Blogs tagged as climate change

  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 

    Colin McQuistan

    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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  • An interview with Nazmul Islam Chowdhury

    Elizabeth Dunn

    January 12th, 2017

    The Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal has been a major success, raising an incredible £1 million from people just like you.  This was then matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

    Almost every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh to swell, resulting in devastating floods.  They wash away fertile land and destroy homes and livelihoods.  Families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.  Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede; the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops.  It’s a simple solution that is truly changing lives, thanks to your support.

    "A small dream is now a big dream" Nazmul Chowdhury

    Nazmul Islam Chowdhury is the Head of the Extreme Poverty Programme in Bangladesh and manages the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  Nazmul came up with the idea of using the barren land in this way many years ago and has gone on to develop and implement the solution in communities across Bangaldesh.  Below he explains just why this project is so important.

    “Firstly, I want to say thank you so much for everyone’s generous support of Practical Action and the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  You are helping to reach thousands of people.

    “When I initially came up with the idea of sandbar cropping, I thought something is better than nothing, but we have been able to develop and improve the project. It now has a huge impact on the ground and there is potential to bring this innovation to other countries. The pumpkin is like a magic golden ball; it is a solution for food security, vitamin A deficiency, income and gender equality.

    “I have many stories from the people the project helps but there is one that sticks in my mind. In 2009, When I was visiting a community in Rangpur, I was interviewing a farmer when I heard a girl crying. She was only around three years old. Her cries interrupted the interview and I asked her mother what was wrong. She said she was crying because she was hungry and she had no food to feed her. I was shocked and thought, how can I help? I still think about that girl now. We must do something to help these families.

    “I always tell my children, imagine that you have no food at home and you are hungry. You should always try to help the people that need it.”

    Thank you to everyone who has supported the Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal. You are helping thousands of people to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.

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  • Now we have ratified the Paris Agreement what next?

    Colin McQuistan

    November 18th, 2016

    Today, the UK ratified the Paris climate agreement[1]. This means that we join a group of over 110 countries that have so far ratified a global agreement in record time, less than one year since its inception[2].

    The UK delegation stand at the recent COP22 in Marrakesh

    The UK delegation stand at the recent COP22 in Marrakesh

    Last week on the 14th November, the Prime Minister, made a call. She said “Britain has ‘historic chance’ to give leadership to world[3] Today, in Marrakesh, the climate change negotiations enter their final day, with the negotiations having been laboured unlike in Paris and Lima before them. In Marrakesh there has been a lack of urgency, leadership and as a result the negotiations have stalled in lengthy discussion around protocol and rules. Bogged down around difficult issues such as Loss and Damage, or how to respond to the immense challenge of climate change particularly for those who are least able to respond themselves. This is an issue that chimes well with the PMs words last week, “To be the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world, we also need to do something to help those families and communities who can actually lose out from it”. I know she wasn’t specifically referring to climate change, but we have long recognised the link between climate change and the economy and how our collective failure to act on climate impacts the global economy.

    Loss and Damage was added as a third pillar under Article 8 of the Paris Agreement. In responding to the Prime Minister’s call for leadership, in the climate arena there is no better issue where our collective skills could deliver real progress. This is something we have done before. In 2006 the government of the day published the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change[4]. For the UK government to take leadership – climate leadership – we could be instrumental in breaking the log jam on Loss and Damage. Currently Loss and Damage is stuck in a blame game between developed countries seen as responsible for causing the problem and developing countries seen as suffering from the problem – we must move away from this polarisation, but how?

    TheresaCurrently the UK provides 5.8 Billion pounds in global assistance to tackle climate change. According to policy, half of this is for mitigation. Investment in developing countries to deliver renewable energy, energy efficiency and transform the power sector. This leaves 2.9 billion to respond to the very real threat of climate change, half should be invested in adaptation to changing climates and the remainder dedicated to support the most vulnerable people for who climate change adaptation is already too late.

    For many people in small island states losing their land to sea level rise is a real problem; or to the multitude of small holder farmers forced to give up on agriculture due to seasonal shifts in climatic conditions, and we must not forget the voiceless the species, habitats and the ecosystem services they provide, upon which our daily lives depend; for food, freshwater, clean air and recreational space. The poorest and most vulnerable are running out of choices, these people are driving political and social change around the world and as we see reported in the news daily they form the climate migrants threatening to imbalance global systems as they seek refuge around the globe.

    On Africa Day, 

    This situation could be reversed if we could progress with the Loss and Damage debate. This is where the UK could take decisive action and be recognised for our bold commitment to not only act on climate change but also to provide a long term resilient solution to a global problem, one our close economic and political partners are struggling with too. Here at the negotiations we hear on an almost daily basis the challenge of how to unlock the missing trillions of global investments and how can they be diverted to drive climate smart investment?

    First demonstrate UK commitment to the Loss and Damage debate by taking forward the proposal for a centre of excellence in the City of London on climate insurance, but broaden this away from purely insurance based solutions to more holistic investments. Insurance we know is unaffordable to the people that Loss and Damage needs to help. Now is the time for leadership, come up with some innovative suggestions on how to finance Loss and Damage with the deadline for submissions the 27th February 2017. We know if it’s not led, the process will move slowly and could be framed under a context we are not comfortable with.

    Secondly – this is why a clear distinction between Loss and Damage and Adaptation and Mitigation is urgently needed. The UK has significant leadership in the thought debate related to climate change, so we are well placed to influence. A definition of a clear space for Loss and Damage would halt the waste of time spent arguing about “what it is” and “what it is not”. This would focus efforts on developing solutions. Defining the space for Loss and Damage brings together what are currently different perspectives. Different perspectives imply different priorities so coherence on Loss and Damage would help consolidate action.

    Session photo

    And finally, the missing piece of the jigsaw the missing trillions. Current UK investment exposure is considerable, especially in respect to retirement and insurance funds exposed to increasing climate, social and political risk. These funds well directed could be catalytic in transforming the role of private sector investment in driving climate smart development. Exploring innovative finance by eradicating outdated fossil fuel subsidies or from new sources from the aviation or shipping industries. We need a global finance system that works for the planet. The UK could contribute to develop pro poor and climate smart investment principles, which deliver for the planet and for the poorest, therefore building the ecological and social stability we all need.

    The UK Is well placed to contribute to moving forward the Loss and Damage debate as we have the technical and thought leadership necessary to explore the debate in detail. This was something that Practical Action along with the MET Office, Oxford University, Lund University and IIASA did in Marrakesh last week in our side event titled “Loss and Damage; Perspectives and options”. We have the global skills in innovative financing, insurance and investment necessary to unlock the missing trillions, and finally whatever we recommend, Loss and Damage has got to be about more than just insurance.

    [1] http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38014611

    [2] http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php

    [3] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-37966519

    [4] https://web.archive.org/web/20081211182219/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/stern_review_final_report.htm

     

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  • Why is Loss and Damage critical?

    Or why is Loss and Damage different from Adaptation and Mitigation and why serious political will to integrate Loss and Damage in the global climate regime will be vital for the success of the COP22 climate change negotiations.

    Marrakesh COPThis week the world gathers in Marrakesh for the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22). This is the next instalment in the annual climate change negotiations at which governments as parties, alongside observers in the form of academics, NGO’s, civil society, community representatives and the private sector gather to report on progress to tackle the challenge of climate change. Apart for a few politicians that shall remain nameless, most global politicians, their political parties and the overwhelming majority of scientists recognise that climate change is a very real danger to our lifestyles, wellbeing, and if we fail to act decisively our future survival. So the COP22 talks in Marrakesh are a timely opportunity to check on progress.

    Last Friday 4th November, the world ratified the Paris agreement. The speed at which the world has come behind this agreement has been unprecedented. But now the difficult work begins. Putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

    Mitigation, here progress has been strongest, efforts to transition to carbon neutral energy systems, along with meeting energy poverty targets has continued to accelerate. However still approximately 3 billion people have either inadequate, or simply non-existent, access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy while the imbalance in subsidies between fossil fuel technologies and renewables technologies requires further work. Last month Practical Action released the 2016 Poor Peoples Energy Outlook (PPEO) documenting the opportunity for international attention to respond to the needs of those lacking access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy.

    PPEO

    Adaptation, has finally started to be prioritised with national adaptation plans to tackle the consequences of climate change being shifted from cherry picked lists of isolated programmes to more holistic assessments of the adaptation priorities across national development systems. Practical Action’s work in Nepal supporting the government develop a national adaptation plan is an example of our contribution to this work. But problems still remain especially trying to understand the scientific, technological and socio-political limits to adaptation possibilities complicated by future climate uncertainty.

    One of the most significant achievements of the Paris COP was the separation of Loss and Damage in its own article under the agreement. Article 8 resolved the question of whether or not Loss and Damage was a part of adaptation and therefore belonged under the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Article 8 creates a separate pillar of climate change actions. The third pillar of the agreement formally recognises Loss and Damage and the need to put in place separate measures to coordinate global efforts to respond for those who are already experiencing the irreversible impacts of climate change.

    Climate change is driven by greenhouse gasses produced as a result of human activities. We have already pumped loads of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and we cannot suck up all that extra CO2, NOx, SOx, CH4 etc. overnight, so we are going to need to put in place measures that help those people and communities that have been irreversibly impacted by this pollution to survive and thrive. These greenhouse gasses are causing temperature rise, changes in rainfall patterns, seasonal shifts, acidification of seas and oceans and rising sea levels.

    Loss and Damage is about helping the poorest and most vulnerable respond to the consequence of these changes. Communities around the world are losing land to increased erosion and sea level rise, they are facing shifts in seasons and cropping patterns which are forcing major shifts in livelihoods and occupations, cultural resources are being lost or eroded and ecosystems are facing major impacts. At COP22 we need to put in place concrete measures that help them cope and transform to survive. It’s not just about putting things back as they were, it’s about helping the most vulnerable shift to more sustainable lives and livelihoods. Insurance may be part of the solution but it will never finance the sorts of transformational shifts that will be necessary to respond to Loss and Damage at the scale and intensity that is becoming necessary.

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

    As eloquently articulated in the Stern report, the cheapest and most sensible response to climate change is to maximize mitigation efforts. At the same time we must not forget to put in place measures to help adapt where it is possible. But perhaps most importantly, for those where it is already too late the global community must act swiftly. They must put in place measures that support the financing, technological support and capacity building necessary to enable the transformational shifts that will be necessary to support the wellbeing of the millions of people for which climate action is already too late. If we fail to do this it will not only be climate injustice, it will also mean significant upheaval, forced migration, social and political turmoil, with the price for failure being paid by our children and future generations.

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  • Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events

    Colin McQuistan

    October 13th, 2016

    On International Day for Disaster Reduction, Hurricane Matthew is a timely reminder of the consequences of inaction on climate change. Changing climates exacerbated by years of ineffective development generates risk for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the climate change problem.

    We have all seen the news of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrecked on the Caribbean. Matthew, which spawned late in the hurricane season, first struck Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba before turning its attention to the more prepared population in the south eastern United States, and despite diminishing in intensity it has still caused massive devastation and resulted in huge losses.

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    So what was so special about Hurricane Matthew? Matthew was a multiple record-breaking weather event. Matthew first became a Category 3 (major hurricane) on September 30, and maintained that status for a remarkable period of time. Making it the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean. Not only did Hurricane Matthew end a nine-year streak without an Atlantic basin category 5 hurricane, it did so at an unusually far south latitude. Its rapid intensification was not forecast by any model, highlighting the need to revise our models based upon climate uncertainty and recognition that warming is making storms more intense and less predictable. Matthew along with the developing storm Nicole both showed very rapid rates of escalation, totally unexpected for storms so late in the season.

     

    Impacts in the USA and Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

    Impacts in the Haiti and USA following Hurricane Matthew

    We need to start thinking seriously about reversing climate change and we need to start preparing for the worst. This is why Disaster Risk Reduction is vital. Preparedness and response should be a last resort, we must focus on preventing disasters before they happen. We have got to get better at assessing risk and we have got to stop building things in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Despite uncertainty about the consequences of climate change one thing we do know is that sea levels are rising. We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges so why do we continue to build houses and critical infrastructure on the coast and alongside rivers? This is placing lives and assets in harm’s way.

    Sea level rise 1992 to 2016

    While we fail to act effectively on climate change the world will continue to warm, with more moisture in the atmosphere and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that won’t have significant implications for our disaster risk, whoever we are and wherever we live.

    http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2016/10/07/hurricane-matthew-and-climate-change-what-we-know-so-far/
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?mr=1
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  • Making up time on Loss and Damage

    Colin McQuistan

    September 23rd, 2016

    This week the world passed a benchmark when the 56th country submitted documents of ratification for the global climate change agreement that was signed in Paris in December 2015[1]. This was a significant step and raises the likelihood that the Paris agreement will be ratified in advance of the next global climate gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.

    Paris agreement status

    One of the significant achievements (aside from it actually being passed!) was the inclusion of Article 8 on Loss and Damage. Loss and Damage recognises that for many, action on climate change is already too late. That for the poorest and most vulnerable climate change has exceeded the point at which adaptation might help, they are already facing the irreversible consequences of climate change. Climate conditions have already made traditional cropping practices redundant, the rate of sea water acidification has reduced fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend and for many living in coastal areas and especially small island states, sea level rise is already making their homes uninhabitable.

    For these people our fixation with fossil fuels meant the loss of their homes and livelihoods, our efforts to decarbonise the global energy systems took too long. So the Loss and Damage article in the Paris agreement goes a little way to start to decide what to do for those people where climate action has been too little, too late. Unfortunately, negotiations to take forward action on Loss and Damage are progressing too slowly, as I found out in Bonn this week.

    WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

    WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

    The fourth meeting of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) met in Bonn, Germany to discuss progress on their two year work plan. It’s clear that a political dance is underway in which everyone recognises the challenge but nobody is willing to step forward with the bold political agenda necessary to deliver climate justice. The developed countries are fearful of any notion of compensation, afraid of mega-lawsuits for Loss and Damages already incurred. Developing countries are trying to build on progress but cannot find the necessary levers to unlock the political impasse.

    One of the first challenges is getting Loss and Damage recognised as a priority issue. Global temperatures have already risen 0.85oC from 1880 to 2012[2]. So immediate action to limit warming further is a priority. There are no scientific nor technological barriers to keep global warming within a 1.5oC envelope and therefore minimise Loss and Damage due to climate change. The only obstacles are social and political, an unwillingness to recognise reality and an unwillingness to accept responsibility.

    Consequences

    The hurdle we have to overcome is not a difficult one. Best estimates for current climate change based on national commitments has warming in excess of 2.7oC[3]. Switching to a 1.5oC trajectory will deliver numerous social and economic benefits in addition to reducing the potential impacts of Loss and Damage, although this should be sufficient in itself to drive action now. Renewable energy technologies already exists and are not being exploited to their full potential. A switch to renewables would have stabilising effects on national economies as fuel prices spikes would be eradicated, with demand for fossil fuels falling and more energy being supplied for free. A switch to renewables would boost energy security. Already many counties especially small island states with the most too loose are well on the way to 100% renewable power generation. For example Costa Rica made headlines earlier in the year when it emerged that the country had been running on only renewable energy for 100 days of 2015[4]. A switch to non-polluting energy production would improve air quality considerably with reduced health burdens on national budgets, a win-win with reduced expenditure on health with increased productivity as health levels improve.

    I’ll explore the impacts of Climate Change and the consequences of Loss and Damage in our work next week.

    [1] http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

    [2] http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

    [3] http://climateactiontracker.org/assets/publications/briefing_papers/CAT_Temp_Update_COP21.pdf

    [4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/costa-rica-renewable-energy-100-days-power-climate-change-a7217441.html

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  • Natural Capital the basis for effective flood protection?

    The year has been marked by a number of unusual climate events. Not only was 2015 the hottest year on record[1], with 2016 appearing on track to exceed this[2], but the year has also been unusually wet. In the US state of Louisiana, 13 people died and large areas are still struggling to cope when a “no-name storm” dumped three times as much rain onCan you swim Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina[3]. This disaster manifested despite the US having the largest global disaster emergency organisation and associated budget on the planet. But in countries with limited resources the challenge of flooding is more severe. Northern India went from extreme drought to flooding in 45 days[4] with the poorest and the elderly struggling to survive as a scorching summer gave way to an above-average monsoon; people who were praying for rain are now fleeing from it.

    So how can we respond to this increasing flood risk in a way that doesn’t waste valuable resources? For example in Assam state, India, the state government depends on embankments to protect communities from the routine flooding of the Brahmaputra River. This year the Narayanguri embankment in Baksa district was washed away, this is the third time this has happened since 2004. Each time it is rebuilt to protect the local communities. Despite the presence of the embankments, villagers in Assam report losing their houses on multiple occasions[5]. Why have successive governments in Assam continued to rely on hard infrastructure as the only solution? Especially when the local development needs are huge and local government budgets are limited. Embankments are not cheap with an estimate that for the last three years Assam has spent £56 to £80 million, building and repairing flood embankments each year.

    Flooding India

    People forced to flee when the Narayanguri embankment failed

    How can local governments and communities maximise their investment in flood resilience building in the face of a changing flood situation. Clearly floods are getting worse, more people are living in flood prone areas and money alone does not seem to be the solution. So how can we maximise investment in floods management to minimise the negative consequences? Last week I was fortunate enough to join colleagues from a number of global organisations to explore the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of this challenge.

    This workshop brought together experts from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), WWF, Asian Institute of Technology, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) with Zurich flood project staff from Practical Action. We gathered to explore how natural and nature-based methods can minimizing flood risk while maximizing social, environmental, and economic co-benefits of flood management approaches[6].

    One of the sessions explored the question, “if nature based solutions are relatively cheap and freely available why aren’t they used more often”?

    Why are we not seeing more natural and nature based techniques in flood risk management

    The underlying logic of two of the groups are presented above. Based on these examples, clearly, political will, entrenched positions and understanding are vital obstacles to the mainstreaming of nature based solutions. As one participant eloquently put it, local politicians are unwilling to risk nature based solutions, fearing the question “How will planting trees protect me from a flood event, what am I supposed to do, climb the tree when the flood comes?”

    There is clearly a knowledge gap. We need to do more to highlight not only the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of increasing flood risk, but also the economic potential of nature based options to expand flood resilience to greater populations. The knowledge gap of appropriate nature based solutions, understanding of how nature based and more traditional approaches can be combined and a lack of evidence of how they can work and the benefits they can deliver. Nature based options are locally available and in many cases much cheaper then hard infrastructure. They can be managed using existing traditional practices and can therefore be maintained and repaired using local knowledge and local materials. Without even realising the workshop was making a great case for why Technology Justice[7] must be central to deliver effective flood resilience building efforts for current and future generations.

    “The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F Schumacher

    [1] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2016/2015-global-temperature
    [2] http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records
    [3] http://news.trust.org/item/20160822234817-jobqu/
    [4] http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2016/08/03/drought-floods-45-days/
    [5] http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assams-embankments-crores-washed-away-1440868
    [6] http://envirodm.org/post/need-a-new-approach
    [7] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/technology-justice
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  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love

    Stacey McNeill

    August 5th, 2016

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

    At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

    Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

    But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.

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    Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

    1. Covered shelters:

    The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

    “Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

    With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

    2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:

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    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

    With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

    “We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

    3. Breeding pens:

    We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:

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    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

    Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

    4. Market access and product diversification:

    In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.

     

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    5. Training and knowledge:

    Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

    It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

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  • Technology Justice is critical to reduce risk for the poorest

    Colin McQuistan

    February 7th, 2016

    Technology can greatly enhance the ability of disaster-affected communities to reduce their risk thus preventing natural hazards turning into human disasters.

    Technology has driven our development. Key technological innovations have heralded revolutions in the way we interact with the environment, but this drive for development has now started to threaten our future. Many scientists are proposing that we have now entered a new epoch “The Anthropocene”. This started when human activities began to have a significant impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Climate change is a symptom of the anthropocene, as unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels threatens the future viability of this planet as a home for us and future generations.

    technology

    The consequences of this global imbalance is felt most by those who are least responsible for causing the problem in the first place. Climate change threatens to deprive poor people of their livelihoods, damage infrastructure, lower productivity and ignite social tensions. The response to climate change will consume resources that could otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and can wipe out years of development in seconds. Humanitarian assistance often arrives too late, when loss and damage has already occurred. Practical Action believes that the goal of development should be to create sustainable wellbeing for all, wellbeing that is resilient and not easily eroded by external shocks and stresses. We must not rely on humanitarian response alone. Communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of changing climate should be prioritised for action and under the Paris agreement technology will be central to how the global community responds to climate change. But the way in which technology is accessed, innovated and used is critical to the effectiveness of this response, especially for communities who face extreme or recurrent natural hazards.

    Technologies exist that have the potential to reduce the exposure of poor and vulnerable populations around the world, but technologies are either not rolled out or are not functioning to provide communities with usable information about their risk. Technologies can manifest in different ways to alter community risk. Technology is central to monitoring risk exposure and technology is central to support people to respond to risk. But poor communities continue to be hit by regular disasters with no advance warning. What are the underlying conditions that create this disconnect between technology and vulnerability?

    technology tramsformation

    It is clear that access to technology and its benefits are not equally shared. The current innovation system is not working. Without change, it will continue to drive injustice, inequality and lead to avoidable damage and destruction. It is time to overhaul how technology and its innovation are governed, in order to ensure the wellbeing of all people and the planet.

    Technology Justice Call to Action

    Be part of a movement for Technology Justice. Check out our call and be part of the change!

    • http://www.anthropocene.info/
    • http://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

     

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