Blogs tagged as technology justice

  • The Gravity of GRAVITY


    June 8th, 2018

    Life in high hills and mountains is not very simple. Access to resources, market, education to even health and other basic services are bleak due to treacherous geography; not to mention, how hard even commuting for the locals can become through the steep hills and cliffs. In absence of much prospect, many are compelled to live at edge of poverty. We have come across many people who have outlived great challenges with so much persistence and struggle. Their life stories inspire us every day to work harder and motivate us to do more to make life better for them.

    The Hardships of Hill, Belkosha’s Story

    In many stories, one of Belkosha Bohora from Tilagufa Village in Kalikot might captivate your sentiments too. She seems happy and content at first glance, but listening to how she went through the thick and thin of her life, anyone can feel dejected. Growing up in the parched hills of Kalikot, all she saw in life was the hardships the hills had to offer; in form of loss of childhood, no education and no alternative but to marry early and of course make a bunch of babies. With no option other than to work at the fields carrying fertilisers heavier than her, half her life went by foraging, farming and taking care of the cattle. In patriarchal society that is so deep rooted, men were not expected to take care of the babies she gave birth to almost every year after her marriage. That’s why she was not just a full time mom for year after another but also full time labour until the last day of her delivery and as early as 5 days after the delivery. Overworked and ‘un’cared, Belkosha lost 8 of her 12 babies to the hardships of the hill until eventually her uterus prolapsed.

    Belkosha Bohora (40) from Kalikot who lost 8 out of 12 children due to drudgery, Photo: G Archana

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Gravity Goods Ropeway

    But in the forty years of her life, she is finally going to feel rested. We are making it easy for women like Belkosha by bringing a pulley technology at the village that lie at the top of vertical peak. In Nepal, roads alone cannot guarantee access to services for the most marginalised and isolated communities like Belkosha’s. Gravity Goods Ropeways (GGR) is simplest form of rope based transportation system that works on the proven principle of a controlled freefall mechanism, GRAVITY. It is operated by potential energy of mass at upper station, generating kinetic energy by the action of pulley systems. Through GGR, people can easily transport goods from uphill to downhill and the other way round. Similar technology has been installed in Tipada of Bajura District where people are making most out of the system. We have witnessed people’s life changed since the technology directly affects farmer’s livelihood by bringing the market closer. Many farmers who were subsistence based have started commercial vegetable farming since they can easily transport the goods downhill in less than two minutes instead of hours and hours in the steep hills which have claimed lives of many. This simple to operate, low cost solution requires minimum maintenance and is indeed changing lives of many.

    Gravity Goods Ropeway being operated in Bajura, Photo: S Kishore

     

    The pulley system is being installed with financial support of project named BICAS, implemented by Practical Action with funding support of the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA)

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  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23


    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • Why is Loss and Damage critical?

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

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

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

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

    PPEO

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

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

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

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

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

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

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  • The first instalment of “A Google free month” – ask nicely


    September 9th, 2016

    Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? The one that asks the question ‘what if she never caught that train?’

    A colleague and I were exchanging ‘what if’ questions recently and I told her my favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if Coca Cola was never invented?’ I started outlining my current theory which includes a lot of yoghurt-based drinks like India’s Lassi or Turkey’s Ayran.

    My colleague told me her dad’s favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if there was no Google?’ We both rolled our eyes of course, laughing at what a typical dad-type question that was. Amidst the sarcastic giggling, there was something about this question that struck a chord. Being the life-hack addict I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to once again experiment on myself and I decided then and there to abstain from Google and all other search engines for a month.

    Google Emma BellI started excitedly buzzing about my plan to ‘go Google-less’ and a friend suggested that I fundraise off the back of my crazy experiment and donate to Practical Action’s Technology Justice work. Given my tendency to give up on things halfway, I figured fundraising for a worthy cause would spur me on to achieve my goal so I set up a Just Giving page and the rest is history.

    Actually, I only wish it was history – my experiment started just a few days ago, at the beginning of September…

    If I’m honest, I had very little idea what it would be like without instant access to information apart from the obvious: London would be tough to navigate without Google Maps, my poor memory of song/band names would be exposed once and for all and (the most scary perhaps) I would never know when to take my umbrella with me. Less than a week into my ‘Life before Google’ experiment, I am already on quite a different type of adventure.

    If I could name one thing that has truly impacted me so far it would be the simple act of asking for help. Instead of feeling ‘help-less’, asking friends and family for information has made me feel much more warmth and connection with other people in my life. Today I asked my Colombian friend to translate the word ‘Chévere’ which I had seen being used online. His answer was: ‘it’s a very Colombian word. It means “cool” or pleasant, nice, fun… yeh, more like cool and fun’. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of his wonderful, personalised answer and the subtle shades of meaning he conveyed – a far more enjoyable experience than frantically using Google Translate in the cab en route to an Airbnb.

    Asking for help is sometimes a bit scary too, especially when you think you already know the answer. For example, I am forever getting confused between sea bass and sea bream. Last night I was convinced that I’d finally remembered the long skinny one (my favourite) was called sea bream. Unfortunately my boyfriend was of the opinion that this was actually sea bass. After several minutes of debate, I habitually reached for my phone but then remembered: no Google during September. There I was in the kitchen, the realisation slowly dawning on me that I might have no other option than to trust my boyfriend (at least for September). A scary thought for someone like me who is always right!

    I remember my dad saying to me once that when people can help you, it makes them feel really special. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks I’m about to make a lot of people feel special. Either that or they will stop answering the phone when they see who’s calling them to ask for help… again.

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  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love


    August 5th, 2016

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

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

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

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

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

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

    1. Covered shelters:

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

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

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

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

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    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

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

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

    3. Breeding pens:

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

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    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

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

    4. Market access and product diversification:

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

     

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

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

    5. Training and knowledge:

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

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

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  • 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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  • Technology Justice is critical to reduce risk for the poorest


    February 7th, 2016

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

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

    technology

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

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

    technology tramsformation

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

    Technology Justice Call to Action

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

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

     

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