Archive for July, 2013

If investment in building resilience is a no brainer, why aren’t we doing it!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 by

If investment in building resilience is a no brainer, why aren’t we doing it!

The increasing incidence of natural disasters and complex emergencies has been accompanied by reports highlighting the economic benefits of investing in building resilience. The first widely recognised was “The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review”[1] which was published in 2006. The review estimated that if we fail to act, the overall costs of climate change will be the equivalent of losing at least 5% although potentially up to 20% of global GDP each year, now and forever. What does that mean? Well in nominal terms, the total 2012 global GDP was around £47.3 trillion[2]; with disasters and losses resulting from climate change already costing £2.4 to £9.5 trillion a year. The review also contained the clear message that there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and forego these colossal losses, unfortunately while politicians continue to debate the pros and cons at the UNFCCC the sacrifices necessary to realise these savings remain unfeasible, trapping poor people in developing countries in increasing risk.

Flooded road

Transport difficulties resulting from flooding in the isolated Turkana District, near Kakuma, Northern Kenya

Recently, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) published the 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR13) which not only reviewed new data sets but also collected data from SME’s in disaster-prone locations and found that the direct losses from floods, earthquakes and drought since the turn of the century are in the range of £1.6 trillion[3]. These estimates differ from the Stren review because they are measuring different impacts. Climate change can exacerbate not only the frequency and intensity of natural disasters it can also affect agriculture, human health, etc. Therefore, inaction is costing us money and during a time of global financial hardship, action could stimulate necessary long term investments that generate huge savings.

Bangladesh river bank stability

Much needed investment to construct flood protection embankments as here in northern Bangladesh, protecting lives and livelihoods

Despite this evidence that climate change is exacerbating disasters and that these disasters are undermining global economic growth there is still a lack of political action. Some of the reasons for this may be around concerns of reaching the most vulnerable, or uncertainty over what are the right responses measures, or even fears that investments would be wasted by responding to incorrect forecasts of an imminent disaster that fails to materialise. There are numerous other reasons why an agreement is proving difficult, for a recent perspective check out

To try to better understand the benefits of action and the costs of inaction, DFID examined the economics of resilience building in five countries. The results of this study “Cost Effectiveness of Early Humanitarian Response and Building Resilience” were presented at Christian Aid office in London on Wednesday 10th July. This presentation clearly indicated that early action is a no brainer. Broadly speaking, investment in early response and/or building the resilience of communities to cope with risk in disaster prone areas is more cost-effective than meeting the costs of a humanitarian response. The study began in Kenya and Ethiopia[4] and then added Bangladesh, Mozambique and Niger. The research compared three scenarios in a drought prone area: 1) the costs of a humanitarian intervention; 2) early response taken when warning of an imminent drought was identified, and; 3) investment in long term activities to build resilience to cope with drought. The report found that benefit to cost ratios varied between £2.3 benefit generated for every £1 spent in Niger up to £55.9 for each £1 in Mozambique. The analysis used very conservative figures, so in practice the savings would be considerably higher.

Nepal road construction

Women in Nepal working on a irrigation scheme as part of an on-going Practical Action project “Mainstreaming Livelihood Centered Approach to Disaster Risk Reduction”

The study highlights the need for all donor support to focus on building development capacity and not leaving anyone behind. Development projects need to be flexible enough to deliver humanitarian assistance during times of hardship and humanitarian assistance needs to integrate long term development outcomes in their delivery of crisis assistance, one example of this way of working in EMMA the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis toolkit, which enables humanitarian projects to respond to disasters while not undermining existing local markets and capacities[5]. This new way of working will require breaking down the silos between humanitarian and development thinking so that integrated long term assistance can be delivered that focusses on the needs on the ground and not on the delivery of a predetermined logical framework of goals and objectives. This will require a new approach to projects in which project planning, management, accountability and financing processes are flexible and allow the project team to adapt to the circumstances on the ground. Project management systems will need to be able to ensure that delivery is focussed on fluctuating objectives that reflect both development aspirations during times of stability while delivering on humanitarian needs during times of crisis.

This is the challenge ahead, one that most of the development sector recognises and is a topic of exploration as part of the DFID and UK NGO learning partnerships under the PPA learning groups, you can follow us on twitter @ppa_learning.

Alpaca farming in Peru

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by

I recently watched Kate Humble’s excellent episode of Wild Shepherdess, focusing on Alpaca farming in the High Andes of Peru.

What was most striking about the programme was the difficulty people face in maintaining their livelihoods with the spectre of modern life looming large.

Certainly, we at Practical Action have been working with communities in the region for many years, supporting them as they try to reconcile their traditional way of life with the demands of the 21st Century.

And while Kate certainly enjoyed, or perhaps endured, a taste of life as a shepherdess in the region, her experiences brought to mind a shepherdess I have worked with over the years.

The story of an alpaca shepherdess

Gabriela lives in the Peruvian Andean community of Negro Mayo, Ayacucho. She’s 27. She has one love in life – her alpacas. She loves them because they are her family, her livelihood, her reason for being.

She said: “My dream is to improve my alpacas, which are everything to me. They clothe me and they are my livelihood. If I treat them well my life will improve even more.”

Practical Action has been working with Gabriela to make her dream come true.

Life in the high Andes of Peru

It is impossible to adequately describe the environment in which Gabriela lives. The living conditions are very hard. High in the Andean mountains, some 3,500 metres above sea level, winters see temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees.

Climate change is causing colder weather in the Andean mountains of Peru, making it difficult for the vulnerable farming communities living there to survive

The land is barren, capable of producing little more than potatoes. Homes are made of mud with no basic services. Families struggle daily to make enough money from selling the wool from their alpacas.

The commitment these families make to their alpaca livelihoods under such difficult circumstances is moving.

We have supported a number of alpaca communities in Peru to improve their livelihoods and quality of life by providing appropriate technologies in the production management of alpaca breeding, improving their wool and crops, the grasslands that the alpacas graze on and improving the market access.

We have also worked with them to introduce basic services such as dry composting toilets, bio-sand filters to provide clean water, improved stoves that don’t emit smoke which was polluting their homes and Trombe walls that can heat their homes when the cold weather strikes.

Practical Action has been training people like Gabriela to become Kamayoqs (para-vets). Together, we have helped alpaca farmers learn how to best care for alpacas and how to earn a better living from the sale of their wool.

Gabriela said: “People were selected and invited to join the Kamayoq School so that they could be taught various techniques to improve the food security rate of their families and transmit their knowledge to their people. My community chose me. I suppose they consider me a responsible person.

“I did not know how to look after and maintain our pastures. We were taught to store water, taking more advantage of rain water as there is a shortage of water in this area. With good water and soil management, we Kamayoqs can set an example for our people, who are unaware that they are mistreating or abusing the countryside.

“Part of the teachings at the Kamayoq School is related to alpaca diseases. Now I can tell why alpacas are sick and why they die so quickly and what medicines should apply.

“We have learnt how to improve our breeding, mating white with white, brown with brown. This produces better quality wool.”

She said: “I am very grateful for the arrival of Practical Action because it is the first time anyone has shown concern for us.”

Realising the right to total sanitation: hybrid Community-Led Total Sanitation in Nakuru, Kenya

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 by

“I saw it as a calling. I can’t leave things the way they were,” said Francis Otiyo, youth leader and community health volunteer from Ponda Mali village in Rhonda.

Community Leaders at WEDC 2013He was speaking as part of the side event at the 36th WEDC conference in Nakuru, Kenya. He was there with four other community leaders, describing their part in making their settlements open-defecation free.

Mrs Ali, a village elder from Rhonda, explained what ‘total sanitation’ means to her: that it is about more than just adequate toilets, but also extends to handwashing with soap and running water, good drainage, safe collection of solid waste, and sufficient access to clean water. These are the dreams of the community, which they think they can begin to realise, helping their lives and those of their neighbours become healthier and more dignified. “We don’t want to eat each other’s shit any more,” they said.

Since the start of the project just over a year ago, Practical Action and Umande Trust have worked with a team of 140 community health volunteers, each responsible for around 500 people. Grace Oyamba from Kaptembwo described the steps they’ve taken so far.

Together with the project staff, they have carried out triggering activities with local residents (tenants) who have come up with action plans to decide how they are going to deal with open defecation and open dumping of pit contents into nearby drains and on open ground. They used demonstrations such as bringing food and placing it near some faeces, and seeing the flies moving from one to the other. They mapped their areas, identifying plots and open areas which are ‘hotspots’ of open defecation. They also worked together to come up with appropriate sanitation designs that will last, and to persuade landlords to invest. They have brought together the local administration, elders, chiefs and churches, and involved all the schools too.

Residents of one of the plots identified by community mapping as an open defecation hot-spot. There are 80 rooms, and only four functional toilets, which are in a very bad condition. The landlord is now in the process of applying for a loan for a new toilet block connected to septic tank.

Residents of one of the plots identified by community mapping as an open defecation hot-spot. There are 80 rooms, and only four functional toilets, which are in a very bad condition. The landlord is now in the process of applying for a loan for a new toilet block connected to septic tank.

The project team have made it easy for landlords to invest by facilitating them to take loans at a reasonable interest rate from a local bank. Together with representatives from different sections of the community, they have come up with a set of six sanitation designs which have been pre-approved by the council and which will suit the different circumstances found across the settlements.

They have also worked with pit emptiers to regularise the valuable work they do, make it safer for them, and find places where they can safely dispose of the pit contents. Life has changed for them too. Some find less need to get drunk before they can bear carrying out their work. At home perceptions are changing, with people seeing them working in a business that is accepted and respectable.

Mr Raja, a village elder from Rhonda, talked about the many challenges of working in an urban context. Residents are diverse and mobile. Many stakeholders need to be involved. Some landlords are also residents and can see the value of improving sanitation, but others are not living there, are hard to reach and hard to persuade – with some even being issued letters threatening legal action if they do not comply (as a last resort).

Robert Chambers, his wife Jenny and some of his colleagues visited Rhonda and Kaptembwo low-income settlements while they were in Nakuru for the WEDC conference, learning about the approach we are taking to applying CLTS in an urban context.

Robert Chambers,visiting Rhonda and Kaptembwo low-income settlements while in Nakuru for the WEDC conference, learning about the approach we are taking to applying Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) in an urban context.

The community were asked about whether any areas had achieved the status of being verified as Open Defecation Free (ODF). That will be audited by the Ministry of Health. “We are not there yet, but almost” they stated. “We know the OD hotspots through our mapping, and are focusing on the areas where the problems are the worst”.

It was suggested that some of the village names might have to change when that status is achieved, because they will no longer reflect a cleaner, brighter reality – names such as ‘Jasho’ meaning ‘sweat’ or ‘struggling’; and another area known as ‘sewage’. The community members valued the suggestion, but each name has its own history, and they are keen to hold onto that. But at the same time, they are looking forward to the day when they can celebrate their village gaining that precious ODF status.

In closing, Robert Chambers remarked “I am very, very impressed with what you have been able to achieve in just one year”. This was echoed by many of the other conference delegates. The experience of presenting to a large international audience and going away with many words of encouragement has given these local champions renewed energy for the tasks ahead. The target is that by mid-2015, 8 of the 13 villages will have been declared ODF.

For more information about this project, implemented in partnership with Umande Trust, and funded by Comic Relief, see:

Getting enough to drink in a heatwave

Monday, July 15th, 2013 by

At about midnight yesterday evening, realising I was still sweating I gave up on my book – I went into the kitchen and poured myself a pint of water. A good drink to get me through a mega hot night I thought.

No idea why but suddenly had an overwhelming sense of being lucky/fortunate/blessed that I could stroll 5 ish yards, turn a tap and get endless supplies of clean, fresh water.

I remembered the video I’d watched about how difficult it is for people getting water in the remote districts of Kenya. I recalled conversations with women in Darfur who talked about the sheer hard work for getting enough water to keep you going (and even then it was rationed) and how earlier this year in Nepal I talked with villagers whose lives had been transformed by access to water – for drinking, washing, watering their animals, irrigating their crops.

In Darfur I asked Uduru about what it was like to collect water – she put her hands first on her chest over her heart and then clasped them together on the back of her neck These were the places that really hurt when she walked for up to 5 hours to collect water – carrying what to us would be an old fashioned milkmaid’s yoke – now she has only to walk for 30 minutes to get water and so thinks it’s great!

In Kenya wells can be defended by armed guards and women attacked as they travel to collect water – a precious resource.

Clean water is an amazing benefit – rejoice that it is available to us in the UK and let’s commit to helping other people get enough to drink.

And as the hot spell continues do make sure you get enough to drink.

We’re delighted…

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 by

Since the current government announced its review of the National Curriculum for schools in England, it’s been a nail-biting time for the Design and Technology community.

At first, there was widespread uncertainty that the subject would exist in any shape or recognisable form…followed by drafts of the subject that presented concerns for many of us.

During the formal consultation period, Practical Action along with many other organisations submitted a response to the Department for Education (DfE).

This week the DfE has published the revised Design and Technology (D&T) programmes of study for KS1 to 3… and we’re delighted with it!

We believe that the new D&T curriculum will offer young people opportunities to learn about the role of technology to shape and impact on people and the environment and access to real–life contexts in essential areas such as Energy, Agriculture, Construction and Engineering.

Some highlights for us include:

Purpose of the subject ‘Through the evaluation of past and present design and technology, pupils develop a critical understanding of its impact on daily life and the wider world’

Key stage 3 ‘understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists’

Thank you to all of you that helped to achieve this great outcome for young people in schools in England.

We are looking forward to supporting teachers to deliver on these new requirements.

Early warning system saves lives in monsoon-hit Nepal

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by

The monsoon in Nepal earlier this year was horrific and left thousands of people homeless in Darchula district. But when unusually severe monsoon rain caused flooding last month, everyone was prepared for flooding due to a new early warning system.

Intense rainfall

Incessant rain begun unexpectedly on 15 June in the Bardiya district, causing the water level of Karniali River to rise at Chisapani. While the Karnali River relentlessly continued to swell with the possibility of invading a number of villages in Bardiya, an electronic display board at District Police Office in Bardiya was updating information on the overflowing water level through a telemetric system established by Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM). Parbati Gurung from DHM was at Chisapani station, observing the gushing Karnali River and updating information to the District Police, Administration and branch office of Red Cross every 15 minutes.

Preparing for a rescue

On 17 June, the river crossed the danger line of gauge reader at Chisapani. The Chief District Officer at Bardiya called an emergency meeting with the Nepal Army, the Armed Police Force and the Red Cross to keep them alert and prepare for the rescue and support.

The District Administration, Police and Red Cross staff analysed the information provided by the telemetric system and Parbati Gurung. The digital board placed by Practical Action was giving the information based on the water level at Chisapani.

Evacuating residents to safe areas

As soon as the digital board showed that the water level at Chisapani was nearly crossing the danger line, the community radio in Bardiya alerted communities living near the river. The Nepal Army and Armed Police Force marched toward the flood prone settlements to help evacuate people to safe areas. An alerting siren started ringing in Rajapur, Bhimmapur, Daulatpur, Patabhar, Manau, Khairichandapur, Gola and Pashupati Nagar of Bardiya Districts. People in the areas begun to collect their important belongings, documents, foods, and clothes and left home for higher ground. About 2,620 people were taken to safe areas.

Purna Ram Tharu, a resident from Patabhar, said: “We were terribly frightened while we knew that the river was crossing the danger line and entering our settlement. But thank god, we could successfully leave our place before the flood intruded into our settlement. We didn’t have to bear any human losses this time.”

Khusi Ram Tharu, President of Patabhar Disaster Risk Management Committee, added: “No one was injured in what was such a big flood. We had time to march on towards the safe places with our belongings. We now realise that early warning systems will help us avoid the precarious impact of flood.”

Impact of the early warning system

Thakur Tharu, President of Disaster Management Committee, Rajapur said: “The Early Warning System established in various places of Bardiya helped wonderfully this time as they were informed about a flood before it entered the village. The system also allowed us to assemble our important documents and other properties and move swiftly to a safe place. No sooner had the flood got into the village, residents were informed by ringing sirens and had already moved to the safe places.”

The Disaster Management Committee warned villagers, disseminating information about the flow of the flood, using microphones. The committee also prioritised the safety of pregnant women, disabled people, and children – preparing them to leave for safe areas such as local schools. When the water level went down all, the families were able to return to their homes again.

The early warning system established by Practical Action, supported by ECHO’s disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO), has proved to be an incredibly important system to avoid human and material loss due to flooding. The project has also provided equipment and accessories such as sirens, microphones, jackets, boats and rope for handling emergency in case of flooding.

It is now well-known and proved that The early warning system installed in the Bardiya area is highly effective and guards against floods and flood-led natural disasters. If the system is promoted by the state in flood prone areas across the country, settlements close to riverfront areas will not face untimely deaths and loss of property.

Find out more about Practical Action Nepal’s disaster risk reduction and climate change programme, which aims to reduce the loss of lives and property of vulnerable communities due to water induced disasters such as these.