“Sustainable…Participatory…Resilience”…I have to admit that I hate buzzwords – they get thrown about so much that they can often lose their real meaning and ability to do any good. That is why to me the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is so important. The Alliance works not only to increase the resilience of communities to floods but also to determine once and for all what makes a community resilient?
Resilience is complicated; there are hundreds of papers, discussions and frameworks floating around the development space. Yet there are no empirically verified frameworks that lay out the contributing factors to resilience. If we don’t know this how can we tell if we are successfully building resilience?
To address this, the Alliance has developed the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. Working jointly, the Alliance has identified 88 different sources that contribute to flood resilience and is currently halfway through a two year testing phase.
Here is the most exciting part, the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool has been developed into a web based tool and an App. The web tool allows the user to design a study that can be sent directly to the designated field worker’s Android App in their local language. Working offline the field worker fills in responses directly to the app just like a regular survey. The data is easily synchronised to the web tool which generates a summary and collates relevant data together for simple comparison. A simple A, B, C, D grading exercise is then carried out across all 88 sources by team members before a summary is then automatically produced.
Why is this good for the community?
The App: Saves our beneficiaries time during data collection so they can get back to doing what matters to them. Automatic uploading of data saves our teams time so they can spend more time working on things that really matter.
The Grading: Generates informed discussion and gives our teams a greater knowledge of where they work, allowing them to make more informed decisions.
The Web Tool: Simply presented results that can be looked at under a variety of lenses allowing us to make links which may have previously been missed.
The Big Data Set: Data is entered into the tool from a variety of different contexts and countries by several different organisations. Through testing pre and post-flood events researchers hope to identify global trends in community resilience and determine once and for all where to focus disaster risk reduction interventions for maximum community impact.
 Thomas Winderl, “Disaster Resilience Measurements: Stocktaking of Ongoing Efforts in Developing Systems for Measuring Resilience,” United Nations Development Programme, February 2014,1 Comment » | Add your comment
Weather Forecasting Display Board:
This Weather Forecasting Display Board (WFDB) is both attractive and useful to the local community, especially to those who are vulnerable to flooding and other climatic disruptions.
The results of the first pilot study show that rural people working in agriculture and shrimp farming found it very helpful. Coastal areas like Atulia of Shyamnagar, Satkhira district and Zhilonga Union in Cox’s Bazar District are highly susceptible to cyclone and water surges, so found it very useful for their daily livelihoods. It was scaled up at Sirajganj Sadar Upazila, a disaster prone area where flood and river bank erosion occur frequently.
Shyamnagar Upazila, is a climatic hotspot and the majority of the people are manage their livelihood by shrimp farming. This Weather Board was first demonstrated at the Atulia Union Council of Shyamnagar Upazila in 2011.
How does it work?
- Construction: A wooden frame with CI sheet and covered by transparent either glass or white plastic where clear, concise daily weather messages are interpreted with well-known symbols
- Function: If somebody doesn’t understand the messages on the board, they ask the Gyaner Haat people (Entrepreneur of Knowledge node at community level, Union Digital Centre) for an interpretation. This helps them to understand about the implications of the messages of the board and what action they should take.
- Content: Weather and climatic information are displayed like daily temperature, rainfall, humidity and sunlight hour along in attractive and relevant ways.
- Scientific Information is carried at local level: Information is collected from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) on current weather issues on a regular basis and interpreted on the Weather Forecasting Board for three weeks. It also provides agricultural information for farmers proactively like suitable crops variety during that time for planting, whether farmers should go for raising a seed bed, or releasing fries in the gher etc. in the current week.
- Link with extension agents: The board includes necessary mobile phone numbers/contact persons of relevant government departments, so that farmers and fishers can make phone calls to Gyaner Haat and concerned government professionals for necessary information and advice.
Digital display of weather forecasting and flood early warning
Practical Action trialled this manual display board for access to weather and early warning information for reducing loss and better farming preparedness. This was a very low cost solution but effective. Now a day’s supply of electricity and internet connectivity has been expanded through a government Access to Information program (a2i) that is called Union Digital Centre.
Practical Action in partnership with a2i project has installed a knowledge service branded as Gyaner Haat. In each Gyaner Haat there is an entrepreneur who has a computer, printer and internet connection. We get national weather and flood forecasting information from government authorized sources (Bangladesh Meteorological Department and Flood Forecasting Centre) and these are translated into local dialects along with descriptive information for the farmers. Information such as what they will do if the vapor level is high, what would be the effect of higher humidity enables farmers to make better preparation. The digital board allows easy and rapid information delivery at community level and thus contributes to saving poor people’s assets and resources.
We are implementing this in the Sirajganj and Bogra districts, two of the most flood prone areas , which are recurrently attacked from flood during the monsoon season from July to September. This has been empowering knowledge poor people to benefit from forecasting and disaster preparedness. It is one of the knowledge intervention activities of the Zurich Flood Resilience Project in Bangladesh.
 Coordinator Knowledge Service ( Operations), Practical Action, Bangladesh
 Senior Knowledge Officer ( M&E), Practical Action, BangladeshNo Comments » | Add your comment
There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ disaster. Whether an extreme weather event or hazard results in a disaster depends on the degree of resilience a community enjoys. And what begins as one disaster can soon cascade into multiple, household level catastrophes.
In March 2015, the Rimac river valley, east of Lima, Peru, experienced it’s heaviest rainfall in 80 years. This contributed to a mudslide that devastated the town, killing at least nine people and destroying homes and places of business.
Daniela Zügel spoke with those who lost their businesses to the mudslide (reported in her blog), including Señora Victoria, who owned a tire repair business. Victoria lost her business registration documents in the landslide; because was unable to report the loss within 48 hours of the landslide occurring – due to road blockages and the pressing need to support her family in the immediate aftermath – she will receive no support from the state to rebuild her business or replace her lost assets. This institutionalised vulnerability is a major contributing factor to the disaster that has struck Victoria, her family, and the families of the three people previously employed by the tire repair shop.
The earthquakes in Nepal in late April and May 2015 revealed a similarly devastating level of institutionalised vulnerability. The Kathmandu valley has seen rapid urbanization in recent years, while emergency services have remained woefully insufficient; critical infrastructure and essential services were considered extremely vulnerable even before the earthquake struck (British Red Cross, 2014).
Re-development is haphazard; building codes exist, but they are insufficient to protect from earthquakes such as those experienced this year, and only a fraction of new builds comply with them anyway. To make matters worse, new settlements on the edges of Kathmandu are being built in areas that have already experienced landslides, increasing the risk of further slope failure during the heavy monsoon rains.
The situation in Nepal pushed humanitarian agencies to respond with emergency supplies and temporary shelter. However, this is not a long term solution. If we are to stop natural hazards from becoming human disasters, it is essential that we understand and deconstruct institutionalised vulnerability, and build community resilience in a sustainable way. In Peru, this may mean working with government institutions to re-design the laws that govern emergency response. In Nepal, this might mean working with the public and private sector to ensure that building regulations are appropriate and enforced.
Practical Action is leading the way in measuring and strengthening community resilience through it’s work on the ground and it’s innovative partnerships, most notably with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, which brings together Zurich Insurance, Practical Action, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Making Centre, and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis to develop tools and strategies for measuring and strengthening community resilience to extreme flood events. The methodology is still under development, but the valuable lessons being generated will certainly enhance the quality and impact of our Disaster Risk Reduction projects in the future.
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Eight years ago, when we proposed the Strengthening Livelihood Capacities to DRR in Nepal project (2007-2010), the communities knew their local environment was changing, but climate change was only a debated theory.
Kirtipur is a village situated on ancient colluvial or landslide deposits in the upper reaches of the Deusat stream – further downstream in the Terai it’s known as the ‘Baulaha’ or ‘mad’ river. For those living in Kirtipur, extreme flooding during the rainy season, together with droughts before and after, have been indicators of something going wrong in their environment.
One of the communities downstream is Bote, whose residents used to rely on traditional fishing and boat ferrying for their livelihood. Fishing and ferrying is no longer an option for the landless community on the riverbank – the river where they used to ferry and fish is now part of a protected area, and new bridges mean boats are no longer needed to cross the river.
Those families now depend on off-farm labour – either in the nearby towns along the national highway, Narayanghat, or as migrant workers elsewhere. Those that remain, mostly women, rely on risky agricultural activities in the river margins. Floods were common and often destroyed their low-lying crops. The project supported and organised funds from different agencies for building an embankment to protect the land. The community have been able to reclaim their land – but would the ‘Mad River’ let it stay?
Tapping ecological opportunities to reduce disaster risks
To improve the chance of controlling the river, longer term solutions needed to be found, but these would be in the upper reaches of the watershed where slash and burn agriculture was changing the landscape.
To cut a long story short, the issues of mitigating floods and securing food and protecting the environment were discussed with communities all along the watershed. In the hill village of Kirtipur, opportunities to improve agriculture through irrigation were identified. A small dam and modest piping enabled the community to produce food close to home and agree to rehabilitate the hillsides and stop the slash-and-burn agriculture practice. Through the irrigation alone, over 80 families have benefited, growing one more cereal crop and vegetables in winter, and being able to plant and transplant summer crops in time without depending on the rainfall, which has now become more erratic. Groups were formed, including women’s groups to improve vegetable production, and a savings co-operative was born.
Institutionalisation of good practices for long-term adaptation
Since the end of the project in 2010, the community has moved onwards and upwards. The former slash-and-burn areas have become community-managed forests and the proceeds from aging or dead trees have been used to build a school and a road which has enabled better access to markets, secondary schools and health services. The new school has enabled them to upgrade their primary school to also include lower secondary. The availability of potable water close to the village has reduced the women’s workload by over three hours a day.
During the 8th CBA conference, a group of international participants had the privilege of visiting these communities and seeing how a few simple investments – a potable water supply, a simple gravity irrigation system, community organizations, vegetable growing skills, community managed forest has enabled the community to innovate and transform village life, and continue to develop and adapt to climate change. This project was not designed as a community-based adaptation project, but it provides a very good example of how building capacity and empowering disadvantaged groups enables long term adaptation. As one women from the community said to the CBA8 delegates: “We had to get up at 3 in the morning, now we can sleep until 6.” “We might have needed to migrate out otherwise,” added Min Bahadur Soti, a community leader.
It is the capacity-building activities that empowered the community, gave them confidence and the ability to continue to innovate. The women now have assets and the confidence to manage their own affairs. They have elected leaders and speak up, where before they were silent. The co-operative manager, a chairperson of the community forest and other village leaders now connect with the district authorities and other service providers. The very fact that three years has passed and the co-operative continues to grow, and permanent forest crops are being established on the former slash and burn areas, is evidence that the watershed is being protected. Livelihood projects continue to be born: a testament to the approach, organise build capacity and empower communities and adaptation will follow.
The journey has to continue
The community plans to keep up the good practices they have adopted for climate resilience. They would like to implement a forest management plan, extend the irrigation channel further, and improve agricultural practices to keep up with the changing climate, and some of these initiatives will need financial investment and technical assistance.
The Glacier Trust is funding us for two years to support community-led schemes that will help them become resilient to climate change. These include increasing the gravity flow of irrigation channels, making better use of available water for crop production, restoring vegetation to the hill slopes, promoting agro-forestry, and mitigating the risk of forest fires through better forest management.
The community have agreed to invest in each initiative and will also organise resources locally. The project fund will support materials and skills that are not available locally, and our local partner NGO – SAHAMATI have shown commitment to make this happen.No Comments » | Add your comment
I have joined Practical Action in Peru for a six-week secondment as part of the Zurich Global Flood Resilience Program, which joins the company I work for, Zurich Insurance, with Practical Action in a common mission to strengthen the resilience of communities to assess, manage, and recover from the impacts of flooding. Just over a week into my secondment, I had the opportunity to visit Piura, a town in the north of Peru particularly at risk for flooding. While there, I joined colleagues for a regional forum on El Niño and climate change as well as a visit to the river basin and surrounding communities. This experience was both eye-opening and thought-provoking for me.
The forum was a full day of presentations to over 200 local and regional government officials, civil servants, NGO representatives, hydro-meteorological scientists, educators, and others. Through the research I am doing here, I am seeing that the common themes of a shared vision, collaboration, accountability, and engagement among flood resilience stakeholders are critical to success. It was encouraging to see the forum presenters and attendees come together resonating those same themes and voicing their commitment to building flood resilience in the region.
The day after the forum, I joined a small group for a visit to the river basin outside of Piura. Nearby, we stopped at the home and studio of Santodio, a local ceramics artisan. He led our group through his space consisting of dirt floors, a tin roof, a wood fire surrounded by bricks that he uses as his kiln, and several shelves of beautiful handmade ceramics of all shapes and sizes while explaining how he decorates his beautiful ceramics with white paint and a black resin derived from mango leaves. Santodio is no stranger to flood risk – a few short years ago, the area where he lives and works was completely flooded due to El Niño.
Later that day, we also met 22-year-old Maira, who has seven siblings and two children of her own. She invited us into the family’s three-room home and small yard where they raise three pigs, two turkeys, and several hens for income. They lack so many things, like access to running water and basic sanitation, but are glad for what they have and the programs that assist them.
The intense flooding that comes with El Niño can be devastating to people like Santodio and Maira. The riverbed is completely dry now, but the amount of rain that will come in a few months can exceed the river’s capacity twice over. The river then risks overflowing into town and the surrounding more informal settlements, carrying trash, construction materials, and people’s belongings with it.
In my short time here, I can already see the incredible impact that Practical Action´s work has in managing flood risk and am grateful to both Practical Action and Zurich for this opportunity to contribute to these efforts to build resilience.No Comments » | Add your comment
Sometimes going back can spoil a good memory.
On my first visit to Bangladesh, to Gaibandha in the north, I was taken by boat across a broad, slow moving river to islands of homes created by Practical Action and riverside communities, whose homes, livestock and sometimes lives, were being lost on a regular basis, to increasingly severe flooding.
The project was called, ‘Disappearing Lands’, and had been funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The team worked with the communities to identify the poorest families who were most vulnerable to the floods and created a safe island home for them by building a raised platform of earth, on which were clustered one room homes, with space for a small homestead garden, together with emergency shelters for their livestock for when the floods came. The pleasure and pride these families took in their new homes was evident by their eagerness to show me inside. There was room to store pots, pans, clothes and blankets and a space for the parents to sleep on one side of the room, the children on the other.
Even in the last village I visited, completed only a few weeks before, small homestead gardens had been demarcated and the first shoots of spinach were unfolding. Seeing such obvious pleasure in their new, safe homes, was moving and was a good memory to leave with.
That was four years ago. I’m back again in Bangladesh with Karin Reiter, Group Corporate Responsibility Manager for the Z Zurich Foundation. The Foundation has supported Practical Action’s work with communities in the district of Sirajgonj, also vulnerable to flooding , where extremely poor families have so little that even a small life shock, such as illness, is enough to destroy their ability to survive. So flooding is truly devastating. We’re here to see how the project, V2R (Vulnerability to Resilience) is progressing and what lessons can be learned for the future.
Using the principles and lessons learned from Gaibandha, the V2R project is taking an holistic approach. As well as ensuring people’s homes and livestock are safe from rising water, people now have choices in the way that they can support themselves, so that they are no longer reliant on a single livelihood option, which could easily destroyed by one flood. They are also involved in preparing plans to respond to flooding so that people know what to do in times of emergencies, such as which evacuation route to take, where the shelter areas are, and how to ensure the safety of their livestock. And when the rising waters isolate them, they have the means, in an emergency, to transport a seriously ill person to a hospital using an ambulance boat.
We visited a cluster village, now home to 25 extreme poor families. We were shown round neat rooms, with outside cooking areas, and access to clean water with tube wells. They also have thriving businesses such weaving, crocheting and tailoring, as well as raising chicken and ducks, and the newly introduced rabbits – a sure-fire high production product!
What struck me most forcibly is that it’s the women who are the running these businesses and their confidence and determination is inspiring. With the money they’re making, they are paying for their children’s education, investing in their businesses and putting money by for emergencies.
There are still issues to be solved – how to provide affordable and sustainable energy, for example, to the communities (ensuring technology justice) – but the partnership between the Z Zurich Foundation and Practical Action is changing lives for the better for many children, women and men living beside the river in Sirajgong district, and the good memory of Bangladesh, and the impact of Practical Action’s work, remains very firmly intact!1 Comment » | Add your comment
Hobbits, hyacinths and happiness
Who would’ve thought that hyacinths and happiness would go together so well? But they do in flood prone Bangladesh. Practical Action works with some of the poorest people, forced by their poverty to live on land that shifts with the annual floods, so nowhere is ever really home, and making a garden is an act of faith. With water comes water hyacinth in abundance, a weed which Practical Action helps communities turn into floating gardens – an example of a really simple technology that works wonderfully well. The hyacinth leaves, supported by bamboo poles, are woven into a bed, on which is laid soil, into which seeds for lettuces, okra, sweet onions, pumpkins, etc., are planted. The plants’ roots reach down through the hyacinth bed to the flood waters, and nature does the rest. What could be simpler? It doesn’t have to be just hyacinth leaves; any material can be used to create a floating garden in this way, enabling food to still be grown when floods make normal planting impossible, bringing happiness to communities who previously struggled to meet their families’ food needs.
This is just one example of a project which Trusts and Foundations are helping Practical Action implement….and we have many more for which we need support. If you’re a Trustee of a Trust or Foundation and would like to know more, contact me on Liz.Frost@practicalaction.org.uk.
And the hobbits? They don’t have anything to do with floating gardens I’m afraid, but being keen gardeners themselves and enjoying at least six meals a day, I think they would really approve of such a simple but productive technology.No Comments » | Add your comment
A group of committed Practical Action staff demonstrated the future effects of flooding in UK and Bangladesh, to raise awareness in the UK and among the Bangladeshi community living in London. At Whitechapel, Embankment and at Westminster tube stations, we distributed leaflets and talked to people about the issue, accompanied by Mr. Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly. It was a fascinating experience for me – something very different!
At the end of the day we met with a group of journalists from Bangla media, both print and electronic. Along with Murad and Nick Milton, Practical Action’s climate change campaigner, I shared the reality of climate change based on the experiences of current Practical Action Bangladesh project Pathways From Poverty. We covered the issues of climate change adaptation and opportunities for the involvement of Bangladeshi communities living in London to help their countrymen to face the effects of flooding and other disasters.
Meeting at City Hall
The most high profile event of my visit was ‘Bridging the Climate Gap between Britain and Bangladesh‘, which took place at City Hall London and was hosted by London Assembly member, Murad Qureshi. Attendees included the Acting High Commissioner and Simon Trace, Practical Action Chief Executive, and members of the Bangladeshi community. Following the speeches there was a lively discussion and plenty of tweeting about the issues.
Meeting With Martin Horwood MP and Lord Chidgey
This was one of a series of meetings with policy makers in London. Both of them were particularly keen to learn more about sandbar cropping.
Birmingham’s Bangladeshi community.
It was pleasure to meet with such an inspired Bangladesh community living in the UK. They were eager to hear about the progress of our work and there was an animated discussion about future funding to help affected communites in Bangladesh.
Reinforced by the support of so many people in the UK, I now go to the UN climate change talks in Doha to work hard to ensure that adaptation to the severe effects of climate change is high on the agenda.No Comments » | Add your comment
Why on earth did I agree to do this? Surely I must be old enough to know better! These were the thoughts running through my mind on Thursday, as I stood outside a London tube station clad in wetsuit, mask and snorkel engaging with bemused members of the public. Why, you may well ask?
Many areas of London near the Thames are likely to be underwater by 2100. A small group from Practical Action were handing out tube maps showing what London might look like then – hence the scuba gear.
Londoners fortunately have time to prepare for this but for the people of Bangladesh the crisis is already unfolding. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and already half of the country can be inundated during the floods.
At an event in County Hall tonight Nazmul Chowdhury will be talking about his work with some of the poorest people in Bangladesh. Nazmul supervised Practical Action projects with communities who face frequent flooding. We are building flood proof housing, embankments and refuges as well as providing training for alternative livelihoods for flooded areas such as fish and duck rearing. Floating gardens and pumpkin growing are two of our proven technologies which help people to adapt to the changing climate.
But much, much more needs to be done. Millions of people facing the effects of climate change in Bangladesh should have a chance of adapting to a future of more severe flooding. Currently, less than 10% of climate finance is spent on adaptation – we want this to increase to 50% – join our campaign on Twitter to apply pressure.No Comments » | Add your comment
Further along the embankment we stopped to talk with another family. Two years ago Practical Action identified Moniva Begum as needing help towards a sustainable livelihood, and provided her with three sheep. Two years later she has eight, four of whom are pregnant (one due any minute), and has sold a further eight.
I asked what they had used the money for? Her husband put his arm around her and said, “My wife was ill now she is well – we used the money to pay for her to go to hospital.” I’ve found that you rarely see public displays of affection between husband and wife in Bangladesh and this was just lovely. Moniva then added, “Of course we also fixed the roof too,” pointing to a new tin roof on their small house. I think she was worried in case anyone would think she spent all that money on herself!
They believe they have earned about 24,000Taka in 2 years by selling sheep – that’s about £200 I think – but it’s made a huge difference in their lives.
To the question, are sheep better than goats – the answer was very firmly sheep. When I dug more I was surprised: “Goats are trouble, they get angry, they wander around and make trouble with your neighbours. Sheep are calm.”
Good reason to have sheep, I thought!No Comments » | Add your comment