Archive for December, 2014

Comparing conservation ponds in Nepal and Peru

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 by

We were at a height of 4,200m with no trees in the horizon, only patches of grass. At this height in Nepal, you will see lots of pine trees in the surrounding as the treeline in Khumbu, Himalayas in Nepal is at 4,200m but it is at 3,900m in Andes, Peru.

Alpacas, Peru

Alpacas grazing on chillihua grass

The view of the Andes above the treeline is enchanting and the sight of alpacas grazing on chillihua grass on the mountain slopes is soul-stirring. However, apart from the amazing alpacas, the most interesting thing for me in the trip to the Alpacas Melgar project in Peru was a reservoir constructed by the project to harvest rainwater and collect water from natural sources.

Water reservoir, Melgar

A water reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site

Comparing the 6m long and 4m wide reservoir having holding capacity of 36,000 litres of water with the conservation ponds in Nepal, I found small but significant improvements that can be applied to our ponds in Nepal.

In Nepal, conservation ponds are not new. Most of the villages in the plains have ponds, mostly rain-fed. The ponds, big in size, are used for fish farming, irrigation, water for cattle, washing and bathing. In the mid-hills too, people had used the ponds, though small in size, to store water for dry period. However, due to introduction of piped water supply, the practice of digging conservation ponds was discontinued.

With the help of government bodies and non-governmental organisations, the practice of having conservation ponds has been revived.
The ponds, about 3m long, 2m wide and 1.5m deep, are dug out and the walls are lined with high density polyethylene sheet or silpaulin (multi-layered, cross laminated, UV stabilised) heavy duty plastic sheeting. They generally have holding capacity of 8,000-10,000 litres of water. The ponds are constructed in shady area to minimise losses from evaporation and the plastic lining prevents water seepage.

Coming back to the reservoir at the Alpacas Melgar project site, it is located at a place higher than the pastureland. As the area is above the treeline, there is no chance of finding a place with shade to dig a pond. However, to save the plastic lining from being damaged by the sun’s rays, a layer of dry chillihua grass is stacked on the borders throughout the perimeter of the reservoir. A simple application but an innovative one!

Water canal

A canal bringing water to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

Likewise, the canal bringing in water to the reservoir is connected to a filter – a square block with simple arrangement of inlet and outlets for water and effluent at different heights. The effluent outlet is at the lowest end and plugged in by a pipe that can be taken out to discharge the mud, dirt and other wastes gathered in the filter from the inlet. Modesto, one of the kamayoqs (locally trained farmers in the Peruvian Andes) trained by Practical Action, displayed the technique, lifting the pipe. There’s not much technical improvement but the intervention is impressive.

Water filter

A water filter connected to the reservoir. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

The outlet of the reservoir is connected to a distribution point. It is a block of inlet and outlet pipes. The use of check valve and detachable pipes makes the whole arrangement worth replicating. The point, located at a lower height, has an inlet coming from the reservoir with a check valve which controls the flow of water downstream. As and when the detachable pipe is inserted in the point, the valve opens up and water starts flowing through the pipe connected to two sprinklers. The pipes and sprinklers are detachable. They are removed and stored in a safe place during the rainy season to avoid the wear and tear.

Water distribution point

Modesto displays the water distribution technique. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

The rainy season starts from November and lasts till March every year. However, it hadn’t rained this year although it was already mid-December. So the pipes were still in place and the water level in the reservoir was depleting rapidly.

In spite of no rains this year, we could clearly see the changes in the landscape brought by the reservoir and the irrigation scheme. The irrigated land is green. With the project’s support new varieties of grass like alfalfa and clover have been introduced. The baby alpacas like these soft varieties of grass. Because of the irrigation scheme, Modesto is planning to grow potatoes and quinoa in his land along with raising healthier alpacas.

Irrigated land

Modesto points to the green irrigated piece of land with new varieties of grass. (c) Practical Action/ Mehrab Ul Goni

According to Project Manager Duverly, the project has supported to dig 61 reservoirs in the area. Each reservoir is owned by a family and they are responsible for managing the reservoir and changing the plastic lining every five years. Seeing the benefits of the reservoir, the mayor of the district is planning to support more families in other parts of the district to build and manage such improved ponds.

The small but innovative improvements in the reservoir management at the Alpacas Melgar project are worth replicating. A large population in the mid-hills of Nepal will benefit if some of the improvements are adapted in the conservation ponds.

The Alpacas Melgar project is being implemented by Practical Action in Nuñoa, Macari, Santa Rosa and Ayaviri districts in Melgar Province of Puno, Peru. Eighty kamayoqs and 800 highland families in the province are benefitting from the project on the efficient management of integrated activities related to raising alpacas. 

For more information, read the brochure or visit the project website.

Calendar World: A New Year Sing-a-Long!

Friday, December 19th, 2014 by

2015 Calendar

On my drive to work this morning, Neil Sedaka’s ‘Calendar Girl’ came on the radio and I began thinking about all the designated ‘world days’ we have in the development sector…So, over coffee and mince pies (Lots of mince pies), I re-wrote the lyrics.  You can sing-a-long now that you know the words


We love, we love, we love our little calendar world

Yeah, our calendar world

We love, we love, we love our little calendar world

Every day, every day of the year

January…a hug when new year starts (21st: International Hug Day)

February…social justice in our hearts (20th: World Day of Social Justice)

March… we’re celebrating womankind (8th: International Women’s’ Day)

April…smoke-free kitchens are mighty fine (7th: World Health Day)


May…supporting trade that we believe is fair (9th: World Fair Trade Day)

June…reducing CO2 emissions in the air (5th: World Environment Day)

July…responding to the issues of urban sprawl ( 11th: World Population Day)

August… come and join us,  one and all  (Supporters Day)


September…farmers & pastoralists live in peace (21st: World Peace Day)

October…growing food for the hungry to eat (16th: World Food Day)

November…market systems to empty pit-latrines ( 19th: World Toilet Day)

December…protecting rights, promoting SDG’s (10th: Human Rights Day)


What’s in a name?

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 by

As we left the narrow alleys of Cusco, the natural delights of country life awaited us. The extremely beautiful countryside kept me glued to the car window throughout the journey.

Being new to the place, for me, the most notable things on the way to Pomacanchi from Cusco were graffiti and lakes. The houses and walls that were painted with election symbols and slogans for the recently held regional and municipal elections pose stark contrast to the surrounding – a sort of visual pollution.

However, the lovely lakes dotting the stunning landscape never let me look away. The area is famous for lakes and springs – Pomacanchi, Pampamarca, Acopia and Mosoc Llacta being the biggest and most important lakes in the area.

A beautiful lake on the way

A beautiful lake on the way

Crossing Pomacanchi, the picturesque and biggest lake in the district, we arrived at the Pomacanchi District Municipality after two hours. Facing the yellow municipality building with arches is a wide square housing restaurants, parking space, flag poles, statues, benches and a small garden. We took quick sips of coffee and few bites of bread in a restaurant at the square. The local products were refreshing!

As we walked along the corridors of the building, we were led to the Civil Registration Office. The office registers the birth and other important dates for Pomacanchi residents.

Pomacanchi Municipality Building

Pomacanchi Municipality Building

Antolin, the office Chief welcomed us and showed around his office. Amidst a rack of old registers were two computers, a scanner, photocopier and a printer. Novice to the modern technology, he learned to use computers with the help of Willay Programme and started keeping the correct birth dates.

According to Antolin, earlier it was quite difficult to register the exact dates. People used to relate the dates with some major events happening around the date and the registration had to be done manually – noting down the details in thick registers.

When the residents came to collect the certificates, it used to take hours to find their respective certificates among the stack of old files. Adding to the woe, the spittle applied to the index finger while rummaging through the pages dabbed the certificates. Sometimes, the certificates used to get ruined in the process.

To tackle this, the programme has developed a reliable system. Now, the data can be easily searched in the system. With the system’s help, Antolin finds the details of a beneficiary in his computer within minutes and prints the certificate instantly. He has also started scanning old certificates and recording them in the system.

In Pomacanchi, around 200 births take place in a year. According to the National Census of Population and Dwellings 2007, the population of Pomacanchi was 8,340.

As the terrain is difficult and people reside in remote areas, they walk even for two days on foot to get to the registration office for registering births. Earlier, they had to wait for hours to get their work done. Now, Antolin takes no more than five minutes to register a birth date. And the beneficiaries no longer need to wait for hours.

Showing us the system, Antolin said, “It is easier and efficient with the system on place.”

The system feeds to the national data. The programme has also developed manuals to operate the system. The municipality has a support system in place to deal with system breakdowns and errors occurring during the process.

Along with Pomacanchi, six municipalities in Acomayo and two municipalities in Cajamarca use the system.

Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration.

Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration. (c) Practical Action/Mehrab Ul Goni

So, what’s in a name? And why do people flock to Antolin’s office to get the name, birth date and other details registered?

Antolin says birth registration is children’s prime right as it provides them with legal identity opening doors to other rights ranging from health care and education to participation in polls and receiving protection from state.

As we left his office, he was feeling proud of demonstrating the usefulness of the system to visitors from other parts of the world.

(The team visiting the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi, Peru included Amanda Ross from the UK, Mehrab Ul Goni from Bangladesh, Sara Eltigani Elsharif from Sudan, and Upendra Shrestha and Sanjib Chaudhary from Nepal.)

The Willay programme in Peru began in 2007 and until 2010 focussed on promoting ICT for governance, implementing demonstration projects in San Pablo (Cajamarca) and Acomayo (Cusco), deploying telecommunications network, improving information management systems and strengthening capacities of public officials in rural areas. The programme, implemented by Practical Action, is in its third phase and aimed towards the sustainability of the system.

The programme has been funded by Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation –Government of Spain, Municipality of Madrid and European Commission.

To know more, read the brochure or visit the programme’s website.

Robbed at COP? A novice’s view of the talks.

Thursday, December 18th, 2014 by

Attending the second week of the UNFCCC COP meeting in Lima, Peru has been a challenging and a bewildering experience, for a first timer and non-specialist in international climate talks.

First of all there is the terminology – the main text that is being developed at the moment, and which should form the basis of final negotiations for a new global climate convention in Paris next year, is known as a ‘non-paper’ for example. Not a very inspiring name for something that is absorbing the attention of so many people! Then there are the conversations that are sprinkled with acronyms to the extent that it sometimes feels like you are listening to a text message rather than a human being – COP, CMP, INDC, SBSTA, GCF, CIF, and so on.

Then there is the content of the ‘non paper’ itself. I had a quick glance at a version on Wednesday. It was around 40 pages long and seemed, from a quick read, to be a jumble of contradictions. Almost every clause or commitment or resolution in the document contained 2,3,4 or more alternative options for text, sometimes variations on the same sentiment, but sometimes options that completely contradicted each other (for example in the final version published on the UNFCCC website the section on adaptation options for paragraph 25.2 include both “establish a global goal for adaptation” and “no global goal for adaptation”). The plan is that this text will gradually be honed down by working parties over the coming year to something that can form the basis for final negotiations in time for the Paris COP in 2015. All I can say is that I wish Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat, and her staff all the best with that task!

I was privileged to hear Ms Figueres speak at the COP. Practical Action is part of an alliance with the Zurich Insurance Company, and 3 other organisations working together on developing new ways to help poor people in the developing world reduce their vulnerability to floods. (as a side note – floods not only affect more people globally than any other type of natural hazard but the associated economic, social and humanitarian losses are expected to grow as the climate change leads to increase in extreme rainfall events and rising sea levels). The Alliance was lucky enough to win a UNFCC Momentum for Change award (or M4C – another acronym!) for its work and Ms Figueres (and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon) spoke at the awards ceremony on Wednesday. She spoke passionately and from her heart about the low point of the COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 from which everyone had come away depressed and downhearted, with a sense that progress towards a global climate agreement was impossible. She talked about the need after Copenhagen to create a momentum for change and a new positive picture of what could be achieved. The M4C awards were a (very modest) part of that process, showcasing examples of people and organisations taking concrete actions on mitigation or adaptation.

She also talked about how far things had moved post Copenhagen and how different and more positive the atmosphere was at the Lima talks. Certainly the China / US agreement prior to the COP lifted the atmosphere and those who had attended previous COPs told me that the language was gradually changing for the better – one example was the use of the concept of national carbon budgets by many of the official delegations – something that would have been an anathema a couple of years ago.

But there are still reasons for a good dose of pessimism though, many related to the US, despite Australia doing its best to be the ‘bad guy’ by winning more ‘fossil of the day’ awards (given by the NGO community to official delegations for outrageous behaviour) than any other country. In a nutshell ‘conventional wisdom’ says that a Republican Congress won’t ratify further significant financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund and won’t countenance the concept of reparation to developing countries for ‘loss and damage’ – another theme of the talks. Verification was also an ongoing issue. Countries have agreed to submit ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ in time for the Paris COP next year to explain their plans for cutting carbon. European nations have been pushing for the UN to provide independent verification of progress against these targets but others, China and the US included, have resisted any commitment to external verification, throwing doubt over the solidity of the commitments being made. Finally, although there was much talk about adaptation being mainstreamed in the talks much more than in the past, a presentation on existing climate finance in one side events I attended showed that finance for adaptation remains the poor cousin, accounting for less than 10% of current climate financing, with the remainder going to mitigation.

Government delegations were not the only ones attracting negative press last week however. There were those amongst the NGOs that felt Greenpeace should have been given a ‘fossil of the day’ award for a publicity stunt that went badly wrong. A group of the NGO’s activists decided to use the Nasza lines as a backdrop for one of their protest events. The Nazca lines are a series of huge ancient patterns inscribed into the desert coastal plain of Peru that can only really be appreciated from the air. Created simply by clearing stones and debris away from fixed lines, the patterns have remained intact for hundreds of years in the arid conditions and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Greenpeace activists spelt out a slogan about solar power next to one of the most iconic patterns for Peru, a hummingbird. Although they were careful to avoid damaging the lines themselves (the letters were just made out of cloth laid on the ground) the tracks of their vehicles left a maze of marks on what until then had been the undisturbed ground around the pattern. The Peruvian press was incensed at the damage done to their site and there were reports from that the ministry of culture would be suing Greenpeace for damage.

For me though, one of the abiding images from the various side events I attended was a graph from a Royal Society presentation on its new report “Resilience to extreme weather”. The graph (see below) shows an inexorable rise in the annual global economic loss, given as a % of global GDP, over the past 30 years. The graph was a salutary reminder of why the UNFCC process is so important, as climate change continues to drive growth in extreme weather events. But it also made me wonder how much it was an under representation of the true social cost to the poor and marginalised communities in developing countries, those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they rely on land that is already marginal for farming or live in informal urban settlements most at risk from flooding and natural disasters. In % points of GDP their losses may not amount to so much, but in terms of human deprivation their losses are already immense.

Reactions to the final outcome of the COP are varied, even amongst civil society actors at the event.  For example the World Resources Institute in the US concludes that  “delegates in Lima laid the groundwork for a successful international climate agreement in Paris next year” , whilst in the UK the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Saleemul Huq is quoted in the Guardian as saying “It sucks. It is taking us backwards”, whilst WWF claims “We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome”.

CaptureWas a potential transformative agreement at COP20 stolen from under our noses at the last minute, despite the positive omens at the start of the conference? I have to confess, as a COP novice I have no bench mark to compare these talks to and so no idea. But, despite the challenges to progress there undoubtedly have been, I found it difficult to leave the COP20 meeting without being infected to some degree with the positivism being radiated by Christiana Figueres and Ban Ki Moon. The road ahead is still a long and difficult one, but I like to think there’s just a chance that we could look back at the Lima meeting in a few years’ time as the turning point when the world started to take climate change seriously and started to work together on finding a solution.

Simple technology – great results!

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 by

Resident of Chitwan District of Nepal, 51 year old Ramlal Chaudary’s family has been dependent on agriculture for generations. But in the recent times, it was getting difficult to sustain his family of nine through agriculture alone. Recently, he had started driving tractor as a side business. But agriculture – is a part of his culture; paddy being the major harvest.

Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

Ramlal Chaudary at his paddy field. (Photo: Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

This year too, Ramlal cultivated paddy like every other year. But this year, his field was greener and healthier than that of his neighbours. Even the other farmers observed his field curiously. Though most people assumed that he must have worked too hard to get this result, he actually had neither weeded nor used any pesticides or chemical fertilisers in his field.

Ramlal shares happily, “The pests that were not controlled by strong pesticides are non-existent in my field now, even though I haven’t used any pesticide. Others weeded their fields numerous times and also used chemical fertilisers, but without doing any of that, the paddy in my field has flourished quite extraordinarily.”

So what is the reason behind this drastic change in Ramlal’s paddy? What has he changed in his farming practice to get these great results?
The answer actually is very simple.

Ramlal has started raising ducks along with the rice in his field.
He explains, “I decided to raise ducks in my rice field after attending an orientation programme about rice-duck farming organised by Practical Action. The organisation provided us with proper training to carry out this farming technique and also supported us with a day old ducklings. After the training, we formed a group and started rice-duck farming.”
Rice-duck farming technology was found to be beneficial in terms of providing social, economic and environmental benefits in a pilot research carried out by Practical Action in 2013. Currently, Practical Action Consulting Pvt. Ltd. is implementing integrated rice-duck farming project in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts with the financial support of Grand Challenges Canada. The project is working to build the capacity of 1000 small holder farmers to adopt the rice-duck farming technology – Ramlal is one among them.

Ducks at the rice field.

Ducks at the rice field.

Ramlal says, “I didn’t have any idea about the practice of rice-duck farming. But now, I am experiencing many benefits. The droplets of the ducks acts as manure so there is no need to use chemical fertilisers. The ducks gets the nutrition by feeding upon the pests and weeds. I feel that the ducks are a boon for the rice field.”
Ramlal is the treasurer of the ‘Quality rice-duck farming’ group. There are altogether 15 members in this group – all practice rice-duck farming. The members of the group made a collective decision to practice rice-duck farming in their individual fields. They conduct monthly meetings where they share their agricultural progress and problems, most of which they solve with combined effort. Each member contributes NPR 50 (£0.32) for saving on a monthly basis. The amount is used among the members for agricultural inputs whenever required.

Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

Ducks coming out of the paddy field.

The rice-duck farming technology has made an impact in Ramlal’s life in the first year of the practice itself. The yield in his field has increased. Previously, 0.03 hectares of field yielded hardly two quintals; this year it yielded 2.66 quintals of rice.
He further adds, “I made rupees 52,700 (£337.82) more from the rice alone in comparison to last year. And the best part is that, the ducks become ready to be sold at the same time as rice harvesting. Among the total of 18 ducks I raised, we have kept few to be used at home and sold others at the price of rupees 800 (£5.12) each. This has made a significant impact on my income. People from neighbouring localities and villages also take interest when they see the ducks in the rice field. I try my best to share the knowledge with the ones who are unaware about it.”

(The information for this story was collected by Tej Mani Panth, Practical Action)

Hope for better life through micro hydro and PMSD initiatives in the Koraput district of Odisha

Monday, December 15th, 2014 by

Our day started at 6am and we headed towards Badamanjari (a project field site) over 60km from the district headquarter Koraput. We took about 3 hours to travel through good roads, bad roads, rough and rocky roads in the hilly terrains and passing by the highest peak of Eastern Ghats (Deomali). There was intermittent mobile coverage on our way and we could see very less vehicles usually over-packed with people. All of us traveling had a WOW feeling inside, that Practical Action is working in such interior pockets and delivering technology solutions and services to the poor where the poor benefit to the fullest. The closer we go to the village the more excited we were and a sense of belonging was mounting in our minds and hearts which outburst during the overwhelming welcome and response of the villagers.

High Hills of Eastern Ghat

High Hills of Eastern Ghat

Badamanjari is one of the project sites of the Sustainable Micro-hydro through Energizing Rural Enterprises and Livelihood (SMRE) Project in Koraput district of Odisha. The village inhabits 93 households and is surrounded by nature and its greatest gifts, one of which is in the shape of a perennial water source which is used by the villagers for a Micro Hydro Project with a capacity of producing 30 KW of electricity. This project was supported by various donors and implemented by a well-known NGO from the district. The Project was initiated in 2003 and was commissioned to the people in 2006. The people got uninterrupted electricity up to the year 2013 and somehow there was problem with the machine and it did not work from then. The SMRE Project initiated by Practical Action in partnership with Koraput Farmer’s Association (KFA) aims to rehabilitate and renovate the Micro Hydro Project to function to its fullest potential and help people increase their income with the use of the PMSD approach.

Badamanjari Village

Badamanjari Village

Suresh Tadingi (23) lives with his wife, daughter (2 years), brother, mother and grandmother in Badamanjari village. His ancestral property of over 6 Acres of agricultural land is being used by four families with a total of 21 members. He is busy in the agriculture and allied works throughout the year except January and February (during these months he goes to nearby town to work on contract). Even though they do farming of Zinger, Beans, Vegetables, Raggi, Millets (varieties) and Paddy, they live in a subsistence economy and it is not enough for everyone. It is the SMRE Project which has brought a light of hope for him, his family and the community at large.



Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

Suresh Tadingi, Badamanjari

Suresh along with four other youth members are interested to take up Turmeric Processing Unit as one of their income generating endeavors through the SMRE Project. They will be responsible to collect raw turmeric from 9 nearby villages, process, package and market the products to gain profits. These five young men will get the agreed share of the earning and will share part of their earnings to the community fund from where it will then be used for benefits of the community and its members. If everything works well, then Suresh and others like him need not go outside of the village to work as daily wage laborers, but in the contrary they will get a dignified earning through the business of their own and multiply their income as per their efforts to live a better life in their own village itself.

Women’s Everyday Struggle in Public Transport in Dhaka City

Sunday, December 14th, 2014 by

Experience of traveling in public transport in Dhaka city is bad for all, but for a woman it is no less than a nightmare.

In any typical public transport, the maximum number of reserved seats for persons with a disability, children and women is 9 -while the total number of seats is around 60. Even though the rest of the seats are where anybody can sit,often male passengers think that women should not make use of the general seats as they have reserved seats for them. The way they talk it indicates that they have misunderstood the whole purpose of ‘reserved seats’.

A couple of weeks back, I was returning home from my office after  a hectic day.  I was so tired that the moment I got a seat in the bus, I just fell asleep. However, my bumping dream soon broke with loud shouts from some of the passengers against a lady who was using ‘objectionable words’. Due to the noise I did not understand immediately what caused the fight.  However, it was clear that it was between a group of young boys and a young lady. When the situation become calmer, I found out that there was an empty seat in the ‘reserved seats’ where no woman was sitting, so one of the boys sat there. But the lady could not accept a boy sitting beside her and asked him to leave the seat.  The man did not want to, and a fight became inevitable! Most of the passengers was on the guy’s side and found her very ‘strange’.

I was reminded of an incident 13 years back when I was a graduate student in the department of Women and Gender studies at the University of Dhaka. To be honest, this choice of subject was not out of any motivation to be gender sensitized, I just wanted to earn my master’s degree to get into the competitive job market. Anyway, having taken an undergraduate degree in Economics from India, I found the lessons on gender surprisingly different from what I learnt earlier. But surprises and new issues always attract me and I enjoyed it.

After few months of gender lessons, me and some other fellows became so motivated that we protested wherever and whenever we saw any gender discrimination. Sometimes, it put us in a very difficult situation. I remember, one day I was on the way to my part-time job. I was travelling by a public transport.

Absence of footpaths crowds the busy streets in Dhaka

When I got on the bus it was relatively quiet but gradually became crowded. From Shahbag bus stop, a lady got on the bus and took one of the unreserved seats, even though some of the reserved seats were empty. From Farmgate bus stop, a huge number of passengers got on the bus, and many of them did not find a seat. While they noticed that a lady was not in the reserved seats, they started scolding her as if she committed crimes. They started humiliating her with statements like “you know what kind of a lady sits in a man’s seat”. The lady protested saying that she did not sit in a ‘man’s seat’ but in a ‘general seat’.  Then the passengers started laughing at her.

I had to take her side and tried to clarify the issue of reserved and general seats by giving some examples. Listening to my examples, instead of being convinced, they became so angry that they started telling each other, “see, we got a wise man in the bus. As all of us are fools, we should not travel with a wise man”. They forced me to get off the bus. I took another bus and was not upset; rather, I felt I have the spirit to fight against a biased system.

Women are often subjected to sexual abuse when travelling by public transport. Additionally, if women complain against such sexual abuse, they get offensive remarks, like “why does the daughter of a millionaire not use her own car?”, “if you feel bad, why do you travel by public transport?”. Many women feel embarrassed to complain. To avoid such situations bus conductors (who collect fares and assist the bus driver) discourage women from taking a public bus. They often say, “Oithen na, mohilader kono seat nai” (do not get on, there is no seat for a woman in the bus)”. They consider female passengers as a Jhamela (a hassle). Some also refer women to female bus services (which are very few in number and have limited bus stops).

There are a few issues that require serious attention. First, is the number of reserved seats adequate? Second, what are the preventive measures that can be taken against sexual abuse in public transport? Third, how can awareness be built on the reserved seat confusion and debate? Many young people (including men) understand this struggle and many of them do fight against this kind of discrimination but this has failed to make a significant difference.

We need to revisit our approach and engage more people to protest. After 13 years, when I look back on progress so far, I feel we could have done better!

Snapshots of pastoralist life

Friday, December 12th, 2014 by

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.

Of the 15,000 families and 30 villages covered by the programme, these recent photos capture just a snapshot of the various pastoralist families and communities who are being impacted by Practical Action’s work:


Pastoralist CBO18.11.2014 (57) 

Pastoralist CBO18.11.2014 (23)

Pastoralist CBO18.11.2014 (123)

2014.07.26 Tarrace training Shagra A (56)

Terrance training, Shagra

Pastoralist CBO18.11.2014 (104)

Pastoralist CBO18.11.2014 (42)

Photo credit: all photos Awadalla Hamid Mohamed


Power Hack Update

Thursday, December 11th, 2014 by

Two days of intensive thinking and model making are over and the results are impressive. The three groups of people involved who had not met each other before the event involved in produced some interesting concepts presented. The final designs were a power hub, a scrap laptop battery upcycling an energy brickkr that uses the heat from a fire to generate electricity.

The Power Hub is an adaptable rotating charger that can then fix wind blades or water turbine buckets to it to generate electricity. Making wind turbine blades out of old drinks cans could be a real challenge. The device would be able to make enough electricity for LED lighting in the home. Many of the components could be made from scrap materials such as plastic bottles and old drinks cans. However some of the components would have to be supplied in kit form.

There was a reckrent report that many laptop batteries are being thrown away when they still have considerable life in them. The idea was that where e-scrap is prevalent this element of the waste could be turned into an income generating activity for scrap processers and the batteries, once they have been taken out of their old casing and put into the new universal casing could be used to store electricity for home without reliable electricity.

The Energy Brick incorporated thermocouples into a clay brick that would be used to make up the krsurround of a basic fire used for cooking. The brick would have connections out that would then be able to charge up a mobile phone or for some lights. The team focused on the manufacturing process of with a scale-scale spot welding device to produce the thermocouples from wire fed through on reels.

There was lots of cutting and gluing throughout the two days. Rapid prototyping is not as quick as working things out on paper or making things out of cardboard or even plastic board. Then the components were printed in green plastic from a set of printers at the back of the room. The components would need further work to turn them into real usable items.

The design will also need further work. It is great to be involved in a hackathon where ideas can be developed but there are a lot of assumptions thrown in with the design ideas. To make a real assessment of the designs we would need to examine these assumptions and try to relate the good ideas to real life situations.

Building stronger communities in Cusco

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by

During the last two weeks I’ve seen some amazing sights and met some extraordinary people in Peru,   Practical Action is using innovative ways of empowering women to raise their voices to improve their communities and to achieve economic independence. Here are some of examples from the Cusco region in the south of Peru.

pomocanchiAmelia and Juana are local Councillors in Pomacanchi.  Their desire to improve the wellbeing of their community led them to undertake training in radio broadcasting. Despite initial shyness they are now both seasoned broadcasters.  This is the second stage of the project which brought internet connectivity to this remote community and is working to  to strengthen participation in local institutions. One of the areas they are focusing on is malnutrition which affects 28% of the population in this municipality.  The broadcasts give information on the preparation of food, childcare and the most nutritious local products such and quinoa.  The broadcasts are in both Quechua and Spanish.  Amelia proudly told us: “At the beginning I was very frightened to talk on the radio but now I have much more confidence.  I am happy to know that I am participating in improving the health of the community.”


school in PomocanchiAs part of the same project, in partnership with the Ministry of Education in Peru, this class of 30 13 year olds are making radio programmes for young people, covering a wide range of subjects – general knowledge, history, geography, current affairs, health and rights as well as music of many different genres.  They broadcast every day – taking it in turns.  They prepare the subject matter with the teacher, using the internet to gather interesting material – such as ‘the elephant is the only animal with 4 knees!’  They have fun, they are learning, gaining confidence in speaking and passing on useful information to others.  When I asked if any of them wanted to be journalists when they grew up, hands shot up all over the room!


hilandoFinally there is the knitting and weaving group working together to recreate the traditional crafts of the region.  They dye wool (both sheep and alpaca) with locally available natural dyes  and use traditional weaving and knitting techniques and patterns.  The group has a brand name (Canchi) and are taking the products to fashion outlets in Lima to try to build a market in these high quality products. A display of their product ‘El Arte Peruano Navidad’ is taking place at a smart store in Lima this week. Each Thursday the women (and one man who came in for a lot of teasing!) come to work together at the social centre and to learn new skills which they put into practice at home.  The products take a great deal of time and skill to produce – a scarf is around 3 days work, so it is important for the project to ensure that this is reflected in the price they receive for their work