) aims to establish effective  epidemio-surveillance and control of trans-boundary animal diseases and priority diseases and link with national institutional frameworks through strengthening capacities for epidemio-surveillance.

    Different activities were conducted to accomplish this including the provision of three check points on the border with Ethiopia, at Basunda in Taya and Galabat as well as Alassera in Guresha.  There are also three interstate check points at Shajarab and Sada  between Gedarif and Kassala State and Khyary between Gedarif and Gezera State.

    In order to provide proper veterinary services at those points, the programme has supplied nine motorbikes at these check points in addition to the three motorbikes already in Gebesha Aburakham and Sefawa to cover the long borders.

    Veterinary technicians were appointed to take responsibility for providing veterinary services and monitoring livestock movements in these vital area, taking into account that livestock  know no borders in their search for pasture and water.

    The programme has helped improve the of skills and experience of veterinary technicians through multiple training courses for those at checkpoints among others.

    Hassan Yousif Abdalla From Guresha was one of these technicians deployed  at the Alassera check point near the Ethiopian border. He expressed his appreciation for the role played by the programme and Practical Action in supporting veterinary services in remote rural areas where it is difficult to find veterinarians because numbers in the state are low.  He said that having an office here was a dream come true. Now it’s much easier to deliver veterinary services and to work with people in different villages as well as those who come asking for help.

    Hassan said that before the motorbikes arrived it was difficult to monitor livestock movements or provide support to pastoralists and animal owners because villages were so scattered  and the roads unpaved.

    “Now I can travel to all surrounding villages and provide veterinary services and meat inspections and to investigate all outbreaks of disease whenever I’m notified.  I can even provide help to pastoralists and animal owners across the border with Ethiopia. They come and ask for help because we are neighbours and have a common weekly livestock market in this area.  The programme had provided me with a mobile phone so anyone can reach me.  I can always ask  the local animal resources directorate for advice when I need it.”

    Hassan said that he provides treatment and extension services even at household level and his work covers more than thirteen villages.  He performs meat inspections at the weekly livestock market and monitors the meat provided at local restaurants for the sake of better public health.

    Hassan is sure of the importance of checkpoints as means of providing veterinary services to poor people in marginalized areas but has some worries about the sustainability of the service after withdrawal programme support.

    Livestock owner Adam Nemer said that the presence of check points in the area encouraged farmers to concentrate on their herds because it is easier now to find support when needed.  He explained:

    “Hassan helps us a lot.  He treats sick animals and provides guidance and advice on how to rear the herd and how to avoid diseases through better nutrition.  He also encourages us to undertake routine vaccination in order to prevent major disease outbreaks.”

    Finally Hassan explained that the caravan should be provided with extra veterinary field tools that would help them in performing their duties.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal


    October 12th, 2017

    An innovative flood early warning system grants life-saving hours of preparation to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. In July, 2016 this system alerted 13,000 people to impending floods 3 hours before the traditional warning system was triggered.

    Nepal is one of the one most flood-exposed countries in the world, and the people who live in the Karnali River basin are also among the most vulnerable. More of the world’s poor live in this area than in any other regional river basin. Poverty plays a significant role in vulnerability and resilience to natural hazards, as those with fewer resources are less able to protect themselves from flooding, and are also impacted to a greater degree by the loss and damage caused by floods.

    With so much at stake, time is crucial for families to protect themselves, their homes and their livelihoods. The current early warning system in place measures water levels upstream of the lower part of the river basin, using real-time measurements to trigger a warning, sent via SMS messages, for communities downstream when a pre-determined threshold is crossed.

    This approach is simple, sustainable and saves lives, but its effectiveness is constrained by the limited lead time it provides. Typically, communities have only two to three hours, making it difficult to save assets, livestock and tools, and presenting challenges for more vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, pregnant women, the elderly and children.

    With little time to prepare, families are placed at serious risk when flooding occurs

     

    Practical Action’s solution

    With the support of the Zurich Flood Alliance Programme, we worked with Dr Paul Smith of waternumbers[1] and Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) to pilot a new approach which would increase the lead time and the detail of information provided by the early warning system. This approach is based on probabilistic forecasting, presenting the likelihood of water levels crossing danger and warning thresholds, rather than simply reporting what is happening as it is happening. This information is communicated visually to key decision-making personnel in the DHM. Initial results indicate that this approach could provide up to five additional hours of early warning, and the DHM has now adopted this model and is rolling it out to all major river basins across Nepal.

    Proven success

    During the 2016 monsoon in western Nepal, we were able to see the impact of this new system. When rainfall stations recorded heavy rainfall on 26 July, the forecast generated by the probabilistic system at 8:00 am indicated that the water level would rise above the danger threshold within the next three hours. Based on this, the DHM issued a flood advisory, and over 13,000 at-risk people received SMS messages alerting them to the risk. The danger threshold was crossed at 11:00 am, with water levels reaching 5.4 metres, and peaking at 8.15 metres at 10:00 pm.

    The longer warning lead time from probabilistic forecasts was significant in minimizing the risk to lives and livelihoods as communities gained extra time to prepare, evacuate, and respond.

    Find out more

    For more detailed information, please refer to the full article by Paul J. Smith, Sarah Brown and Sumit Dugar, ‘Community-based early warning systems for flood risk mitigation in Nepal’ published in the Journal of Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

    [1] A consultancy committed to assisting the management of risks from natural hazards using sustainable, innovative and tailored modelling and analytical solutions

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Improving understanding of flooding and resilience in Nepal


    October 12th, 2017

    In Nepal, accurate understanding of flood risk is limited by inaccurate or outdated information. Five innovative techniques have been used by Practical Action and partners to address these challenges and share the information with communities and government authorities.

    This blog outlines these five techniques, which are detailed in full in this report.

    Rivers originating from the Himalaya are a vital resource for around 10% of the global population. The rivers irrigate land, supporting the agricultural livelihoods of communities living across the 255 million hectare wide Terai plain in which Western Nepal is located. However, heavy rainfall during the monsoon season can cause a rise in water levels that mean these rivers become a source of devastating floods.

    Practical Action has been working with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in Nepal and an interdisciplinary team of geoscientists, engineers, social scientists and architects from the University of Edinburgh to better understand the flood risk faced by these communities.

    An accurate understanding of the areas at risk of flooding is of critical importance to preparedness and resilience. Access to this information helps communities, local and national government agencies and civil society groups to act effectively to protect vulnerable people, livelihoods and infrastructure. Decisions on where to build emergency shelters and land use can be influenced by this information, for example.

    The Karnali River is highly dynamic, changing pathways, shape and depth as it transports millions of tons of sediment along the river bed

    1. Variable levels of sediment

    Rivers which originate from the mountains in Nepal carry millions of tons of sediment during monsoon season. This sediment can change the shape of the underlying river channel, meaning that the water level alone does not indicate the amount of water in the river.

    Solution: Using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler we measured the amount of water in the river at different times of year and at different cross-sections of the channel. We were also able to use this technology to measure flow velocities for the first time. We also measured the size of sediment grains on gravel bars and in filtered water samples. These measurements were then used to accurately calculate the quantity of water in the river so that flood levels could be predicted – enabling resilient land management, irrigation practices and crop usage.

    2. Outdated topography maps

    Satellite data is crucial for mapping flood risk. However, the maps currently being used in Nepal are based on data from 2001, but the course and elevation of the river has changed significantly since then.

    Solution: We developed more detailed flood risk maps using up-to-date and in-depth satellite data. This allowed us to analyse how flood risk is affected by changes to the river shape and to identify areas at risk that were previously overlooked.

    3. Channel migration and switching

    Channel migration occurs when a river bank is eroded causing the river to move across its plain, while channel switching occurs when the accumulation of sediment causes a river to change course. If either occur during a flood, the new channel position may put unprepared communities at risk.

    Solution: Using optical satellite imagery, we were able to map out the historical channel pathways of the Karnali River and to understand the frequency and patterns of river channel movements. This enabled the identification of areas most vulnerable to flooding.

    4. Social dynamics

    Communities often change as result of development or in response to disasters like flooding. This change can be caused by anything from new economic opportunities or business openings to new community arrivals, people moving to find work or whole families being displaced by flooding. These all contribute to changing demographics and vulnerabilities which authorities need to be aware of in order to protect communities.

    Solution: We interviewed community members to determine how flood risk interacts with their day-to-day lives. We found that the region is undergoing major social transformation which, while increasing the availability of cash and opportunities, is exposing people to new vulnerabilities. For example, the rise in concrete housing construction creates a sense of security in communities, but means that homes are less mobile and more valuable, increasing the potential loss due to flooding.

    5. Construction techniques

    Nepal has many examples of traditional flood-resilient construction methods. However, these have been displaced by modern techniques and materials, like reinforced concrete. Although it is easier to verify the resilience of concrete buildings than comparable traditional designs, they require different skills and technical expertise to build and are more expensive. Therefore, modern construction is not always appropriate for vulnerable communities who may not have the resources to safely construct and maintain modern designs.

    Solution: We studied the construction methods of homes and shelters in a range of settlements and proved the resilience of some traditional techniques such as using timber posts to elevate main living floors. We concluded that hybrid construction systems should be developed, which bring together both traditional and modern methods, and that evolving systems should only use concrete where essential to guarantee resilience without unnecessary costs for households or contributions to climate change.

    Rising water levels put the communities who live near the river at risk of flooding

    Next Steps

    Rivers like the Karnali, which have high and variable sediment loads, directly impact the people living near them, and we need to better understand how their changing behaviour affects flood risk.

    We also need to be able to share knowledge about safe and resilient modern building techniques so that investment in structural development effectively reduces the risks of flooding and other hazards.

    The team conducting this research project was formed from a range of disciplines across physical and social sciences. The benefits from working together and sharing knowledge and learning across the team became increasingly evident as the project progressed, resulting in greater insights into the challenges and potential solutions to those challenges related to flooding in the Karnali basin. Using an interdisciplinary approach to research, whilst challenging, can ultimately lead to unanticipated leaps in knowledge.

    The full report can now be accessed here.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • A step forward for women’s empowerment


    September 25th, 2017

    Livestock Epidemic Surveillance Programme (LESP) , funded by the European Community aims to improve awareness and skills of rural livestock producers and other stakeholders in animal health and production.  It is supporting this community initiative in collaboration with the Animal Resources Directorate in Wassat.  They have formed more than 200 women pastoralist committees covering most of the villages in the region, which have been registered as official committees.

    In addition they helped obtain finance from banks with direct support from the Sudan National Bank as part of a national policy to support the livelihoods of the rural poor. Each household was given three sheep to be raised by the family. The Animal Resource Directorate monitors each committee’s monthly payments to the bank and the health of these small herds.  They have conducted several treatment campaigns which have shown to have had a positive impact on the welfare and livelihoods of rural families.

    Practical Action led the process of forming the women’s pastoralist committee network. Building on its legacy of empowering rural communities especially women and contributing to gender equality through mainstreaming gender issues, we aim to build better understanding of the positive role of such networks in fostering better performance.

    In order to help these pastoralist committees rear their small  herds the programme conducted several training courses related to animal health.  Women attending were shown how to judge the proper health condition of their animals, how to identify a sick animal, which diseases should case major concern and their symptoms and treatment.  The importance of notification of disease to the veterinary authorities and vaccination were among other topics covered.

    The committee’s executives were also trained on project management and financial procedures in order to be able to run their own business.

    Consultation between the partners led to the decision to support a veterinary drug store as a revolving fund  managed by the women pastoralist committees network Executive desk, under the direct supervision of  Animal Resources Directorate at Wassat.

    The programme provided office furniture, stationery and drugs while the Ministry of Animal Resources issued a veterinary drugstore license and appointed a veterinary technician to supervise the service.

    The Department of Health in Wassat offered to host the store in their new health clinic at Abu Alnaja.  This clinic with provide pastoral women with drugs and veterinary assistance at a moderate price which, managed wisely will generate revenue for a revolving fund.

    The opening ceremony of the veterinary drugstore took place on 18 September. The Ministry of Animal Resources was represented by His Excellency the Animal Resources Minister as well as the East Sudan office coordinator and LESP-ES local technical advisor, and representatives from Wassat’s legislative council, members of the women’s pastoralist committees and  villagers of Abu Alnaja villages.

    Following the opening of the store, there was an exhibition,  speeches and a drama.  The ceremony was attended by  students of the University of Alneelen’s Faculty of Animal Production on their annual scientific trip, who indicated their appreciation of the idea and the support given to the community.

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Coping disasters beyond the border : Nepal-India cross-border flood early warning system


    September 12th, 2017

    Written by: Dinanath Bhandari, Buddhi Kumal, Lok Narayan Pokhrel and Kamal Tripathi


    Saving lives from flood disasters beyond the border is possible through early warning systems. It is demonstrated successfully in three river basins between India and Nepal. Bilateral cooperation at government level could make greater changes.

    While many governments are sharing information on cyclones and are helping in taking preventive measures, south Asian countries are yet to root their efforts in working together to save their people. However, civil society collaboration between Nepal and India has saved lives and assets from flooding. The governments in both countries can do better if they realize the importance of cross-border flood early warning systems. There are already evidences from good practice on the ground inspiring authorities to upscale efforts.

    Different countries, changed names but the pain is the same

    People living along the banks of Karnali (Ghagra in India) and Babai (Saryu in India) share the same exposure to floods. Both have lost relatives, assets and face drudgery brought about by the floods. Nepalese communities have less time to escape as they are in the upstream catchment and the flow is fast with less lag time to prepare and respond to particular flood. On the other hand, communities downstream in India didn’t have any information about impending floods until a few years back.

    NDFR Rescue Team Shifting people to safe areas. Photo: PPGVS

    For last few years flood frequency has been getting higher with record floods in West Rapti and Babai Rivers. Babai had devastating flood in 2014, when 32 people lost their lives in Bardiya, Nepal. In India, the flood broke the Saryu barrage dam and 13 people lost their lives. West Rapti has crossed the danger level several times since 2012, up to six times in some years. Loss of lives, assets and livelihoods was an common phenomenon for the people living in flood plains in Nepal and India.

    Changing floods: changing coping strategies

    However, the situation is changing now. In Nepal Practical Action has been working with communities, civil society organizations and relevant government agencies at local to national level to set up and advancement of community centered flood early warning systems in West Rapti (since 2008), Babai (2008) and Karnali (2010). Since 2016 Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) has started sending text messages directly to the people in flood prone areas based on their rainfall and flood forecast in addition to informing related authorities of Home Ministry at center and sub-national level. This has helped to evacuate people at risk to safer places to prevent loss of lives and movable belongings. An institutional mechanism of community disaster management committee (CDMC) has made the EWS operational thanks to efforts of Practical Action together with the DHM and other many institutions for over a decade.

    Community volunteers rescuing people to safe shelters in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    In India in the downstream, Poorvanchal Gramin Vikas Sansthan (PGVS) has established community based flood early warning system in Gonda, Baharaich and Gorakhpur districts since 2012 with technical support from Practical Action along with its long time partners Nepal Red Cross’s Bardia District Chapter, Center for Social Development and Research (CSDR) and Radha Krishna Tharu Jana Sewa Kendra (RKJS). A generous information sharing by the DHM authorities for humanitarian purposes has made this possible. PGVS has been working together with Nepali NGOs and Red Cross to improve collaboration for information sharing to saving lives in the downstream. Following Nepal’s alert, warning and danger level of floods in the flood forecasting stations in Kusum (West Rapti), Chepang (Babai) and Chisapani (Karnali), calibrations have made to different Indian communities along with lead time calculations. Indian communities receive information via SMS sent by community individuals in Nepal built on informal linkages and watching DHM web pages that display real-time flood and rainfall situation. In the communities, trained volunteers take lead to communicate by hand operated sirens, mega phones and door to door visits.

    The Nepal, India, Bangladesh Floods 2017

    Babai Flood Rating Curve. Source: DHM

    Strong monsoon winds in the second week of August dumped a lot of rainwater in parts of Nepal, India and Bangladesh resulting in huge floods in these countries. Almost every river originating in Nepal enters India. Huge floods in Nepal often cause similar situations for people in parts of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar in India. On 12-13 August 2017, there was an unprecedented flood in the Babai and West Rapti rivers in Nepal which soon crossed the border and reached India in few hours. Real-time river level sensor of the DHM recorded that the highest level of flood of Babai in Chepang flood gauge station was 9.98m on 13 August 2017 and of West Rapti in Kusum flood gauge station was 8.87m on 12 August 2017. Both were the highest level of flooding on record.

    Cross border cooperation saved lives

    In the August 12-13, 2017 floods, information sharing in between upstream and downstream communities demonstrated its significance. Indian communities and the organizations take care of potential rainfall in the upstream and frequently watch the DHM real-time information. Indian communities also call to upstream communities in Bardiya and Banke, hydrology stations in Nepal and request to inform them about the level of flood and rainfall status in the upstream. The network members brought this collaboration to a new height in this year. They used internet applications and social media to exchange flood information [insert cross border SMS or WhatsApp]. This enables communities to get timely information about potential risk of flood and authorities to help communities. People and authorities in Bahraich, Gonda, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddarthanagar and Gorakhpur received flood information in advance through different media.

    Rating Curve of West Rapti. Source: DHM

    The mechanism proved a success to saving lives of many people in above districts in India. The information was generated in Nepal and shared with members in India. “It helped people to save their lives, movable properties and important belongings”, said Krishna Kumar of PGVS in Bahraich. Once the flood crossed warnings these three rivers in Nepal, members shared information actively. Nepali people relayed flood forecasts and updates from the DHM to their Indian counterparts. The network members made use of social media. These media were also used to inform communities in India. “PGVS sent rainfall and flood risk information using WhatsApp, Facebook and group SMS that helped save lives in this severe flooding”, Kamal Tripathi of PGVS shared. “We sent them to task forces at community level, relevant government officials, media and inter-agency groups and it proved a success”. They reached 2500 key persons instantly through these channels helping over 2,000,000 flood vulnerable people in 6 districts in UP prompting them to evacuate in time.

    The Civil Society Network

    These initiatives taken by civil society organizations have received support from journalists, advocates, and members for chamber of commerce and industries – the business sector in Nepal and India to strengthen the cross border flood EWS. In 2016, they formed Indo Nepal cross border flood early warning network. The network is Co-chaired by Krishna Gautam – President of Nepal Red Cross Society, Bardiya District Chapter and Krishna Kumar Tripathi – Additional Director of PGVS in India as a member secretary to the network. The network aims to demonstrate successful EWS mechanism beyond border to saving lives from floods and influence authorities to collaborate better between two countries. “We are doing this for saving lives, assets and livelihoods from flood disasters”, said Krishna Gautam of Nepal Red Cross Bardiya, “It is based on our humanitarian principles and the collaboration is on humanitarian ground.” According to review in the communities, loss of lives has been brought down to minimum possible in Bahraich, Gonda and Gorakhpur despite unprecedented immense flooding thanks to cross border cooperation. This has demonstrated an example to take up by governments.

    Screen Shot. WhatsApp

    Disasters extend beyond borders warranting cross-border cooperation on prevention, preparedness and response to flooding at all levels to helping each other. There are reasons why governments should invest, collaborate and cooperate with each other in preventing disasters; a shift is required in approaches and practices to address the risks of changing floods. The technology is advancing, access to flood risk information has been possible prompting preventive measures by the communities and authorities beyond the border. Governments should tap the opportunities created by civil societies.

    Find out more…

    Read more about Practical Action’s work in Disaster Risk Reduction and as part of The Zurich Flood Resilience Programme – or about our ongoing programmes in Nepal.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment