Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.
Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.
He had built the house in 1995.
“I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.
It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.
He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.
Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.
“The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.
Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.
Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.
Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.
“If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.
Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.
However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.
Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.
Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.
A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.
Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.
It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.
Likewise, the technologies can provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.No Comments » | Add your comment
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;
- Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
- 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
- That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
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.
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.
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 @maryallenballoNo Comments » | Add your comment
What if instead of reducing risks, we avoid creating risks in the first place? What if, instead of building dykes to protect flood-prone riverbanks where people live, we convert these areas into public areas [rather than residential areas], roads, gardens, soccer playgrounds or any infrastructure that could be flooded without major impacts?
In the technical language of Disaster Risk Management, this issue lays within ‘risk prevention’, or ‘reducing exposure to hazards’. Exposure to hazards is one of the main causes of people´s vulnerability. It looks quite easy to implement: we only need to prevent people from building their houses in high risk areas. That should not be problematic, assuming that they know that the area is dangerous, right?
Yes, that should not be difficult in a city where there is appropriate housing for everyone: safe, cheap, and relatively well located (near to work, relatives and social services such as schools and hospitals). Unfortunately, in many cities the housing offer is still insufficient to address the needs of the poor.
Self-built homes in high risky areas appears too frequently as a satisfactory option for poor people. In Peru, it is estimated that 80% of the housing is self-built. Most of these constructions do not respect quality standards, including land titles, trained masons, materials of quality. In Lima, the capital of Peru, only 3% of the self-built houses can be considered as “formal” settlements. Many of them are also located in high risky areas, especially with landslide and flood hazards.
We cannot stop people from building their home in risky areas without providing them with a relevant housing alternative: this is where Disaster Risk Management meets land planning and Habitat issues.
In February 2016, Practical Action Peru promoted the creation of a national civil society network to improve Peruvian cities, with a strong focus to attack the roots of urban risks. The Peru Habitat Committee was born, gathering 23 local NGOs. During eight months, the committee discussed the challenges Peruvian cities are facing, and what could be done to improve disaster risk management, basic services, land planning, governance, etc. The full report can be downloaded here. And it is now time to spread the word to make these recommendations a reality: join us during our side-event at Habitat III on Tuesday 18th, in the Central University of Quito, from 9am to 10am!
 Overseas Development Institute (ODI), On the path to progress, 2015). See https://www.odi.org/publications/9623-peru-urban-water-sanitation-slum-cities-lima-service-delivery
 Cámara Peruana de la Construcción. (2015, Abril). La informalidad en la construcción es una “bomba de tiempo”. 23-31. Informe Económico de la Construcción Num. 3, 23-31No Comments » | Add your comment
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.
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.
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.
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/No Comments » | Add your comment
At the COP21 Paris climate talks the issue of Loss and Damage was firmly cemented in the global agreement under Article 8. This agreement sets the agenda for climate action and the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage recognises that for many people climate change is already a reality. Climate change is impacting people’s lives and livelihoods and for some adaptation is already too late.
Climate change exacerbates existing hazards
Climate change hits the poorest hardest, those who are least responsible for the problem in the first place. In Practical Action projects across Africa, South Asia and Latin America we are hearing stories about the heightened uncertainty as changing climates exacerbate existing hazards. Poor people do not differentiate climate change from climate variability, for them the consequences are the same: crops are failing, water supplies becoming less reliable, ecosystems are changing and lives and livelihoods are under threat.
The impacts of climate change are well documented, global and affect small island states, Africa, South Asia and the Arctic the most.
In May 2016, Practical Action attended the climate change talks in Bonn. The first global gathering since 177 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York one month ago. The urgency to sign the agreement is a clear demonstration of its importance. Climate agreements have previously taken months if not years to get the signatures necessary to start talking about their implementation. At last political will for action is growing but for loss and damage there is still a lot to do.
Critical to progress on loss and damage is the recognition that this is a rights issue. The climate agreement must integrate the rights package in its entirety; this means: human rights, the rights of indigenous people, gender equality, food security, ecosystem integrity and intergenerational equity. To protect these rights means we need to stay below 1.5oC. If we can reduce emissions drastically with ambitious mitigation action; then the challenge of adaptation will be lessened and the loss and damage burden will be reduced.
Poor people around the world are facing climate impacts everyday.
In Bonn Practical Action along with partners in the loss and damage network highlighted this challenge in a well-attended side event. We started the session with a presentation of the collective impacts of climate change on the poorest, highlighting that for many these impacts are irreversible. Many of our Pumpkin communities in Bangladesh are families that have lost their land to accelerated erosion. Compensation and pumpkins will help, but it will not restore their fields, their houses and the numerous cultural sites that have been washed away. Many poor people are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, but what do you do when the ecosystem faces irreversible impacts? For many coastal communities sea water acidification is destroying once productive coastal fisheries, and sea level rise is converting coastal fields into areas only suitable for aquaculture due to rising salinity.
Loss and Damage side event organised by the @lossdamage Network held at Bonn Climate Change talks
Recognising irreversible environmental change
Loss and Damage is an opportunity to raise the profile of our collective inadequacy to mitigate emissions. Our addiction to fossil fuels, to easy solutions and to profit over the environment or human society, and our inability to prioritise long term, social and environmental benefits in favour of purely economic returns. This goes to the heart of what Fritz Schumacher wrote so eloquently in 1973 in “Small is Beautiful” and it is vital today that we heed this message, before it is too late for everyone.
“Man talks of a battle with Nature, forgetting that if he won that battle, he would find himself on the losing side” E.F Schumacher
 http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdfNo Comments » | Add your comment
This is a story of a youth Assistant Badghar Ashish Kumar Chaudhary (Badghar is an elected leader in Tharu community) from Tighara, Rajapur. He explains how the Zurich Foundation funded Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) weather board is helping his family and the villagers to take farming decisions.
“Weather information board is very helpful, I check the board every day and particularly before planning for any agriculture farming and harvesting activity. Earlier my family used to harvest the paddy looking at the sky and making prediction about the weather. I still remember we lost paddy after the harvest many times due to rainfall since our prediction was wrong. But now I check the weather board and convey the message to the community so that they plan the farming and harvesting activity in an appropriate time when weather pattern is suitable. Due to the weather information we have been able to save our harvest which earlier used to be destroyed due to bad weather conditions. This has made the community more resilient to the floods and other hazards as good harvest means they can save the grain for difficult period.”
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This story dates back to couple of months ago when I visited one of the Practical Action projects in mid-west Nepal. Funded by the Zurich Foundation, the Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) is building the resilience of vulnerable communities to flood risks.
I met a very enthusiastic beneficiary of the project – Ms Bidhya Kumari Chaudhary (28). During our conversation she was happy to describe how the project helped her to increase her resilience to flood.
Bidhya lives in Rajapur, Bardiya with her 10-member family. Her husband is a contract farmer and income of her husband is scarcely sufficient to maintain the expenditure of the family members’ basic needs. Due to the low income of the family they were not able to make any saving from the income which they could utilise responding to their needs in hard times.
However, now things have changed since Bidhya learned about mushroom farming from NFRP. With this practical knowledge she started farming and since last year (2015) she was able to make 10 thousand Nepali rupees (around US$ 100) from it. She invested this income in goats.
Now she has four goats as the goats she purchased gave birth to two kids. She earned another 10 thousand rupees from mushroom farming this year, out of which she invested six thousand rupees in her children’s education and household needs and saved four thousand rupees.
This year Bidhya is planning to expand her mushroom farming and expects that she will be able to make a profit of 30 to 40 thousand rupees. To take her farm to a commercial level, she is now asking the NFRP to connect her with a good input service provider for mushroom seeds.
How all these made Bidhya and her family resilient to floods
Bidhya’s village is at risk of floods from the Karnali River every year during the monsoon season. Earlier, due to lack of savings the family was vulnerable to the effect of floods and used to take long time to revert back to the same socio-economic condition. But now since she has an extra income and savings, she thinks that it has increased the resilience of her family. She says,
“With the increased income and savings I feel more resilient to floods and other hazards as I can use the savings to rebuild my livelihood.”
Bidhya has become the vice president of the Community Disaster Management Committee (CDMC). She understands the early warning system procedures established by the NFRP well and instructs fellow villagers about the early warning signals, communications channels, evacuation route and safer shelter.No Comments » | Add your comment
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.
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?
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.
Be part of a movement for Technology Justice. Check out our call and be part of the change!
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As part of Zurich’s flood resilience program, the post event review capability (PERC) provides research and independent reviews of large flood events. It seeks to answer questions related to aspects of flood resilience, flood risk management and catastrophe intervention. It looks at what has worked well (identifying best practices) and opportunities for further improvements.
The Karnali region in Nepal experienced major flooding in August 2014, causing 222 deaths and severely affecting more than 120,000 people. The challenge now is to recover, build resilience and to prevent similar damages and loss during future disasters.
‘Urgent Case for Recovery: What we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River Floods in Nepal‘ is a post event review evaluating flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, and opportunities for building flood resilience in Nepal. The post event review conducted by ISET International, ISET-Nepal, Practical Action Nepal and Zurich examines two rivers and two districts in the area affected by the floods -the Karnali and Babai Rivers in Kailali and Bardiya districts in West Nepal.
While the early warning systems saved many lives, these lives have been irrevocably changed with the widespread loss of livelihoods, property, and critical infrastructure. The challenge now is to prevent such damages and loss from future disasters and develop local resilience. A common misconception is that building resilience is an expensive, resource heavy process. However, critical gaps in the disaster management system can be fixed with inexpensive and simple solutions.
Problems seen in the 2014 floods – such as unwieldy response procedures and lack of information – hamper response to all disasters, including the recent earthquakes. Decision-making processes should be improved, more reliable data gathered, and aid needs to get to those people who need it most. In the end, it comes down to finding ways to become ‘resilient’ to disasters. Resiliency means risk mitigation and preparation, not just picking up the pieces and starting again after every new catastrophe. This is also the focus of Zurich’s flood resilience alliance program.
Focusing on the disaster management landscape as a whole, including disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery, this post event review evaluates the flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, opportunities for action, and identify opportunities for improving flood risk and disaster management as a whole in Nepal.
The bigger picture that emerges from the 2014 floods in Nepal can be applied more universally: long-term thinking and addressing chronic problems that increase hazards should be part of the picture to get beyond relief efforts. Much work is still needed to save individuals, families and entire communities from the devastation of floods.No Comments » | Add your comment
I am very proud to be able to say that our Beat the Flood challenge recently won an award for the Best STEM resource for pupils, from the European organisation Scientix. As a result it will be translated into all 24 European languages. In addition we recently went to an event in Brussels and presented to over 50 head teachers from around Europe.
To find more great science resources from other European organisations, and opportunities to network with science teachers across Europe take a look at the Scientix website.