Archive for May, 2016

Second generation sanitation challenges in Bangladesh

Friday, May 27th, 2016 by

Practical Action, Bangladesh, ITN BUET, DSK and The Daily Star jointly organized a national round table on faecal sludge management (FSM) on 17th May, to meet the second generation sanitation challenge. Around 25 senior representatives attended representing government, civil society, the private sector, donors, networks and think tanks.

The first roundtable on FSM in Bangladesh started with a welcome by the Hasin Jahan, Country Director of Practical Action. She highlighted the engagement of ‘beyond WASH’ stakeholders to meet this new challenge. The Director of ITN BUET presented on the evolution from open defecation to FSM, the extent of the problem and the recently developed National FSM Institutional and Regulatory Framework to define who and how to handle this second generation challenge.

Current Challenges

ilot sludge treatment plant FaridpurThe current FSM market is driven by traditional sanitation workers in cities and municipalities but their operational safety, security, hygiene, wages, recognition and inclusion are all big issues. Some municipalities, supported by NGOs, have developed a sanitation action plan and demonstrated Vacutag machines and trucks for the collection and transportation of sludge and treatment plants using solar drying. These pilots identified a set of challenges which include appropriateness of technologies and associated business and management models for sludge collection, transportation and treatment. Sanitation consumers behavior and awareness is also a big issue for construction of appropriate containment and the safe disposal of sludge. The top challenge is the capacity (technical, financial, regulation and partnership management with private sectors) constraints of the cities and municipalities to develop, maintain and improve FSM systems.

Environmental hazard or organic fertilizer?

Growing crops with dried faecal sludge fertiliserThe managing director of Faruk Fertiliser, an organic fertilizer business of 500 ton/year wants to see faecal sludge as an asset. He said the supply/distribution network of more than 20,000 dealers, wholesalers and retailers of fertilizer across the country is very organized but a key problem is that organic fertilizer is a very regulated product and there is a lack of awareness among farmers/land owners about its use. Farmers are more concerned with increasing production, than improving the texture of their soil.

Different speakers mentioned the huge subsidy paid by the Government of Bangladesh for chemical fertiliser (both in in country production and imports) but gives hardly any support to organic fertilizers. A few NGOs are working on the transformation of organic solid waste and faecal sludge into organic fertilizer but the scale is too small to attract the participation of a private sector operator. Speakers also said that the Government could be a big buyer of organic fertilizer if they decided to make it 1% of their annual targets which will be around 400,000 tons. They also emphasized the participation of MFIs/Banks to support small holders farmers to promote the use of organic compost.

Request for immediate attention of National Government

Speakers requested the Government of Bangladesh to review and approve the National Institutional and Regulatory Framework and develop a National Plan of Action and set milestones/targets immediately along with the necessary operational guidelines and standards.

The National Plan should adopt an inclusive approach with coordinated functional partnerships between government agencies, the private sector and civil society organisations.  It should advance research to explore innovative pro poor technologies, business models to address the whole service and the value chain of FSM, capturing evidence and sharing learning and knowledge for capacity building.

Speakers also emphasized the extensive engagement of the media for awareness raising and changing behavior to stop the unauthorized disposal of sludge.

Wellbeing, water and sanitation – community led solutions in Kenya

Friday, May 27th, 2016 by

In order to support our understanding of ‘wellbeing’ Practical Action is supporting doctoral research at University College London, Development Planning Unit. Stephanie Butcher is looking at the connections between urban services and citizenship, to support wellbeing in informal settlements.

Stephanie Butcher is a PHD candidate at University College London’s Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience and Development Planning Unit. These reflections emerged as a part of a wider project conducted by the MSc Social Development Practice programme at the DPU.

What do we mean by wellbeing?

Wellbeing is a golden thread which weaves its way through all our work at Practical Action, but what do we mean by ‘wellbeing’?

Critically it’s about people getting their basic material needs met. Our work in areas such as food security and access to energy and clean water, are all key to improving material wellbeing. But wellbeing is more than this. It’s about the degree of control people have over their lives and the quality of relationships within their communities. What this means for Practical Action, is that it’s not just what we do that’s important, but also how we do it as well. People participating in decisions and taking control of their own development is critical and central to the way we work.

What innovations can address the next generation of urban water challenges?[1]

Collecting water from a protected spring, in Kisumu, Kenya. This counts as an 'improved water source', but could still be contaminated.

In 2015, I spent time with residents of the Kondele neighbourhood, one of the many informal settlements of Kisumu, Western Kenya. This community benefitted from an innovative type of water service delivery, called the Delegated Management Model (DMM), implemented as part Comic Relief funded work, and delivered by Practical Action under the  2008-2013 ‘People’s Plans into Practice’ programme in Kisumu, Kenya, with local partners Shelter Forum and Kisumu Urban Apostolates Programme.

In Kisumu, the Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (KIWASCO) agreed to begin working in informal areas, providing cheaper water to a ‘master meter’ in the settlement. The responsibility for this meter was given to a managing community group, who use a network of small pipes to deliver to individual houses or community kiosks. For the utility, this creates incentives to work in hard-to-monitor informal areas, as it no longer has to police illegal connections and leakages. For Kondele residents, both the master meter and community kiosks are new business opportunities, as water can be sold down the network at a small profit.

What was most striking in Kondele was that the managing water meter group was linked with an elected body of representatives, called the ‘Neighborhood Planning Association’. Practical Action used participatory planning tools to support these associations in agreeing and voicing their priorities for service improvements. Practical Action’s intervention also particularly encouraged women, people with disabilities, and youth to participate as kiosk operators and in the planning association.

Conversations with residents demonstrated a range of positive outcomes of this model.

It helped the growth of the water network, generated employment and income opportunities for entrepreneurial residents.  It allowed for more flexible service delivery.[3]

Residents experienced many positive contributions to their wellbeing, including perceived health benefits; greater community interaction; improved quality and quantity of water; and economic benefits from subsidised tariffs.[4]

Yet I was also struck by how this model was working in the wider Kenyan environment, especially given the shifts towards the commoditization of services, and decentralization of service delivery.

In Kisumu, an emphasis on cost-recovery in the Kenyan water sector meant that some of the most vulnerable residents were less likely to access the services. Master meters were most often placed in areas of higher economic potential, so that they could run as sustainable businesses. This meant they tended to be located in denser, wealthier, or roadside locations, leaving behind some of the poorer interior areas of the settlement. Tenants especially noted the rapid increase in rents with the improvement of services, creating real trade-offs in whether to live closer or farther to improved services.

Second, while decentralization allowed for coverage in informal areas, the old risks from leaks and illegal tappings suddenly became the concern of the community group. While leaders expressed a sense of ownership, this increase in responsibility did not always come with an increase in authority. Ongoing disputes made it clear that the Kondele association did not feel they could fully hold the utility accountable in partnership agreements.

Finally, gender aspects were improved but there’s more to be done. For many, the emphasis on women’s participation created options to participate in extra income-generating activities and water forums. However, where gaps did exist in coverage, it was still largely women and young girls that bore this burden as ‘household managers’, walking farther distances to collect from DMM sources, or squeezing household resources to pay more from private vendors.

Some reflections on the Delegated Management Model

  1. collecting water in Kisumu 23493The DMM was possible because of a supportive policy environment in Kenya, which encouraged spaces of citizen participation.
  2. Emphasizing cost-recovery might prevent access for the most vulnerable. The location of master meters, household income, and rental status meant that not all residents benefitted equally. This suggests that some master meters might need to be placed in less economically viable areas to reach lower-income residents. Likewise, reaching agreements with landlords to maintain rental prices plays a crucial role in supporting tenants.
  3. Practical Action’s support linking the water group with the elected Neighbourhood Planning Association supported ownership and democratic practice.  This was critical. As in other neighbourhoods of Kisumu meter management has been opened to private individuals, potentially moving away from management by a community-based organisation.[5] While this is intended to stimulate competitive service delivery, there is a critical difference between the empowerment of savvy entrepreneurs, and that of an elected community body.
  4. Capacity building measures for both utility staff and community groups remain key. The experience in Kondele demonstrated the wider benefits experienced through the trainings of Practical Action’s ‘People’s Plans into Practice’.  Yet there is also still room for engagement with utility staff—and particularly in establishing clear channels of accountability
  5. Social and cultural norms continue to influence water services. This calls for further research on  the different ways water management occurs at the neighborhood and household level for women and men, addressing perceptions which reinforce identity-based inequities.

What are your experiences? Feel free to get in touch and post comments below.

[1] This was a key question posed by the 2015 Reducing Urban Poverty Student Paper Competition, hosted by the Wilson Centre , World Bank, Cities Alliance, and IHC global, at which I presented these reflections.

[3] Castro and Morel 2008; Schwartz and Sanga 2010.

[4] Frediani et al. 2013

[5] Castro and Morel 2008.

Loss and Damage, why it’s vital to get it right.

Friday, May 27th, 2016 by

At the COP21 Paris climate talks the issue of Loss and Damage was firmly cemented in the global agreement under Article 8. This agreement sets the agenda for climate action and the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage recognises that for many people climate change is already a reality. Climate change is impacting people’s lives and livelihoods and for some adaptation is already too late.

Climate change exacerbates existing hazards

Climate change hits the poorest hardest, those who are least responsible for the problem in the first place. In Practical Action projects across Africa, South Asia and Latin America we are hearing stories about the heightened uncertainty as changing climates exacerbate existing hazards. Poor people do not differentiate climate change from climate variability, for them the consequences are the same: crops are failing, water supplies becoming less reliable, ecosystems are changing and lives and livelihoods are under threat.

CC Impacts

The impacts of climate change are well documented, global and affect small island states, Africa, South Asia and the Arctic the most[2].

In May 2016, Practical Action attended the climate change talks in Bonn. The first global gathering since 177 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York one month ago. The urgency to sign the agreement is a clear demonstration of its importance. Climate agreements have previously taken months if not years to get the signatures necessary to start talking about their implementation. At last political will for action is growing but for loss and damage there is still a lot to do.

Climate justice

Critical to progress on loss and damage is the recognition that this is a rights issue. The climate agreement must integrate the rights package in its entirety; this means: human rights, the rights of indigenous people, gender equality, food security, ecosystem integrity and intergenerational equity. To protect these rights means we need to stay below 1.5oC. If we can reduce emissions drastically with ambitious mitigation action; then the challenge of adaptation will be lessened and the loss and damage burden will be reduced.


Poor people around the world are facing climate impacts everyday.

In Bonn Practical Action along with partners in the loss and damage network highlighted this challenge in a well-attended side event. We started the session with a presentation of the collective impacts of climate change on the poorest, highlighting that for many these impacts are irreversible. Many of our Pumpkin communities in Bangladesh are families that have lost their land to accelerated erosion. Compensation and pumpkins will help, but it will not restore their fields, their houses and the numerous cultural sites that have been washed away. Many poor people are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, but what do you do when the ecosystem faces irreversible impacts? For many coastal communities sea water acidification is destroying once productive coastal fisheries, and sea level rise is converting coastal fields into areas only suitable for aquaculture due to rising salinity.

Bonn session - Copy

Loss and Damage side event organised by the @lossdamage Network held at Bonn Climate Change talks

Recognising irreversible environmental change

Loss and Damage is an opportunity to raise the profile of our collective inadequacy to mitigate emissions. Our addiction to fossil fuels, to easy solutions and to profit over the environment or human society, and our inability to prioritise long term, social and environmental benefits in favour of purely economic returns. This goes to the heart of what Fritz Schumacher wrote so eloquently in 1973 in “Small is Beautiful” and it is vital today that we heed this message, before it is too late for everyone.

Man talks of a battle with Nature, forgetting that if he won that battle, he would find himself on the losing side” E.F Schumacher


Menstrual Hygiene Day

Thursday, May 26th, 2016 by

Saturday 28th May is Menstrual Hygiene Day, a really important day to raise awareness of good menstrual hygiene and to break some of the taboos that surround something that affects half the population of the world!

It’s sad that in 2016, women and girls are still made to feel ashamed by a natural bodily function. Girls are often held back from achieving their full potential aDanier Bangladesh SANIMARTs they are unable to attend school and it’s shocking to think that in some communities, girls are made to sleep in sheds, away from their home, when menstruating. It shouldn’t be this way.

In August last year, I travelled to Bangladesh to see some of our work and to meet people who Practical Action is supporting. In Bangladesh, menstrual hygiene remains a taboo topic, sanitary products are rarely available and young girls are often too afraid to ask.

I met 25 year old Danier who told me what it was like to be a woman in her community. She explained how women are considered ‘unclean’ during their periods, sanitary products are not available and girls are forced to hide away and use rags to soak up the blood. These rags are used over and over again. Washing and drying the rags is difficult, as they shouldn’t be seen by anyone. During this time, girls don’t attend school, because they are too afraid of blood leaking onto their clothes.

But this is beginning to change. Danier spends her mornings – along with other women from her village – making and selling biodegradable and good quality sanitary products. The women not only make the products, they also encourage other women and girls to use them and are starting to break the silence around the issue. The women earn a small income from making the pads, which they are able to use to help pay for their education.

Before this project, Danier explained that everyone was using rags but now, most of them are using the products she and her friends make!

“I’m happy, I even use the product. I am helping other girls. No longer do they have to feel shy.”

I was touched by how the project had empowered Danier. She felt she had a voice and was making a difference to the girls in her community. Menstruation should not be a taboo subject. Women and girls across the world should not feel ashamed by their periods. Hygiene education and sanitary products should be available to all wherever you live in the world.




Nepal earthquake – the children’s hope

Monday, May 23rd, 2016 by

I have just returned from Nepal. It’s a country I have visited many times before. I first travelled there in my early twenties, an experience that shaped my future. The people I met touched my heart, they were kind, proud, hard working people. After that trip I decided I wanted to work in international development and joined Practical Action’s fundraising team. I have since returned to Nepal four further times.  My last trip was in March where I visited communities in Gorkha, which was at the epicentre of the April 2015 earthquake to see how Practical Action was helping families to  “build back better”.

2016-03-23 18.09.30I had tried to prepare myself beforehand for what I might see but the enormity of the devastation was overwhelming. The country I loved so much had been brought to it’s knees.

The Gorkha area I visited was severely affected and suffered 449 fatalities (310 adults and 139 children) and a further 20 people were never found including 2 children. Villages were completely flattened, communities ripped apart. A year on families were still living in temporary shelters, terrified for the future.

I listened to families stories of the day the earthquake hit, of where they were, of their houses collapsing around them, of injuries and their terror. Grown men wept as they recalled what their families had been through. Because of their remote, rural location emergency aid couldn’t reach them for days. They had no food, too terrified to return to their homes which were now just piles of rubble. For a further three months they experienced relentless aftershocks.

Tommy lettMany of the adults I spoke to found it difficult to think about the future. There was real sense of hopelessness. But the children were different. My son had written a letter for me to give to the children when I visited, he had raised nearly £50 for Practical Action’s Nepal appeal after the earthquake by selling some of his toys and I had took some papers, pens and paper aeroplanes from him as gifts.

The local children had drawn me some pictures with those pens and paper. The pictures were beautiful; vibrant, colourful and full of hope. They’d drawn strong, robust houses, latrines and water taps; everything they’d lost in the earthquake.

Jamit Tamang - Houses toilets mountains

I have since written to our supporters about these stories. There is still such great need in Nepal; 900,000 people lost their homes. Practical Action has started helping families to ‘build back better’; training local masons to build earthquake resistant houses, repairing broken water points to villages, building emergency earthquake shelters, helping families to improve their livelihoods, through better agricultural techniques and improving access to markets so they can earn money. These are all important elements to help families get back on their feet again.

I am immensely proud to work for Practical Action, for the collaborative work we do with communities, for our hands up approach. The people in Nepal are very proud but they need our help now more than ever, they need a starting point. By supporting our Nepal ‘build back better’ appeal you can help us do just that. Thank  you, your support will make such a difference.


2016-03-23 17.35.34



Seeing the impact of innovations in Bangladesh

Friday, May 20th, 2016 by

I’m back from a visit to Bangladesh with new trustee, Helena Wayth to see Practical Action’s work first hand.  What a lot of innovative work we saw!

Helena M & W at pumpkins in BangladeshFirst we headed northwest to Rangpur to see the amazing sandbar cropping, a smart, successful and sustainable technique which Practical Action pioneered.  What impressed us was the huge impact this technology has on the lives of extremely poor people.‘Extremely poor’ means living on less than 50 cents (US) a day.  The aim is to enable people to achieve an income of $1.50 a day.  Still not a lot to live on, but three times as much and a big step towards improving your family’s life.

Pumpkins transforming lives

We met Shahida and her daughter by her plot of 200 pumpkin pits, which give her a year long source of food and income.  We asked Shahida what difference this had made.  She told us how much her life has improved, she can now give her family three meals a day, pay for school equipment for her daughter and buy some new clothes for them.

We went on to Siraganj by the mighty Jamuna river, which flows from the Himalayas through India and into Bangladesh.  And mighty it is – the tenth largest river in the world.  The river is a source of life but also vulnerability.  Communities on its banks are vulnerable to severe flooding. Practical Action and our local partner, MMS, are enabling people to secure their own lives and livelihoods, with smart and simple innovations using a mix of modern and manual technologies.

Preparing for flooding

It is vital to know as early as possible when a flood is coming so you can get to safety.  Working with a Bangladeshi software developer we’ve created  a mobile app. A volunteer reads the river gauge five times a day and sends the reading in real time via the mobile app to the flood preparedness centre in Dhaka.  It is combined with other readings and weather data from the Bangladeshi Met Office to create forecasts which are transmitted to Information Centres which Practical Action helped establish.  These forecasts are posted on a manual weather board or one of the newer digital screens.

Viewing weather boardPeople told us what a difference these local, accurate and up to date weather and flood forecasts have made.  Now, with five days warning when the need to evacuate arises, they can get their families, livestock, food stores and documents to safety before the flood arrives.  They feel much, much more secure.

We spent time with the expert, experienced and committed Practical Action staff.  What a good team Practical Action Bangladesh has!  We also met some of our key partners and stakeholders.   These strong relationships make so much more possible in enabling people living on the edge to improve their life lot.

And amongst all of this we learnt some Bangla too.  Shubo Nabo Barsho!  Happy New Year! The year 1423 in the Bengali calendar has just started.

A flood warning system to reduce economic loss in disasters

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 by

Md. A. Halim Miah [1]and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan[2]

Weather Forecasting Display Board: Atuilia weatherboard.

This Weather Forecasting Display Board (WFDB) is both attractive and useful to the local community, especially to those who are vulnerable to flooding and other climatic disruptions.

The results of the first pilot study show that rural people working in agriculture and shrimp farming found it very helpful.  Coastal areas like Atulia of Shyamnagar, Satkhira district and Zhilonga Union in Cox’s Bazar District are highly susceptible to cyclone and water surges, so found it very useful for their daily livelihoods.  It was scaled up at Sirajganj Sadar Upazila, a disaster prone area where flood and river bank erosion occur frequently.

Shyamnagar Upazila, is a climatic hotspot and the majority of the people are manage their livelihood by shrimp farming. This Weather Board was first demonstrated at the Atulia Union Council of Shyamnagar Upazila in 2011.

How does it work?

  1. Construction: A wooden frame with CI sheet and covered by transparent either glass or white plastic where clear, concise daily weather messages are interpreted with well-known symbols
  2. Function: If somebody doesn’t understand the messages on the board, they ask the Gyaner Haat people (Entrepreneur of Knowledge node at community level, Union Digital Centre) for an interpretation.  This helps them to understand about the implications of the messages of the board and what action they should take.
  3. Content:  Weather and climatic information are displayed like daily temperature, rainfall, humidity and sunlight hour along in attractive and relevant ways.
  4. Scientific Information is carried at local level:  Information is collected from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) on current weather issues on a regular basis and interpreted on the Weather Forecasting Board for three weeks. It also provides agricultural information for farmers proactively like suitable crops variety during that time for planting, whether farmers should go for raising a seed bed, or releasing fries in the gher etc. in the current week.
  5. Link with extension agents:  The board includes necessary mobile phone numbers/contact persons of relevant government departments, so that farmers and fishers can make phone calls to Gyaner Haat and concerned  government professionals for necessary information and advice.

Digital display of weather forecasting  and flood early warning

Digital weather boardPractical Action trialled this  manual display board for access to weather and early warning information for reducing loss and better farming preparedness. This was a very low cost solution but effective. Now a day’s supply of electricity and internet connectivity has been expanded through a government Access to Information program (a2i) that is called Union Digital Centre.

Practical Action in partnership with a2i project has installed a knowledge service branded as Gyaner Haat. In each Gyaner Haat there is an entrepreneur who has a computer, printer and internet connection. We get national weather and flood forecasting information from government authorized sources (Bangladesh Meteorological Department and Flood Forecasting Centre)  and these are translated into local dialects along with descriptive information for the farmers.  Information such as what they will do if the vapor level is high, what would be the effect of higher humidity enables farmers to make better preparation. The digital board allows easy and rapid information delivery at community level and thus contributes to saving poor people’s assets and resources.

We are implementing this in the Sirajganj and Bogra districts, two of the most flood prone areas , which are recurrently attacked from flood during the monsoon season from July to September. This has been empowering knowledge poor people to benefit from forecasting and disaster preparedness. It is one of the knowledge intervention activities of the Zurich Flood Resilience Project in Bangladesh.


[1] Coordinator Knowledge Service ( Operations), Practical Action, Bangladesh

[2] Senior Knowledge Officer ( M&E), Practical Action, Bangladesh

Inspired by the Commission on the Status of Women

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 by

Women are agents of development. Realising gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not only a goal in itself but can lead to progress across all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets. This year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) stressed this and welcomed commitments to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls as per the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

More than 8,100 individuals represented over 180 countries at the event, which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14 to 24 March. There were a record number of 220 side events.  International women rights activists took to the platform to engage policymakers in women’s issues. A benchmark was set through this year’s CSW60 as agreement was reached on the priority theme, of ‘women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development’.

Hon. Minister C.P. Mainali presenting at CSW60 inaugural

Hon. Minister C.P. Mainali presenting at CSW60 inaugural ceremony

Around 20 individuals from Nepal attended, representing government, non-profits, civil societies and media. Women, Children and Social Welfare Minister Chandra Prakash Mainali presented on the initiation and the achievement of Nepal on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment on behalf of the government. A proud moment for Nepal was an honor to Nepali activist Bandana Rana who received ‘Women of Distinction Award 2016’ from UNDP for her fight against gender based violence and for her contribution to women’s empowerment.

During the keynote speeches I came across these statistics about women related concerns

  1. The media is a powerful player in driving women’s empowerment, but globally women’s representation in the media is 27%.
  2. Women account for 52% of the population in the United States but only 18% of representatives in the United States government are women.
  3. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child and forced marriage and female refugees are the major concerns in the global agenda.
  4. 240 million people are forced to migrate off their countries and 47% are women and out of them 15% are below 20 years.

Many people understand that genital mutilation and forced sterilisation are clearly a problem that plagues the modern world, but there are subtler problems surrounding rape culture, unequal pay and representation and intolerance to transgender people.

Co-operative participation

Participants from Nepal with Bandana Rana

Participants from Nepal with Bandana Rana

Similarly, there was some encouraging sharing; in South Africa, women make up 60% of co-operative members. In Japan, 95% of consumer co-operative members are women. Nearly 40% of female worker co-operative members in Spain are in leadership positions, and women represent 49% of worker co-operative members overall. Uganda has seen an increase of 132% in women’s participation in agriculture co-operatives. Women’s leadership on financial co-operative boards is 65% in Tanzania. In the United Kingdom, 41% of board members of co-operative retail businesses are women.

‘Campaign to Elect a Women UN Secretary-General’ was another attraction of the Session. Since the UN’s founding, there have been 8 individuals appointed to the role of UN Secretary-General – all of them men.  Participants exhorted UN delegates to select a woman as the next secretary general of the UN. There is no shortage of female candidates. It’s HIGH TIME, the time is NOW!

Technologies empower women

The session included technology initiatives to improve access to and control of technology for women and girls, especially in remote and marginalized areas. It also useful to use at strategy level  to integrate Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) mechanisms across the globe. This platform gave me the opportunity to share GESI related achievements on behalf of Practical Action and personal experiences in the professional journey of addressing women’s empowerment and promoting gender equality.

Participants were interested to know more about how technology empowers women and helps to reduce poverty through changes in their livelihood. The session also examined the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goals 3 and 5. Goal 3 cites ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being and happiness for all. Goal 5 supports gender equality across the globe. The speakers shared different perspectives about the role of each goal government, civil society, the private sector and in everyday individual practice.

Happiness and gender equality in the sustainable development goals

UNFPA efforts to end harmful practices against women and girls

UNFPA efforts to end harmful practices against women and girls

CSW60 wrapped up with the adoption of the agreed conclusions, which recognized women’s vital role as agents of development and urged gender-responsive implementation of Agenda 2030. They called for enhancing the basis for rapid progress, including stronger laws, policies and institutions, better data and scaled-up financing. For next year CSW61, the priority theme is ‘Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’. This will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 13 to 24 March 2017.

Overall, the CSW60 was amazing and I had the opportunity to meet high level UN dignitaries and country representatives. I participated in more than 50 major and side events. Profoundly, the sessions were intense dialogues and interactions with social workers all over the world.

Finally, every moment has been worthwhile and has made me wiser, stronger and richer in knowledge on women’s concerns.  I have built friendships in networks all over the world and had an inspiring and productive time. All these all experiences, expanded networks and learning will help me to promote integrated gender and socially inclusive project development in Practical Action both regionally and globally.

Learnings from a food security project in far-western Nepal

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 by

When I look back, it still gives me a reason to visit the place again and again. The trip to far-western Nepal, our project sites, was a whirlwind – with all sorts of emotions jumbled up – getting me excited at each turn of the road.

Though harsh life in the rugged terrain is a daily affair for people living in abject penury, it is a moment of revelation if you are a first-time traveller to those areas.

The Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture for Nutrition and Food Security (POSAN-FS) project is being implemented in four remote districts of far-western Nepal – Achham, Bajhang, Bajura and Doti with an overall objective to contribute to enhance regional food and nutritional security.

Out of the four, we visited three districts and had chance to hear the real stories from the horse’s mouth.

Here are few nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from the tour.

If people find opportunities at home, they would never migrate.

Achham and other neighouring districts in the Far-Western Nepal suffer from a chronic disease of seasonal migration. No wonder, the district has the highest number of HIV cases in Nepal. People, from here, leave for India to earn a living every year.

Man Bahadur BK recently returned from Gujarat, India after spending 35 years there. Along with him was his wife, Chandra Devi BK, who had been with him in India for the last 10 years. Man Bahadur worked in a Bajaj motorcycles showroom for many years and later started a small business of his own.

Rearing chicken provides extra income to road-side shopkeepers.

Raising chickens provides extra income to rural shopkeepers.

After returning to his home in Achham, Man Bahadur has opened a shop – a mom and pop store selling items of daily need. To augment his earnings, he has kept three goats along with chickens provided by the POSAN-FS project. The project has also provided corrugated galvanised iron sheets for roofing the coop.

Man Bahadur also showed us a small patch of tomato farm by the side of his shop. The couple is affiliated with the Punyagiri group of farmers who cultivate vegetables and spices and use kitchen waste water for irrigation.

Though traditional crops are neglected, they are nutritious.

Talking with local people, we came to know that they had left cultivating traditional crops that are nutritious. With the awareness raised by the project and its support, they have been encouraged to grow neglected crops like yams, millet and buck-wheat among others.

Though yams are neglected, they are nutritious. Image by Flickr user Wendell Smith. CC BY 2.0

Though yams are neglected, they are nutritious. Image by Flickr user Wendell Smith. CC BY 2.0

Climbing down a hillock, we could see newly grown yam saplings on the erstwhile barren slopes. When asked, Project Manager Puspa Poudel explained, “Yams have been introduced as nutritious but neglected crops.”

Kitchen gardens are essential for food security.

Among the piles of problems, water scarcity is another ubiquitous problem here. People need to walk miles to fetch a pail of water. In these conditions, thinking of growing vegetables in kitchen garden is a far-fetched idea.

Reaching the Janalikot Village, we met with Saraswati Karmi, a young farmer in her early twenties working in her vegetable plot.

Saraswati proudly showed us the brinjals and chillies in her kitchen garden. Standing next to the vegetables was a healthy crop of turmeric. Nearby was a small ditch for waste-water collection from the kitchen. Though the area is parched with water scarcity, the small puddle stored enough water to grow vegetables, enough to eat and sell in the market.

Kitchen garden not only provides vegetables for family consumption, but is also a source of income to rural farmers.

Kitchen garden not only provides vegetables for family consumption, but is also a source of income to rural farmers.

Introduced to kitchen garden concept few months ago, Saraswati is self-sufficient, at least for vegetables. She doesn’t need to buy them from market any more. She now saves nearly NRs 1200 (around USD 12) per month, which else, would be used in buying vegetables.

Besides kitchen gardening, she has been raising chickens provided by the project. Out of the 19 chickens given to her by the project,10 were ready to be sold in the market. They looked like local chickens and would sell at least at NRs 800 per chicken.

The kitchen garden produce and chickens are taking care of the family’s food security. Now, instead of spending, they are saving!

Know more about the POSAN-FS project.

Has solar power’s moment in Africa finally arrived?

Friday, May 13th, 2016 by

Some rural areas of Zimbabwe are currently in a state of disaster after being hit by a severe drought. But there is hope that a new Practical Action project in the country using solar power to irrigate land could help overcome the problems that climate change is causing.

Solar Powered Community in Africa

Photo credit: SNV and The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Zimbabwe

A couple of hours’ drive from Gwanda in the south west of Zimbabwe, close to the border with Botswana, you come across an extraordinary sight. A bank of solar panels – 400 in total – make for a dazzling spectacle under Mashaba’s blazing midday sun.

They constitute Zimbabwe’s largest off-grid solar farm and are heralding a new era in solar power for some of Africa’s most marginalised communities.

For Winnie Sebata, 67, retired school teacher turned budding entrepreneur, energy access has come at a perfect time. “We really hope this project will change the lives of this community and the lives of people of Zimbabwe. So we are lucky to have been chosen. We are 8km from the border, so hopefully cross-border traffic will open up more business opportunities”.

Electrification has given Mr & Mrs Sebata the chance to diversify their retail business, selling meat from local farmers, opening a hairdressers and providing a range of solar powered products to meet growing local demand.

Practical Action is leading a consortium of public and private partners both to deploy the technology in Mashaba and develop a sound business model to establish viable mini grids. With the majority of up-front investment for the 99kW project being met by the European Union, the four year project to install and bed down the scheme is well under way.

Apart from the Sebata’s business, the other early beneficiaries include the health clinic, the primary school, local smallholder farmers and several energy kiosks. By 2019, the grid will be serving more than 10,000 people in the surrounding area.

Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician

Does solar power have the answer to drought in southern Africa?

According to Shepherd Masuka, Practical Action’s project technician (pictured above), the imminent arrival of pre-payment meters to aid the collection of fees will enable users to be charged for their electricity usage, with subsidised rates for the school and the clinic. Reliable revenue will allow for on-going maintenance of the grid with an estimated payback period of between 8-10 years.

The Mashaba scheme is just one of a growing number of such developments. A recent Economist article (Follow The Sun, April 16th 2016), highlighted the growth of solar power across the developing world with growing demand for energy, the falling price of solar panels (80% in the past five years) and technological improvements in generation and storage contributing to that growth.

Lessons are still being learned about improving the policy environment, providing access to finance across the value chain and protecting consumer’s rights. But certainly for Mr and Mrs Sebata, their new business venture looks to have a very bright future indeed.

For more information on Practical Action’s work towards universal access to modern energy services for all, visit us at