Archive for March, 2014

The Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by

 The Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15

The publication of the Chronic Poverty Report 2014/15 launched by the Overseas Development Institute can serve as a challenge to ask – who are the chronic poor and how are they being impacted by Practical Action’s programmes?

Chronic poverty as a term captures something of the experience of people who endure long term gruelling poverty etched out over extensive periods of their lives (living permanently below the poverty line) and will most probably be transferred to their children. Up to half a billion people are chronically poor, the majority of whom live in vast rural swathes of South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside the publication of the 2014/15 report the ODI released a set of infographic case studies, illustrating the multidimensional factors which characterise the life trajectories of chronically poor people:


Amongst other sources the report uses household panel surveys to show that since the turn of the 21st century, descents into poverty have been nearly as widespread as escapes from poverty over certain periods of time in many developing contexts, and to this end argues that three approaches need to be taken: 1/ addressing chronic poverty 2/ preventing impoverishment (falling back into poverty) 3/ sustaining poverty escapes.

However, Duncan Green’s blog on the report: ‘Is Getting to Zero Really Feasible?’ reflected on the potential cross purposes the approach could generate, given that ‘governments and donors have only limited cash…in some contexts, prevention may provide better social return on investment than a cure…the report may have scored an own goal, inadvertently making the case for not targeting the chronically poor in some situations.’ Which begs the question: will the impetus fall on preventing the slide back into chronic poverty for ‘new escapees’ rather than address those who have always been chronically poor?

This made for an interesting thread of debate on the blog, where Chiara Mariotti (one of the authors of the report), said of the approach: ‘it reminds us that chronic poverty is not an issue separated from other problems,’ and Charles Knox-Vydmanov at HelpAge reflected: ‘The real question for me is whether people are chronically poor because of who they are (and belonging to a certain “vulnerable group”) or because of what happens to them…if we believe the latter, then surely we need to focus on targeting these things, and not the people…poor people are not all poor all of the time, so who exactly do you target?’ This is reflected in the case studies; the lives of Emanueli and Amin are punctuated by events which might raise them above the parapet of the poverty line for a time (e.g. when Emanueli gained income and assets from fishing), illustrating the picture painted of ‘the poor’ is never black and white, nor are the complex systems in which they are engaged.

What do Practical Action’s programmes do to help step people up from chronic poverty, and are the wider aspects surrounding the chronic poverty debate (above) addressed via programmes? Some snapshots below provide examples of programmes impacting the chronic poor:

SHIREE/Pathways from Poverty, Bangladesh  

Practical Action’s ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project is contributing to SHIREE (the Bangla word for steps and an acronym for Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment), a massive multi-stakeholder programme between the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to lift 1 million people out of extreme poverty by 2015. The people benefitting from SHIREE fall well within the poorest 10% of the Bangladeshi population. This marginalised segment of the population includes households who are often affected by chronic malnutrition; insecure employment; lack of shelter; landlessness; limited or no assets; little social or political capital; limited ability to withstand shocks; and poor access to health, education and other basic services. Pathways from Poverty will reach 31,850 households by 2015 through asset protection schemes, generation of employment opportunities and diversification of livelihoods options. Overall SHIREE is helping the poorest households who have failed to benefit from economic growth, social protection mechanisms and other development programmes. In particular the focus is on:

  • Those who are economically active yet marginalised (e.g. fragmented female-headed households and socially excluded ethnic minorities).
  • Those who are economically inactive and rely heavily or solely on charity or government safety nets (e.g. the disabled or elderly without family support).
  • Women and children in the above categories. In trying to halt the inter-generational transfer of poverty, the programme targets women and children in extreme poor households.

Socio-economic Empowerment of Tsunami Affected Communities, Sri Lanka  

The report highlights the increasing polarisation between the poorest and the rest of the population, particularly evident in patterns of land ownership: ‘The stories of the poorest are full of lost access to common land and water bodies through privatisation, land grabs or evictions.’ SET (Socio-empowerment of Tsumani Affected Communities) made possible via Big Lottery funding, is impacting the lives of chronic poor fisher communities by enabling them to increase their income through interventions such as rehabilitation of abandoned water bodies for fishing, improved access of water for agricultural and domestic purposes and ice manufacturing to reduce fish wastage. Fishermen in Koggala have noted a 3 fold increase in income from prawn fishing. One major success of SET was the establishment of strong community institutions through Village Coordination Committees, which has led to the inclusion of some of the most marginalised communities in the fisheries sector development programmes, including the indigenous Vaddha community. Practical Action is currently working with the Dutch Development Agency ZOA to replicate aspects of the SET project model.

Reducing Vulnerability in North Darfur, Sudan

The 2014/15 report devotes a section to conflict, stating this as the biggest challenge in, echoing the UN who state that by 2015 an estimated half of the world’s poor will be living in fragile states. The International Fund for Agricultural Development says ‘Poverty in the Sudan is deeply entrenched and is largely rural. Poverty particularly affects farmers who practise rain-fed agriculture. People living in areas that have been or continue to be affected by drought and conflict – particularly in the south and Darfur – are the most vulnerable to poverty.’

In North Darfur dispute over natural resources (mostly over water for drinking and agriculture) and migratory routes have caused conflict. Practical Action has been working with communities in North Darfur to support 15,000 families across 30 villages with the tools and capacities they need to plan development and distribute both internal and external resources equitably through three interventions: 1/ Conflict and natural resource management (e.g. promotion of early maturing crop varieties that allow farmers to harvest before the incursion of animal herders on to their farms). 2/ Livelihood and food security (e.g. supporting community organisations which aim to increase production and productivity by reclaiming more wadi (clay) land). 3/ strengthening farmers’ voices and influencing development polices. A new Integrated Water Resource Management Programme funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to commence this year aims to  directly benefit over 87,000 farmers and agro-pastoralists through the construction of 3 dams and 1,000 terraces so that water resources are better shared and utilised for community livelihood practices.

The 2014/15 report states that ‘aid will continue to be extremely important in low income countries but few donors have displayed real interest in tackling chronic poverty.’ The examples provide only snapshots of the diverse nature Practical Action’s programmes addressing chronic poverty, and the organisations it works with to deliver them. This is an encouragement given the broad spectrum of their global outlooks and processes, and illustrates the broad range of donors who do have an appetite to address not only chronic poverty but the wider complex systems in which the chronic poor live and work.

New IPCC report highlights Climate Related Risk

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by

31 March 2014 – A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been released[1].   This is the latest in a series of reports that will constitute the benchmark documents for the state of climate change, the fifth assessment report (AR5). The report released today, which inadvertently overloaded their servers, was from Working Group II and examines the impacts of a warming world and makes some recommendations on what we can do now to adapt and reduce those impacts.

As we are all fully aware in the UK the climate is not what it used to be.  The UK has just experienced an exceptionally wet winter, the wettest in England and Wales since records began in 1766. This extreme weather followed a cold winter of 2010/11, a wet summer of 2012 and the cold spring of 2013[2].  So we should all be cognisant that things are getting more uncertain and the weather more variable[3]!

The new report makes the case that climate risk is the combination of; Hazard, how much the climate will change; Exposure, what assets we have and Vulnerability, what is our sensitivity to harm?  The consequence of changing climates is an increase in risk related to the overlap of these three factors.  Thus, the biggest impacts of climate change are going to be felt by the poorest and most marginalised, who live in regions that are susceptible to changes in the climate, for example drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa, or in marginal areas such as floodplains or unstable hillsides.

10 Flooding 001

Bangladesh house in Char area susceptible to regular flooding

Here in Practical Action we are working with poor and marginalised communities around the world to reduce their climate risk.  For example in Bangladesh, where the M4C project[4] is building up the assets of farmers who live in the char lands on the banks of the Jamuna River, an area threatened by increasing flooding.  This project doesn’t hand out money or goods to poor households, but instead builds on the char farmers’ capabilities to work out mutually-beneficial solutions to their problems, recognising that asset security will enable farmers to cope during times of flood.

Alternatively in Peru we are working with Cusco University to develop effective local early warning systems that reduce people’s vulnerability to highly destructive mudflows.  These systems aim to provide advance warning to communities living in the valleys of the threat to their lives and livelihoods. Dealing with hazard is more complicated, but doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  So we are working with poor communities to identify ways to reduce the impact of a climate hazard on their livelihood. For example in Sudan we have been working with farmers in the Sahel on conservation agriculture[5].  This project recognises that the climate is the major threat and looks at ways to build up the natural resources upon which local people’s agricultural productivity depends.

10 IPCC 002Student from Cusco University explaining the pilot Early Warning System

The report released today makes the case that climate extremes are likely to be more “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and that we need to start to doing something about it now.  The report reiterates that Greenhouse Gas emissions are altering the Earth’s energy budget, the driver of climate change; although those who are hardest hit bear the least responsibility for causing the problem in the first place.

However, the report rather than trying to shock us into action is taking a more measured approach to the threat highlighting what can be done now to reduce the impacts.  Practical Actions suggestions are that we need a genuine commitment to Mitigation governed by a legally binding global agreement so that emissions in GHG’s can be halted and ultimately reversed.  There is an urgent need for increased funding for Adaptation and Technology transfer to allow developing economies to leapfrog the carbon dependent trajectory and respond to the accelerating impacts of climate change to the poorest and most vulnerable.  And finally resources must be set aside for Loss and Damage to compensate the most vulnerable for the losses they are already experiencing.

Do we need any more evidence?  Hopefully, the AR5 will catalyse the political will necessary to get a global agreement back on the track starting at the COP20 in Peru in December 2014.

New WHO figures on health impact of air pollution

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by

The World Health Organization (WHO) has revised its figures on the number of deaths caused by indoor air pollution. They now estimate that 7 million people died last year – one in eight of global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure, making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

Traditional cooking fills the home with smokeWHO has intensified its research in this field in recent years and is supplying more robust evidence.  Figures now also include deaths caused by ambient (outdoor) air pollution as well as indoor, which are combined to reach the 7 million total.  Although, as many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution it hard to split the numbers precisely.

The director of WHO’s Department for Public Health,  Dr Maria Neira said,

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes.  Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”


Smoke from cooking fires has a visible and obvious impact indoors but ambient air pollution affects health in a wide variety of ways.  It increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Both short and long term exposure to air pollutants have health impacts, most severely on children and the elderly.  The greatest number of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases.

More and  better data and evidence about the devastating impact of air pollution is to be welcomed, but must lead to concerted action by the international community to do something about it.

Ensuring an Energy Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) delivers for poor people and the planet

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by

In late February, discussions over the post-2015 development agenda reached a milestone. The co-Chairs of the Open Working Group (OWG), the body tasked with preparing a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposal for consideration by the UN General Assembly in September 2014, issued a “Focus Areas Document.” This document provided the first formal glimpse of what the content of the next global framework to eradicate poverty and move towards truly sustainable development. While it mentioned dozens of development issues crucial to the success of the post-2015 agenda, many areas key to delivering sustainable development over the next decades remain incomplete or absent. In a previous blog, we presented Practical Action’s main messages on the Focus areas document more generally. This post, prepared in collaboration with CAFOD and IIED and representing the combined voice of our three organisations, looks specifically at one core development issue, energy.


Energy is essential to all SDGs: actionable, outcome-based targets are required for success

As the co-Chairs’ and other UN papers on energy and the SDGs acknowledge, energy is not a standalone issue but underpins efforts to achieve many other development goals. Because of this interconnectedness, we recommend an across-the-board approach to energy within the post-2015 framework, with specific targets rather than top-down and siloed goals unlikely to garner the multi-sectoral political support required for their achievement. Specific, actionable targets will facilitate discussions on how they can be achieved and which actors and activities, across different sectors, must be involved.

If, however, the goals retain the sector-focused structure of the MDGs and SDG discussions thus far, we support a standalone Energy Goal based on the 3 targets outlined in the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. However, more concrete indicators are needed under the three top-line targets to ensure rapid, ambitious, meaningful and measurable improvements in energy access, clean energy uptake, and progress on energy efficiency.

On access, the SE4All Global Tracking Framework’s tier 3 indicators should be the minimum acceptable standard to qualify as having “access to modern energy services.” Tier 3 tracks outcome-oriented factors such as quality of service, for example having electricity available for a minimum of eight hours a day. It also holistically addresses a range of poor people’s energy needs through a basic but respectable package of wider energy and cooking services. Further indicators are needed to ensure progress on interconnected development needs in the areas of health, education etc. – often referred to as “nexus” issues.

Delivering benefits from energy requires decentralised and “bottom-up” approaches


Energy poverty and the range of energy nexus issues within post-2015 cannot be meaningfully addressed without increased support for deployment of decentralized (off-grid) energy provision. It is not feasible, affordable nor desirable to connect many rural populations to grids that are slow to deploy, prohibitively expensive, often unreliable, provide minimal long-term employment, and are mostly dependent on fossil fuels.

High costs, low returns and perceived high risks make investment in necessary decentralised energy access in low-income markets unattractive to mainstream private investors. Given that once adopted, a target of universal energy access by 2030 will only have 15 years to achieve this task, it is crucial that the post-2015 process recognize that to be successful, any provisions on energy must foster delivery to the poorest must via a combination of public-private partnerships, social enterprise initiatives and public sector-financed aid or social support. Collaborative financing should deploy a combination of start-up grants, risk guarantees, and capacity building to provide the necessary support to enterprises delivering on decentralised energy access – and recognise that the very poorest are often not reached by the private sector alone. We call on the post-2015 process to acknowledge the key role of public finance and innovative public partnerships with the private sector and civil society in delivering solutions that work for the energy poor.

Private sector finance alone cannot deliver universal access: a public sector role is critical

High costs, low returns and perceived high risks make investment in decentralised energy access in low-income markets unattractive to mainstream private investors. Energy service delivery to the poorest needs to be a combination of public-private partnerships, social enterprise initiatives and public sector financed aid or social support. Increasingly social enterprises and small and medium enterprises are employing innovative finance mechanisms, including voluntary carbon finance markets, crowdfunding and investment from angel investors. Such initiatives utilise a combination of public and private finance, and deploy a combination of start-up grants, risk guarantees, and capacity building to deliver the necessary support to enterprises. Needed government incentives might include tax breaks, reduction of import duties, and public procurement programmes, while social protection schemes may serve an important purpose in meeting the needs of the very poorest, e.g. in post-conflict situations.

Tackling the gendered dimension of energy poverty is essential

Women and girls suffer the brunt of health problems and early mortality related to dirty cooking and heating fuels, a health issue of major global significance. An approach recognizing the structural nature of gender inequalities is therefore essential to promote transformative change. Concrete indicators on bringing gender budgeting into energy planning, increasing collection and analysis of disaggregated data on energy and gender, and incorporating gender into energy governance would support the transformative approach required to end these needless deaths and illnesses. Access to modern energy services can also play a crucial role in women’s economic empowerment. The post-2015 development agenda should incentivise investments in women’s access to energy services for enterprise development as well as strengthen women entrepreneurs’ capacities to engage in energy value chains.

Poverty eradication depends on environmental sustainability

Without tackling dangerous climate change, it will not be possible to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development. Global energy systems are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions and must be transformed within the lifespan of the post-2015 framework. Targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency can support the shift to low/zero emissions development but, alone, are insufficient responses to climate change. Action to cut emissions and support poor people to adapt to existing impacts must be “mainstreamed” throughout the post-2015 framework by “climate-proofing” targets and indicators, and also by cutting fiscal incentives for the production of fossil fuels.

Under any energy-specific goal area, targets on renewable and efficiency must incentivise adequate action by 2030. This means upping the current SE4ALL 2030 targets. We should aim for an annual global rate of improvement in energy intensity (energy/unit GDP) of at least 4.5% and for at least 45% of all primary energy use and energy infrastructure to be renewable. These targets must also integrate adequate social and environmental safeguards, ensuring the poorest have energy solutions appropriate for their needs.

CAFOD, IIED and Practical Action feel that addressing these issues during the next round of consultations and the proceeding UN negotiations will radically improve the chances of an energy SDG delivering on its intended aims.

Making real change in Oliver’s life

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by

He can hardly read or write in English. He only did a few years in primary school as his parents could not afford paying the ‘exorbitant’ school fees. He estimates his age at 31 years though not sure of the exact date of birth. He is married to Nyasha Rondozai who is 28 years old. The couple is blessed with three children, all girls named Tadiwa, Anna and Chiedza. With limited education and unemployed, Oliver Rondozai faced poverty and hopelessness in Domborutinhira, a village in the mountainous Mutasa District of Manicaland province in Zimbabwe.

Although Mutasa District is endowed with natural resources – fertile soils, timber plantations and overflowing rivers – Oliver’s family could hardly afford three meals a day and were facing the grim prospect of failing to send their children to school. The crop yield from their fields was hardly enough to feed the family.

Today, Oliver is one of the happiest persons in Domborutinhira. His family’s fortunes have dramatically improved. His fields are teaming up with a healthy potato crop, carrots and the staple maize crop. His family now has a source of income, access to nutritious food, health services and he boasts of having paid school fees for the whole year in advance for his two daughters in primary school. He has waved good bye to open defecation as he has built a Blair Ventilated Improved Pit toilet at his home.

VivianAnother villager who saw a change in fortunes is 60 year old Vivian Mabika, who lives with her husband Lovemore Mabika and three grandchildren. The aging family had the extra burden of looking after their orphaned grandchildren. Vivian revealed that as a family, they used to look down upon themselves as they used to depend on food handouts from humanitarian relief agencies. Today Vivian boasts of being self-sufficent. They have managed to buy farming supplies from the proceeds of agricultural sales and send their grandchildren to school. Last year, Vivian and family did not have enough seeds or fertiliser and were only able to cultivate 0,8ha of their land, but this increased to 2ha this year as a result of profits from selling produce grown using seed supplied by the project, under the voucher system. They now plan to buy a grinding mill to augment the family income.

The stories of Oliver and Vivian’s families are shared by many habitants in Domborutinhira Village. Like many people across the country, they had experienced hardships due to the meltdown of the Zimbabwean economy since the turn of the new millennium, mainly as a result of the prevailing political instability and the highly contested land reform programme. They had become chronically dependent on food hand-outs from donors and other humanitarian organisations.  

Now Oliver and Vivian are some of the beneficiaries of Practical Action’s Promoting Smallholder Market Engagement (PSME) project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund.  Partners are The Farm Community Trust and Zambuko Trust and there is collaboration with the Department of Agritex under the Ministry of Agriculture and Mechanisation.  It is being implemented in the Chimanimani, Mutasa, Mutare and Nyangafour districts of Manicaland province.  As well as providing vouchers for agricultural inputs the project strengthening the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through eleven irrigation schemes, including one in Domborutinhira.

EU needs to take action on climate change now!

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by

Our world leaders are working towards action on climate change – not a grand top down plan but a bottom up approach whereby all countries will set out their intended national contributions on the basis of what’s fair and equitable. The contributions are then pulled together to form the agreement. The intention is that this treaty will be agreed and signed at a meeting in Paris at the end of 2015.

Should we be worried about this? I think so – let me explain why

1. My action’s bigger than your action!

Have you noticed that governments have a tendency to talk up commitments but somehow when it comes to delivery everything is smaller or somehow more difficult?  One current example –where there has been confusion at least over funding – is the Green Climate Fund.  It’s a UNFCCC flagship programme intended by 2020 to provide by $100 billion a year to assist developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.  It started operations this year after three years of planning but so far has been mired in debate about the level of finance to be provided by governments and what can be provided by the private sector.  Currently  only a fraction of this sum has been pledged so far, mostly to cover start-up costs’ according to Climate Finance and Markets 

Kenyan women march against climate change2.  Maths – will the sum of the parts be enough?

Today 49 less developed countries (LDCs) are calling for the process towards the Paris meeting to be speeded up. They worry that looking at all the commitments as a whole it just won’t be enough to deliver a maximum 2 degree average temperature rise, protect vulnerable countries like Bangladesh and/or that the timetable will be so elongated that by the time all of the pledges are in there won’t be sufficient time to work out if what’s proposed is enough.

3. What about the poorest and most marginalized people?

Keeping average global temperature rises to 2 degrees will now require urgent and transformational action. However even if we do managed to contain warming the impacts on poor people often living in the poorest and most marginal areas will still be significant. Their voices and needs are not sufficiently heard and represented in the climate change processes. Read our East Africa director, Grace Mukasa’s blog where she talks about the current unreported drought in Kenya.

4. Why now?

Today and tomorrow we could see the EU lead the way – leaders are coming together for a crucial EU Council meeting where they could decide Europe’s climate and energy targets until 2030. They could set ambitious targets supported by binding actions, they could lead the world on climate change action and by their decisions prompt other countries to be ambitious, to make declarations early and to adopt legally binding frameworks.

Paris is still the best hope for global action on climate change. Now is the time to work hard and push for action. But even if we get a deal in Paris we are still likely to exceed the 2 degree rise. So climate adaptation must go up the agenda on the UN and all the countries attending the talks. Practical Action will be pushing for this at the next UN climate talks in Peru in December.

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Poverty and the water-energy nexus

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by

Saturday March 22nd is World Water Day, and the focus this year is on the interconnectedness between water and energy. We all know that water is the lifeblood of our earth, but without massive inputs of energy to distribute it, clean it, and store it, modern civilization would not exist. Equally, without equally enormous inputs of water, much of modern energy production would not be possible. We all know water can generate energy through hydro-electric stations, and anyone who passes the huge, steaming cooling towers of a power station is reminded how much water is required to generate electricity from many other sources. These are the types of interconnections which have dominated discussions about the “water energy nexus” thus far, and while globally relevant, they do not tell the whole story: the vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries where other key issues surrounding water and energy dominate their lives, but have not been a priority for the international community.

The current situation in Turkana provides a stark illustration of these issues. Turkana scoop hole

Some of the issues we think deserve to be highlighted on World Water Day include:

  1. The supply of energy and water is irrelevant if it remains inaccessible: Just because supplies increase or are used more efficiently does not mean more people will be reached. In much of the developing world, centralized energy grids are incapable of servicing the vast, decentralized rural populations, leaving many without access to energy or the live-giving clean water that rests under their feet. The terrible situation currently unfolding in the Turkana district in Kenya is a case in point. Pastoralist communities are facing another horrific drought despite that vast water resources exist under their land – yet residents of the area remain impoverished and are now facing a potential humanitarian crisis. Interestingly, in the same region, large oil reserves were also recently discovered.The message for World Water Day and decision-makers around the world is that most of the world is still lacking decent access to both adequate amounts of reliable energy and clean water. Future investments in these two things must reflect that big power plants and other big infrastructure are not feasible or economical for servicing much of the currently under- and un-serviced global population. However, decentralised solutions for decentralised populations and resources are both available and affordable. Let’s concentrate on rolling them out sooner rather than later.
  2. People do not need any technology, they need the appropriate technology: Some poor people live in deserts, some in rainforests. Some people live on sun-drenched islands while others live on foggy mountainsides. We all have different resources available to us but all need water and energy for our survival. At local, national and international levels, increasing demands on limited water and energy resources are increasingly the source of difficult choices and even the cause of conflict. However, decentralised solutions can offer greater opportunities for win-win solutions to these problems. For example, solar water pumping is helping people survive in Turkana and helping build livelihoods for poor farmers in Zimbabwe. Channelling water for micro-hydro schemes can offer the potential for irrigation. We would like to see more attention to these opportunities now, before resource constraints have the chance to escalate into full-blown crises.turkana1
  3. Women and men have different needs and are impacted differently by the energy water nexus: on Choices about how water or energy is made available and paid for impact men and women in very different ways given their differing household roles and responsibilities. For instance, for millions of girls and women around the world, daily water collection can take hours of difficult work. Where women’s issues are not explicitly incorporated into energy and water planning, their needs will continue to be undermined.
  4. Water and energy are at the heart of sustainable development. Water and energy should feature prominently in discussions over the post-2015 development framework, with the connections relevant to different socio-economic and geographic contexts adequately recognised. At the same time, if they are to be used for the benefit of everyone in a country, including the poor and currently excluded, civil society needs to have a voice in decision-making and recognition of their role in delivering for the poorest. Otherwise we will end up with the same top-down infrastructure planning we have always had. And that is not going to steer us away from the ‘business as usual’ path that experts predict will see as many people living in energy poverty in 2030 as there are today.

Inspired by the boys from Bohunt at the Big Bang

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by

There’s been so much great work going on in schools during National Science and Engineering week…but the highlight for me has to be the Big Bang Fair.

Held last week at the NEC, Birmingham, the event attracted thousands of students from primary and secondary schools all over the UK. Many students enjoyed the mix of hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities offered by companies, universities and professional bodies. In addition, students had the opportunity to view projects from schools who had reached regional finals for their inspirational science or technology based challenges.

I was lucky enough to have met up with Alex, Duncan and Freddie from Bohunt School in Hampshire, who’ve been working on one of Practical Action’s Global CREST Challenges on the theme of Shelter.

The students have been working on their project since last September as part of the school’s STEM club activity and work towards their Silver CREST award.



‘We started out thinking we’d like to design and make a garden shed…then we decided to focus more on an area of shelter which felt more worthwhile.’ Freddie

‘It’s been great transforming our ideas into reality’. Alex


The boys carried out research into a range of emergency shelters that are used post-disaster before developing their initial design ideas for their own emergency shelter. Following feedback from Practical Action around their choice of building materials and size of the shelter the students refined their designs before developing their models and full-size shelter. Have a look at their inspirational work.





It’s been good to get out of a classroom and put our skills into Practical Action’. Duncan


If you’re interested in encouraging your students to look at real-life global contexts, then have a look at our Global CREST challenges and other STEM challenges in areas such as Disaster Risk Reduction, Energy, Water and Food.


Water, water, underground, but not a drop to drink

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 by

You may not have heard yet, but our field staff in the remote Turkana region of Northern Kenya are reporting a growing humanitarian crisis.

Normally, the long rainy season would have been in full swing by now. But so far, not a drop of rain has fallen. Should the rains fail over the next three weeks, many thousands of people could face a slow and lingering death, unless there is action now.

A pastoralist girl holds on to one of their family's weak animals

A pastoralist girl holds on to one of their family’s weak animals

For almost 12 months now, the region has had no rain. Rivers are dry, water tables have fallen so dramatically that some boreholes can no longer reach it. Pastureland has dried up and the grass has disappeared. Pastoralists have been forced to migrate with their livestock into neighbouring Uganda.

The Turkana region is home to about a million people, many of whom are nomadic pastoralists, raising cattle and goats. Of these over 300,000 are in dire need of food and water and the number keep swelling by the day.

The great irony is that there are huge water supplies deep beneath the surface in Turkana. If this wasn’t enough last year oil was also discovered.

But the situation is expected to worsen and terrifyingly, there is a forecast of poor long rains. Malnutrition levels are high among women and children and many people will die unless action is taken. Goats are already dying and livestock is growing ever weaker.

Already, the situation in some parts of Turkana has now become so severe that I have heard reports that out of desperation people are eating tree roots and dogs.

Practical Action has installed solar-powered water pumps to access the huge underground reservoirs in Turkana, and where we have been working the situation is not so desperate, but we cannot reach everywhere.  In addition, we have been working with the Ugandan Government since 2009 to negotiate safe passage for pastoralists desperate to access good pasture land in times of crisis and I am pleased to say our efforts are now proving vital. Already, 30,000 pastoralists have migrated with their herds over the border, saving lives and livestock worth millions of pounds in the process. Practical Action staff are continuing to work in Uganda to facilitate this process.

This, of course, means that men of working age have been forced to leave their families and smaller livestock such as goats. In many communities in which we work only women and children remain, using the solar-powered water pumps we have installed as they battle desperately to survive as their goats die from starvation.

The Kenyan Government is providing affected populations with some food relief and humanitarian organisations are starting to mobilise, but aside from one short online report, there has been no international reporting of the situation outside the Kenyan media.

There shouldn’t be another famine in Turkana. The fact that one is looming should shame us all. We all need to take practical action there now.

First steps – early warning system in Afghanistan

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 by

As a Nepalese living kilometers away from Afghanistan, with a different culture, language and living style, yet something was in common that brought me here to this land, and that was the common problem that both the countries are suffering.

Nepal, a country with vast geographical diversification, has natural sources of water which is a blessing for people of Nepal. However, sometimes they turn to be a curse in forms of natural disasters like flooding and landslides. The people living in Northern Afghanistan face similar problems. Thus, Practical Action in partnership with ActionAid Afghanistan is replicating a community based early warning system (EWS) to aware people of the natural disasters. The EWS has been a proven success in Nepal, providing solutions to massive flooding and landslides affecting thousands of people living near the river basin.

Bio-dyke installation in progress.

Bio-dyke installation in progress.

The Amu River enters Afghanistan from Tajikistan and flows through four districts of two provinces along the Afghanistan border and further flows down to Turkmenistan. Every year, in peak flooding season, people lose their houses, lands, livelihoods and even sometimes even their lives due to the in-depth water erosion. Besides, around 70,000 people are vulnerable to water induced disaster across the Amu River.

The “Amu River Early Warning System” project in Northern Afghanistan is funded by European Commission Directorate- General Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection under its DIPECHO Seventh Action Plan for South Asia. The project seeks to contribute to national risk reduction mechanism in Afghanistan by piloting a community based river basin early warning system. The project areas are Khamab and Qarquin districts in Jawzjan province and Kaldar and Shortepa districts in Balkh province.

Gradually as the project is progressing I am learning more about the communities – working with them and making friends. Now they are no more Afghans to me and I am no more a foreigner to them. We all are a team, working together and learning together in a fun-filled environment.

Besides, we are also engaged in influencing at the policy level to take up and sustain EWS and small scale mitigation work such as installing bio-dykes which is a low cost initiative to protect river bank erosion. We have also organised capacity building trainings to our staff and government stakeholders so that they can similarly train the community. Messages of early warning system are printed as big posters and are pasted at strategic locations of the villages to educate the local people.

A hoarding board with EWS message.

A hoarding board with EWS message.

We are going to install a flood gauge which is a meter gauge to measure the water level at appropriate upstream and downstream sites of Amu River in Kaldar and Shurtepa districts. With its installation, if the level of water rises to the danger level, the community will be informed to take action and save their lives and livelihoods.

In bio-dyke installation we use the sand filled bags to place it in slope gradient and wooden pegs to stabilise the slope for making the mode sustainable. We will plant special plants like bamboo that has anti-erosion property and anchors soil, increases the root networks and prevents further land erosion. This will be done in most vulnerable areas of two districts and will be further developed in three kilometres area.

However, peak flooding season is our testing times. If these bio dykes would protect erosion by water, our dream to find a solution to protect water erosion in villages along the Amu River shall come true.

I am hopeful, the bio-dykes will protect lives of many vulnerable people during the flooding season in June. Once we get success, this pilot project will be replicated by the government and other concerned NGOs.