Archive for August, 2016

Natural Capital the basis for effective flood protection?

Friday, August 26th, 2016 by

The year has been marked by a number of unusual climate events. Not only was 2015 the hottest year on record[1], with 2016 appearing on track to exceed this[2], but the year has also been unusually wet. In the US state of Louisiana, 13 people died and large areas are still struggling to cope when a “no-name storm” dumped three times as much rain onCan you swim Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina[3]. This disaster manifested despite the US having the largest global disaster emergency organisation and associated budget on the planet. But in countries with limited resources the challenge of flooding is more severe. Northern India went from extreme drought to flooding in 45 days[4] with the poorest and the elderly struggling to survive as a scorching summer gave way to an above-average monsoon; people who were praying for rain are now fleeing from it.

So how can we respond to this increasing flood risk in a way that doesn’t waste valuable resources? For example in Assam state, India, the state government depends on embankments to protect communities from the routine flooding of the Brahmaputra River. This year the Narayanguri embankment in Baksa district was washed away, this is the third time this has happened since 2004. Each time it is rebuilt to protect the local communities. Despite the presence of the embankments, villagers in Assam report losing their houses on multiple occasions[5]. Why have successive governments in Assam continued to rely on hard infrastructure as the only solution? Especially when the local development needs are huge and local government budgets are limited. Embankments are not cheap with an estimate that for the last three years Assam has spent £56 to £80 million, building and repairing flood embankments each year.

Flooding India

People forced to flee when the Narayanguri embankment failed

How can local governments and communities maximise their investment in flood resilience building in the face of a changing flood situation. Clearly floods are getting worse, more people are living in flood prone areas and money alone does not seem to be the solution. So how can we maximise investment in floods management to minimise the negative consequences? Last week I was fortunate enough to join colleagues from a number of global organisations to explore the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of this challenge.

This workshop brought together experts from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), WWF, Asian Institute of Technology, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) with Zurich flood project staff from Practical Action. We gathered to explore how natural and nature-based methods can minimizing flood risk while maximizing social, environmental, and economic co-benefits of flood management approaches[6].

One of the sessions explored the question, “if nature based solutions are relatively cheap and freely available why aren’t they used more often”?

Why are we not seeing more natural and nature based techniques in flood risk management

The underlying logic of two of the groups are presented above. Based on these examples, clearly, political will, entrenched positions and understanding are vital obstacles to the mainstreaming of nature based solutions. As one participant eloquently put it, local politicians are unwilling to risk nature based solutions, fearing the question “How will planting trees protect me from a flood event, what am I supposed to do, climb the tree when the flood comes?”

There is clearly a knowledge gap. We need to do more to highlight not only the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of increasing flood risk, but also the economic potential of nature based options to expand flood resilience to greater populations. The knowledge gap of appropriate nature based solutions, understanding of how nature based and more traditional approaches can be combined and a lack of evidence of how they can work and the benefits they can deliver. Nature based options are locally available and in many cases much cheaper then hard infrastructure. They can be managed using existing traditional practices and can therefore be maintained and repaired using local knowledge and local materials. Without even realising the workshop was making a great case for why Technology Justice[7] must be central to deliver effective flood resilience building efforts for current and future generations.

“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F Schumacher

[1] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2016/2015-global-temperature
[2] http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records
[3] http://news.trust.org/item/20160822234817-jobqu/
[4] http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2016/08/03/drought-floods-45-days/
[5] http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assams-embankments-crores-washed-away-1440868
[6] http://envirodm.org/post/need-a-new-approach
[7] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/technology-justice

Thousands of students improve hygiene practices in Bangladesh

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 by

Alamgir Chowdhury, Coordinator-Training, Energy & Urban Services Programme, Practical Action Bangladesh

Nearly 70,000 students (Girls: 38,593 and Boys: 31,167)  in 6 sub-districts of Dhaka and Sylhet are enjoying good health and regularly attending classes.  The CATS (Community Approaches to Total Sanitation) project of UNICEF and Practical Action has helped to establish improved hygiene practices in those areas. Teachers and students are working together to bring changes to peoples’ ways of thinking.  People are now enjoying an open defecation free life leading to a healthier living environment and better public health.

handwashing CAT projectUNICEF and Practical Action, Bangladesh have been working on the jointly designed CATS project since October 2014 in 500 communities and 200 schools in 34 unions of 6 sub districts of Dhaka and Sylhet. The aim of the project is to sustainably improve sanitation and promote hygiene behaviour change in these communities.

Though most schools in those areas have access to water and sanitation facilities, over half these water sources were not working and many of the latrines were in poor sanitary condition and unusable. The project has rehabilitated or installed general hand washing facilities in the schools. It also rehabilitated or reconstructed existing sanitation, toilet and water facilities in the schools.

In total the project established

  • 100 sanitation/toilet facilities
  • 200 hand washing corners
  • 70 menstrual hygiene corners

Teachers and students have been involved in different learning programmes, workshops, and idea exchanges. This participatory approach led to the School Led Total Sanitation approach, which has increased demand for appropriate and well maintained, sustainable facilities and the scaling-up of the mass hand washing activities among the users.

raising awareness This also incorporated another approach, Fit for School, which focuses on sanitation facilities according to the individual needs of each school.  Key messages of good practice have been spread through School Brigades and Councils, which are very effective in promoting school level sanitation programmes. School brigades are responsible for hygiene monitoring in schools and also participate in district and national level sanitation and hygiene competitions in the form of debates, drawings, poems and songs.

Teachers have facilitated one hygiene session each week for students along with their regular curriculum. Students have also participated in a popular hygiene role-play called Robi-Rani. Teachers also encourage students to participate and observe Sanitation Month, World Water Day, World Environment Day and Menstrual Day which focus on the importance of improved hygiene practice.

These initiatives have improved hand washing and toilet use practice among students. Other personal hygiene practices like nail cutting, hair combing, and tooth brushing and menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls have been developed among the students. The school management committee members and teachers have developed a mechanism with student’s brigades for the operation and maintenance of wash facilities for proper monitoring and sustainability. The result is remarkable. Student absence rates have dropped significantly as students rarely suffer from water borne diseases like, dysentery, diarrhoea, cholera and various skin infections.  Regular attendance has improved students overall performance.

The project has initiated different types of training sessions and events for school awareness. Examples include training of trainers on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practice and the operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities for teachers, students and school council members. The project team have also organised student council meetings and facilitated an action plan on WASH with students, and assisted the schools with relevant materials.

The student council use a weekly assembly to increase knowledge and practice of hand washing before and after meals, monitoring the progress of using latrine hygienically and hand washing after toilet use. The student brigades now regularly monitor hand washing practice in schools, look after the hygiene  of the toilets.  The student brigades, teachers and SMC members have also facilitated hand washing activities in the schools on different occasions for sustaining hand washing practice among the students.

There have been several programmes on “the effect of ODF and Hand Washing”. Six debate competitions were organised and several art competitions to inspire the students on the long-term effects of total school led sanitation. Representatives from district administration, the primary education department and the school authorities attended these programmes to encourage students. These activities have encouraged other schools in the adjacent areas to improve sanitation and hygiene practices among the school students and communities.

The CATS project has changed the lives of thousands of students of these two hundred schools in Bangladesh. The project has proved that improved hygiene practice is directly related to increased school attendance and better performance by the students. Although most of the students of these schools belong to poorer families in the communities, the school led total sanitation approach has not only changed the students’ hygiene behaviour but is also reflected in the overall improved hygiene practices of these communities.

Girls into Global STEM – a new Erasmus Plus project

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016 by

Practical Action STEM challengesI am thrilled to be able to say that having received some EC funding from Erasmus Plus UK we are now able to get started on a new project called ‘ Girls into Global STEM’. The project aims to

increase the number of young Europeans, especially girls, who choose to take STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)  subjects at school and ultimately go on to careers in STEM. It will take place in UK, Poland, Cyprus and Sweden and the materials form the project will be available to other countries too.

Ok, so how are we going to do this? Well, from previous experience we know young people especially girls, are motivated by the role STEM can play in improving people’s lives around the world.  So we are going to start by raising awareness of some of the global challenges we all face and then help young people discover for themselves how ‘STEM’ has the potential to provide solutions.

The project will involve:

  • Young people and their teachers working with us to develop four Global STEM challenges which draw on the need for a certain level of digital literacy and can be used as stand-alone resources by other teachers and pupils
  • A teacher toolkit to include the global STEM challenges and other material which will support teachers including curriculum mapping of the challenges, videos and guidance notes.
  • A teacher training programme which will be both face to face and on-line as well as for pre-service and in-service teachers
  • Academic papers and their delivery at key events to share the project materials and the learning from the project as widely as possible.

We are really excited about getting started and working with some new partners as well as some partners we worked with on our previous Make the Link project. The project will be led by the University of Hull. As well as ourselves of course the other partners are the University of Boras (Sweden), CCE (Poland) CARDET(Cyprus) and one school in each country, in the UK  this school will be The De Ferrers Academy

Let the fun/work begin!!   #GIGSPractical Action STEM challenges

50 technologies – the vote is in

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 by

We’re drawing our 50th anniversary year to a close at the end of August,50 Logo CMYK by celebrating 50 successful technologies, which have had a huge impact on communities across the world.

We asked our supporters to vote for their favourites and these are the three they chose.

Take a look at more top technologies

top 3 technologies

There was quite a wide range of response.  Rating technologies isn’t easy! And we’d love to hear your views as well in the comments below.

How do you choose between such a variety of different technologies? Our energy access work demonstrates how vital energy is for raising communities out of poverty, but a lack of clean water and sanitation is life threatening.

Rural communities we work with might vote for one of our agriculture and food technologies. Being able to grow enough to feed your family is a key concern for millions of farmers in the developing world.

This focus on choice goes to the heart of Practical Action’s philosophy. We work with communities to help them find the solutions to those problems they prioritise themselves.  And we make sure that those solutions are sustainable for those communities as well as for the planet we share.

Our solutions rarely address single issues. The problems caused by poverty are complex and demand a range of responses, not all of which involve technology.  Consequently our scope is immensely varied and covers many different areas of work.

And over the last fifty years we’ve tried out many things in many places and worked with many different people.  And this has brought a huge range of learning, which we share as widely as possible in the form of free to download technical information.  And because we believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we encourage others to copy and scale up our work.

For me these two EF Schumacher quotes sum up our approach:Fritz Schumacher0001

Knowledge is power

“The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge.  A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things

Small is still beautiful

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”

Our world is changing rapidly and we need to make sure that rapid technological change doesn’t leave poor people behind.  Innovation should centre on solving the great challenges the world faces today ending poverty and providing a sustainable future for all.

Let’s hope that before the next 50 years have passed we’ll have achieved this and Practical Action will be working to keep the world a better place for everyone.

Using technology to go beyond the ‘Resilience’ buzzword

Monday, August 8th, 2016 by

“Sustainable…Participatory…Resilience”…I have to admit that I hate buzzwords – they get thrown about so much that they can often lose their real meaning and ability to do any good. That is why to me the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is so important. The Alliance works not only to increase the resilience of communities to floods but also to determine once and for all what makes a community resilient?

Resilience is complicated; there are hundreds of papers, discussions and frameworks floating around the development space. Yet there are no empirically verified frameworks that lay out the contributing factors to resilience[1]. If we don’t know this how can we tell if we are successfully building resilience?

To address this, the Alliance has developed the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. Working jointly, the Alliance has identified 88 different sources that contribute to flood resilience and is currently halfway through a two year testing phase.

Flooding in Bangladesh

Flooding in Bangladesh

The Technology

Here is the most exciting part, the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool has been developed into a web based tool and an App. The web tool allows the user to design a study that can be sent directly to the designated field worker’s Android App in their local language. Working offline the field worker fills in responses directly to the app just like a regular survey. The data is easily synchronised to the web tool which generates a summary and collates relevant data together for simple comparison. A simple A, B, C, D grading exercise is then carried out across all 88 sources by team members before a summary is then automatically produced.

Why is this good for the community?

Helping people cope with climate change. Floating gardens enable poor families in Bangladesh to grow crops even when the land is floodedThe App: Saves our beneficiaries time during data collection so they can get back to doing what matters to them. Automatic uploading of data saves our teams time so they can spend more time working on things that really matter.

The Grading: Generates informed discussion and gives our teams a greater knowledge of where they work, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

The Web Tool: Simply presented results that can be looked at under a variety of lenses allowing us to make links which may have previously been missed.

The Big Data Set: Data is entered into the tool from a variety of different contexts and countries by several different organisations. Through testing pre and post-flood events researchers hope to identify global trends in community resilience and determine once and for all where to focus disaster risk reduction interventions for maximum community impact.

Read more about the Alliance and the Measurement tool or get in touch at adele.murphy@practicalaction.org.uk

[1] Thomas Winderl, “Disaster Resilience Measurements: Stocktaking of Ongoing Efforts in Developing Systems for Measuring Resilience,” United Nations Development Programme, February 2014,

5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love

Friday, August 5th, 2016 by

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

Martin Queso's prize winning llama

Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.

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Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

1. Covered shelters:

The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

“Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:

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Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

“We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

3. Breeding pens:

We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:

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Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

4. Market access and product diversification:

In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.

 

Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

5. Training and knowledge:

Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

Determination leads to success

Monday, August 1st, 2016 by

Sushil Chaudhary, a 22 years old young farmer, is a model farmer for the youth who are migrating towards the cities and Gulf countries in search of jobs and better earnings, instead of generating self-employment using own resources.

Sushil lives along with his seven-member family in Hikmatpur Village Development Committee (VDC) of Kailali district in Far-Western Nepal with a small land holding, i.e. 0.1 ha (10914.60 square feet). The family source of income was only wage labouring and subsistence farming that only partly fulfilled family needs. Sushil was forced to seek employment in the Gulf. But his family was unable to sponsor him for the cost required for employment in the Gulf.

Sushil Chaudhary and his poultry and pig farms.

Sushil Chaudhary in front of his poultry and pig farms.

Because of this, he had no option other than wage labouring until he heard about the community library in his locality, which was helping community people improve their earnings and livelihoods.

In 2015, he visited Tikapur Community Library to seek information for self-employment and a better livelihood. Sushil was advised on an integrated farming system for sustainable income which was suitable for people with small land holdings.

With the guidance of a community worker and information from the library, Sushil began vegetable and pig farming. He participated in vegetable farming and animal husbandry training provided by the library. In the first year itself he was able to earn Nepali Rupees (NPR) 43,000 by selling vegetables and NPR 39,050 by selling two pigs (1 USD = 100 NPR). He expects more income this year as one of his piga gave birth to 10 piglets and all of them are healthy. Besides farming, Sushil is also pursuing his Bachelor’s degree and is in his second year of college.

Sushil says,

“Until I visited the library, I was unable to decide what to do for better earnings… The guidance and technical information in the library helped me make up my mind…”

He adds, “On account of what I learned, I have adopted commercial pig farming along with vegetable farming as a method of income generation. I initiated with four pigs in the pigpen constructed by myself. Two of the pigs I had been raising were recently sold for meat at the rate of NPR 170- NPR 200 per kg for the net price of NPR. 39,050. Furthermore, one of my pigs recently gave birth to ten piglets. Not very long ago, I used to be unemployed but now I have a reliable source of income. Tikapur Community Library’s Technical Knowledge Service section has not only helped me but also a number of other villagers who didn’t use to have much knowledge about agriculture or animal husbandry.”

Embolden by his success he is planning to expand his farming by leasing more land and rearing more pigs. With a smile on his face, he says,

“I am helping other youths in the community by advising them that one can achieve a goal if he has determination and zest to seek the right help.”

Practical Answers Service in Tikapur Community Library, Kailali, is supported by Nepal Flood Resilient Project (NFRP) funded by Zurich Foundation.