Archive for May, 2010

232 reasons not to give up

Friday, May 28th, 2010 by

Six months have passed since the Copenhagen climate change talks. They were billed as our best hope for a better, fairer and safer world. But this ‘decision-time’ failed to result in any ambitious or binding decisions.

Instead there is stalling on the world stage (but no stalling of our CO2 emissions or their deadly impact on the world’s poorest families).

So what now?

It’s certainly not time to give up. If the families living in the high hills of Nepal, the river embankments of Bangladesh or the desert plains of Kenya are to survive and adapt, we can’t give up.

Here in the UK, the new Parliament means it’s time to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again“.

 232 new MPs – that’s 232 decision-makers who we need to convince that the impacts of climate change are unjust but not inevitable.

 At Practical Action, we’ll be drawing attention to the impact of climate change on poor communities and calling for action, now. And you have a crucial role to play too – millions of women and men will be counting on you.

Helen Marsh


Europe needs to step up on climate change!

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by

The European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard did her best yesterday with the Commission to show that European business and national interests would benefit from Europe setting a target of -30% reductions in emissions. The additional investment costs would only be an additional €11bn a year – with long term benefits in terms of leading on green energy.

It isn’t just Europe that would benefit either; at a lively panel discussion hosted by the ippr this morning, Steve Rayner (Director, Science, Innovation and society) said that it was crucial that we put much more funding for green energy, in order to bring down the costs of technologies such as wind and solar. This would then make it cheaper for countries such as China and India to continue to develop while reducing their emissions.

Of course, another stumbling block is large scale international finance to help these countries – but the UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF for short) is working on that, we hope. It really is urgent for Europe to set an example as a developed country that low carbon technologies can deliver – as we are still on a pathway to a climate disaster for millions of people in developing countries by 2100 if we don’t move quickly to transform our economies and support adaptation.

‘Fuel poverty’ fuels poverty

Monday, May 24th, 2010 by

A friend of mine celebrated a landmark birthday at the weekend. We reminisced, over jelly and ice cream, then focused on the future: what will our lives look like at our next big birthdays, in 10 or 20 years time?

Right now, I’m embarking on a new adventure. I’ve just started working on an exciting new project at Practical Action – focusing on access to energy. It’s shocking to learn that today almost 2 billion people, a third of the world’s population, live without electricity. But it’s an outrage to hear that the figure is likely to be the same in 20 years time.

How can poor families plan for their futures if one of their basic necessities – energy – isn’t even recognised, never mind addressed?

At Practical Action, we know that access to energy is one of the most effective ways of lifting people out of poverty – permanently. How is it possible then, that in 2 decades from now we are expecting so little progress to be made? And not demanding a different outcome?   

So it’s time to take a stand – in the coming months we’ll be inviting you to do the same. It’s our best hope for providing poor women and men with the chance to envisage a different future for their families – one in which they are no longer powerless.

Helen Marsh

Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world

Friday, May 21st, 2010 by

Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the worldWise words from Nelson Mandela but there is now real concern in the world of development education that DFID simply doesn’t agree. On Monday DFID’s new Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, announced cuts to the funding of current development awareness projects, the suspension of the Global Development Engagement Fund, a freeze on new awareness projects and a review of all other UK projects against ‘tough results-based criteria’

 This comes just two months after a report by the DEA (Development Education Association)which provided clear evidence of the vital role global learning has to play in shaping peoples attitudes and behaviour towards international development and sustainability (see previous blog)

Many NGOs are concerned what this means for the new government’s commitment to engaging and educating the public about development.  For us at Practical Action this has no immediate effect on our core education work although we were partners in one of the projects that have been cut, the School Global Gardens Network. We are working with the RISC who led the project to see what can be salvaged of the work carried out so far. 

The DEA have contacted the Secretary of State for an urgent meeting to discuss the announcements.  I will keep you updated on any further developments.

Alien nation

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by

Practical Action is renowned for our work on stoves. Our stove work has improved the lives of millions of people across Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and beyond. Now our stove work is Sudan is being recognised as part of an exhibition at the prestigious Smithsonian Museum.

But why are stoves important? There are lots of reasons: 

  • Improved stoves use less wood and so ease the burden on women who are the main fuel collectors. Women can walk up to 12Km a day to find wood – not only a back breaking task but they may also face attack and rape as they look for fuel.
  • The stoves reduce the amount of killer smoke. Unbelievably indoor air pollution, as it’s officially called, kills 1.6 million people a year – mainly mums and their kids
  • It’s better for the environment  – improved stoves emit less CO2
  • Women need to cook food – I have seen a stat that says that 90% of the food we eat needs to be cooked.

Women stove makers in SudanWhy are our stoves so good? Surprisingly maybe I am not going to argue they are the best – there are lots of options and designs out there, some commercially manufactured. I honestly have no idea which is the best – of course I think ours. The big difference with our stoves is that they are low cost and appropriate. They are made out of materials communities can access easily and we train women’s groups to make them and where appropriate set up small businesses to sell.

 I am not an expert but some time ago now a guy I knew said that imported metal stove worked better in Sudan. I was wary of ‘imported’ but even so spoke with our energy expert. He explained that while metal stoves had some advantages the big problem was cost – it was outside the budget of the women we work with and so unsustainable. Our stoves are made by local women out of locally accessible clay so can be used by anyone.  Our stoves are local and affordable. A simple idea that works.

 We also help the women to use the stove in a way that further reduces fuel use for example burning dry wood can save an extra 25%, simmering rather than boiling also takes less fuel; also simple advice such as cutting food into small pieces etc.

I will argue for our stove any day – its making a real difference in the lives of women in Sudan.  

So if you do happen to be in New York – go and see the stove in the ‘Why Design Now‘ exhibition which runs until 9th January 2011.

Challenging the current community-based management concept of water points in Zimbabwe

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by

This is a discussion about the Community Based Management (CBM) of water supply in Zimbabwe.  The discussion is partially based on the expereinces from MVURA, a water management project in Gokwe, Zimbabwe implemented by Practical Action in partnership with Welt Hunger Hilfe. 

Gokwe community members constructing a water source

Community Based Management of water supply facilities has been accepted among policy makers, development practitioners and NGOs in Zimbabwe as the route to sustainable water supply and sanitation facilities interventions. This is based on the idea of the ability of community management to engender a sense of ownership of the water point, which in turn motivates the community to responsibly manage the water point.

CBM is based on expectations of the community being responsible for the operation and maintenance of the water points, contributing and raising funds for these activities and at times contributing to the initial cost of implementation. These ideas are based on assumption of communities being endlessly resourceful in terms of resources such as finances, time, knowledge and innovativeness.

CBM of water points in Zimbabwe, in its current context, has and will largely continue to fail to sustainably provide water services for our rural population apart from very few isolated cases of victory. The conclusions reached are as a result of the experiences in Gokwe South, Nkayi and Masvingo province (which houses Chivi district where CBM was piloted) over a time period of six years. The method used to reach these conclusions is the sustainability of the overall community based maintenance which seems to be on the brink of collapse. After well over a decade of experience with CBM, most evidence is pointing to the failure of community management of rural water points in Zimbabwe. Comparison is also made of the CBM approach to the centralised system of maintenance especially after the lessons learnt in the centralised maintenance phase.  

Five key factors that affect the sustainability of the water points will be taken into consideration when analysing the effectiveness of the CBM approach. These are:

  • downtime of the water points (reliability)
  • institutional arrangements
  • human capacity development
  • enabling policy environment
  • financing mechanisms

It is also important to note at this stage that due consideration has been given to the other factors outside the CBM concept that have impacted negatively on its implementation. The collapse of the Zimbabwean economy has been the major factor contributing to the downfall of the CBM approach. It is also however equally important to note that the current CBM concept in Zimbabwe has its own inherent short comings which have also contributed to its ‘downfall’.

Terence Chanakira,
Water & Sanitation projects,
Practical Action Southern Africa

5 people who might change the world?

Friday, May 7th, 2010 by

Do you have a dream team who give you hope? With the UK election results out today I have been thinking about what if anything this means for development and poverty reduction. The three protagonists trying to establish the new government all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Reflecting on them made me think about my dream team to change the world for the better.

If you could pick just 5 people to be your champions to end poverty across the world – who would you choose?


Zimbabwe update

Friday, May 7th, 2010 by

Last November I visited a school in Zimbabwe which was trying to provide an education for kids mainly displaced by the ‘slum’ clearance in Harare. The school didn’t have a certificate to operate fully as they didn’t have enough proper loos.  Without the certificate kids – and their desks and chairs – had to be bussed to another school for exams – plus the school was missing out on their full budget.  Practical Action was building loos at the school for boys, girls and teachers.

I’ve just heard that the school now has all their certificates and is fully and properly registered – and the kids are rejoicing at being able to have exams at their school.

I have a 13 year old daughter and I marvel to think of kids rejoicing at exams – I also think its brilliant as these children offer hope for Zimbabwe.

Nice at the end of a week to rejoice at good news


What we liked about BBC’s Bombay Railway

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 by

This is a great programme, with a lot of feeling, depth, information and humor. A documentary with a difference – no doubt.

The programme clearly shows that there are always two sides of basic services and infrastructure provision – in this case urban railways.

One side is about meeting the transport needs of commuters and the other side is about livelihoods it can create/ destroy for the poorest. These two dimensions are very well combined in this series. Many governments and technology experts may not combined this very well – but it is reality. Thousands of unwanted hawkers on trains, railway stations, thousands of manual railway workers and many people who could be evicted if Bombay railway is going to expand. Once we overcome this integration, the economic growth can benefit many millions of the poor.

Practical Action, in their access to improved services and governance programmes, analyse on the basis of more holistic picture, which includes both access and livelihoods. In the same way, as very well combined in this BBC series on railways.   

For more details and our insight on these issues, do not hesitate to contact Mansoor Ali at

Mansoor Ali
International Project Manager

Stuart in Moyobamba, San Martin, Peru

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 by

On Tuesday 11 May I am travelling to Moyobamba to review potential approaches and methods with the team led by Javier Angulo, on the BLF funded project.  They are working to resolve a series of  land conflicts between the indigenous Awajun people and incoming settlers.

As well as talking about some key project issues I’ll try to give  a flavour of the culture, food, production, sights and way of life in the upper rainforest belt of Peru.

Saludos (Cheers)