Saturday 28th May is Menstrual Hygiene Day, a really important day to raise awareness of good menstrual hygiene and to break some of the taboos that surround something that affects half the population of the world!
It’s sad that in 2016, women and girls are still made to feel ashamed by a natural bodily function. Girls are often held back from achieving their full potential as they are unable to attend school and it’s shocking to think that in some communities, girls are made to sleep in sheds, away from their home, when menstruating. It shouldn’t be this way.
In August last year, I travelled to Bangladesh to see some of our work and to meet people who Practical Action is supporting. In Bangladesh, menstrual hygiene remains a taboo topic, sanitary products are rarely available and young girls are often too afraid to ask.
I met 25 year old Danier who told me what it was like to be a woman in her community. She explained how women are considered ‘unclean’ during their periods, sanitary products are not available and girls are forced to hide away and use rags to soak up the blood. These rags are used over and over again. Washing and drying the rags is difficult, as they shouldn’t be seen by anyone. During this time, girls don’t attend school, because they are too afraid of blood leaking onto their clothes.
But this is beginning to change. Danier spends her mornings – along with other women from her village – making and selling biodegradable and good quality sanitary products. The women not only make the products, they also encourage other women and girls to use them and are starting to break the silence around the issue. The women earn a small income from making the pads, which they are able to use to help pay for their education.
Before this project, Danier explained that everyone was using rags but now, most of them are using the products she and her friends make!
“I’m happy, I even use the product. I am helping other girls. No longer do they have to feel shy.”
I was touched by how the project had empowered Danier. She felt she had a voice and was making a difference to the girls in her community. Menstruation should not be a taboo subject. Women and girls across the world should not feel ashamed by their periods. Hygiene education and sanitary products should be available to all wherever you live in the world.
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“Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes.” – E. F. Schumacher
The curiosity was quiet evident on the faces of hundreds of people knowing the fact that, they were being gathered to celebrate World Toilet Day. People in general do not like to talk about ‘shit’ and that has been a global challenge now. Amidst the number of popular days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Water Day and many others we celebrate one more addition is now for Toilet Day and yet people have apprehension about that.
Yes, in a country like India where more than 50 per cent people defecate in open, talking about ‘shit’ is treated as shitty here. In such a contest there are instances and places where defecating in open is being treated as social and cultural practice. In many villages women actually get chance to mingle with themselves while they go toilet to open field at the dawn.
Breaking the barrier of such myths, Practical Action has been advocating for better sanitation practices. In its major initiative in urban wash, in India Practical Action has started intervening in the faecal sludge management for two major urban municipalities. Newly launched Project Nirmal is targeting on a holistic approach to fight against the menace of poor sanitation practices and also exhibiting a model faecal sludge disposal mechanism in both the cities.
So on 19 March 2015, two major events were organised on the eve of World Toilet Day in both the cities such as Angul and Dhenkanal. women SHG members, school children and civil society members joined in large numbers to mark the occasion. In Angul, the Municipality Chairperson and other council members along with the executive officer graced the occasion and shared how the importance of toilet in public life is now a much-talked topic and why it is needed to have toilets.
Issues starting from girls and women defecating only during dark like before sunrise and after sunset leading to social security is now a concern everywhere. There are instances of molestation of young girls midnight and also instances of life loss by insects such as snakes and other insecticides.
There have been constant health hazards such as diarrhoea and children in india are being growing stunted because of open defecation. All these things were the points of discussion while the district collector and municipal chairperson and other senior officials in Dhenkanal urged to build toilet as an essential part of daily life. Like mobiles and other necessities toilet is something which every household must have and all the guests vowed for a message of toilet for all.
This was also added by Practical Action representative talking about the proper disposal mechanism of human excreta and faeces by setting up a proper faecal sludge management system in both the cities with the help of municipalities and efficient community participation.
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But Mummy, I CAAAAN’T WAIT – the familiar cry for anyone with children. Fortunately we live in a place where a safe, clean toilet our children can easily use, with soap and water on hand, is never far away.
But this basic human right is not available to everyone. #wecantwait is the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day on 19th November.
BAD NEWS: The 2015 JMP report finds that 2.4 billion people are still without access to improved sanitation facilities and 946 million still defecating in the open. Schools and health centres also frequently lack these basic facilities.
GOOD NEWS: Globally, progress has been made, and we should celebrate this. In 1990 only 61 countries had more than 90% of their population with access to improved sanitation. In 2015, there are 97 countries that have reached that milestone.
BAD NEWS: However, in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa the situation has worsened over the last few years, as provision of sanitation has failed to keep up with population growth. There was a decline in water or sanitation coverage in urban areas in 14 out of 46 countries between 1990 and 2015. There are large inequalities in access within urban areas according to wealth, and while in many countries, the gap is closing, that is only happening slowly.
We know this matters because the health burden of poor sanitation in urban areas can be particularly acute. It has been linked to child malnutrition and stunting as a result of recurrent bouts of diarrhoea. The difficulties for women to find a safe, dignified place to use a toilet and in particular to deal hygienically and discretely with menstruation are often enormous.
GOOD NEWS: is that governments and donors have been trying to catalyse change, and put more focus on sanitation. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership brings together over 90 country governments, external support agencies, civil society organisations and others to catalyse political leadership and action. The last set was agreed in April 2014, with commitments made by 43 countries and 12 donors.
Many of the country commitments were about strengthening the enabling environment, and so did not focus on particular targets or segments of the population. On the other hand, countries were encouraged to focus in particular on reducing inequalities and improving sustainability. In three-quarters of country overarching visions there was a recognition of the elimination of socio-economic or geographic inequalities, and 27 countries made a total of 58 commitments to eliminating inequalities.
BAD NEWS: However there were still only 34 commitments (11%) which mentioned the word ‘urban’ and only 6 (2%) which made specific reference to poor urban communities or urban inequalities. One commitment referred to tackling faecal sludge management which is a key part of the urban sanitation challenge.
In September this year, the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 tackles water, sanitation and hygiene, and within that Target 6.2 is about sanitation:
Target 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
To be measured as: Percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services
Which means: Population using a basic sanitation facility (current JMP categories for improved sanitation) which is not shared with other households and where excreta is safely disposed in situ or transported to a designated place for safe disposal or treatment
This goal is ambitious. We have a long way to go in achieving even basic sanitation for all, and only 15 years to achieve it. At the next high level meeting of SWA in April 2016, we would love to see more commitments with a specific focus on the urban poor, and on the safe disposal, transportation and treatment of excreta.
Practical Action has been working on these issues on the ground for a number of years, and has decades of experience of working with the urban poor in Africa and Asia. We have exciting work on faecal sludge management in particular with urban poor communities in South Asia. We are committed to sharing our learning ensuring a wider adoption. Based on this experience we are calling for:
- The SDGs, to measure and prioritise access to basic sanitation for all, while in urban slums in particular, work towards safely managed sanitation which will actually lead to improved health.
- Data disaggregation which helps us understand the global progress (or lack of it) on sanitation for the urban poor – welcoming the work already done on this by JMP
- More countries and donors to make commitments specifically for the urban poor in the next round of Sanitation and Water for All and at the South Asian Conference on sanitation in January 2016.
- More and better quality engagement with civil society organisations in sanitation planning at national and local levels
Bondeni Primary School in Nakuru County became a haven for pomp and colour on 15 October as it hosted over 5,000 people – a majority of them school children- to commemorate the Global Handwashing Day.
Themed “Raise a hand for hygiene,” the 2015 Global Hand Washing Day Celebrations reached out to students from 10 primary schools and thousands of people living in densely populated Bondeni informal settlements in Nakuru County. The 2015 celebrations aimed at fostering a global culture of handwashing and raising awareness about benefits of handwashing with soap was organised by the County Department of Health in partnership with more than 10 organisations that included Practical Action.
Educating the public
The celebrations started with participating school children, Nakuru County Government officials and stakeholders congregating at Afraha Stadium followed by a procession of 2,000 people through the Bondeni informal settlement spreading messages of proper sanitation to the locals.
The procession, led by the Nakuru Brass Band, made several stop overs within the informal settlements to educate the public on the benefits of handwashing with soap as a preventive mechanism to diseases.
Speaking during the celebrations, Dr. Joseph Lenai, Nakuru County Public Health and Sanitation Director, called for all hotel operators in Nakuru to have handwashing facilities in their hotels. “We also urge all proprietors of public eateries, schools, government institutions and health facilities to put in place mechanisms geared towards promoting handwashing with soap,” he said.
Lenai also urged headteachers in the area to further educate students on the importance of handwashing, adding that diarrhoea disease is one of the leading causes of child mortality:
“Here in Kenya, diarrhoea disease and acute respiratory infections are among the leading causes of child mortality with about 16% of child mortality in the country attributed to diarrhoea and 20% to pneumonia,” he said. “Handwashing with soap can reverse this trend. Handwashing with soap is a self-administered vaccine against diarrhoea and pneumonia.”
Transforming handwashing into a culture
He said the County Government of Nakuru has rolled out an inter-agency partnership programme comprising of government, private sector and the civil society to promote hygienic standards in the region. “Our county government has put together a partnership comprising Department of Health and relevant departments which include: Education, Water and Environment, the private sector and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to embark on the process of transforming handwashing with soap into a culture. We want to raise awareness among our people that that the simple act of regular washing hands with soap could save more lives than any medical intervention, preventing the spread of infection and keeping children in school,” Lenai said.
Lenai further appealed to the media to educate the public on the benefits of handwashing.
Reducing school illness
Speaking during the celebrations, Janet Ochieng’, Nakuru County Deputy Director of Education emphasised the need for sanitation in schools, noting that handwashing facilities in schools would reduce the number of days children spend out of school due to illness.
During the celebrations, all children were taught how to effectively wash their hands with soap, with five students from each school participating in a handwashing competition. The day also included drama and songs from schools and sponsors with demonstrations on the dangers of improper hygiene dominating the performances.
Dr. Lenai and dignitaries also participated in a handwashing demonstration to teach county staff and teachers on how to effectively wash away germs from their hands using soap.
The World Health Organisation states:
“Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of death among children under five. Diarrhoea causes nearly one in five deaths of children under five, resulting in 760,000 deaths each year. A large majority of these deaths are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene. Treating and safely storing drinking water, hand washing, and exclusively breastfeeding young children can prevent diarrhoeal disease.”
Global Handwashing Day is a campaign to encourage people globally to improve their handwashing habits by washing their hands using soap, especially at critical moments like after visiting the toilet. The campaign aims at decreasing disease spread through proper handwashing and raising awareness of handwashing with soap as a key approach to disease prevention.
- Raise awareness of the newly passed SDG commitment to hygiene, but also advocate for a dedicated indicator to measure this component
- Ensure greater funding for hygiene behaviour change and handwashing infrastructure as part of national WASH or health budgets (the GLAAS report in 2014 found that countries are spending less than 1% of their WASH budget on hygiene promotion)
- At Practical Action we are particularly concerned about the significant health risks that the urban poor face as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, leading to health outcomes which are often worse for slum dwellers than rural populations. More needs to be done to address their needs in ways which are adapted to the conditions they face.
- Motivate local champions to carry the messages of hygiene and handwashing throughout the year
Last week, African Ministers spent the week at the AfricaSan4 conference discussing the urgent need for better progress on Sanitation and Hygiene on the continent. They signed up to a new vision (the Ngor Declaration) in line with the likely UN ‘Sustainable Development Goal’ due out later this year, to achieve universal access to adequate and sustainable sanitation and hygiene services and eliminate open defecation by 2030.
It is great to see an update of the commitments made at a similar meeting back in 2008. Clearly, a ‘focus on the poorest, most marginalised and unserved’, must include the needs of poor people living in urban slums alongside their rural counterparts. However, there is precious little experience in ‘eliminating open defecation’ in urban slums. This will be a huge challenge that should not be under-estimated.
Over the last three years, Practical Action and Umande Trust have been working in two big informal settlements in Nakuru, Kenya, on an ambitious project to transform the sanitation situation. The aim was to declare two thirds of the 13 ‘villages’ within two big low-income settlements (population approximately 190,000) as Open Defecation Free. In these areas, the majority of residents are tenants, living on plots with 10-20 rooms (sometimes up to 50). While almost all of these plots had some form of toilet, their quality was so poor, and their numbers woefully inadequate to count as ‘adequate’ sanitation.
At the end of the project, we worked with the CLTS Foundation reflect on how we had adapted the usual CLTS process for the challenges of an urban context. The report highlights the greater scope of action required in urban contexts because of the importance of better-quality toilets, and the need for safe faecal sludge management. It explores the whole range of stakeholders who need to be involved from tenants and landlords, to pit emptiers, builders, banks and micro-credit, different levels of government, the local water and sewerage utility company, and many more.
Here are the 11 key differences we found between rural CLTS, and this urban context.
|1.||Low toilet coverage and strong preference for or habit of OD||High toilet coverage but they are highly unsanitary. OD is out of necessity rather than preference or habit.|
|2.||Majority of households own land on which they can build their toilets||Most households are tenants and have to rely on landlords to provide sanitary toilets. However, it is tenants’ role to maintain them well.|
|3.||A single triggering aims to reach whole population||Two types of triggering exercises are needed: one for landlords and one for tenants|
|4.||The triggering methodology is principally based on eliciting feelings of shame and disgust to motivate behaviour change.||The triggering methodology with landlords is based more around obligation and threat of legislation. Eliciting disgust is still a motivating factor in triggering with tenants.|
|5.||The key challenge is triggering behaviour change to break the long held habit of open defecation.||The key challenge is ensuring adequate provision and maintenance of facilities. Open defecation is no longer a habit but an outcome of poor facilities.|
|6||Once a toilet is full, there is usually space to build more within the household compound.||Space is limited and density of population is high resulting in the need to dispose of faecal sludge outside the plot once toilets fill up.|
|7||Households can build very basic low cost toilets, starting and the lowest rung of the sanitation ladder if they choose.||There are often regulations about the standard of toilets substructure and the superstructure. Negotiation with authorities can be an important aspect of intervention.|
|8||Households can usually finance low cost toilet building without external finance.||Landlords often require external finance in order to be able to adequately upgrade sanitation facilities. This may require negotiating a loan facility, whether through banks or a community fund.|
|9||There are few stakeholders external to the community who have an influence on sanitation provision.||There are several stakeholders involved, such as tenants, landlords, planning department, public health officials, water and sewerage companies.|
|10||As there are few stakeholders involved, the intervention process can be relatively fast.||Due to the regulatory environment and the number of stakeholders involved the intervention process, even before any triggering takes place, can take quite long.|
|11||Natural leaders and community consultants are key players in driving and scaling up CLTS||In this particular urban context natural leaders and community consultants were not developed as Community Health Volunteers already existed.|
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A proper toilet, water supply and electricity – these are some basic necessities of our lives. What can be more inconvenient than not having a toilet around when you need it? Imagine waking up every day not knowing how you would manage to collect the water required for the day! It might be hard for us to even imagine, but it is a reality that too many people are living every day. While the technologies have advanced to the level where we have self-cleaning high-tech toilets; it is estimated that worldwide 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 1.3 billion to safe water. The world sure in an unjust place.
The people of Shreeramnagar, a slum settlement at Butwal – 4, Rupendehi district of Nepal are a part of that 1.3 Billion. Water crisis is a part of their lives. They have to go to the neighbouring localities to collect water, which is a time consuming and tiring work. The settlement is not recognised by the government which does not support any development of infrastructures in the community so the people have nowhere to turn to seek help. But the people of the community – had had enough of this injustice and took charge to solve their own problem.
“We didn’t know how to tackle this problem,” says Narayan Lal Ghimere, a local resident. “But now, we are able to come up with a solution after we got training from ‘Delivering Decentralisation’ project. After the training, we have formed a committee to address different kinds of problems existing in our community. With the involvement of community people, we decided that we need to construct a water tank with a huge storage capacity for the equal and uninterrupted water supply in our locality,” he further adds.
They have formed a committee for the construction of the water tank to carry forward the work effectively and make the whole process participatory. The initiation was led by the community themselves with little support from the project. Everything from the planning stage was discussed and decided by the community.
A member of the working committee, Sabitra Devi Panthi says, “We were able to learn a lot of things and got inspired to take the initiatives ourselves, after the training provided by the project. So, we made a collective decision to construct the water tank. We were motivated because we received 75 per cent of the construction cost from the project and the rest we collected amongst ourselves. Those who couldn’t pay the required amount, volunteered for the labour work to make up for it.”
Now, the construction is complete, and people of this community have for the first time in their lives, access to clean water. “We did a grand inauguration of the water tank and water supply lines. It was such a proud movement for the whole community. The regular water supply has made our lives so much easier and our locality is cleaner now. It more beneficial to housewives like us, who had to spend a lot of time fetching water, now we are able to use the saved time in other productive activities,” adds Sabitra.
She further says, “I did not know that having a water supply could change our lives so much. It has improved our health as well as economic activities. It feels like a privilege to have water supply in our own homes; construction of the water tank is such a huge achievement for us!”
It sure is a happy moment for the people of Shreeramnagar community; but having a water supply should not be a matter of privilege and so much of hard work – it should be available and accessible to all; irrespective of their location and economic background. But of course, it is not so. Hence, when we talk about these simple basic technologies, it never is as simple as it sounds. A simple thing as a water supply can change people’s lives in too many ways. It saves time for the women who can invest it in income generating activities or in taking proper care of their children. It helps to stay cleaner and healthier. It helps to make human life dignified. It helps to fill the gap of technology injustice and make this world a bit more just place.
So a water tank is not JUST a water tank but a step ahead towards a JUST world.
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The members of the UK Water Network had an meeting with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently about coordination and policy messaging on urban sanitation. Very interesting, and maybe one for another time. In this blog, I thought I’d share some follow-up reflections from side conversations I had with some of the UK Water Network members on that day. We discussed the issue of disease outbreaks that emerge in urban areas, including refugee camps, during humanitarian emergencies as a result of water, sanitation and waste systems not surviving the stress they are put under.
The people around the coffee table where mostly from humanitarian organisations, organisations that focus on emergency response. That’s why the conversation was framed in terms of emergency response – how can agencies respond quickly and effectively in an emergency situations to ensure that people are still able to access clean water, toilets and hygiene products and that waste, including faecal waste (“WASH” for short), is managed safely, so to reduce the risk of disease outbreak?
The conversation was just as interesting for me, working at Practical Action, which is a development organisation rather than a humanitarian organisation, as it could be flipped on its head, and create the question: What can we do to promote urban WASH systems that are resilient to stress, and avoid health emergencies, such as a cholera outbreak?
This question brings together two of Practical Action’s priority themes: Urban WASH, and disaster risk reduction. It’s a nexus issue, the buzz word of the moment it seems. But what is not quite so obvious is that it is also squarely relevant to another strength in our work at Practical Action – market systems. Here’s how.
(The following is an extract from a draft concept note and capability statement that the Urban WASH team at Practical Action is using to create further discussion and partnership with other like-minded organisations on this issue. So it’s a draft, it’s not exhaustive by any means, and it’s intended to stimulate conversation. Get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss further, and hear more about our experience in this area).
Water access, sanitation and hygiene, and waste management (WASH) are effective and cost efficient health interventions. they contribute to reducing the incidence water and vector borne disease caused by contaminated water. In urban areas especially, special attention needs to be paid to faecal sludge management (FSM). That’s because, where space is limited, planned FSM is essential to achieve safe disposal of the most harmful waste away from water sources. Furthermore, in urban area its important that FSM is sustainable, and achieves total coverage of the urban environment if the health goals are to be attained, and maintained, over time.
Market system approaches focus on the access and service chains of water, sanitation and waste management, their enabling environment, and the supporting functions on which they depend, and take into account the economics of scaled and sustainable delivery (driven by public subsidy, service user payment and value recovery), and thus provide promising lens to analyse, design, and establish urban WASH systems fit for environmental health purposes. Such approaches should be:
- Systemic, in the sense that they seek to address the underlying causes of limitations in scaled and sustainable urban WASH and safe disposal coverage;
- Facilitative, in the sense that the role of the development agency is a temporary, enabling one, avoiding un-sustainably subsidising recurrent costs of functions in the delivery system;
- Participatory, in the sense that they seek to build on the capacity, processes and interests that exist among actors involved.
Urban WASH systems designed to ensure safe disposal of waste away from water sources are at great risk of natural hazards, especially those related to flooding, All the lengthy and costly efforts to improve health status by reducing or eliminate instances of water and vector borne disease can be undermined within hours by flooding, causing and exacerbating humanitarian emergencies. Resilience in urban WASH systems – robustness (resistance to shock), rapidity (response rate) redundancy (degree of slack in the system), resourcefulness (innovation in response) – is thus also a critical factor to consider as part of a long-term WASH-based health intervention.
Taking the example of flood risk, analysis involves answering the following questions and planning for flood scenarios:
- Where is the flood likely to take place, geo-spatially?
- What functions of water access and waste (especially faecal sludge) management are likely to be affected?
- Where are current disposal flows most likely to be disrupted and cause contamination?
- Which of these points are most likely to affect residents, especially most vulnerable groups?
Flood risk analysis should also be informed by the projected local impacts of climate change.
Building flood resilience in Urban WASH systems therefore involves:
Understanding Urban WASH systems and its core and supporting functions and enabling environment, where a market system lens is promising to take into account the economics of scalable and sustainable delivery;
Focusing on risk points in these systems where the flood’s likely geo-spatial coverage will affect WASH functions leading to disruption of safe disposal, contamination in areas used by residents, especially at vulnerable groups;
Making decisions about resilience building activities to build on the following dimensions of resilience at these risk points – robustness, rapidity, redundancy, and resourcefulness.
A final connection worth making, turning this issue back round to emergency response is the the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) toolkit, where market systems are also at the centre of efforts to provide effect emergency response.No Comments » | Add your comment
I know it’s probably not grown up to talk about poo and pee, but the alliteration was just too tempting. It’s interesting though that we do use these coy words like ‘poo’, ‘pee’ and ‘no. 2s’ to talk about a function which is so fundamental. Sex, politics, religion and even what money you’ve got these days are no longer taboo subjects but to ask someone how often they defecate is completely off limits, unless of course, you’re talking to your doctor. But everyone does it, even the Queen, and Elvis famously died while on the toilet. Here in the developing world, designers and manufacturers have become rich creating wondrous bathrooms – quiet, private, beautifully decorated rooms, with toilets that keep your bottom warm while seated, ensure you are fresh and clean afterwards with carefully directed sprays, that the toilet is completely sanitised once the automatically closing seat comes down and a sweet smelling aroma is sprayed afterwards to ensure no-one knows what you’ve been doing.
Visit somewhere like an informal urban settlement in Bangladesh and your experience will be the complete opposite. If you’re lucky, there may be a room which you share with all the other families around you, young, old and the sick, with a hole in the ground that you have to perch over and hope that your aim is good. If you’re elderly or a child, this can be challenging, and for very small children extremely dangerous, with the risk of falling into the toilet pit. There’s also the threat of disease with no flushing with water to carry away the faeces and so it piles up, attracting flies, creating the ideal conditions for cholera, dengue fever, etc. After a while the toilet needs to be emptied and this is where people like Fadhiya come in, a young woman of 29, abandoned by her husband, with a child to take care. Desperate for work, Fadhiya visits these toilets, usually after, dark, climbing down into the pits to clear them with her bare hands into a bucket which she then heaves out of the pit, walking many miles to find somewhere that she can hopefully dispose of the poo and pee. She comes home to her family, smeared with excrement, dangerous to be near for her small child, and outcast by her community.
Practical Action can’t bring flushing toilets to all the people living in informal urban settlements, but we can begin to make a difference by protecting people like Fadhiya with equipment such as a manual ‘gulper’ (a hand driven pump) so that she doesn’t have to climb down into toilet pits. We can provide a tricycle rickshaw so that she doesn’t have to carry so many buckets of excrement, and we can find somewhere for all that poo to be deposited that isn’t going to contaminate a water supply.
So, next time you have a ‘poo’ or a ‘pee’, maybe think about putting a £1 or 1p aside each time just for a month and send the money to Practical Action. Just nine people doing that for one month and donating £38.50 each could provide one gulper, and ensure that one less toilet cleaner has to climb into a pit of poo and pee to make a living.
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My father visited us last weekend for my daughters 18th birthday. Lots of nice food, some wine and good conversation. But he has been reading the Daily Mail and after years of supporting my work in international development he suddenly decided to quiz me.
His big question – or lots of questions wrapped into one – was ‘how do you differ from Oxfam, why is is what you do important and what do you believe in?’
I started with the last question first and the official Practical Action answer ‘we believe in Technology Justice: A sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all’.
He doesnt drink alcohol but even so his eyes glazed over – too much jargon I suspect. I tried the simpler answer we believe in working together with people to develop and deliver practical, sustainable solutions. And we are good at it!
I always find examples help people understand best what Practical Action does and I love our work on podcasts and floating gardens. So talked about new solutions to old problems such as podcasts to disseminate animal health information to farmers in Zimbabwe. My dad loves animals and is deeply committed to their welfare. So he started to look interested at this.
I also talked about rediscovering and re-engineering old solutions to new problems, such as using ‘floating gardens’ for Bangladeshi farmers made landless by river erosion. They are great – the rafts are from the stems of water hyacinths which are a weed and they enable communities to grow food during the monsoon. The original floating gardens were developed by the Aztecs – which I always think is pretty wow!
Getting into my flow I started talking about Technology Justice and used another example – drinking water.
My dad loves history so I talked about the Romans building pipes and acquaducts to get fresh water into their cities. About the Victorians in UK cities engineering sewage systems to take away waste. And yet how even today lots of poor people in the developing world dont have access to clean water and decent sewers, so lots of people including lots of kids get ill and die.
For me this is technology injustice hitting you in the face. We have the knowledge and technology to prevent these deaths – we should be able to do soemthing about it.
I think – or maybe hope- at the end of the conversation my dad thought we are a clever organisation, making practical things happen, working together with people. I could tell he loved some of our stories and suspect he’ll be looking at our website – may even read this! But I suspect next time I see him Ill get more questions – Im hoping they will be about how you build a floating garden. I might catch him testing one out on his pond!
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This weekend I heard the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities.
Hearing the ‘Tandem Turners’ talk about their round the world ride to raise money and awareness for Practical Action, I reflected on how today, bicycles play a big role in the lives of poor communities. I’ve recently returned from Southern Bangladesh and having visited, there are two jobs I’ve identified as being my version of hell:
1. Pit latrine emptier
2. Rickshaw driver
It’s obvious how a bicycle plays a role in Rickshaws, but what do bicycles have to do with pit latrine emptying? …and it’s obvious that emptying pit latrines as a living would be a nightmare, but what’s wrong with being a rickshaw driver?
Well rickshaws are definitely at the bottom of the road transport pecking order. Imagine… its rush hour, the roads are jam packed with tuc-tucs, cars, buses and lorries, you have no gears, there’s a passenger or two sitting passively in the back…oh and then there is their luggage…. Now this can be a small briefcase or hand bag, or it can be about 200 kilos of reinforced steel cabling (15 foot long), 100 kilos of mangoes, jack fruit or several 20 kilo sacks of rice… the temperature is in the mid thirties Celsius and the humidity is over 70 percent. Everyone else on the road has priority over you, everyone is hooting their horn at you and the pay you receive is not in line with the effort you exert.
So pit latrine emptying…bicycles, really? Well yes. In order to empty a pit latrine situated deep in the warren of narrow pathways in a slum, you need something to transport the waste that’s small enough to get between the houses but strong enough to cope with loads up to 200 kilos. Practical Action is working with communities of Bengali and Harijan ‘sweepers’ whose lot in life it is to clean the streets and empty pit latrines. With no safety equipment, just their bare hands and a bucket, these men and women remove foul smelling liquid sludge from these latrines and take it away – to be dumped into a canal or a ditch somewhere in the city. Our Safer Cities appeal last Christmas means that now, with Practical Action’s help, they are receiving training and safety equipment, and new sludge transporting bicycle carts. The next step is to work with the municipalities to help them deal with the sludge safely, and to invest in machinery that can be fitted to bicycle carts so that the sludge can be pumped from the pit without needing someone to climb inside.
Bicycle carts play an important role in other ways in this project. Specially adapted carts are used to collect kitchen waste from homes, that is used to create compost for farming, or digested to generate gas for cooking, piped to homes close by.
In communities where safe drinking water is still a dream, bicycle carts bring clean water to be sold for drinking and cooking. So whether its bringing clean water, removing waste or sludge, the bicycle still has the power to transform poor communities. Helping poor communities access appropriate technologies is still a key part of our work, and a key part of the puzzle in achieving a state of technology justice – where technology is used to for the benefit of all.No Comments » | Add your comment