Blogs tagged as Reducing vulnerability

  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017


    October 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Find out more…

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

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

     

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

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

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

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  • Resilience in the face of increasing risk and uncertainty


    September 14th, 2017

    Practical Action’s strategic plan 2017-2020 states “Our vision is for a world where all people have access to the technologies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reach their potential, in a way that safeguards the planet today, and for future generations”. But with development gains being eroded by natural hazards, I sometimes wonder if we are fighting a losing battle?

    Volunteers rescuing people in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    According to the Economist, there are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970[1]. A trend demonstrated vividly by the extensive flooding in South Asia and the impacts of the current North Atlantic hurricane season with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although Practical Action does not work in developed countries, the fact that cities in the United States, cities with planning agencies, building regulations and investment in mitigation, have been devastated by natural hazards demonstrates the increase in climate risk for communities in the developing world, that lack similar government capacity and struggle with limited budgets.

    In a world of increasing risk, resilience is a useful concept to explore the capacities, assets and behaviours that people, their communities and the societies in which they belong, need to be resilient to shocks and stresses. But resilience itself as an outcome of development, may be foolhardy to pursue.

    Practical Action recognises that technology is a key enabler of human development, that technological innovation has the power to enable a better world. Technology can advance the adaptive capacity of communities to cope with risk. For example a community protected by an Early Warning System have access to the information to allow them to act in advance of a flood event. As more EWS messages are received and successful responses are triggered, the community starts to learn what behaviour keeps them safe and the actions needed to limit the destruction of the flood event. Access to knowledge and information and their increased safety, nurtures experiential learning, they start to learn how to live with the flood.

    In a world in which there is no clear endpoint for development, in which resilience becomes ever more distant, enabling communities to experiment, to learn and adapt their lives and livelihoods will be vital if they are to survive and flourish. Resilience as an outcome is dangerous, it suggests an end state of resilience, whereas resilience is more dynamic. Resilience must consider the role of culture and human agency, and that the development aims of all people, communities and countries need not necessarily align to the same outcome. What builds the resilience of a farmer with a tractor may not be the same as what would build the resilience of a farmer dependent on livestock for motive power. Different vulnerabilities, different contexts, stress the need for different resilience building processes. We must stop focussing on the outcome of resilience and instead concentrate on learning from what we are doing, be brave enough to adapt when things start to diverge from the expected, and most importantly we mustn’t forget that it’s ok to learn from failure.

    [1] https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

    Find out more…

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

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

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  • UNISDR 2017 Global Platform


    , | May 23rd, 2017

    Risk reduction must deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable

    In Sendai, Japan, a location that had been devastated by the eastern pacific Tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident, the world came together in March 2015 to sign into force the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. This framework aims to influence the policy and practice of national governments to reduce their risk, by providing practical guidance on how to reduce risk, how to prepare for disasters in cases where risk cannot be totally removed and to provide targets and indicators to monitor progress.

    This week in Cancun Mexico the world gathers for the first time since Sendai to report on progress. Cancun will greet world leaders, representatives from governments, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and community members. Practical Action is taking advantage of this gathering to demonstrate our expertise in community flood protection and will share our key lessons learned with this global audience.

    What are our key messages for this community? Practical Action along with our partners the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance Company and the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) will be presenting the lessons learned from our field projects at a number of key events. The messages that we will share with the global community are as follows;

    • Development must be restricted in hazardous zones and incentives for development that lead to urbanisation of risk areas should be avoided.
    • Investment is necessary in large scale flood risk management practices, including soft measures such as, erosion control, river widening, natural retention areas and hard construction approaches, levees, reservoirs, dams and weirs particularly to protect critical areas.
    • Nature based approaches to flood management are often overlooked, but healthy natural environments provide numerous services that help to reduce the impact of floods, from healthy natural habitats increasing infiltration and slowing run off, to a combination of nature based with more traditional flood mitigation measures to enhance the protection and reduce the investment and maintenance costs of hard infrastructure.
    • Hard infrastructure protection measures should be prioritised to protect essential infrastructure such as hospitals and power stations, etc. but must avoid incentivising the construction of new assets in the flood plain.
    • Pre-event financial options, including investment in pre event response measures, insurance, social support, and innovative risk transfer mechanisms are vital and must incorporate and respond to learning from advances in early warning systems and impact forecasting.
    • Post disaster streamlined access to these prearranged lines of credit and dedicated flood relief programmes, to ensure reconstruction can start promptly, while learning from the event to build back better.
    • Knowledge sharing and facilitation to all stakeholders is vital, but in particular honest reporting of lessons learned to communities enhances their self-protection and nurtures human agency. No one can be 100% resilient to flooding but by working in concert with neighbours benefits can be delivered at multiple scales.

    Strengthening community flood resilience requires a process this is multi-scalar, multi-sectoral and involves numerous actors; it cannot be achieved by governments, organisations of individuals acting alone. Flood risk reduction must be an integral part of policy making, planning and implementation. Effective flood risk reduction requires mutual partnerships with governments, private sector and civil society working alongside communities. With increased ability to learn, adapt and cope with shocks and stresses, communities can protect and build on development gains that they have already made, prevent their erosion, reverse accumulating losses and address the effects of underlying vulnerability that hold back their development potential. Floods are a natural phenomenon, and attempts to control flooding have proven short lived and futile, with climate change exacerbating the risk of floods we need to get smarter about our environment and learn to live with floods.

    http://www.unisdr.org/conferences/2017/globalplatform/en
    The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
    http://www.unisdr.org/

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  • An Innovative approach to measuring community resilience to flooding


    , | April 27th, 2017

    The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Measurement Framework

    In 2013 the Z Zurich Foundation initiated a global alliance of partners to understand what builds resilience to flooding. This alliance has taken an innovative approach – linking academic insights, humanitarian and development sector capabilities, as well as Zurich’s skills and knowledge – to enhance community resilience to flooding. The alliance includes the Zurich Insurance Company, the Z Zurich Foundation, IFRC, Practical Action, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

    The alliance have developed a measurement framework and corresponding tools in an attempt to measure flood resilience in communities in developed and developing countries around the world.

    Communities are struggling to come to terms with resilience what allocation of their limited resources will build resilience?

    The tool involves measuring the degree to which communities are endowed with the five capitals, described in the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF). These capitals characterize community assets and the complementary capacities that sustain and improve communities’ wellbeing. Theoretically, by tracking the capitals pre- and post-event, it is possible to observe how development, disasters, and risk management activities within the community are eroding or supporting wellbeing. Having time series information means the five capitals could be measured after a hazard event to assess how they were impacted or utilized to cope and recover. A grounded set of metrics could help to guide the exploration of potential sources of resilience and test their effect on outcomes in order to contribute further evidence to our understanding of resilience.

    The complexity of resilience leads to a huge diversity of elements which can be measured, and raises a number of questions about process and outputs:

    • At what stage is measurement appropriate?
    • Do we measure resilience ex ante during a state of normality which means a focus on ability to manage risk, or only ex post, which means a focus on ability to cope and recover?
    • Can we give an absolute value to a state of resilience or only one that is relative to a baseline or benchmark?

    In light of these challenges, we are looking for ways to explore the interdependencies among the capitals themselves, and between the capitals and other elements of the framework. It will be important to measure the capitals but also to understand the relationships among them, such as how social assets, or the wider governance context frame access to particular resources which may appear plentiful in the wider community but are inaccessible for a large portion of the population due to social barriers. We are aware that the mere existence of an asset does not necessarily imply that it is being used effectively to manage risk or enhance wellbeing. Conversely, the lack of an asset may be indicative of vulnerability, which raises further questions around the weighting of the measurements. By adopting a standardized approach, we are hoping to learn more about resilience, and how this knowledge can be applied in practice to enhance resilient wellbeing.

    We are currently testing the tool in a number of communities in different countries that have varying livelihoods and asset bases and face different flood typographies. This will help to test and refine the tool, and provide learning on the methods and processes. Representation of the results of the measurement tool for two different communities, is captured below.

    Although they score differently, one with strengths in the social and natural capitals (red) while the other (green) in the human and physical capitals which community will be more resilient to a flood event? This is something we are starting to unpack as we investigate the results coming from the community measurements.

    Further reading:

    • http://www.measuringresilience.org/pdfs/ODI_report.pdf
    • https://www.zurich.com/en/corporate-responsibility/flood-resilience/measuring-flood-resilience
    • https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/resilience/measuring-resilience
    • http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/13279/1/Development%20and%20testing%20of%20a%20community%20flood%20resilience%20measurement%20tool.pdf
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  • Technologies to put a roof over the heads of earthquake victims


    March 23rd, 2017

    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.

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    Chhabilal explaining how he 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.

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    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.IMG_1508

    IMG_1511

    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.

    Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

    Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    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.

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  • 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? 


    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


    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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  • Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events


    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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  • Can you trust technology to provide protection from flooding?


    June 30th, 2016

    Practical Action has been working with a number of different partners in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance[1] to explore the factors that build the resilience of communities in developing countries to the threat of floods. One of the features of flood prone communities is the fact that these communities are often fully aware of the risk, but some economic or social benefit leads to them discounting the risk to live in the at risk location.

    We are now entering the monsoon season and once again the flood protection and early warning systems will be tested. Is it right to trust in technology alone? The story of what happened in Nepal during the monsoon season of 2014 is a timely reminder, when several communities along the Babai River learned the hard way of the problem of discounting risk and relying on technology.

    Nepal Monsoon 2016Rainfall maps for June 2016 the start of the Monsoon

    In mid-August 2014, three days of torrential monsoon rainfall led to the widespread floods in Western Nepal. The floods killed 222 people and had a major impact on 120,000 others, damaging infrastructure and property and displacing households[2]. The communities along the Babai River were particularly badly affected whereas neighbouring communities on the Karnali River were not. We have learned some interesting insights into how two apparently similar situations impacted the local people in very different ways.

    Trust in Early Warning System

    The communities along the Babai River had just been provided with a brand new flood early warning system. This system copied a system installed by Practical Action on the Karnali river but had only just been installed and had therefore not been tested in a flood. Unexpected and extreme rainfall in the catchment led to a rapid rise in the river. The rapid rise in the waters resulted in the gauge reader abandoning the gauge station to find safety on higher ground, unfortunately in an area with limited cell phone coverage. The gauge reader was finally able to contact the authorities but the river was already above danger levels and floodwaters had engulfed villages downstream of the gauge. Unfortunately, the communication chain via radio had not been practiced. The police did not know who to contact next, leading to delays. The local government office finally received the gauge reader’s warning, but did not understand its implications. Ultimately, sirens in Bardiya only sounded to indicate warning levels had been reached, but the sirens did not sound to communicate danger levels.

    Guage Reader Mrs Gurung (Chaisapani)The Early Warning station on the neighbouring Karnali River

    Trust in River Protection measures

    The warnings that did reach communities along the Babai River were not well heeded. Those who thought they were not in the path of the flood judging, by previous experience, did not move to safety. For others, it had been over six years since the last large flood and they were sceptical that significant flooding was imminent. In addition they thought that the new irrigation canal constructed upstream would siphon flood water away from their community. Others believed that the river protection measures recently installed along the river banks would protect them. But this trust was flawed. Floodwaters flowed from unexpected places due to embankment failures; due to floodwaters being transported via irrigation canals; and due recent constructions blocking, disrupting and shifting flows. In addition the theft of large stones from the embankments weakened them when otherwise they may have prevailed.

    River bank protectionLow tech embankment being constructed to protect communities

    The installation of physical capital in the form of early warning systems and the construction of flood barriers are only part of the solution. People’s perceptions of flood risk are greatly influenced by their knowledge of the cause of floods[3]. For a holistic approach to flood resilience building it is vital to build social and human capacities as well as physical. Increasing the knowledge of citizens about the causes of flooding will increase flood risk awareness, and it is particularly important to target individuals who are unaware of or ignore the high risk exposure they face. In addition the underlying foundations of resilience depend on respect for the natural capital the foundation upon which the flood events unfolds. Finally in poor community’s access to financial capital will be required to implement protection and preparedness measures and to ensure an adequate and robust social safety net is in place to provide for people when things go wrong.

    [1] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/partnerships-drr/zurich-flood-resilience-alliance

    [2] https://www.zurich.com/_/media/dbe/corporate/docs/corporate-responsibility/risk-nexus-karnali-river-floods-nepal-july-2015.pdf?la=en

    [3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2009WR007743/full

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