Archive for October, 2014

Better business environments for all

Friday, October 31st, 2014 by

The relevance of business environments may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering the universal development goals and targets designed to end global poverty. They will replace the MDGs, which finish in 2015, so the debate on what’s in and what’s out is gradually heading towards a conclusion. A staggering 17 goals and 169 targets are proposed, a number viewed by many as far too ambitious for countries to measure.

info cartoon (more…)

Dealing with embarrassment

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 by

In many Asian countries there is still a sense of shame associated with the menstruation cycle.  However, during my recent trip to Bangladesh I was fortunate enough to visit Practical Action’s Sanitation Approach and Sanitary Napkins for Adolescent Girls Project, which has proved to be very successful in helping young girls manage their menstruation cycle without being shy or embarrassed.

6 Sept Sanimart 4The project is run by the Governor Mrs Selina and is situated in the grounds of her home in Sirajgani, in a small room. Practical Action, Bangladesh provided the initial material support, training on making napkins, bookkeeping and marketing skills and there are now 7 Sanimarts operating independently in Bangladesh.

70 girls were originally involved in the project but 15 left to go on to higher education, get married or work for other NGOs.

On arriving at the centre I was met by four very excited young girls aged between 13 and 19 who were eager for to talk with us and to demonstrate to us how they produce the napkins.

It was a pleasure watching how they work together as a team carefully making the napkins.  All of the girls had to drop out of school due to family financial problems but they felt proud to be working in this small centre.

They make up to 200 low-cost, hygienic sanitary towels per day and sell them to women in communities, hospitals, schools, and colleges. The centre encourages girls who are too shy to ask for napkins to visit the shop themselves instead of visiting markets where they are too expensive and sometimes they are unable to afford them.

6 Sept Sanimart 5The centre helps the girls learn new skills and earn an income.  One of the girls talked to us about why she liked working there, her response was:

  • She can provide money to help support her family
  • She is learning a trade
  • Working with friends
  • Flexible and shorter working hours

Meeting these girls, seeing them laugh and smile and wanting to take photos of us before we left made the visit so memorable.

Energy Engagement Speaker Series

Monday, October 27th, 2014 by

EES Logo

Practical Action, the World Resources Institute, and the United Nations Foundation are pleased to launch our first in a series of discussions on bringing energy access to the rest of the world. This series will focus on bringing together both policy and practice actors who focus on mini-grid, off-grid, household energy, integrated resource planning, and our other established areas of expertise. We expect this will be a great environment for a comprehensive look at different approaches to meeting energy challenges.

Our first topic, Bringing Policy and Practice together, will focus on several issues. How does energy access for all play out in policy and practice, and how can we work together to address some of these issues? How can actors such as the private sector and civil society play innovative roles to change the conversation about how energy is generated and delivered?

Confirmed Panelists

Ms. Allison Archambault, EarthSpark International

Mr. Jem Porcaro, United Nations Foundation

Dr. Ryan Shelby, USAID

Ms. Davida Wood, WRI

We will take a salon style approach, where distinguished panelists are featured, but the audience size is limited in order to encourage open and active audience discussion. The first 5-15 minutes focus on the invited panelists and their expertise, but audience members are invited ask questions and provide their own insights throughout. All attendees should come expecting to participate! The goal is to get feedback from a variety of actors from different sectors. Practical Action will moderate to ensure that the discussion is inclusive, stays on topic, and finishes on time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014
8:30 AM-10:00 AM

World Resources Institute
10 G Street NE Suite 800
Washington, DC 20002, USA
Metro: Red Line, Union Station stop, WRI is west of Union Station.

To RSVP for this event, CLICK HERE.

People think big at the beginning of the day, but we know some of you may need help. Coffee and refreshments will be provided.

Tree planting can reduce risks of climate extremes

Monday, October 27th, 2014 by

The coastal area of Bangladesh is the most vulnerable to climate change;  it is prone to salinity, sea-level rise, cyclones and tidal surge. The trend of cyclonic events has also been increasing in the recent years. Sidr, Reshmi, Nargis and Aila are some evidences of such climatic extremes in Bangladesh.

The Government and NGOs are implementing adaptation programmes, but these are inadequate. Onetree planting initiative by a small local CBO Rupali Sangha is an encouraging example, where Practical Action Bangladesh provided support under its Climate Change Adaptation Project. Rupali Sangha is from the north western Kaliganj Upazila of the Satkhira District adjacent to the Sundarbans. They planted mangrove trees on both sides of a local government/Union Council road following participatory  agreement with concerned parties – the Union Council and land owners. Practical Action Bangladesh facilitated the process. As well as the environmental benefits of this planting, the share of probable profit was settled as 20% for the UC/20% for the land owners/60% for the Rupali Sangha.

mangrovesMembers of Rupali Sangha voluntarily repaired a 320 meter road in 2012 and planted trees on both sides of the road. They received support of 100,000 taka under a government safety net programme for repairing the road and planted 150 mangrove saplings. As well as the environmental benefits of carbon emission reduction, protection of the road from erosion and protection from the risks of cyclonic storm there were also financial benefits. The Sangha did the plantation with support from Practical Action Bangladesh. Out of 150 saplings, 55 died, and were supposed to be replaced soon. A Caretaker was employed for caring and maintenance of the planted saplings and Rupali Sangha members voluntarily perform the maintenance work.

After a year they will be able to harvest kewra fal (fruits of kewra trees). After 3-4 years, they should be able to harvest a substantial quantity kewra fal  and earn regularly by selling those in the local market. Each tree should produce 20 kgs of kewra fal/year. Each kg kewra fal costs Tk.10. So, they could be harvesting a total of 3000 kgs (20kgx150) of kewra fal/year that cost Tk.30,000/yearly. The cost of kewra fal will increase gradually in the near future and they will be able to increase their profit. Besides, they will be able to sell dead branches for  fire wood for 5-10 years that will earn some income as well.

After 15-20 years, when the trees are mature, the price will go up and they would be able to sell each tree for Tk.15,000-20,000. They will develop a fund with earning/profit and expected to spend the money for development of their village such as road maintenance, vaccination of cattle and scholarships for poor students.

The mangrove tree plantation has diverse benefits in regard to economic, environmental, and protection of road communication and above all development work with its earning including contributing to reducing the risk of climate extremes.

Why Bangladesh needs a new framework to deal with faecal sludge management

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by
Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

Pilot sludge treatment plant in Faridpur

Bangladesh is considered a success story with regard to its efforts towards universal access to adequate water and sanitation in accordance with Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7. The Joint Monitoring Programme reports published by UNICEF and WHO states that Bangladesh progressed and achieved 97% open defecation free (ODF) and use of fixed place site sanitation facilities (pits and tanks).But the sustainability of this open defecation free (ODF) achievement  is at stake because of lack of facilities and services to deal the  management and safe disposal of sludge.

The responsibility of the sanitation services in Bangladesh lies with a number of agencies, the Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (WASA) in 4 big cities, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and municipalities/cities in urban centers and rural areas.

All of these agencies face constraints to deal growing faecal sludge management  problem – emptying, transportation and disposal. Dhaka’s WASA only has the facilities to treat the waste of 20% of the population in Dhaka city and others depend on municipalities and informal pit emptiers for emptying. The final destination of this collected and uncollected sludge from 98% of the population is the open environment which brings adverse impacts to public health.

Sustainable faecal sludge management services is needed to take care of standards for containment, health and safety, appropriate technologies for collection, transportation and recycling of sludge, public private partnership protecting the participation of informal groups, pro poor business modelling, national awareness and capacity building.

To achieve this Bangladesh urgently needs a coherent national regulatory framework , guidelines and action plans and a coordinated and integrated approach for effective and efficient implementation of these plans.

Last week I fixed my own iPhone

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 by

Like lots of people in the world I own a mobile phone, and common to many in the developed world, mine is a smart phone. An iPhone 4 to be precise. My smart phone is an amazing piece of technology. It helps me to keep on top of news, do emails, texts, take photos, and listen to music. I can even make phone calls with it. (Actually as a friend who works for Apple admitted to me the other day – it’s not too good at phone calls! But that’s another story!)

iphoneSo my phone is a few years old now, and it was beginning to show signs of age. The back was cracked after I dropped it. The camera had a crack across the screen too. However it was suffering from a serious problem – the home button was getting increasingly unreliable. This, as any iPhone owner knows is a major problem. If the home button doesn’t work – you’re stuck. I had tried the trick some blog sites advocate – pressing home & off buttons at the same time to “re-calibrate it” – but it didn’t fix the problem. I was about to do what most people do at that point. Buy a new phone. However – I happened upon a You Tube video where I discovered that it’s possible to fix your own phone.

So last weekend, armed with a range of new bits costing around £10 bought off the internet, and my laptop, with the appropriate ifixit video running on You Tube, I set about fixing my phone. I can’t pretend that it was all plane sailing. It turns out that to replace the home button you need to disassemble almost the entire phone, and as the ifixit presenter says “there’s a whole lot of tiny screws that you need to remove”. Things definitely got tough when everything was in pieces, and the video ended – leaving me with the challenge of assembly by running the video in reverse. Not too easy.

Happily, my son, who is rather more confident with small computer-type bits & pieces, was around, and helped a bit. OK, he helped a lot, and maybe he did most of the work, and I helped! The whole exercise probably took a couple of hours, but now I have a fully functioning phone again, and I’m back in touch with the world. I even fixed the camera, so can also take good quality photos without a crack across the middle! What is perhaps interesting in this story is the reaction of so many of my friends who passed by and witnessed my repair attempts. Everyone said “great! Well done! But why didn’t you simply buy a new phone?”

I guess this is exactly what most people, at least in the UK, would do. In fact, most people in the UK replace their phone every 12 to 18 months. While some old phones are sold on, and others recycled, many are simply thrown away. This contributes to a massive and growing problem of e-waste. Last year nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide – or about 7kg for every person on the planet. Not only is this a problem for pollution, it also represents a huge loss of valuable metals. Many phones include precious metals like silver, gold and platinum. Some manufacturers like Fairphone are designing phones with recycling in mind from the very beginning. Others are developing modular phones, which will make it easier to replace or upgrade sections of a phone, without having to buy a whole new one. This kind of approach to consumer goods ought to be more mainstream. It should be great for consumers, but also in line with our vision for technology justice, where new technological is focussed on meeting people’s basic needs, and improving the sustainability of our planet. In the meantime, I’m happy to have extended the life of my phone. However, I’m sure that I shouldn’t have a couple screws left over….

Enhancing equality in energy access through mobilising women in low income areas

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 by

How can electrical connections and electricity consumption be increased among poor people, particularly women who cannot afford the cost of getting connected?

This has been a major question for government departments or parastatals or independent power producers who want to expand grid connections to poor people with very little disposable incomes. The concern about support for rural electrical line extensions in low-income areas with low population density is the lack of sufficient customer load to pay even for operational costs, let alone capital costs. On the other hand low consumption of electricity undermines the profitability of these institutions and sustainability of the utility.


Though electricity can have benefits such as lighting, charging, television, refrigeration, agro-processing etc., the reality is that these rural communities are left with no dreams of ever getting connected in their lives. This however can be a cause for inequality in enhancing energy access denying communities their right to energy. I will leave this as an open question subject and as an issue for discussion.

Some projects have tried to address this inequality in Macomia District (Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique) by increasing rural households’ connections and consumption of electricity from the national grid for productive use. The focus has been to increase awareness of electricity benefits for rural communities, particularly women, by demonstrating various energy equipment, gadgets and household appliances to women and showing their time and labor-saving benefits.


The women community workers undergo capacity building sessions and motivational lessons (in the form of videos or exchange visits) to give them the skills and knowledge they need to set up and run viable businesses using electricity. Once communities had graduated from the training and mentoring sessions they will linked to financial institutions or institutions that had the ability to give them capital to get connected and start businesses in the form of loans or grants.

Bangladesh can eradicate extreme poverty by 2022

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 by

Bangladesh has the capacity to eradicate extreme poverty by 2022. To achieve this Bangladesh needs to bring one million extreme poor families out of poverty each year until 2020.  Bangladesh has 2.5 billion extreme poor people or nearly 60,000,000 families in different locations such as riverine areas and chars, according to Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2010. Extreme poverty is often chronic and lasts for years affecting generation after generation.

To bring down extreme poverty, all stakeholders, both public and private, need to take collective action that includes the design and implementation of a national programme to enable these families to be engaged with the market. MA Quader Sarker, secretary to RDCD, said, “We’ll do everything to ensure that the extreme poor have a fair chance at a free and dignified life.”

Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

Families from Gaibandha

The manifesto to eradicate extreme poverty proposes three actions:

  1. Design and implement a national programme of livelihood transforming initiatives to rapidly eradicate extreme poverty from Bangladesh.
  2. Systematically monitor and reform public services and social protection transfers to prioritise the need of extreme poor.
  3. Promote the institutional, policy and behavioral changes needed to address the root causes of extreme poverty.

Time table for action:

Action Year
2014-2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Design and implement a national programme of livelihood transformative initiatives to rapidly eradicate extreme poverty from Bangladesh. Design the national Programme to eradicate extreme poverty National Programme for the eradication of extreme poverty implemented Bangladesh Free from extreme poverty
Number of extreme poor families (ref HEIS lower poverty line)
Raise $3 bn resources for implementation 6m 5m 4m 3m 2m 1m
Systematically monitor and reform public services and social protection transfers to priorities the need of extreme poor. Dialogue with all public service providers regarding service provision to the extreme poor Systematic reform of public services to improve targeting and address issues of exclusion A system in place that keeps people out of extreme poverty and supports the recovery of those who fall back
National Social Protection Reform Strategy
Promote the institutional, policy and behavioral changes needed to address the root causes of extreme poverty A national public policy dialogue about the type of society and economy that Bangladesh wants for the future with a focus on issues of pro poorest income distribution, inclusiveness and gender equity. National Consensus and commitment on the principles of and measures needed to establish a poverty free nation.

A day with Kanchan

Friday, October 17th, 2014 by

I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.

Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.

The Flashback …

Kanchan in front of her house

The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.

A total of nine people shared these two rooms.

Kanchan with her six sisters

Kanchan with her six sisters

Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.

That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.

She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.

For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.

The Change in the scene …

After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.

While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.

Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.

At present …

But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.

It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.


“Innovation” on low cost faecal sludge collection and transportation

Friday, October 17th, 2014 by

Safe management of faecal sludge is a big challenge for Bangladesh. Only Dhaka City has sewerage facilities for about 22% of the city, which is insignificant compared to the whole country.

To manage this sludge, people mainly depend on an unsafe manual process which is bad for the environment. Sweepers mainly use traditional equipment like a bucket and rope to collect the sludge from the pit and dump into the nearby open water body, drain, or on open land which is harmful for their health and for others.

vacutag3Most cities and towns have no management system for sewerage due to a lack of capacity, awareness and willingness.  One type of modern pit emptying equipment available in the market is Vacutag which is very much costly not only for the municipality but also for the private entrepreneur and sweeper.

The MAWTS Vacutag is very expensive and loan providing institutions both public and private are not interested enough to provide financial support to entrepreneurs for providing this service as a business. In this context, we have developed a low cost 1300 liter capacity mechanized covered van  through our metal development center at Faridpur for sludge transportation to the treatment site and a submersible pump for sludge collection. The cost is around 180,000 Bangladesh Taka (£1454) for the mechanized van and 55000 Bangladesh Taka  (£444) for the submersible pump.

This is being tested in the field by Practical Action

Collected from: Dipok Chandra Roy, Programme Manager, Urban Services Programme