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  • Inspiring girls on International Women in Engineering Day


    July 7th, 2017
    Lauren Padmore, STEM Ambassador, BWB Consulting

    Lauren Padmore, STEM Ambassador, BWB Consulting

    What a great initiative Women in Engineering Day is! Currently only 19% of engineering graduates are girls, so we are potentially missing out on a lot of talent. There are many reasons why that may be the case, but one thing is for sure, time and time again we are told that if you give girls good role models, and show them how engineering can be used to solve real problems faced by real people they are more inspired to go on to an engineering degree.

    Women in Engineering Day gives organisations like the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Build Environment at Birmingham City University the chance to do just that.

    They held an event in June 2017 where 80 students from 8 different schools got together with mentors from industry, many of whom were STEM Ambassadors,  and had the opportunity to find out about a number of different engineering careers young female engineers enjoy, plus try out being an engineer themselves by taking part in our very own Stop the Spread challenge, based on Practical Action’s work on Urban Water and Sanitation programmes in Kenya.

    The day clearly had an impact on the girls who were there, both in terms of their own belief in what they can achieve and what options are out there.

    ‘People underestimate what girls can do. After today I think that if we believe in something we should just, like, go for it’

    ‘Before, when I thought of engineering I only thought about mechanical, but now I know there are lot of different types and opportunities like biomedical.’

    As part of the Stop the Spread challenge the girls had two related tasks

    • Design and build a model of a hand washing device for a primary school in Kenya
    • Produce education materials that will encourage children in the school to wash their hands

    Stop the Spread challengeBoth tasks were presented to the rest of the students and the judges. The range of different designs was really impressive, as were the education materials which included songs, plays and posters.

    I was particularly pleased that the design task really brought out a deep level of thinking of around the importance of considering how and where a product will be used; how to factor in relevant scientific knowledge, then incorporating all that into the design. Great STEM skills.

    ’I’ve learnt that the environment is different in different places so you need to think about that when you design something. So in Kenya water will evaporate really quickly so you need to find a solution to stop it from evaporating’’

    Hanna, Langley School

    My favourite quote of the day however has to be this one,

    ‘Today I have learnt that I am more creative than I think I am’   …Go girl!!

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  • Lessons from Turkana on promoting sanitation in Kenya’s arid areas

    Since 2014, Practical Action has been delivering water, sanitation and hygiene promotion services to communities in northern Kenya through its SWIFT project.

    This is how a typical pit latrine built from local materials looks. Due to poor soil structure many of such latrines soon collapse.

    So far we have worked in 9 locations of Turkana County reaching 160,000 women, men and children directly. The activities that have been undertaken include the drilling of boreholes, Installation of pumps, construction of shallow wells, rehabilitation of 10 dysfunctional shallow wells, upgrading of 6 piped water systems and the Installation 5 high capacity solar pumps.

    Heavy rains and flash floods in Turkana wash away soil and damage structures such as latrines

    As part of the project, the Kenya program was also expected to construct 275 latrines with an expected outcome of reducing the occurrences of open defecation. The locations, mainly on the outskirts of the major town (Lodwar), had over 90% occurrence of open defecation and only a handful of sanitation facilities.

    The project faced a few challenges in 2016 with a number of the latrines collapsing due to the environment and condition of the soil in Turkana – loose soils that cause the collapse and exacerbated by disruptive weather such as heavy rain and flash flooding.

    As the toilets in Turkana were constantly collapsing due to the weak soil structure. We came up with simple culverts to line the outer wall of the latrine

    The collapse of the latrines meant a strategic shift in understanding the context and re-examining the technology needed to ensure that the latrines are sustainable and contextually appropriate for the arid and semi-arid areas of Northern Kenya.

    The Kenya program has recently embarked on another leg of the project to reconstruct the latrines. The new technology will involve lining the pit latrines with culverts and a top concrete slab that would make the latrines resistant to the harsh climate and adaptable to the loose soil. In addition, the use of culverts means the latrines would be appropriate to the lifestyle of the predominantly pastoralist community and can be easily moved /relocated by the community if need be.

    A community member digs the loose sandy soil to install a culvert that acts as the wall of the pit latrine

    Due to the weak soil structure culverts have to be installed to ensure the walls of the latrines do not collapse

    This concrete mould acts as the cover of the culvert and the base of the pit latrine

    Construction has commenced in four locations in Turkana County with an anticipated finish of July. This project provides an opportunity for reflection and demonstrate appropriate sanitation technology for an arid climate and most importantly pastoralist communities who are in constant movement. Practical Action in Eastern Africa hopes that the technology employed and its success will generate learning, inspire others and create opportunities for further programming in waste management and the re-use/ recycle of faecal waste that hasn’t been considered before in the geographic area.

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  • Ecosystems underpin Sustainable Development


    June 30th, 2017

    There is incredible generosity in the potentialities of Nature. We only have to discover how to utilize them. E. F. Schumacher

    Practical Action have just attended the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA) a global platform of practitioners at which Practical Action country staff can share lessons learned and knowledge from our projects while also networking, sharing and exchanging ideas with practitioners working around the world. This year staff from Nepal, Bangladesh and Peru[i] were able to attend the conference, joined by two staff from the UK.

    This year the CBA took place in Kampala, Uganda. The conference lasted for three days and was attended by more than 300 participants from over fifty countries. The theme of this year’s conference was Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), a theme that would ring true to our founder Dr Fritz Schumacher who spent his life highlighting the fundamental interdependency between human existence and a healthy planet.

    The conference brings together an incredibly vibrant community of practitioners, and in its 11th year builds on over a decade of shared learning. One piece of common understanding is that climate change is happening now and is impacting the poorest the most. Those whose daily lives balance precariously on the frontlines of numerous threats many of which are exacerbated by climate change. Therefore a key driver for CBA practitioners is that we have to act quickly to reduce this threat.

    One cost effective way we can do this is to utilise the potential of nature and this is the basis of EBA. EBA is the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural ecosystems in a way that helps people adapt to climate change, coupled with people’s wise management of these natural components to ensure their preservation, to support the wellbeing of current and future generations. The key element is that ecosystems enhance the adaptation capacity of communities and community action protects the ecosystem services upon which they depend.

    Healthy ecosystems underpin people’s wellbeing and can help them adapt to climate change in four fundamental ways;

    The rapidity of climate change relative to the speed at which natural adaptation, otherwise known as evolution, takes place is challenging existing capacity to adapt. The exposure of people, their communities and societies to climates not experienced during their lifetime, or reflecting the period over which their complex wellbeing strategies have developed is placing new challenges on natural and human systems to adapt. Not only with the pace of adaptation required, but also in a way that can anticipate the uncertainty that the future will undoubtedly bring.

    CBA combined with EBA offers huge potential to reduce people’s vulnerability to a range of climate change impacts and provide significant co-benefits for biodiversity and people, especially those most vulnerable to climate change. We need to overcome any existing conflict between the two approaches, and then scale up from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions as rapidly as possible.

    [i] Unfortunately our Peru colleague was unable to join us although her paper was presented by Chris Henderson in her session on day two.

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  • Direct seeded rice – A promising resource efficient technology


    June 29th, 2017

    Arjun Bhattarai, a 51-year-old farmer living in Koshi Haraicha of Morang district, grows rice as a major crop in his land. Out of his three children, a daughter and a son are blind by birth. So, with the help of his only wife and some casual workers, he used to grow rice and vegetables in his own 8 kattha (1 Kattha = 333.33 sq. meter) and leased 10 kattha land. They were able to hardly meet their annual household needs. Moreover, technical issues like lack of knowledge concerning cultivation techniques, suitable seed variety, pest and diseases, irrigation facility and unavailability of labour in the time of need have made them more vulnerable.

    Arjun sowing rice seeds using a drum seeder. (c) Practical Action/Prabin Gurung

    He joined a Pilot Programme for Climate Resilient Agriculture (PPCR) -Rice training and demonstration plot activity in April 2014 with the hope of getting technical support to improve his farming practice and productivity while reducing the cost of cultivation.He showed keen interest in developing a demonstration plot in his own land. However, he was quiet hesitant to try the new technology of Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in his land. He was afraid that whether or not the new technology would give the same production as the traditional transplanting technology.

    What is DSR?

    Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) is a resource efficient technology that can overcome constraints and limitations of traditional cultivation technology. Various constraints of traditional cultivation technology like higher water and labour demand, extra expenses during raising nursery, uprooting and transplanting, uncertain supply of irrigation water and increased frequency of drought has necessitated alternative techniques like DSR that not only reduces the cost of production but also assure its sustainability.

    DSR is not common in Nepal because of lack of technical knowhow, marginal and scattered land, low land holding capacity of Nepalese farmers and poor irrigation facilities. There are some basic requirements for successful direct seeding like, big plot of well leveled land, more than 0.25 ha (1 ha = 10000sq. meter), large enough to use a machine; and good irrigation facility so that the land can be irrigated and the water can be drained easily.

    Before the project intervention, he had also practiced SRI (System of Rice Intensification) with the help of District Agricultural Development Office (DADO) Morang, with a good productivity. However, as it required lot of skill and labourers, he was unable to continue the technology. In this regards he found DSR as a suitable option to conventional transplanting and modern SRI technology. He says, “Though I was confused on the performance of DSR, I found that this technology can reduce labour cost significantly and perform better in poor irrigation facility too.”

    Direct seeded rice seedlings 20 days after seeding

    Usually in DSR, first 20 days after seeding is the most important period and critical for successful establishment. If irrigation water is not under control then DSR plants cannot develop as per the expectation. During this initial phase of establishment of seedlings, irrigation should be done just to saturate the field. If irrigation water is above the saturation threshold, i.e., standing water in field then it affects emergence and early development of seedlings, and the seedlings can even die.

    More yield with less input

    Arjun used to produce 4 mann ( 1 mann =  40 kgs) per kattha but this time he was able to produce 5 mann rice per kattha, also his cost of production was reduced by 25% as he used only two labourers during his entire cropping period.  In DSR, the labour required for nursery raising, uprooting and transplanting of seedlings are saved to the extent of about 40% and up to 50% water is saved as nursery raising, puddling, seepage and percolation are eliminated. The fertiliser use efficiency is increased and early maturity (15-20 days) helps in timely sowing of succeeding crops. Likewise, up to 50% energy is saved because of elimination of field preparation for nursery raising, puddling and reduced water application for irrigation. Even the methane emission is reduced and the soil structure is not disturbed as in puddled transplanted system. And the elimination of transplanting means less drudgery to farm women labourers. Also the cost of cultivation is reduced due to the reduced labour and energy costs.

    Direct seeded rice 40 days after seeding

    Challenges in DSR cultivation

    However, while cultivating DSR, farmers in Nepal face challenges like land topography, irrigation and drainage facility, and availability of inputs like herbicides and lack of technical know-how.

    Weed is a major problem in DSR, and it can be only managed through proper time management, controlling and weed-free irrigation system. Most of the irrigation water in Nepal comes through irrigation canals that are fully contaminated with weed seeds and also this irrigation water is uncontrollable, periodic and not sufficient for good production.

    In this regards, we have identified possible consideration and modification that have to be applied while practising DSR method of rice production in Nepalese context. Based on our experiences, we have developed following intervention to achieve significant results, thereby reducing weed infestation.

    1. Use of Glyphosate: Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that kills all grasses and weed. It should be sprayed before land preparation. However, use of glyphosate should be limited only to those plots which have higher weed infestation and are lying fallow for a long period.

    2. Suitable land selection and Controlled irrigation: Usually DSR can be cultivated in all types of soil and land. However, due to difficulty in irrigation water management, upland lands are more suitable than flood-prone lowland.

    3. Use of post emergence herbicide (15-20days after seeding): Post emergence herbicides like 2-4 D and Nominee gold (Bispyribec) are being used to control weeds. Usually these herbicides are used alone or in combination to bring weed concentration below economic threshold.

    4. Irrigation Water Management: Care should be taken for first 20 days after seeding. After 15 days, seedling phase enters to tillering phase and irrigation management is not a big problem after that. As we select upland land for DSR, we do not have much flooding problem. For the first 15-20 days, irrigation is done just to saturate soil from irrigation canals or deep borings. After 20 days, irrigation and other management aspects are same as traditional/transplanting technology.

    Having learnt about the technical know-how of cultivating DSR, Arjun is happy to continue it over the traditional method. He says, “I was in a dilemma whether or not to try this technology, but now I am confident that I can adopt this technology without any difficulty and even my neighbours are planning to follow this technology.”

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  • Earthquake victims coming together to rein in the ever increasing price of construction materials


    June 29th, 2017

    A simple act of collective procurement is improving the access of the earthquake victims to quality construction materials and reducing the price by more than 10 percent.

    Two years after the devastating earthquake, majority of the victims are still under the temporary shelters in Nepal. Their journey to permanent housing is uncertain due to ever increasing price of construction materials. Each time price hikes, their hope for bringing back roof over their head fades further.

    Government has no apparent mechanism in place to reduce and regulate the price.

    Communities taking matters in their own hands

    Earthquake victims in Bhorle Village of Rasuwa have, however, found their own way to rein in the price of construction materials. They are landing materials at their village at 10 percent lower price since last two months.

    The resource centre at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    Neither earthen road leading to their village has improved nor have construction materials factories set up in vicinity. They have simply changed the way they procure materials. They have moved from individual procurement to collective procurement practice.

    Maha- laxmi Cooperative, an exclusive women cooperative in the village, is spearheading the venture. The cooperative collects demand for materials from the households on weekly or fortnightly basis and forward the aggregated demand to a central supplier. The cooperative have formal agreement with the supplier for supply of materials. The supplier delivers the materials to resource centre in the village, from where the households collect their materials.

    Cooperative has set up the resource centre to facilitate demand aggregation and provide market information to the households. It is equipped with simple equipment to test the quality of construction materials. A dedicated resource person oversees the day to day operation of the resource centre.

    The difference they are making

    In last 2 months, 42 households in Bhorle procured materials through the new arrangement. Each household saved from $192 to $385.The saving is significant for the poor households who are solely dependent on government housing grant ($2,300) for building their house. If we consider the opportunity cost, the saving is even more significant.

    Mrs Chandra Kumari Paneru, the Chairperson of Maha Laxmi Co-operative

    Earlier people used to buy materials from retailers in Trishuli Bazzar individually. As the individual demand would be small, there was no prospect of getting any discount on price. Beside, every trip to Trishulli would cost them a day and $5 to $10 extra (for food and travel) “said  Mrs Chandra Kumari  Paneru, Chairperson of Maha Laxmi Cooperative.

    People are also spared from the hassle of finding right vendors and bargaining with them after the new arrangement is in place.

    Likewise, People don’t have to worry about the quality of the construction materials. The supplier furbishes the lab certificates and issue VAT bill in each delivery. Besides, the resource person, who is trained on simple techniques of testing the materials, checks the quality before dispatching to households. If the materials doesn’t meet quality standard, the supplier revoke and replace the materials.

    Resource person checking the weight of cement bag

    Where does the saving come from?

    High transaction cost is one of the major contributors to high price of construction materials in Nepal. A sack of Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) cost $4.85 at Factory at Bhirahawa. When it reaches to Bhorle , 400km north-west, it cost $6.70. It exchange hands at least four times before it reach to the earthquake victims. Hence, the transaction cost is whopping 40 percent.

    The collective procurement from the central supplier reduces the transaction cost significantly.

    When they procure materials from us they skip 3 layers of the normal market chain and save the margin each layer hold. Besides, saving comes from our effective logistic management, part of which we pass on to the earthquake victims “says Umesh Simkhada, the chairperson of Aakhu Enterpries, the central supplier

    Ankhu combines the demand from the cooperative with demand it receives from 15 other cooperatives  in Nuwakot and Rasuwa before placing order to factories.

    “The demand from individual cooperative is still very small. However, when we combine the demand of 16 cooperatives, it become significant and we get better deal from factories “ says Mr. Simkhada

    Project support

    Practical Action, through its UKAid, funded, Supply Chain Strengthening Project, is helping the cooperatives in Nuwakot and Rasuwa to aggregate the demand and procure collectively. Besides, convincing the cooperatives and the households about the benefit of demand aggregation, it helps cooperatives to establish linkage with suppliers. Project also helps to set up resource centres and manage them.

    Simple yet effective way to reduce the price

    Ever increasing price of construction materials, if not checked, is likely to upset the pace of reconstruction which is already lacklustre. For reducing the price of construction materials, either production cost or transaction cost has to be reduced. Given the persistent power crisis and high dependency on imported raw materials, it is very difficult to reduce the cost of production. However, the transaction cost, which is very significant, can be reduced by proper logistic management. The earthquake victims in Nuwakot and Rasuwa have demonstrated that collective procurement is one of the simple yet effective ways to reduce the transaction cost.

    Trishakti Rana, Senior Supply Chain  Officer, in Strengthening Supply Chain of Construction Materials , also contributed in this blog.

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  • Selling vegetables to educate wife, a moving story of Gopal Mahat


    June 29th, 2017

    Gopal Mahat just turned 24 and is a local denizen of Ghagar Village of Badimalika Municipality in Bajura. This young and energetic man with a high school education passes almost all his day in his vegetable farm. Gopal lives in a family of five along with his parents, wife and a child. He is among a very few men in Bajura who support their wives in pursuing higher studies. Gopal makes a special exception because he also takes care of his new born to let his wife study. If we look at Nepal’s rural societies, women’s career stops before it even starts mainly due to patriarchal mindsets. And Gopal sets a beautiful example of breaking the odds.

    Gopal Mahat with his wife in front of their home

    I am living my dreams through my wife by educating her – Gopal Mahat

    However, only a few years ago, his life was full of hardship. After completing school, he borrowed some money to continue with high school but the loan money was not sufficient to support his education since he also had a family to look after. So he decided to be engaged in an income generation. Clueless about what to do, Gopal came across a demonstration on cultivation of tomatoes under plastic roofing for better yield conducted by the POSAN FS project. He was quite impressed with the practice and decided to give it a hand. He then cultivated tomato, brinjal, cucumber and some other vegetables in one ropani land (1 Ropani = 508.83771 m²) land he owned. Each season then, Mahat’s yields kept multiplying and he decided to continue cultivation of vegetables and expand the business further. So he added some more land in lease.

    Gopal working at his vegetable farm

    In the spring of 2016, he cultivated tomato, capsicum, some leafy vegetables and coriander in more than four ropani land taken in lease. Mahat made use of improved varieties, micro-irrigation and other improved farming technologies due to which his annual income has increased by about six folds. Mahat shares,

    “I earned NPR 25,000 (£186) only in four months’ time. Also due to creation of market with support from POSAN FS project in form of collection centres here in Rapka, sales has been easier for me. In 2016 alone, I sold fresh vegetables worth NPR 1, 00,000 (£745). This money has not just helped improve my living standard but my dream to support my wife’s education is being fulfilled.”

    Fresh tomatoes ready for harvest inside the tunnel house at Gopal’s farm

    Improved irrigation techniques have helped Gopal increase the production

    Mahat has paid back his entire loan and is also paying premium regularly for his child’s life insurance. Most of all, he is supporting his wife’s education which he said is his dream. Though it was challenging for him to study, he wanted to live his dream when he wanted due to financial crisis, he wants to support his wife’s education in every way possible. He shared us that his main motivation towards working hard for better income was to see his wife getting a good degree in future. His wife is getting a promising results in her studies and wants to become a civil service employee after gradating. He is looking forward to further widen his agri-business in the coming years and of course invest more in educating his wife. As an educated young farmer of Bajura, Mahat is also gaining popularity for improved farming practices as he had been involved in many varietal and improved farming practice demonstrations at his farm in coordination with POSAN FS project.

    Gopal’s wife preparing for her exams

    By investing his income, time and effort for his wife’s education, Gopal is not just helping her get a better future but is setting a milestone in breaking stereotypes of Nepal’s rural patriarchal perspective. Where women after their marriage almost loose all their identities, Gopal is helping his wife build one. He is passionate about the way she reads and writes as he sees her in a better position as an empowered women in the village. What he is doing is quite bold for where he belongs and is worth sharing far and wide.

    POSAN FS project recently concluded in four district of the far-west, Bajhang, Doti, Achham and Bajura. The project was co-funded by the European Union.

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  • A tonic for development


    June 27th, 2017

    Lack of access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services for the rural population remains a challenge in Zimbabwe.

    According to the World Energy Outlook 2000, the country currently has a national electrification rate of 41.5%. Mashaba schoolWhile electricity has reached 79% of urban households, rural electrification is still below 19%, and only 32% of the population has access to modern energy.

    With such statistics, having electricity in rural areas like Gwanda District is like a dream.

    In 2015, Practical Action in partnership with SNV and the Dabane Trust, with funds from the European Union, the OPEC Fund for International development and UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme are implementing the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) project in Gwanda District in Matabeleland South Province to provide sustainable energy in the area.

    The project has established a solar powered mini-grid generating 99 kilowatts.  It is based on the premise that energy is a requirement for the development of rural communities and a precursor for meeting national and international development goals such as the sustainable development goals.

    This mini grid is expected to benefit at least 10,000 people, powering Mashaba Primary School, Mashaba Clinic, as well as three irrigation schemes and two business centres.

    Delight Ncube, age 12 from Mashaba ward 19 in Gwanda applauds Practical Action for the mini grid project.Delight Ncube

    “Before the SE4RC project, we used candles at home for lighting and this made studying difficult, but this is the thing of the past now,” he said. “We now have access to electricity at school and this is helping us a lot when it comes to studying.”

    Ncube’s friend and classmate, Letwin Sibanda, adds: “I am very happy that we now have electricity at our school. I had never used a computer before, but now, we are using them thanks to Practical Action.”

    Without a doubt, the power being generated by the solar mini grid is transforming the lives of most, if not all, communities in Gwanda.

    “The establishment of the solar mini grid in this area has turned dreams into reality.” says Mashaba deputy headmaster, Obert Ncube.

    “Students now have unlimited access to electricity and this enhance education. Villagers are also using solar powered irrigation to feed their families. I believe the solar mini grid will provide a test case to demonstrate that decentralised energy systems can tackle energy poverty in Zimbabwe and ensure that off-grid rural communities have access to sustainable energy to improve their lives through increased production, better education, health and improved incomes.”

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  • Meet a real ‘Wonder Woman’


    June 23rd, 2017

    The new ‘Wonder Woman’ film premiered across the world this month.  At its Latin American red carpet event in Mexico, the star, Gal Gadot, was presented with a unique set of embroidered Wonder Woman bracelets. These were designed and made by Doris Barrientos, an artisan from Cusco and leading light of our textile art project to promote economic development in the region.

    “Wonder Woman” is a fighter and warrior just like the artisans from Cusco,” commented Doris.

    Doris Barrientos lives with her husband and three of her six children in Marangani, 3,600 metres above sea level in the Cusco region of Peru.

    She is one of more than 700 craftsmen and women who have taken part in Practical Action’s ‘Hilando Culturas’ programme. They are working together to build their skills in  textile design and creation, using local alpaca and llama wool and vegetables dyes and traditional weaving and embroidery patterns.

    The training has given Doris the opportunity to become an expert at machine embroidery. She focuses on making the colourful clothing typical of her region, using her own innovative designs.

    The results have been stunning and products from the project have been shown on the catwalk in Lima and are attracting the attention of fashion designers.

    Doris was taught to weave and sew as a child by her grandparents and has been making clothes ever since.  Finding more profitable markets for their wonderful products was a key part of the project, so at last, her skills and the beauty of her products are being recognised.

    She explained the difference the project has made to her life.

    “We have received important training, in cost and production, for example. And they have taken us to show our products at fairs in Cusco and Lima. I started to earn more money with my products, and that enabled me to contribute more to the economy of my family, without having to depend so much on my husband. And today that gives me courage to make decisions about what happens in my family. But it helped me a lot to be part of the association because when I worked alone, nobody supported me. Now that I work with my colleagues it is easier to receive help and easier to show our products.”

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  • Squatters’ community transforming into flood resilient community


    June 22nd, 2017

    A squatters’ community of over 41 migrated families from different places as landless have been building their flood resilient capacities. They organized together, learned and put their efforts to disaster risk reduction. An end to end flood early warning system set up by Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and Practical Action in collaboration with agencies of the government of Nepal with funding support from USAID/OFDA breaks down vulnerability to enhance community flood resilience.

    The vulnerability
    Sukumbashi Basti (squatters’ community) in Shiva-Satakshi Municipality used to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the area. The village is in the Kankai River floodplain in the north of east-west highway along the riverbank. The community has about 164 people in 41 households. They migrated from different places and settled in the open land of Kankai riverbank. Most people have to live in daily wage work as agriculture and other labour in the neighbouring cities Birtamod, Damak, Surunga and in the local markets around.

    Sukumbasi Basti at Kankai River bank

    The settlement falls in the alluvial fan of the river and the close proximity has increased the flood vulnerability of the community. The river is perennial but brings flash flood of very high speed during monsoon. On the other hand, they did not have a safe exit to reach the embankment on the outer side which is the only a safer place during flash flood. The community had a trail that too flooded during monsoon resulting village into an island. “The flood water in Kankai River and the heavy rain made lives at risk always during monsoon,” said Mr. Rudra Bahadur Neupane a local resident in the village, “We need to move towards the embankment at any time during night or day when the water level in the river increased.” However, reaching embankment was not easy and safe. Gullies created small flood ways from local rain making difficult to cross them to reach the embankment.

    The flood coping
    Community have encountered floods in the past and have suffered losses. Some of them are already flood victims in their origin from where they migrated here. A thick cloud above hills of Ilam (upstream) always frightened people with risk of flood. The access to safe place was the most difficult and they lived in a flood surrounded island. In the events of big flooding that caused heavy losses of grains and assets, they received relief support from different organisations such as NRCS, District Development Committee (DDC), Federation of Commerce and Industries and community organizations. Since it is very close to foothill they have very less time to prepare for and escape flooding. Therefore, they needed to be alert of the rainfall that would generate flood of damaging strength. The community were yet to organize well and devise strategies and actions. Initially they did not approach organisations, local government bodies and the District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) for flood risk reduction. The need to move from traditional relief approach to risk prevention and mitigation was realised although not materialised.

    Getting organised
    The communities had realised the need and importance of access to flood risk information well before the flood would reach their vicinity. This is what an end to end early warning system brings in. The NRCS initiated Kankai end to end flood early warning system project in 2014. The project approached and helped them to organise, identify problems and their root causes, devise solutions and organize resources to bring ideas into action. Initial community consultations were focused to organise communities to build understanding on flood exposure, vulnerability and risk together with community capacities and initiatives. These processes led to formation of disaster management committee, task forces and trainings. Gradually, in-depth discussions carried out to devise how community could reduce disaster risk and transform vulnerability into resilience. The NRCS has not only implemented the project but also linked communities to Red Cross movement and helped community to devise strategies and actions to reduce losses. Building on the trust they have with these agencies, the NRCS have strengthened community unity, linkage and improved confidence that they can reduce impact of the flood.

    Improving access road to escape flood
    The most and urgent action identified by the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) was the access road to safe locations to escape flood. “There was need to build a safe evacuation route and during the initial meetings and workshops the community always put forward the request to support its construction,” says Badri Bhujel of NRCS.

    The access road before

    The community organised resources and contributed what they could on their own. They widened the foot trail and delineated the route to the embankment. They got two hum pipes from NRCS and constructed a drain across the road in 2015. The community collected cash from each household, approached local government bodies and agencies to support cash and materials to build stronger culvert to improve the evacuation route by building culverts and retaining wall to protect access road from flooding and sufficient spill way for torrents in between village and the embankment.

    They collected stones and locally available materials, NRCS provided cement, they purchased iron rods and other materials from the money they collected, local government sent a technician and finally community built a culvert with retaining walls that now provides a safe passage to the people during floods. The road is wider such that carts and ambulances can pass through.

    The access road after

    Formation of community disaster management committee (CDMC) organised them for disaster risk reduction. “When I participated in the VCA process I realised that the project helps us to identify ways and means to reduce our flood risk. We identified hazards and analysed their causes, driving factors and our vulnerability. On the other hand, we assessed required and available resources and capacity of our community,” Bharat Khaling Rai shared initial experiences of working together. “And the trainings, exposure visits and interaction with other communities and humanitarian actors organised by the project increased our understanding and confidence to mitigate flood risk and increase our coping capacity,” he said.

    Getting DRR into development
    The CDMC actively involved to the local development planning process through then ward citizen forum and influenced the process to include disaster risk reduction measures in development interventions. Now they hope to get some representatives elected to the local government bodies from the community as the election is happening soon. “We are now familiar with the local level planning and we have presented our request to municipality to upgrade our access road,” explained Rudra Nembang Coordinator of flood early warning task force in the CDMC showing their confidence to move forward on their own to approach authorities to access public fund. Development infrastructures are gradually incorporating DRR in design, layout and construction.

    Leading DRR locally and seeking outside support when required
    The community is now organised into CDMC and institutionalized interventions. They have regular CDMC meetings and have established a DRR fund. This fund will be used to provide immediate relief if any family in the community is in disaster situation. The community has a saving of NPR 40,150 (1 USD = NPR 100) in their emergency fund. They hold skills and confidence to construct small mitigation measures. They have tried to strengthen embankment of Kankai River to control river bank erosion and have planted 8,000 vetiver grass culms in 300 m of the riverbank. They contributed labour and purchased plants by raising cash from each household and invested NPR 200,000 (~US$ 2,000) through cash and work. The Lions Club of Kathmandu had supported for 3000 vetiver grass culms. They raised fund for to buy 5000 culms. “They can extract from these clumps and transplant,” said Lok Raj Dhakal showing the growing vetivers along the embankment slope, “They can sell vetiver culms in few years.”

    The community plans to continue efforts to strengthen riverbank through bioengineering. The grass is fed to livestock and has also potential to generate cash by selling. The NRCS has helped to build local leadership capacity and connect to outsiders to access better support following the principles of community led DRR approach for flood resilience.

    Growing vetiver grass along bank

    Community livelihood assets are yet weak and need external support to strengthen to make them robust and resourceful. Livelihood strategies need to improve for better and sustainable income options. Although there is a long way ahead to build community flood resilient and communities have transformed their approaches from seeking relief to prevention of disaster and being ready with capacity to cope with unanticipated ones.

    With Support from Krishna Basaula, Rakesh Shah, Hari Saran Khadka and Badri Bhujel, Jhapa, Nepal.

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  • Meeting rural electricity needs in Malawi


    June 20th, 2017

    An expanding geographic area of work for Practical Action is in Malawi’s agriculture and energy sectors.

    Malawi has an agro-based economy, with the agriculture sector contributing 30% to the national GDP annually.  Increasing challenges from the changing climate and the demand to feed a fast growing population are driving an increasing focus on this sector. Practical Action has a valuable role to play, which I will talk about in a future blog.  Today I want to concentrate on our role in the provision of electricity.

    Malawi relies on a limited number of hydroelectric stations to generate its electricity. But grid generation is only able to provide power to 10% of the population and within that to only 1% of the rural population. Current generation plans fall far short of meeting the growing national demand. We know that electricity provision – for lighting, for cooking, for small businesses, for water pumping for irrigation is crucial for social as well as economic development.

    Malawi microhydro

    Microhydro site

    Currently there is a high reliance on fuel wood, cow dung, agricultural waste, candles, diesel and paraffin for energy provision in the rural communities but these solutions are not cost effective or environmentally sustainable compared to renewable energy technologies.

    Practical Action is working to address this shortfall in rural electrification through applying its strong international pedigree in pioneering off grid power generating solutions to producing results and learning in Malawi.

    Over the past five years we have established a functioning minigrid serving communities, small business, schools and health facilities in the Mulanje area in the south of Malawi. This facility will soon see three hydro schemes generating electricity from the rivers falling from Mount Mulanje.  This operation is managed and maintained by a local social enterprise and is the first independent power producer in Malawi to be approved by the Government. Practical Action also has other ongoing electricity generation schemes in Malawi, this time using solar power, providing electricity to pump water into irrigation schemes in Chikwawa and Nsanje in the lower Shiree. We are already seeing results in the form of household and community lighting stimulating improved education, improved healthcare and efficiency of small businesses.

    Malawi milling

    Diesel powered milling machine

    The greatest opportunity we have now is not to continue delivering these solutions ourselves but to produce solid evidence and learning from our past and current work and share this widely to allow others to take the delivery forward. By learning from these interventions and using this knowledge of what worked and what did not work we will define our role in Malawi by assisting and supporting others in the off grid sector. This approach will ultimately give more people access to electricity.

    A real example this new role comes from a scoping visit last week to a new hydro site North of Muzuzu. We have an exciting opportunity to facilitate a hydro based electricity generation minigrid through working with a group of commercial coffee producers, local communities and artisan entrepreneurs, funding agencies and the Ministry of Energy.  The potential is there to create a minigrid that provides power for local businesses to develop, to provide communities with lighting, to provide electricity to improve education and healthcare standards and also to power the coffee growers and processers thus stimulating economic output.

    malawi coffee

    Coffee co-operative

    Before we go further, we must be clear of the level of responsibility that lies with us – there are downsides as well as upsides to this initiative. Our role initially will involve learning and experience to feed into a thorough feasibility assessment taking into consideration the technical possibilities of harnessing the river flow and the economic sustainability using supply costs and demand forecasts. We must also emphasise the social and environmental impact. The project site is in a rural and forested part of northern Malawi and we must ensure that the generation scheme and the development that it catalyses minimise environmental degradation (the aim is to improve this aspect) as well as incorporate plans to  address the social changes resulting from increase concentrations of people around the electricity access areas.

    We believe that our learning and evidence from our current and past minigrid work places us in a very strong position to produce the best possible outcome.

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