Archive for May, 2012

Energy inspires

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by

I had an inspiring day at yesterday’s Ashden conference. The focus of the day was on changing public attitudes and behaviour to encourage sustainability and there was a fantastic variety of projects on show demonstrating this, from the UK and worldwide. Who could have guessed that the National Trust were able to cut energy use at their properties in Wales by 40%?!  If they can do this with all the barriers of heritage planning, anyone can.

Common features were community participation and engagement from the earliest planning stage and taking people along with you as the project develops. Clear objectives and good internal and external communications were key.

A highlight for me was talking to Tri Mumpuni (pictured left) of Indonesian group IBEKA, who develops community owned micro hydro schemes (a familiar concept to us at Practical Action) in Indonesia.  Her sheer persistence with the authorities in her country has resulted in delivering 61 schemes, providing clean, renewable energy to 54,000 people.  Other organisations were energetically distributing low cost solar lights and chargers, ceramic water filters and microfinance for renewable energy systems.

But the most obvious quality on display was passion – for sustainability, for their projects and above all to help improve the lives of others.  With energy high on the agenda at the Rio+20 summit in June, it is uplifting to discover that there are so many people out there making a difference. With their help and enthusiasm Energy for All by 2030 may just be an achievable goal.

Cashing the trash

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by

Globally, urbanisation is accelerating at an unprecedented scale. In 2007, the proportion of people who lived in urban areas exceeded the people in rural areas. In Asia, the similar situation will happen by 2030.

In this context, the problem of solid waste management is escalating hand in hand with urbanisation.  In most of the urban centres of developing countries, waste management is often limited to street sweeping and disposing waste into open areas like river bank, low land or in any open spaces.

Urbanisation in Nepal is not an exception, with an urban population of 3 per cent in 1954 and increased by more than 6 fold in 2012. Municipalities who are responsible for the waste management often blame on unavailability of landfill site when the question comes on effective waste management. In fact, a decentralised waste management system is more favourable than a centralised system in terms of socio-economic aspects.

A compost plant of Ramnagar 12, Butwal Municipality is an example of decentralised waste management. The plant is developed according to the principle of household centered environmental sanitation (HCES). The main two principles of HCES are considering waste as resource and solving environmental problems as near as it creates.

The compost plant has demonstrated how waste can be treated as a resource. A community of 400 households separate waste as organic and inorganic. Organic waste is converted into compost and most of the inorganic waste is sold to scrap dealers. In this way, there is income from waste as well as contributing to a cleaner environment. It also reduces the cost for the management of waste to the local authority.

The scheme handles about 1 per cent of the waste of whole municipality. However, scaling up of such practice will definitely reduce a huge amount of the expenditure of the local authorities in managing waste. At the same time, it will cut off a huge amount of greenhouse gas (methane) into the environment contributing to the climate change. Further, it will significantly reduce environmental pollution including surface and ground water pollution, as waste is generally disposed in the bank of river Tinau.

Zimbabwe Blessings

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by

I’ve just come across an old note book in which I scrawled interview notes when I visited Zimbabwe. Its two years ago now but I recall each conversation so well. I’ve just written another blog that pretty much said how disheartened I was thinking about the lack of progress towards the Rio +20 summit next month. Flicking through this note book lifted my spirits. So I thought I’d share just one conversation.

This is just some of my notes when talking with a lady called Blessing.

“How I feel about Practical Action is hard to express, people around here are very happy, we never expected such a thing, we are very happy.

This is so much connected with the development of the area. I was born here in 1963 and it’s nice to see your area grow. There was no school here. I had to go away to school and stay away from my family. We got a school in 1992. We got houses for teachers next. Now working with Practical Action we get electricity. It’s great!

One day we will have someone from here working for Practical Action. We need to develop, we want to grow, and we are just too excited. We have great kids one day one of them will work for Practical Action. With electricity there are so many ways we can develop the area and our businesses. I can promise you we will develop. With electricity we have a chance. “

Tim Smit at the Eden project talks about walking your vision – keeping it in your mind and just going for it. That’s kind of what Blessing was doing – over a long period of time – rejoicing in a school build 18 years ago, thinking of her children or grandchildren working for Practical Action.

We need politicians to have long term vision – but as they are representatives of us we need to show them that we have and are open to long term thinking.

We have lots to learn from Blessing – who is truly well named.

‘Seperated at Birth , reunited at Rio’ – ODI

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by

‘Separated at birth, reunited at Rio’

What a great title for an article by ODI (Overseas Development Institute) Loved the title – not sure about the premise which is that environmental concerns and development have up until now been viewed separately. I can see where ODI are coming from – separate policies, normally separate government departments etc. but on the ground the reality is that development and environment are interlinked. But maybe that’s just for Practical Action. I can, of course, think of development initiatives that have trampled over environmental concerns – they aren’t in short supply.

The poorest people are nearly always forced to live on the most marginalised land – land most susceptible to environmental shocks, be it changes in rain patterns leading to uncertain and sometimes no harvest, land so steep it’s vulnerable to landslides, etc. For this reason, and many others environment and development are intrinsically lined.

Personally, I’m deeply worried about Rio – we seem to be postponing yet again vital decisions to protect our planet and tackle poverty. There seems to be a lack of urgency, I understand that so little progress has been made towards agreed outcomes that the ‘sherpa’s’ (pre planners) have asked for another week to prepare and even then are making worrying noises!

It’s not that I care about the meeting but it did seem to be an opportunity to deliver vital change, to reinvigorate sustainable development –for poor people and for everyone – and to paraphrase an old song ‘if you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere …‘

Summer conferences here we come!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by

This summer the schools team at Practical Action will be attending three great conferences to promote our resources.

The Eco-Schools Show is the single largest sustainable schools event in England, attracting almost 3000 attendees.  Held on the 26th June at the Sheffield Arena it will be the first time we have attended.  We are looking forward to introducing a new audience of teachers to our work.

Then on 5th and 6th of July I will be at the ASE National Technicians’ conference in York.  We know how influential science technicians can be in what gets taught in schools and have received some really good feedback from them in the past.  Many technicians are now getting involved in setting up STEM (science , technology , engineering and maths) clubs and find our STEM challenges are perfect  activities for their clubs.

On 6th and 7th  of July (early July is a busy time for us!) my colleague Bren will be at the DATA conference in Keele University.  Our sustainability materials are very well respected within the D &T community and this year we have a fresh new look to the D&T area of our website making it much easier to find resources. In addition we have a range of new eco-tools to help students assess the sustainability of existing products or their own projects

Please do book your place at one of these conferences and come and say hello to us.  We will have lots of posters and inspiring ideas for you to take away.


Third European Report on Development (2011-12)

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by

This report is released recently and considered to have a major say in the development policy. This is available at;

While, I am still reading it, but out of excitement, can’t stop myself writing this blog. Part of my excitement, is to see a number of priorities in the report which Practical Action has been asking for, piloting in our countries of work and building capacity of our partners.

First of all, the report is asking for an integrated thinking on water, land and energy, so called – The WEL Nexus. This is at the heart of what we do, as one action in a place may have a positive or negative impact at another place, group or another time. All is interlinked.

Second is putting forward an agenda for change, an agenda of inclusive growth. The growth which could increase livelihoods of the poor and most importantly making the private sector business model more inclusive.

Then finally, what I really liked about the report is what it is saying on the combination of public and private sector actions. Not just leaving this to the markets to sort out. My reading and reflection continue and will update you in my next blog.

The day when we all learn and share

Monday, May 21st, 2012 by

Wednesday 23rd of May is an important day for Practical Action staff. Officially, it is called a review day and I call it a day of collective learning and sharing. The whole organisation and everyone, dedicate this day to look back and reflect. I love this day for many reasons. The most important reasons is this is about the quality of our work and its impact. It brings everyone together. We all become ‘learners’. Without any doubt, we could not move forward if we do not reflect back and learn. This is also a day, when we celeberate our achievements. Looking forward!

Energy access: Old challenges – new rhetoric?

Friday, May 18th, 2012 by

When the UN announced its target ‘Energy for All by 2030’, I thought the opportunity for billions of rural in isolated areas has arrived. I also though small scale energy options, small standalone schemes, micro and mini grids, efficient and cleaner cooking technologies will be high priorities in the years and decades to come.

It is early to predict failure of success on meeting such an ambitious but much needed target. However, concerns start arising when I see that small scale technologies and decentralised energy schemes are not yet the focus of discussions. For example, during the First Africa-EU Energy Partnership Stakeholders Forum held recently in Cape Town, the focus of the discussions was on large renewable energy schemes, interconnections, power pool regulations, private sector investment and other issues mainly related to energy security, rather than energy for isolated rural populations. This is despite  that the majority of participants where African Stakeholders and despite  the fact that one of the targets of the AEEP is to provide Energy Access to 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.

As an energy access advocate and long term practitioner I only hope that ‘Energy for All’ is not a new rhetoric for an old challenge, but in coming future, small scale technologies, micro grid, small standalone energy schemes, forest management, efficient cooking technologies come to the forefront of the discussions in all energy policy and strategy discussions.

With that mind, as long term energy access for the poor practitioner and advocate, I have decided to blog more frequently, and exchange ideas with the large community of energy access for the poor advocates.

“A baby in Bangladesh cries in just the same way as a baby here in London”

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by

Over the last week or so I have spent lots of time out of the office meeting lots of different people to talk with them about Practical Action’s work. I love this part of my job – acting as an ambassador for Practical Action and inspiring people in the hope that they will support us. At the end of one meeting yesterday a dynamic young guy who had been asking lots of questions about our work suddenly said:

“A baby in Bangladesh cries in just the same way as a baby here in London”

His words have been sparkling through my thoughts for the last 24 hours. They are so completely true. Sometimes when you read about the difficulties that people living in poverty endure – losing their makeshift homes to raging monsoons, or making impossible choices about whether to feed children or animals, or knowingly drinking dirty water because that’s all there is – these challenges are so far removed from our daily lives here in the UK that empathy can be difficult. And giving money to help people overseas overcome their poverty is harder still.

But being born into abject poverty – or not – is a matter of chance. Or as Scarlett Johansson, actress and ambassador for Oxfam, said in December 2011 after visiting the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya:

“We’re all the product of our circumstance, and it’s just really by pure luck, that some of us were born in societies where we’re able to have a hot shower, where we have rights for women, where we aren’t in a state of war, or constantly struggling to find our next meal and feed our children. But it could just as easily been any one of us.”

So those people who are fearing this year’s floods in Bangladesh, or the families in Sudan who will go to bed hungry tonight, or the refugees who are still living in the Dadaab camp – they’re not different from you and me. Just distant. And because of that distance it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.

The young dynamic guy who I met yesterday also told me that if all the trees in the Amazon were chopped down, all human beings would eventually suffocate to death, due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Now I’m not sure of the exact science behind this, but it’s an interesting point. A small change a million miles away can impact directly on your life. And equally, small actions here can bring huge transformation for the people that need it most.

For example – you donating £8 today (which is what – 3 coffees a month?)  could mean a family in Bangladesh can plant a floating garden which will enable them to grow enough food to eat all year round – even during the floods.

Simple solutions to complex problems

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 by

Conflicts between moving populations with livestock and settled farmers groups are common in many parts of the world.

Practical Action Sudan has developed and tested an approach to mark the pastoralist routes more clearly and have negotiated this with the farmers around the routes.

This involved complex negotiations but led to something simple, which works. The routes are marked with colored poles and provides a visible mark for all the parties involved. This approach has great potential to reduce conflicts.