Archive for January, 2011

Sudan: referendum and recovery

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by

The initial results of the referendum have been announced and it looks like Southern Sudan will gain secession (separation).

However, poverty across Sudan will not disappear and it is important that our work here continues says Mohamed Majzoub Fidiel, Country Director, Practical Action Sudan.

Historically, Practical Action was the first NGO that came to Sudan in 1976 and started work in Juba-South Sudan. Practical Action now works in eastern Sudan in Kassala State, western Sudan in North Darfur State, and in the Blue Nile State.

Unlike other countries, Sudan has much less colonial influence. Private sector development by colonial settlers did not take place to any significant extent which resulted in little agricultural or industrial development. Also, the volume of region trade has not been high and the flow of international development assistance has been reduced recently for political reasons.

The prolonged civil war in the south was a drain human and financial resources. As a result, small scale producers have flourished making use of the restrictions brought by modern development and trade. The small scale producers have and continue to provide the majority of the basic needs (food, shelter and production tools) of the people of Sudan.

Traditional skills have passed down and developed to meet the changing conditions through innovation and adaptation.

There are also very few NGOs working in the field of development in Sudan. Their development assistance remained very low so, there is a role for Practical Action to foster greater communication between those organisations to enhance their impacts.

After the referendum, the needs of the south will be immense. The demand for Practical Action work will increase in terms of infrastructure services, especially shelter, energy and transport. Other means of livelihoods also rank as priority as people in the south live at subsistence level and lots of them live as ‘hunters and gatherers’.

We will observe improvements in the security situation in the south and get involved where we can.

Practical Action may be impacted negatively by the referendum. If the south is separated, donors will increase funds to rebuild the south. Lots of this money will come from the amounts initially allocated for the ‘one country’. Donor countries may go for sanctions against North Sudan as there are some signs of that already. If this happens, donors will fund only emergency relief and maybe some basic services in war affected zones. Opportunities for development will be eliminated and we will have to depend on non-institutional donors again.

Because we are worth it, or what would Fritz say?

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by

‘The Price of Everything’, a book reviewed in yesterday’s Sunday Times, horrified me. Everything was costed – relationships, printer ink, sex, children, women working, even a year of a person’s life in different parts of the world. £2,028 for a year of good health in India compared to £29,000 in the UK.

I have an inherent abhorrence of this reductionist view. You can’t describe or value people in purely monetary terms. Or rather maybe you can but in my view it’s wrong. This obsession with money devalues all of us.

People want their material needs satisfied – food, shelter, education, access to basic services and so on – but beyond this the quality of people’s relationships, their ability to contribute to society, the respect of fellow citizens and living in peace with your neighbours are all vitally important and cannot be measured in purely monetary terms.

It feels slightly strange railing against a book; it’s rare that I am so annoyed. Particularly as Practical Action was founded by an economist – the author of Small is Beautiful’, Fritz Schumacher. Fritz’s view was fundamentally opposite to that set out in this book: he argued that everything couldn’t be costed, and that in trying to relate everything to the market we devalued ourselves, with everything equated to everything else.

One quote from Fritz that I love and that encourages me to think big is:

‘The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds, If they are mainly small, weak superficial and incoherent our life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty and chaotic.’

I wonder what he would have said about interpreting the world in its totality though the lens of money.


Bringing water to Nepal’s parched hills

Friday, January 7th, 2011 by

Scarcity of water for irrigation is one of the hindrances to increase their farm productivity that people are facing in the hills of Nepal. Earlier water sources use to be available most time of the year and water table was higher but now due to the unpredictable rainfall pattern these water sources only lasts for few months. To increase the coping capacity of the poor smallholder producers Practical Action in Nepal is promoting low-cost water harvesting ponds and irrigation canals. Recently in the remote areas of Nepal with financial support of the European Union the HELP Food Security project constructed 42 irrigation schemes in three remote districts of Nepal. These irrigation schemes provided irrigation facilities to 450 hectares of land. Local user groups are managing these infrastructures with very low level of external supports. Due to the facility crop intensity and diversity has increased which has ultimately resulted in better production and ensured food security of the target households. We hope the New Year will bring prosperity and build confidence of the poor households to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty.