Archive for January, 2015

Promoting Safer Cities: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Mega City Dhaka

Saturday, January 31st, 2015 by

Case Study of Dhaka, a mega city

The city has become a vibrant place for improvements in living standards in developing countries. Dhaka is one of the ancient cities, even older than Kolkata but its population and territorial boundaries were not big till 1971.  Before that it was a colonial town which served only some administration services. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Centre for Urban Studies reports show that in 1901 the total urban population in Bangladesh was only 0.70 million but by the year 2011 it was 39.22 million. It is estimated that in the year 2031 it will be 60.45 million. Around 30% of people now live in urban areas where Dhaka, alone has nearly 38% of the current urban population – this was 28% in 1974. Dhaka has reached at the status of megacity and it is also the fastest growing megacity in the world along with Lagos, Nigeria according to UN World Urbanization Prospects 2003.

street foodAs well as an increasing trend in the formal economy the city has achieved high growth of informal business and small traders on road sides and streets.  Millions of people depend on the street for their livelihood. One of the major trades is the restaurant and food business, which are the cheapest way to get instant foods and beverages for city dwellers and pedestrians. The dominant categories on sale are instant fried food, processed food and juices and chopped fruits sold uncovered!

Bangladesh has made a significant achievement in some health indicators e.g. the reduction of under five children mortality came down (1000 live birth) to 53 in the year 2011 (BDGS and UNICEF MICS 2000). It is close to achieving 100% access to safe drinking water and  sanitary latrines for all. It is now at 98.2% for drinking water and 80.4% for sanitary latrines (SVRS 2011 and MICS 2009). Therefore investment in health system has also successfully reduced communicable diseases significantly. International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) has been conducting a Demographic and Health Survey in the Matlab and findings show that a massive change in the mortality profile from acute, infectious, and parasitic diseases to non-communicable, degenerative, and chronic diseases during the last 20 years. It also showed that over the period 1986–2006, age-standardized mortality rate (for both sexes) due to diarrhoea and dysentery reduced by 86%.

Need for behavourial change

Perceived safe water

Perceived safe water

City dwellers understanding of germs and cleanliness and behavioural change related to sanitation and hygiene have also improved dramatically over the decades. In my childhood in the 1980s people depended on supplied water but it was uncommon to boil this before drinking. Sometimes when there was an epidemic of diarrhoea people used to boil or mix water purification tablets in their drinking water. Now it is common even among the street vendors to buy bottled water for drinking which is perceived as safe.  Selling water is now very a good business as people sense of germs and hygiene has been improved. A major water business now supplies water ina big plastic transparent container. People are also willing to pay for this at a cost of one taka per glass (100 taka = 86p).

To change people’s behaviour always takes long term effort. Therefore in health promotion or technology transfer in a community needs long term behaviour change communication.   However people’s behaviour on drinking water practices has improved.  Concern for hygiene and safe food preparation, processing and consumption practices remains at a poor level.  A recent study conducted by ICDDR,B in the Dhaka mega city entitled, ‘Behavioural Intervention of Street Food Vendors for Strengthening Street Food Safety in Dhaka City, Bangladesh’ shows that, more than 50% of food items and beverages sold on Dhaka streets were contaminated with various groups of bacteria called coliforms, while more than a third of street foods is unhygienic because of faecal pathogens such as e. coli. It is also reported that ‘the hands of 88% of vendors are stained with germs and about two thirds of vendors carry bacteria on their hands while preparing foods’.

Improving food hygiene 

I have found that some patterns are changing. Some vendors sell pancakes from a covered van and keep all the food in covered packages. The iron cooking pan is also covered when cakes are cooked. A rare case can be even be found where vendors use gloves for preparing and handling food. An ICDDR,B study has recommended that the situation could be improved to reduce the contamination rate if appropriate interventions are taken.  It has also been revealed that there is a lack of adequate public toilets for the large numbers of pedestrians and street vendors who spend a long hours on the street! Some NGOs have mobile toilets in the city but this  is like a drop of water in the sea where there are millions of people from dawn to night. Poor people spend more in comparison to their earnings on health and medication but due to inappropriate behavior, ignorance of preventive practices, delays in seeking health care from untrained health professionals all have negative consequences on household incomes.  Urban poverty is multifaceted challenge compared to rural poverty as poor people has to pay for everything but have very low social protection support.

Practical Action Bangladesh works to provide technological solutions to poverty. Its urban service programs in Bangladesh has been funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where it aims to improve pro poor urban governance by empowering the urban poor and marginalized to take part in the community development planning process. The experiences of working with some municipalities in Bangladesh on urban services particularly sanitation and urban hygiene can be scaled up in a mega-city like Dhaka where many people live in slums and depend on the streets for their livelihood but lack of access to safe food and water.

KnowledgePoint en Afrique de l’Ouest

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 by

Gestion des Connaissances pour le Développement (GC4D): Collaboration des Bureaux Régionaux de l’Afrique de l’Ouest de WaterAid et de Practical Action pour le partage des connaissances à travers KnowledgePoint.


En effet, pour assurer des interventions durables, novatrices, appropriées et efficaces, nos méthodes et idées font permanemment l’objet d’analyse, d’amélioration et d’adaptation. Nous publions des brochures, notes techniques d’information, revues, bulletins d’information et pages web en vue d’optimiser les idées qui peuvent transformer des vies. Nous apportons des renseignements techniques, entretenons des relations avec la presse écrite et audiovisuelle, influençons le contenu des supports d’apprentissage dans la perspective de sensibiliser et motiver les jeunes.

Le cadre d’échange, KnowledgePoint offre une excellente et extraordinaire opportunité de partage des connaissances. En plus, il répond convenablement aux besoins des individus en quête d’informations fiables. L’objet de la mise au point de KnowledgePoint est non seulement pour étendre l’impact de nos interventions à des millions de personnes mais également toucher beaucoup d’autres par le biais d’une approche de partage des connaissances et de changement concret des politiques.

Comment accéder à KnowledgePoint On peut très facilement s’inscrire et y accéder en allant sur le lien

5 Bonnes raisons d’utiliser Knowledge Point

(i) Simplicité et facilité d’utilisation

(ii) Réponse aux questions: informations fiables et actualisées;

(iii) Interactivité avec la possibilité de poser des questions et rechercher des documents/outils en français ou anglais

(iv) Diversité de thématiques

(v) Archivage des discussions permettant une communication asynchrone


KnowledgePoint en appui à la réponse mondiale contre Ebola

Différentes organisations à travers le monde ont soutenu les efforts d’éradication de l’épidémie Ebola qui sévit en ce moment en Afrique de l’ouest. En effet, en juillet 2014, l’Organisation Mondiale de la Santé (OMS) avait convoqué les ministres de la santé de sept pays à une réunion d’urgence pour convenir d’une stratégie pour coordonner les appuis techniques nécessaires contre l’épidémie. En aout, Ebola fut déclaré par l’OMS comme une urgence de santé publique mondiale. Puis, l‘OMS a publié une feuille de route sur l’orientation et la coordination de la riposte internationale à la crise. A l’heure actuelle, l’assistance provient de la Chine, du Cuba mais aussi d’organismes d’aide et des gouvernements de certains pays occidentaux. Cela n’a néanmoins pas empêché l’épidémie de se propager, ni le nombre de cas de doubler chaque mois.

C’est en guise d’appui aux efforts de maitrise de la propagation de cette crise que WaterAid, Practical Action et d’autres ONGs ont utilisé KnowledgePoint pour créer un site qui servira de cadre de ‘Questions &Réponses’ sur Ebola. La mise au point de ce site a aussi connu le concours de UN WASH Cluster, de l’OMS, de la croix rouge internationale, du centre américain de lutte contre la maladie et de Médecins Sans Frontières.

Lien de KP sur Ebola: un chacun peut apporter des réponses aux questions mais il y a également un groupe de 11 experts disponibles (voir ici :

WaterAidwww.wateraid.orgTel: +221 33 859 08 30 KP
Practical Action
www.practicalaction.orgTel: +221 77 881 27 81

Clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 by

This is a guest blog by Peter Rinker, who works for Geman NGO Movement e.V.

It began with an internship during my studies with the German NGO Movement e.V. in April 2009. Together with the young Burkinabés Faical and Hamed Ouédraogo I started to test the potential of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. Up until then, we had just heard some stories about the successful dissemination of pot-in-pot refrigerators in Northern Nigeria by Mohammed Bah Abba. Even our first tests with quite improvised clay pot cooler prototypes showed that there is a really big cooling potential, thanks to the hot and dry air in Ouahigouya in Northern Burkina Faso. So it became our main goal to work on the dissemination of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. During the following months, we researched for adequate designs and collaborated with female pottery makers to produce the desired clay pots. In the final phase of the three month internship we made efforts to spread the popularity of the clay pot cooler among the local population through presentations with women groups, a lottery at a vegetable market and the creation of flyers and construction manuals.

Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

In 2012, Lisa Buehrer studied and evaluated the impact of our efforts of 2009. She discovered that some people who got a clay pot cooler for free in 2009 were still using it. Others used it till it broke due to playing kids or fallen tree branches. But in general people were very satisfied with the cooling function, the prolonged life of fruit and vegetables and the flexibility they gained, due to the possibility to cool and store their food. Regarding the target group, Lisa Buehrer discovered that all users can benefit from using clay pot coolers. The highest potential benefit however, was for women selling vegetables in the city of Ouahigouya (the results would probably be different in a rural area, where self-sufficient farmers profited highly from the technique, as the example of Abba in Nigeria showed. But due to the very limited resources of Movement e.V., the zone of direct intervention is focused on the city of Ouahigouya and the surrounding villages). The female vegetable sellers normally buy vegetables at a village or a big market in the city and sell the produce again for a slightly higher price in front of their houses in the different parts of the cities. The prolonged lifetime of produce stored in the clay pot cooler made them profit from multiple effects. The method of storage means their goods are of a better quality for longer, which limits the degree to which they have to sell their goods for a diminished price. Thus, they have more flexibility in buying and selling the goods, which enables them to follow other activities, while securing their income through less food losses. Besides the elaboration of the target group Lisa Buehrer continued also the promotional work at local markets and headquarters of NGOs to increase the level of awareness of clay pot coolers.

All the work of Movement e.V. so far showed that the clay pot cooler works very well in the hot and dry conditions of Burkina Faso and that there are millions of people who could potentially benefit from it. The problem we identified after these two three month internships (which is very short and on a very low financial level in comparison to other development projects) was, that there was nearly no independent dissemination of clay pot coolers after our departure. Obviously there were different causes, which had prevented such an independent development. During my studies of sustainable development, I came across the concept of social entrepreneurship, namely understood to be made up of business-driven solutions for social or ecological problems. This concept seemed to be highly promising because it comes with several positive aspects. Firstly, the incentive for local people contributing to the project in a poor country like Burkina Faso would be higher if they can increase their small and irregular income. Secondly, a self-sustaining business model would be the best condition for a project that can become independent from external support in the long run. Thirdly, if this social business model works in Ouahigouya, there would be potential for replication in other regions and contexts, which would serve our overarching goal of bringing clay pot coolers to millions of beneficiaries around the world.

As I was still very convinced of the major benefit of clay pot coolers and the promising model of a social business in mind, I decided to work for Movement e.V. a second time as a voluntary project manager after finishing my studies. Implementing and testing the idea of a social business model for the clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso became the mission of this project stay. We worked a lot on the production side. Around twenty people were trained in producing the customised pots for clay pot coolers. While we thought in the beginning, that it would be an option to produce clay pots in the city, we had to dismiss this option after our first clay pot cooler workshop. It became clear that pottery, given the very hard work it is, is generally not profitable enough to be attractive for people of a bigger city like Ouahigouya. Pottery seems to be one of the worst paid metiers in Burkina Faso. It is a dry season activity of woman in rural areas, who start it after the big harvest at the beginning of the dry season.

Therefore, we decided to leave the production to groups of female potters of the surrounding villages. This comes with more efforts for logistics but has positive side-effects on the situation of these women and their families.

In the city of Ouahigouya we formed a team of four young and intelligent guys, aged between 20 and 30, who had no formal jobs. They earn a bit here and there and support their families with their income. The clay pot cooler project gives them the opportunity to be trained in the various skills needed to be a self-employed entrepreneur. Selling clay pot coolers is not their main job but it adds something to their revenues. Another aspect is the positive reputation in the local community due to their engagement in the clay pot cooler initiative.

We elaborated quite a flexible social business model. Every team member is paid according to the amount of time and work he contributed to selling the clay pot coolers. This makes allowance for unforeseen circumstances in the availability to work on the project. The team orders clay pots for the clay pot cooler from the women groups in the villages. After the delivery of the clay pots to the city there is still some work to do. The outer clay pots receive a logo and phone number, to increase the popularity and the French name of the clay pot cooler: ‘Canari Frigo’. Additionally, they have to apply a layer of cement to the small clay pot and sieve sand (all details on the construction and use of the clay pot coolers can be found in this technical brief: see link at the bottom). Following these steps, the clay pot and the sand can be brought to customers and be installed directly around their houses. It is important that the installation comes with brief and clear explanations about how to use the clay pot cooler. You can have the best technology but you will only enjoy the full potential benefit, if you are using it in the right way. This is one reason, why we still prefer to do the installation ourselves at the customer’s homes and not to sell the customised clay pots at the market.  However, selling on markets could work well in the future, when clay pot coolers are more established and everybody knows how to use them.

Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

This social business model is still an experiment, but we think it goes in the right direction.

The main challenge at the moment is to drum up enough demand for clay pot coolers. While the demand was quite good during my last project stay it slowed down afterwards. The reason is probably that we were present at many events and occasions during my stay, as it was my main job to work full-time on this clay pot cooler project. The calculation of the price of a clay pot cooler was made very tightly and did not include a share for promotional work to keep a payable price for a big share of the population. We obviously underestimated the need for additional marketing, promotion or subsidies for such a new product. That is why we sent Joris Depouillon from Belgium to Burkina Faso in April 2014, to regroup the local team and elaborate a strategy and measures with them to increase the demand for the clay pot coolers.

In autumn 2014, Michael Bührer, the founder and president of Movement e.V., is in Burkina Faso to work on various projects conducted by Movement e.V., as well as on capacity building for the newly founded local partner NGO, Movement BF. Regarding the clay pot cooler project, it became clear that this social business-based approach still needs support; financial support for subsidising the sold clay pots and institutional partners to strengthen the promotional work. Several measures can contribute to a higher popularity of clay pot coolers. When more and more people get to know this innovative technology and its benefits a turning point can be reached, where clay pot coolers become a standard product on markets and promotional work can be reduced almost entirely.

Besides all the efforts to disseminate clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso, we try to spread our detailed knowledge on clay pot coolers through the publication of multilingual construction manuals via different channels like Wikipedia, social media and various networks. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience with all interested persons or organisations to inspire them to build or spread the use of clay pot coolers and prevent that everyone has to reinvent the wheel themselves.

Please let us know when you are starting some kind of clay pot cooler project. This allows us to get an idea about the impact of our efforts for know-how transfer.

Click on the links to read the Technical Briefs – English and French.

Safer Cities: Children’s safety should come first  

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 by

At this time, among all the nation states under the United Nations, probably the children of Asian countries are most vulnerable as many countries of this continent are at war or involved in violent political conflicts. Violence on humans in the name of freedom, seeking independence, religion or demanding democratic rights has been widely increasing from north  to south and east to west on this continent. This is not now limited only to some middle east but expanded to South Asian countries. Barak Obama did not bring his daughters with him on a recent visit to India visit partly due to security concerns! Those girls were deprived of a visit to a part of the world where most of the poor children live and missed seeing the beauty of the Taj Mahal, one of the famous ancient architectural sites in the world.

Woman and children are the most vulnerable in any war or conflict situation even if they are not directly related with any groups.  Last month on 16 December 132 children from Peshwar, Pakistan were killed by an unidentified gun attack at their school. Over the last couple of weeks around 38 people died in Bangladesh where a good number of children were fatally burned by petrol bomb attacks when they were in the public bus, rickshaws and scooters. The majority lived in Dhaka and other urban areas.

A world report on child injury published by the World Health Organization and UNICEF (WHO, 2008) shows that injury is a leading cause of child deaths and ill health in most countries.


It shows that worldwide around 42 children per 100,000 from low and mid income countries died from unintentional injuries compared to 12.2 per 100,000 population in high income countries.  This report also cited from recent large scale community–based surveys in five countries in south and east Asia found that the numbers of child deaths  due to injury are much higher than previously thought for children of all ages.

A national child injury survey conducted in 2005 by the Directorate General Health Services, Bangladesh shows that injury is the leading cause of child mortality and morbidity. Each year 30,000 children die from injury half of them are below five years. This report identified drowning as the leading cause of child deaths in Bangladesh followed by road accidents, animals bites, suicide and fall. Injury is also a leading cause of permanent disability. In each year 13,100 children become permanently disabled due to injury – falls and burns are the top two among six major causes of injuries. Children of urban areas are most susceptible to falls, burns, and cuts from machines and blunt objects.

Dangers of urban areas

23015This report found that children in urban areas are at risk of drowning at nearby water reservoirs, safety tank sand big holes or sewers. A child can drown even in a bucket with inches of water. On 26th December last year a four year old called Jihad drowned when he was playing with his friends in an open well abandoned for long time. This was created by the  Water and Sewerage Authority of Dhaka city for assessing water levels. Fire service rescue teams along with a hundred local volunteers tried to rescue Jahid for whole night but failed.  Leading electronic media showed that rescue scenario live and the whole nation awaited to see that baby live or death! When statuary fire service rescue team failed to pull the baby from more than 250 meters deep well then local young volunteers pulled the baby from that well successfully.

Promoting community awareness

What we have learnt from that cost of the life of a child and the hours of ineffective rescue operation by statutory organizations? We have learnt that old proverb, “Prevention is better than cure”! If the community of that baby were aware about child injury and what and where are the risks in city areas then they would at least have covered that open well! Similarly statutory organizations also must take into account health and safety issues when they carry out public works. In developing countries like Bangladesh governments and people do not have the economic or institutional capability to bear the long term economic and social cost of injuries.

So all concerned citizens of developing countries, all the humanitarian and development organizations that if we want to keep continue our growth and development we must care about our children, as future citizens otherwise while we may have some success it will not sustain in the longer term!

The dream of all

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 by

Since we are working closely with poor people, we try to put ourselves into their mindset. In the early morning when I wake up my main concerns are food, the kids’ breakfast and pocket money to go to school.  Similarly I always worry  not only about the pressing need of daily consumption, but also the needs of my neighbours. This has pushed me strongly to think positively towards our needy and most vulnerable people.457

Our community based organisation, the Kassala Women Development Network (KWDAN) and Elgnadoul Network  approached women households groups with the highest levels of need to help them to create a new dawn in their lives.

The team was astonished by their preparedness and their strategy to cope with off farm livelihood options. We did not apply our academic and development methods, we simply we stood alongside them and started to listen and learn from them. Their system of managing credit funds depends on trust among the whole group.

Barack-Obama-QuoteProudly they said:

“Our challenge is to sustain life by providing livelihoods options such as poultry and  goats. Now through the generous support of Practical Action we no longer depend on small, seasonal gifts from our relatives. Milking goats and selling eggs has enabled us to be self-supporting women.  Our kids are proud of us. This is the best thing that has happened to us,  it is just like Obama’s slogan about the change we need.”


Knowledge Point in West Africa

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 by

Knowledge Management for Development (KM4D): WaterAid and Practical Action West Africa Regional Offices working jointly for knowledge sharing through KnowledgePoint

kp-logo-largeWaterAid and Practical Action prioritise knowledge management and research (action and collaborative). We continually review, refine and adapt our methods and thinking to make sure our work is sustainable, innovative, relevant and effective. To maximize the life-changing potential of ideas, we publish books, journals, newsletters, technical briefs and web pages. We offer a technical enquiry service, communicate with the print and broadcast media and influence the content of learning materials to educate and inspire young people.

KnowledgePoint as a platform of exchange is an amazing and interesting way to share knowledge and to respond effectively to people’s needs for reliable information. It is designed to help us expand our work to deliver direct impact to millions of people whilst reaching many more though our knowledge sharing and practical policy change.

5 Good Reasons to use KnowledgePoint

(i) Simple and easy to use

(ii) Answers to Questions reliable and updated;

(iii) Interactivity and possibility to ask questions and look for documents/tools in French or English

(iv) Diversity of topics

(v) Discussions archived: which allows an asynchronous communication

KnowledgePoint access is easy and registration is very user friendly. Go to the link:

KnowledgePoint – Providing support in the Global Ebola response

Organizations from around the world have responded to help stop the ongoing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa. In July 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an emergency meeting with health ministers from eleven countries and announced collaboration on a strategy to co-ordinate technical support to combat the epidemic. In August, they declared the outbreak an international public health emergency and published a roadmap to guide and coordinate the international response to the outbreak. Currently, aid agencies and governments of some western countries as well as China and Cuba are providing assistance. However, the epidemic keeps spreading and the number of confirmed cases in doubling every four weeks.

As part of their response to this crisis, WaterAid and Practical Action and other NGOs are contributing to the efforts to control the spread of the disease by setting up a KnowledgePoint site for questions and answers for Ebola responders in collaboration with the UN WASH Cluster, WHO, International Red Cross, US Centre for Disease Control and Médecins Sans Frontières.

The link to the Ebola KP: and although anyone can respond, we have a panel of 11 technical specialists here: .


Tel: +221 33 859 08 30

Practical Action

Tel: +221 77 881 27 81


Pushpo Rani is economically empowered

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 by

Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change because of its geographical location. Coastal areas in Bangladesh are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as, cyclones and tidal surges, salinity intrusion, sea level rise, coastal flooding and water logging. Shrimp cultivation in the salinity prone coastal area became the dominant livelihoods measure since mid-eighties. But, cultivation on the same land for a long time along with rapid salinity increase caused severe decrease in production, while crop cultivation is not possible due to high salinity in soil. This has caused acute employment problems and increased poverty in the coastal area.

pushpaThe devastating Cyclone Sidr (2007) and Aila (2009) killed over 16,000 people and devastated millions of people’s lives and livelihoods. The coastal people still have not recovered. Practical Action Bangladesh undertook some interventions with support from the Asian Development Bank in the south-western Shyamnagar and Kaliganj Upazilas (Sub-districts) of Satkhira District.

Ms. Pushpo Rani (from Atulia UP, Shyamnagar) lives with her husband and two children. She is a tailor and had been making bags out of plastic for the last 2/3 years with support from Sushilan–a local NGO. Her husband also works with her part of his time. Their earnings were poor from bag making. Because of her skills and experiences, she was provided with support for ‘smart bag making’ and accordingly, started working since Jaisthya (mid-April 2012) last.  The bag is of thin cotton and synthetic cloth. It can be folded and kept in a pocket, office bag or vanity bag like a money bag/key holder.  Along with tailoring, she has a business of making printed cloth. Now, they employ 50% of their time making bags and the other 50% for tailoring at home.

Ms. Pushpo Rani prepares ‘smart bags’ of two qualities- one with good quality cloth,  the other with slightly lower quality cloth. The better quality cloth costs Tk.50/yard, while the lower quality cloth costs Tk. 25/yard. She produces 2 bags with 1 yard of lower quality cloth, and 4 bags with the better quality cloth. So, for each Tk.50/-, she prepares 4 smart bags  of better and lower quality bag. She sells the better quality bag for Tk. 30-35 each (but mostly for Tk.30/-), and the lower quality bag for Tk.20-25 each and makes a profit of Tk.120/for the better quality one,  Tk.80-100 for the lower quality one. These are profitable. They have the capacity to produce more bags, but, there is insufficient demand in the local market. The demand, however, is gradually increasing as they are trying to contact shopkeepers at growth centres around Nawabeki and Munshiganj including Shyamnagar- the Upazila headquarters. They have a plan to produce more bags and expand the market, if there is higher demand. They are able to produce 15-20 bags every day/each i.e. 30-40 bags together/day.

Since scope for income earning is poor in the area due to salinity increase and wide scale shrimp cultivation, the ‘smart bag’ making with an outside market chain could be a good option for household based income generating. Ms. Pushpo has been contributing significantly to increasing her household income, which, is expected to lift her out of poverty.


Potentials of ICTs for Empowering Rural Women in Bangladesh

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 by

Food for programme development thoughts

ICTs (Information Communications Technologies) particularly mobile phone and internet penetration shows a gradual increase in Bangladesh. In the table below, it indicates, during August 2013-14, in the case of mobile phone services 8.23 million people added to the connectivity, and 458,369 people to the internet connectivity. During August 2012-13, an additional 13.82 million people were connected with mobile phone services and 683,325 thousand people to the internet. This illustrates that following the global trend, in Bangladesh, new uses and expansion of ICTs- are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life, irrespective of location, sex, class, education and profession.

          Table: ICT Subscription Status in Bangladesh



August 2014 117.577 Million 40832.387 Thousand
August 2013 109.349 Million 36249.018 Thousand
August 2012 95.528 Million 29415.693 Thousand (as July 2012)

Source: BTRC, 2014; (; accessed on Octtober 7, 2014)

However, relevant literature suggests that ICTs expansion and usage are not equally dispersed. Until the recent past, there was more growth in urban areas than rural. However, after 2010, the phenomenon has begun to change. As a result of that, in both computer and mobile phone, we see growth in rural areas is more than 4 times for mobile phones and 6 times for computers compared with urban areas.

Potential Impact of ICTs
As I understand women empowerment is a process (rather than end) towards gender equality; thus in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the issues I found contributing towards this process for rural women in Bangladesh. The points I am going to share below have been pulled out from different research findings, observation reports and diary notes that I was part of during 2009-14.

1) Decision Making: Regarding the ability to take decisions, it has been found that to some extent women have the ability to decide what things they what to buy, particularly to make small and large purchases. More specifically, they use ICTs (mobile phones in particular) to get information on certain things before they buy. They use mobile phones to consult with doctors about what medicine to take when they fall sick. It helps to feel them that they are connected with loved ones. Husbands or father s(or other heads of the household) appreciate this activity since it minimizes their expenditure and helps to retain savings.

4th Blog

2) Position within family: Having the opportunity to communicate with others through mobile phones, people are very much influenced by the behaviour of other people. Through easy interaction with the wider community, men’s dominating attitude towards women is gradually changing. Research findings demonstrate that women have more freedom from male domination. Whether a wife and husband live in same home or either live outside for livelihood or any other reason, in most cases they talk to each other before taking any important decision. This is now possible because of the mobile phone. To them, women’s involvement in major family decisions has been seen as important since women no longer are dependent on men for their livelihood, now they have opportunity to earn from outside if they wish.

3) Mobility: In this area, a very interesting change is been found. The need for women’s physical visits to their parent’s home has been taken away by mobile communication. Now they visit, when they have a special purpose. In addition, the duration of  their visit is also decreased. On the other hand, visiting doctors’ surgery and market place for buying/selling things, visiting UP or other government service provider offices has increased significantly. This pattern of mobility clearly indicates that people have better aware of their rights and wellbeing.

4) Economic health: When women are connected by any communication device, it encourages them to know about others. For example, while they communicate with each other, they ask about others’ lives, about their cultivated crops, the price of the salable crops, sickness of any livestock, or family members- what happened, how he or she was cured etc. Evidences indicate that these communications promote women to be owners of assets to face any unwanted situation if occurred. It is also found that rural women now prefer to have assets (a piece of land, cattle, goat etc) in their name. They see it as their fall back support. Additionally, many women shared that they got job information over a mobile phone (although the job itself is gendered), and their partners are very positive about it. In contrast with income, women save very little. The reasons are; firstly, they earn very little so hardly can save from it. Secondly, men stop providing many essential items for women such as cosmetics and toiletries when women start earning. Besides this, sometimes they need to spend for socialization and children’s demands. The fact is that men do not directly tell women not to save but do not encourage them to do so.

5) Political awareness: ICTs have great contribution in building political awareness among grassroots women. Talking over a mobile phone, most village women are to some extent informed about what Union Parishad is supposed to do and what services are available there. Even though most of the time these are unavailable or distributed considering political or other social belonging. It is noteworthy to mention that during elections women do use mobile phones to consult with their friends, relatives and like-minded people for whom to vote and information about the contestants. In few cases women also do use to network building or motivating voters if they contest in election.

6) Legal awareness: Ruralwomen are not found to be well informed about legal rights. But they do have some basic information regarding criminal activities and gender issues. It is found in discussions with different local communities that all women know violence against women is a punishable crime. They do have the right to get legal support in case of dowry or marital rights violation. Furthermore, they also stated that they know from where they may get support or whom to communicate– which justify their basic legal awareness.

The above six points are few of many such impacts that ICTs can make in uplifting women’s situation in a context like Bangladesh. I understand and have evidence of concerns associated with ICTs use (which I will cover in another write up). However, the above points may help us developing programmes around the above issues.

Energy Access – Why the current financing model will fail

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 by

This is my second post from Abu Dhabi, where I have been attending the World Future Energy Summit as a guest of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. For the second year running Practical Action was shortlisted for this prestigious $1m prize in recognition of our work on helping poor people in the developing work access clean energy (we finished runners up again in case you didn’t see my last blog!).

DSC00206 (1)One of the recurrent themes of the conference sessions I have attended over the past week on energy access has been finance. I have written in this blog before about the general lack of funding for energy access, particularly off grid technology. The International Energy Agency (IEA)[i] has estimated that, if we are to achieve universal access to energy services by 2030, around 64% of the additional finance required will have to be invested in off grid systems, for example solar home systems or local mini grids powered by generators or renewables such as solar, wind or micro hydro. But there’s little evidence that much investment is going anywhere except into the traditional areas of big power stations and extensions to the grid, neither of which is expected to provide much benefit to those in remote rural areas who lack electricity at the moment. The Sierra Club, a US based environmental NGO, carried out an analysis of the major development banks energy lending portfolios for example[ii], which showed that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank did best, with 25% of their lending on off-grid infrastructure (but still way off the 64% figure needed according to the IEA). At the other end of the scale, the Asian Development Bank had only 7% of its portfolio invested in off grid and the African Development Bank 0%!

But there is another type of finance gap now appearing. In addition to the general lack of availability of funding it’s also becoming apparent that there is a real affordability gap in the model currently being promoted by the development banks, donor agencies and sector specialists.

What this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize winners MKOPA and runners up SELCO have been doing brilliantly in Kenya and India has been developing viable businesses to make solar lighting available at a cost which is increasingly affordable to those on low income – solar lanterns for households on US$ 1 -3 per day income and small solar home systems that can run 3 or 4 lights, charge a phone and maybe even run a small TV or radio for those with an income of as little as US $3 -5 a day.

But this is not yet energy access in the real sense. If we start layering in the energy services people really need to make a difference to their livelihoods – maybe refrigeration to preserve food or mechanical power for productive use (grinding, milling, pressing, drying or storing crops, pumping water etc), the power requirements go up dramatically, way beyond the capacity of current affordable solar home systems to supply.

This is where larger capacity communal mini grids come in, and there was much talk about these at the World Future Energy Summit. But the recurring motif in those discussions was the need for a business model that would bring in private investment to finance mini grids because “public subsidy was never going to be sufficient”. The problem is there are two enormous holes in that argument:

Hole 1: The idea that mini grids are financially attractive investments in their own right. The reality is that there is a massive gap between what would need to be charged as a tariff to recover costs and what poor people have at their disposal to spend on energy services. A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California[iii] covers this ground nicely. It estimates the basic electricity needs of rural household for full energy access at around 80 kilowatt hours per month (based on using a fan, 4 LED lights, a small TV, a small refrigerator and the equivalent of 4 hours a day of power for a mechanic device such as a small irrigation pump or equivalent). Using an assumed cost of around $0.24/kwh (which is quite optimistic for small mini grid type supplies) that comes to a monthly cost of at least $20 per household if full cost recovery is required. Typically low income households spend around 10% of their income on energy (50% of which is on cooking fuel). This translates to budgets available for electricity of around $7.50 per month for households on $3 – 5 per day and less than $1.5 per month for the extreme poor on $1 a day or less. These figures from the University of California are very rough, but they serve to make an important point. The costs of mini grids would have to reduce by at least 60 to 90% to make the tariffs affordable for the poor but still keep the systems as viable investments for private capital.

Is it any wonder the banks can’t find investors to take out loans for mini grids?

Hole 2: The idea that there simply isn’t enough money in the world to make public subsidy viable. We are told that there is no possibility that public finance could be used to close the gap because there simply isn’t enough to go around. But at the same time, the IEA tells us that currently more than $500 billion[iv] is being put into public subsidies for fossil fuels every year (with others such as IRENA putting the figure much higher at as much as $1900 billion in 2011[v]). So the fossil fuel industry is being kept on a massive publicly funded life support system while the poor are told that the off grid systems they need to access a basic level of energy services can only ever be provided through private investment.

Conventional wisdom abhors subsidy, but in Bangladesh, where the most successful solar home system programme to date exists with around 4 million households supplied, provides a great example of how subsidy can work, making technology affordable and getting markets moving and costs down. According to a World Bank study[vi], the Bangladesh programme started off with an average subsidy of around 25% per unit in 2004, reducing to less than 10% by 2013. The interesting thing there was that the cost to the consumer for a system was less in 2013 than it was in 2004, despite the reduction in subsidy. Why? Because technology got cheaper and the scale of the programme drove innovation and cost reductions that, together, exceeded the reduction in subsidy over the same period.

It seems time for the development banks, donors and the energy sector as a whole to take a long and really honest look at the financial models being proposed to ensure universal access to energy. Its time to face up to the reality. Private capital and good business models are definitely needed. But universal access to energy (not just for light but energy for the productive uses that will help people work themselves out of poverty) will not be achieved without public finance playing a very significant role to close the affordability gap as well.


[i] IEA 2011, Energy For All, Financing access for the poor, page 25

[ii] Sierra Club / Oil Change International 2014, Failing to Solve Energy Poverty: How Much International Public Investment is Going to Distributed Clean Energy Access?

[iii] LIGTT, Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California, 2015, 50 Critical scientific and technical breakthroughs required for sustainable development – Energy Access pp 26 – 29.

[iv] Bloomberg, Nov 112, 2014 Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion Subsidies Hurt Renewables



[vi] World Bank (2013)  The Benefits of Solar Home Systems – An Analysis from Bangladesh Policy Research Working Paper 6724, page 10

Empowering women for access to agriculture extension services

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 by

Urgent call for action

Bangladesh has tremendous achievements in some indicators of MDGs like poverty, maternal and child mortality reduction. It has done better even other social indices like reducing gender gaps in primary and secondary schools. However there are still big gaps in women’s employment in the formal sector but in informal sectors they participate significantly.

According to Health Bulletin 2012 Bangladesh total population is around 150 million as per population census 2011 and the male female ratio is 100.3:100. So the number of male and female population in Bangladesh is quite similar.

Bangladesh has one of the highest mobile penetrations in the developing world, around 90% people have that access. However there is lacked of available data regarding male and female owners of mobile phones. It is perceived that in urban areas more women have access than rural areas.  Our labour force data shows that among the employed population 37.9% male and 16.2% are female. Globally a large number of women in developing countries participate in the agricultural sector directly. However they participate actively in farming production but not in the decision making process, product marketing and major ownership of the profits of production. This might be due to their lower access to information and knowledge services.

Bangladesh is envisioning becoming a middle income country by giving more emphasis to a knowledge based economy. One of the strategies of Practical Action’s Knowledge Services is to make the services diversified so that people will have more access to those services. Our agriculture focused Krishi Call Centre -short code number 16123 – is now blooming very rapidly among the targeted people following promotional activities. It reached 10,000 calls in December 2014 which was only around 50% of call from the queue.

From these calls over the last three months, we manually recorded 5,489 Technical Enquiries (TES) in our database (October 2014 to December 2014). Revealing data of Krishi Call Centre it has found (Table: 1) only 100 women enquired out of the 5,489 total that is only 1.8% of female enquirers asked for enquiry service! Similarly Technical Enquiries collected from knowledge centres during this period shows that only 33 women enquired from the total enquirers of 1375.  So there were only 133 women enquirers both from Krishi Call Centre and Knowledge Centres during October to December 2014 out of 6,864 enquiries.

Table 1: Gender and subject enquiries from Krishi Call Centre

 Subject of enquiry Total Gender
Female Male
Agriculture 3557 49 3508
Livestock 1154 44 1110
Fisheries 778 7 771
 Total 5489 100 5389

When we classified the women enquirers regarding subject sectors then it has found that Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries enquirers are followed by 1.3%, 3.8% and 0.8%, respectively. Here Livestock enquiries are higher than Agriculture and Fisheries sectors.

Woman providing irrigation for cultivating sweet gourd in the sand bar

Woman providing irrigation for cultivating sweet gourd in the sand bar

Do not Bangladeshi women talk? If they talk then what is their interest? How much access do they have to ICT devices? Around 90% of people have a mobile phone but can we say that truly women have the entitlement to call a Krishi Call Centre for agriculture support? It might be not. They might be entitled to call only their husbands and other household members. It might be that their husband would not allow them to call outside as Krishi Call Centre is a public entity.  Our women are less entitled to go outside to market places, tea stalls and village fairs as predominantly males have access into those rural knowledge hubs for seeking information and knowledge.

The knowledge seeking behaviour of women and access to participation of women in planning and marketing of farming production is different from men. They depend on their elderly women relatives and husbands.  If they do not have access to the decision making process and control over resources for what they grows then why do they feel concern for that production? Therefore we see that there is near about double TES rate in the livestock enquirers echoed that more women still in Bangladesh are engaged with rearing domestic animals like poultry, cows, goats and ducks in their houses what they used to do traditionally. This might be still they have control over those resources both in the management and earning over sales.  But for fish farming it is fully depend on male person’s activity.

The overall goal of the Practical Answer’s program is to facilitate knowledge services among all stakeholders in poverty alleviation efforts–development practitioners, extension workers, government officers, researchers, and people’s representatives.

We need to think how we can engage our huge number of female population to this enquiry stream. They must have enquiries and they need the answers. All development practitioners need to create an enabling environment for women who make up 50% of our population into the different channels of extension services like Krishi Call Centre to answers their enquiries. By promoting  in the entitlements of ICT based knowledge devices to women workers in agriculture and on farms we can achieve a positive impact on our economy as well as social development.

Authors: Md. Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan, Sr. Knowledge Officer (M&E) and Md. A. Halim Miah, Coordinator- Operations, Knowledge Management, Practical Action, Bangladesh.