Archive for October, 2016

Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 by

On International Day for Disaster Reduction, Hurricane Matthew is a timely reminder of the consequences of inaction on climate change. Changing climates exacerbated by years of ineffective development generates risk for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the climate change problem.

We have all seen the news of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrecked on the Caribbean. Matthew, which spawned late in the hurricane season, first struck Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba before turning its attention to the more prepared population in the south eastern United States, and despite diminishing in intensity it has still caused massive devastation and resulted in huge losses.

Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

So what was so special about Hurricane Matthew? Matthew was a multiple record-breaking weather event. Matthew first became a Category 3 (major hurricane) on September 30, and maintained that status for a remarkable period of time. Making it the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean. Not only did Hurricane Matthew end a nine-year streak without an Atlantic basin category 5 hurricane, it did so at an unusually far south latitude. Its rapid intensification was not forecast by any model, highlighting the need to revise our models based upon climate uncertainty and recognition that warming is making storms more intense and less predictable. Matthew along with the developing storm Nicole both showed very rapid rates of escalation, totally unexpected for storms so late in the season.

 

Impacts in the USA and Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

Impacts in the Haiti and USA following Hurricane Matthew

We need to start thinking seriously about reversing climate change and we need to start preparing for the worst. This is why Disaster Risk Reduction is vital. Preparedness and response should be a last resort, we must focus on preventing disasters before they happen. We have got to get better at assessing risk and we have got to stop building things in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Despite uncertainty about the consequences of climate change one thing we do know is that sea levels are rising. We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges so why do we continue to build houses and critical infrastructure on the coast and alongside rivers? This is placing lives and assets in harm’s way.

Sea level rise 1992 to 2016

While we fail to act effectively on climate change the world will continue to warm, with more moisture in the atmosphere and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that won’t have significant implications for our disaster risk, whoever we are and wherever we live.

http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2016/10/07/hurricane-matthew-and-climate-change-what-we-know-so-far/
https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?mr=1

Three obstinate questions of energy access

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 by

This blog is based on a note prepared for a Panel at a South Asian Regional Workshop held in Kathmandu funded by DfID and executed jointly by the University of Berkeley and Oxford Policy Management.

1. What is the most pervasive form of energy poverty?

IMG_2528Understanding energy poverty or lack of energy access, as I see, needs understanding of energy access in three spheres of energy needs for human society to prosper in a sustained way.

These three spheres are:

i) Energy for household uses (includes energy for cooking, lighting and other uses)

ii) Energy for productive activity of a household to make living in an efficient and humanly manner

iii) Energy for making community services and activities more effective. Practical Action has been advocating this framework through its annual publication by name, ‘Poor People’s Energy Outlook’

If we further analyse these energy requirements, they can be lumped together based on application into energy for thermal applications including cooking, electrical energy for light and appliance use, and sporadically mechanical energy, especially in rural areas for various activities (mainly productive use applications, water mills for agro-processing are an example).

In terms of quantity (energy units) most demand arises for thermal applications of which cooking is the major activity in developing countries, partly contributed also by lower conversion and utilisation efficiency. It is met mainly through the use of solid biomass fuel (mostly non-commercial wood-fuel, occasionally agricultural residues and dried animal dung) in the developing world and some form of commercialised fossil-fuel (kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas – LPG).

The use of electricity in cooking is very limited. The portion of wood-fuel in the total supply (wood-fire, electricity and fossil-fuel) is progressively more for households located in rural areas, which consequently have more access to forests for firewood. When firewood (or wood-fuel)is collected rather than purchased and a lack of rural employment co-exist side-by-side, there is very little incentive to improve efficiency. Consequently, the technology used for this purpose (solid biomass stoves) is rudimentary, inconvenient and unsafe. Thus, the energy poverty is very much represented by unsafe and unclean way of cooking. The urban poor also face similar problems where they resort to various ways of cooking that are unsafe and unclean.

The most pervasive form of energy poverty is the lack of access to clean and safe methods of cooking.

2. Are South Asian households likely to gain access to energy for cooking through electric stoves?

Compared to other alternatives, electricity is costly, not accessible everywhere and reliability is an issue. The evidences show that the equation is more of LPG/kerosene versus wood-fuel in many situations. The trend of penetration of LPG stoves to substitute wood-fuel and kerosene is seen to be very strong and verifiable with import figures of LPG. The intensity of electricity use for cooking is very low and limited within affluent households. Although newer and more efficient electric technologies like induction cooking stoves are making a strong market entry, it will still take a long time to replace fossil-fuel based cooking solutions. The question of substituting wood-fuel with commercial fuel is more one of availability of time to collect (notion of free/near free wood-fuel) as against affordability of poor rural households.

It is, therefore, very unlikely that electricity will replace current methods and trends of cooking solution with current supply characteristics and growth trend in South Asia. There may be some exceptions where electricity supply characteristic is an anomaly where electricity is highly subsidised.

3. What additional interventions will be required to promote alternative cooking technologies?

A better way with improved stove and smoke-hood. we call it hood-stove

A better way with improved stove and smoke-hood. we call it hood-stove

Promoting alternative cooking technologies (alternative to wood-fuel with inefficient device) will have to be dealt in progressive stages. After all wood-fuel use for cooking is not at all a bad thing if it is sustainably harvested and used with a highly efficient device.

This can start from replacing the current dominant traditional stove (with less than 10% efficiency) with more and more convenient, safe and efficient stoves. Sustainable Energy for All’s multi-tier framework provides five stages of development of cooking energy access with various forms of energy and devices. According to which, energy like electricity and other commercial forms of energy (biogas, LPG, electricity, natural gas, BLEN) and manufactured stoves appear at tbe higher tier and use of biomass in a homemade inefficient stove appears at the lowest end.

To climb the tier, interventions will be inevitable to make it rapid. If we are looking for a long term solution, interventions have to come from outside and cannot be politically popular, limited, free distribution of stoves, that is for sure.

The proper market development of stoves where people find their roles as market actors is important for large-scale change to happen. With a proper market system development, an efficient supply chain and after sales service can be established that are profitable and sustainable.

The necessary interventions to make it happen could be:

  • There may be projects with a limited role of subsidy to kick-start the market but must have a clear exit strategy 
  • Support for market system development with capacity development for market actors
  • Ensure that lack of finance does not hinder the market growth
  • Another important intervention should be geared towards increasing affordability and reducing the availability of free time to make seem wood-fuel a free resource.
  • With proper market development of stoves people will find their roles as market actors.  This is important for large-scale change to happen.

Providing food security through appropriate technology

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 by

Technological advances have increased the quality of life expectancy, productivity and income. However, as technology advances, developing countries have consistently missed out on the opportunities to increase their production potential in the varied development fields. Appropriate technological solutions are not easily accessible to poor people who need them most. Food production, for example, offers a clear distinction between technology justice and injustice. The lack of appropriate technology to improve systems denies vulnerable populations off sustainable food production. There is technology available for enhanced food security when appropriate resource management systems are employed.

IMG_1894It therefore behoves development practitioners to review access rights and supply needs with a bias to safeguarding human rights. Practical Action is leading in maintaining the challenge to the world to see technology ‘as the bringer of consumer gain’ and its potential as a world changer – ‘a lever out of poverty.’

Practical Action Eastern Africa focuses on areas that impact the poor through an integrated – approach, taking into consideration the unique demands in society realizing that each individual requires solutions customized  to their needs. The overall aim is to ensure that communities gain sustainable livelihoods that create a food secure society and we shall illustrate how.

Sustainable food production technologies

Access to adequate and nutritious diet is a major challenge among pastoralists’ communities in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL’s) in East Africa. The region remains highly dependent on food aid. The persistence for this is not a lack of potential but rather a misconception of policies and reluctance to invest in sound agricultural technologies that are responsive to the changing climatic patterns. The persistence of this challenge requires urgent attention and adoption of more practical options to secure sustainable food production.

Practical Action’s work in Northern Kenya (Mandera and Turkana) is geared towards ensuring food security (increased availability, access and utilization) to the most vulnerable groups; women and children through increasing their access to appropriate technology, knowledge and skills for equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Through participatory processes, Practical Action engages with the communities to undertake activities and approaches that touch on all aspects of their livelihoods from agriculture, environment, governance and social equity.

In order to achieve this, Practical Action has adopted the vulnerability to resilience (V2R) framework. This holistic approach assesses the needs of the resource poor communities and identifies skills and opportunities for them to build more secure and resilient livelihoods. This is to empower the communities to meet their food security and nutritional needs. It also enhances their capacity to cope with the recurrent hazards; drought, floods, livestock disease outbreaks and resource conflicts that are endemic in Northern Kenya.

Improvements to pastoralist production systems

Practical Action through the Food Security, Agriculture and Disaster Risk Reduction programme makes sustainable improvements in pastoralist and agro-pastoralist production systems through providing simple technology solutions and promoting ecological utilization of the natural resources.

This has been achieved through direct and people centered technical assistance on rain water harvesting (sand dams, earth pans, rock catchments) and water lifting technologies (foot pumps, hand pumps and solar water pumping systems),micro-irrigation systems for food cropping (Drought Tolerant Crops) and environmental conservation measures (agro-forestry, contour bands and trapezoidal bands). Practical Action also empowers the pastoralists with skills needed to increase the productivity of their livestock assets through improved animal health and husbandry practices, through the Pastoralists Field Schools (PFS). We use our unique approach; Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) to improve the marketing of livestock and livestock products and generate profit and incomes for the pastoralists.

SAMSUNG CSC

FrancisMuchiri@Practicalaction

Over the years Practical Action has undertaken to promote equitable use of natural resources through interventions such as; Land Use Planning and Management, Pasture Management/Grazing Patterns, Soil and Forest conservation. This has enabled the creation of wet and dry season grazing zones to cushion pastoralists against climatic shocks and provide opportunities for diversification of livelihoods into other dry land production systems; aloe vera cultivation, beekeeping, poultry rearing, and agro-pastoralism as alternative options for pastoralists.

In order to reach impact at scale Practical Action is working with partners and policy makers in developing policies that promote, sustain and create an enabling environment for pastoralism and dry land production systems. Specifically, Trans-Boundary Animal Mobility and Trans Boundary Animal Disease surveillance policies are key for ensuring enhanced productivity of pastoralist systems and have been Practical Action’s priority areas of influence. Due to the changing land use needs, expansion of extractive industries and the demographic surge, Practical Action is leading in influencing adoption of favorable Land Use and Natural Resource Management policy aimed at responding to the threats to pastoralism and their livelihoods by the emerging land use demands.

The overall goal of Practical Action’s intervention in Northern Kenya is to establish productive and disaster resilient systems for food production and improved livelihood security for the well-being of the communities. This will be measured through increase in food availability, access and utilization, strengthened marketing systems and improved management and governance of natural resources.

Bag gardening makes a big change to food security of flood vulnerable families

Monday, October 3rd, 2016 by

Nasima Khatun lives in a village, very near the mighty Jamuna river of Sirajganj. River water comes to destroy their kitchen garden almost every year during the months of July, August and September, the harvesting season for summer vegetables. During the post flood period vegetable scarcity in homes and local markets becomes acute. Most poor families just eat boiled rice with salt during the floods. The health and nutrition of the household becomes fragile. They have no idea how to come out of this situation.

bag gardening bangladesh To improve this situation, Practical Action Bangladesh under it’s Vulnerability to Resilience project arranged hands on training for 200 flood vulnerable families on bag gardening.  This is a simple technology that protects the plant from root suffocation and rotting and avoids water logging.  With a smile on her face, Nasima Khatun told me.

“I have harvested about 60 pieces of green fruit of white gourd and they are still now fruiting. I kept a few fruits to be matured for seed. I have sold 20 pieces, consumed 30 pieces and gifted to neighbours 10 pieces. Total market value was about 1200tk where as it was cost 20tk only to set a single bag garden.”

Bag gardening BangladeshShe continued, “I had no stress regarding food during the recent flood period. Following this method and using local materials, different types of vegetables could be grown. My neighbours did also. When the water rises we can move or raise the bag to keep it out of water except if the water touches our roof. Really, it is a fantastic technology that will increase our strength to live with flood without scaring at for food and nutrition.”

Know your soil

Monday, October 3rd, 2016 by

The agrarian economy of Bangladesh contributes more than 18% of the country’s GDP through employing around 45% of the labour force. We can take the pride in its achievement towards ensuring food security though debates remain around food safety and nutritional aspect.hasin

There’s a common practice among our farmers of using excessive amount of fertilizers without understanding the nature of soil. As a result of the overuse of chemical fertilizers, the soil texture is deteriorating and at the same time farmers are spending more on agricultural inputs. Good yield depends on nutrient status and organic matter contents of soils to a great extent. To explain it in simpler language, organic contents in soil strata hold the water, nutrient within it and facilitate plants to absorb the same. Due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers, the level of organic content in Bangladesh has reduced to less than 1.5% which the ideal content is support to be around 4-5%. The situation is approaching to an alarming stage.

farmers in bangladeshBangladesh is generating huge amount of solid waste everyday and major portion of solid waste is organic and could be easily converted into compost or organic fertiliser. Further, about 80,000 tons of human waste is generated every day in the country which is polluting the environment. Even if we could use a certain portion of this waste could be converted into compost/ organic fertiliser, it would be a huge gain for the country. The gain should not be seen only from monetary perspective, rather, use of this compost could save the environment, reduce the surface water pollution, improve the soil health and increase soil fertility. We are yet to think comprehensively and utilize the full potentials of available resources around us.

Government is providing extensive subsidy for chemical fertilisers creating a business enabling environment for it which in turn is adversely impacting promotion of organic fertilisers. Time has come to echo for promotion of balanced fertilizer and creating a conducive policy environment for promotion of organic fertilisers.