Archive for March, 2017

Gender Transformative Change Is Our Priority

Friday, March 31st, 2017 by

The gender is at the center in our new Strategic Business Plan (SBP) 2017 to 2020. In terms of gender, the main shift in the strategic period is gender mainstreaming to gender transformation.

The gender transformation process dedicates to rigorous gender analysis on capacity enhancement, institutional strengthen, research and development of gender responsive policies through meaningful participation of women and men. The transformative change process goes beyond identifying and exploring the symptoms of gender equality, socially constructed norms, attitudes, and relations of power that underline the cause of limitation of men and women.

In context of Nepal, women are confined to the domestic spheres mostly in rural areas due to socially embedded and culturally accepted gender roles and responsibilities. So, this process examines the questions and seeks to change the rigid gender norms that causes power imbalances by encouraging critical awareness. The change process of gender transformation mainly focuses to unfold the causes and consequences of existing gender values and addresses them accordingly. This change process further encourages the society to promote the position of women by challenging the unequal distribution of resources and allocation regarding the power relationships. There are four different pillars for gender transformative change, they are:

Pic. 1

Source: ICIMOD’s strategic approach towards gender equity and analysis 2013-2017

The first and foremost area that needs to be focused is capacity of women’s leadership. It helps to respond to the need and requirement of an organisation’s future strategy. The development of new policies and strengthening of existing policies from gender perspectives support women in leadership and decision making positions. Such policies support including the socially excluded, economically poor, and vulnerable in terms of disaster risk reduction and those deprived of access to information and resources. It further encourages partnering with like-minded government, non-government organisations and civil societies, additionally, the research on GESI helps to provide evidence for the areas of concentration to bring the gender transformation change in an organisation.

In context of Practical Action, Nepal office, there are two areas that need to focus. They are;

  1. Capacity strengthening and women’s leadership
  • Focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) through project activities
  • Capacity building on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) of staff and partners
  • Initiate the Gender Audit through our existing projects
  1. Inclusive policies and partnerships
  • Focus to implement of existing policies and development of new policies/ guidelines if required
  • Partnership with like minded organizations to contribute on GESI areas in the implementation level

This comprehensive understanding of empowerment requires, not only the increase of women’s individual agency, but also changes to transform the structural barriers in order to shift social and cultural norms. This can be measured by examining three broad  domains of transformative changes on empowerment, they are:

Agencies: Individual and institutional knowledge, skills and abilities

Relations: Complex and multi-dimensional and pervasive relationships to analyse through diversified tools and techniques

Structures: Power relationships governing collective, individual and institutional practices

Pic. 2

Source: Measuring gender-transformative change (Oct. 2015), Care USA for WorldFish and the CGIAR Research Programme on Aquatic Agricultural Systems

These dimensions help re-frame the discourse of empower to focus on women’s individual agency to collect responsibilities and actions.

Overall, the gender transformative change impacts on institutional and individual level through gender inclusive policies keeping the women in front line positions in development interventions. This leads to rights of women along with gender related expectations. Eventually, it provides insights for gender transformative actions at organisation and programme implementation levels. Gender is so central to our new strategy. So, considering our organizational priorities, gender tansformative change is one of them.


DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) has become Urgent

Monday, March 27th, 2017 by

On 25th of April 2015, Nepal was hit by a 7.6 magnitude of earthquake followed by several aftershocks. The total value of direct loss and damage of personal and public properties and assets have been estimated at USD7,065m. In that fiscal year (2014/2015) Nepal’s total annual budget was equivalent to around USD6,468m. This clearly shows that the earthquake destroyed properties and assets with value more than the annual budget of the country. The death of 8,979 lives, injuries to over 22,300 people, the scares they left behind in the community and families and the indirect cost of the effects are beyond the estimate of these losses and damages. The cost that incurred during the Rescue and Humanitarian supports, and will incur for the full Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction are yet to be calculated. The annual GDP of Nepal over past few years is almost stagnant at USD value which is around USD20b. The above estimated value of direct loss and damage by the earthquake makes more than 1/3rd of the country’s GDP. The GDP growth rate is also not encouraging which is limited to below 5% over the past some years ranging mostly between 3 and 4%, and below 1% in the year after the earthquake. So at such a slow GDP growth rate with annual official inflation reaching as high as 10%, the recovery of over 1/3rd (35%) of GDP will definitely take considerable amount of time as the resources otherwise would be used for development will be diverted towards recovery, restoration and reconstruction activities.

Table 1: Some financial statistics of Nepal

Fiscal Year Budget (NPR- 000,000) Budget (USD- 000,000)* Projected Growth Rate % Achieved Growth rate (or final projection) % GDP (NPR- 000,000) GDP (USD- 000,000)**
 2011/12 (2068/69)


5,437.21 5.00 4.50 1,558,000


 2012/13 (2069/70)


4,967.73 3.60 1,708,172


 2013/14 (2070/71)


5,976.20 5.50 3.50 1,928,850


 2014/15 (2071/72)


6,468.19 6.00 2.32 1,934,040


 2015/16 (2072/73)


8,219.35 6.00 0.77 2,130,520


 2016/17 (2073/74)


9,924.51 6.50

* Nepal Rastra Bank Exchange Rate is used as of April 1 of the previous year

** Nepal Rastra Bank Exchange Rate is used as of April 1 of the later year

Data Sources: Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal


Another study carried out by Practical Action, IDS-Nepal and G- CAP UK for the Government of Nepal indicates that Nepal suffers a high economic cost due to current climate variability and extreme events. The annual direct cost of current climate variability in Nepal, on average, is estimated to be 1.5 to 2% of the current GDP per year. In extreme years the cost go much higher reaching to 5% or more, a very high cost by international comparison. The indirect cost can be as high as the direct cost resulting the cumulative effects to as high as 10% of GDP during the extreme years, which is increasing in frequency and intensity as the climate has changed. The study focused only on agriculture, hydro-electricity and water induced disasters[1].

These are just two examples that show how much disasters cost to development of a country, how disasters play roles in pulling development backwards. These examples clearly indicate that without working on disaster risk reduction through systematic assessment of the factors of disaster and addressing them systematically, development cannot move forward. It is clearly seen that if the disaster risk is not addressed, no matter how much there are development achievements; they will be brought down to ground zero or even pushing towards negative leaving unbearable cost to poor countries like Nepal.

Will Disaster Risk Reduction work?

A study conducted by Practical Action on Benefit-Cost Analysis of DRR actions indicated a ratio of 1.13- 1.45 even with a conservative methodology. In the same study a little bit liberal methodology indicated the Benefit-Cost Ratio of 2.04. In this study the cost included the cost of the DRR activities and the benefits included the additional benefits that the communities received which otherwise would not be if the DRR activities were not implemented[2].

Similarly, another study implemented by Mercy Corp indicated that the Benefit-Cost Ratio of DRR activities was 3.49. In this study also a very conservative methodology was applied. Benefits basically included the saved cost or expenses that otherwise could have incurred on humanitarian activities if the DRR activities were not implemented[3].

So the DRR activities not only save the loss and damage of lives and properties, but they also give benefits to the communities.

Assessing Risk and Reducing Risk

The Risk Concept (Figure below) developed by IPCC in its Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change, 2014 provides a conceptual tool to understand the risk and its elements[4]. Although this concept is basically designed for addressing climate change risk, it is equally useful for systematic analysis and assessment of risk due to any other hazards. In the following paragraphs, attempts have been made on how this concept can be used in practice for Disaster Risk Reduction.


The conceptual framework indicates that “Risk is a function of Hazard, Exposure and Vulnerability“. As per the AR5 definition of vulnerability, which is different from the definition used in AR4, it covers the sensitivity or susceptibility of an exposed unit or system and its lack of capacity to cope and adapt to effect or impact of a hazard. For simplicity let me use the following relationship.

Risk ≈ Hazard * Exposure * Vulnerability

If vulnerability is split into its components (sensitivity and capacity), the following can be the relationship or equation

​Risk ≈​Hazard * Exposure * Sensitivity / ​Capacity to cope and adapt

Based on this equation, an element or system (individual, social, economic, environmental, etc.) is in high risk when –

  • Hazard is high – it is intensive and frequent with spatial and temporal dimensions
  • Exposure is high – there is presence of high number or large unit of elements and systems exposed to hazard during the period / time/ season and in a geographical area (space) where there is occurrence of intensive and frequent hazards
  • Sensitivity is high – the sensitivity or susceptibility of an exposed unit to be harmed or adversely affected is high when the weakness part of the exposed system / unit is high
  • Capacity to cope and adapt is low – the knowledge, skill, social, physical, financial and natural resources that enhance the capacity of the exposed unit are low that is the strength part of the exposed system/ unit is low


So this concept helps simplify risk reduction which is basically

  • Reduce the hazard – the hazard mitigation parts
  • Reduce the exposure – keep the elements / units / system away from the hazard areas and time or period of hazard
  • Reduce the sensitivity or susceptibility – minimise the weaknesses of the exposed elements, units, or systems, if they cannot be removed from area or time of hazard, or even in the period and locations where and when they have been relocated.
  • Strengthen the capacity to cope and adapt – enhance the strength parts of the exposed elements, units, or systems, if they cannot be removed from the hazard areas or period, or even in the period and locations where and when they have been relocated.


In order to understand the Hazard, Exposure, Sensitivity and Capacity, there is a need of systematic and simple approaches. Where possible scientific and systemic tools and methodologies need to be applied, but where it is not possible, some basic tools and methodologies can be applied in a participatory approach with the communities who are especially the Exposures.


Assessment of Hazard:

In the concept diagram, there are two hazards 1) extreme weather events which are beyond the natural or usual variability. Such hazards could include Extreme Rainfall, Extreme Hot, Extreme Cold, or any such extremes weather events and 2) any physical or qualitative events as a result of weather events like Flood, Landslides, Sea Level Rise, increase in Salinity, etc. In order to reduce the hazards, an assessment should be carried out on how the trends of these hazards are in terms of frequency and intensity – how frequent and how destructive it is happening, and their seasonality and spatial behaviour – where and when it is happening. The assessment will lead to understand the causes of the hazard and potential actions to reduce the hazard.


Assessment of Exposure:

AR5 of IPCC defines exposure as “the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected” by hazard. In addition to this, the presence should also look into the timing.

In order to reduce the exposure, it is straightforward that to reduce “the physical presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places, times and settings that could be adversely affected” by hazard. This is basically relocation of the Exposures if they are movable, and reduce their exposure by putting barriers between hazard and exposure if they cannot be moved or relocated.


Assessment of Sensitivity or Susceptibility

The Exposure unit, elements or systems have their Weaknesses and Strengths. The weaknesses are the Sensitivity whereas the Strength part is Capacity. The characteristics of weaknesses differ depending upon the Exposure elements and the hazard to which they are exposed.  As for example, if exposure unit is people, the weakness aspects of people may be young age (infant or child), old age (elder above 70), pregnant woman, physical disability, lack of knowledge and skill, etc. If there are more number of people with some or most or all of these characteristics, the population or the people is more sensitive.

Similarly if it is a building, the sensitivity of the building could be low plinth level, mud-plaster wall, wall system, etc.

At the system level, the assessment of sensitivity would be more systemic from livelihood asset point of view. This approach will also be used in the assessment of capacity below. So if there is less capacity, there is high sensitivity of a system to hazard and then that result into disaster.

To reduce the sensitivity, the weakness parts of the exposed element should be reduced. In case of population, it might not be applicable, therefore the exposure and capacity or strength parts of the population should be emphasised.


Assessment of Capacity

Capacity is the strength part of exposed element, unit or system. The assessment of capacity needs to assess both strength of the exposed element, unit or system and the opportunity that exist to the system, unit or element. Assessment of capacity through livelihood asset approach seems more systemic and convenient. It is because capacity to cope and adapt needs all five assets of livelihood. In case of human resources, the capacity should assess the physical as well as qualitative aspects of human resources including their knowledge of risk and DRR measures and, skills to apply measures and technologies for DRR

Physical assets like trails and bridges at strategic sites and alternatives to one if damaged, facilities like rescue centres, health centres and market centres, etc. are important both before and after the disasters. Natural resources like water or forest products which make basis for livelihood and provide resources during the time of post-disaster are important to the communities.

Similarly financial resources at individual as well as at community levels together with financial services are vital for strengthening the capacity of the individual and the communities. The institutions and organisation from both formal and informal sectors are equally important to the communities and individual for enhancing their capacity for DRR. The government policies and plans, and laws are must for the mobilisation of formal resources from the government part. Therefore they play vital roles as well

So to assess the capacity of the communities for DRR, the five livelihood assets need to be assessed. The assessment should be assessed base on their existence in terms of physical numbers and sizes, and their availability or access of the communities to these resources at the time and place of need.

Where the assessment shows poor capacity, the DRR actions should focus on strengthening of these assets which will ultimately strengthen the capacity of the individual and the communities to cope and adapt to effects and impacts of climate change and disasters.

Strengthening livelihood assets of individual and community also enhances the resilience of the individual, communities or the overall system, the exposure



[1] IDS-Nepal, PAC and GCAP (2014). Economic Impacts Assessment of Climate Change in Key Sectors in Nepal. IDS-Nepal, Kathmandu, Nepal

[2] D. Willenbockel (2011) A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Practical Action’s Livelihood-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction Project in Nepal. Brighton: IDS.

[3] Mercy Corp (?). Cost-Benefit Analysis for Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction in Kailali, Nepal

[4] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Technologies to put a roof over the heads of earthquake victims

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 by

Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.

Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.

Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

He had built the house in 1995.

“I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.

It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.

He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.

Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.

“The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.

Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.

Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.

Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.

“If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.

Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.

However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.

Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.IMG_1508


Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.

Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.

It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.

Likewise, the technologies can  provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected  districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.

Roxana Añez – Empowered by emergency

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 by

Roxana Añez is a Bolivian woman and a mother of nine children. She lives in small indigenous community in Tacana Altamarani which is located onroxana the river Beni, three hours downriver from San Buenaventura.

Roxana, an intelligent and driven woman, has always wanted to study and increase her knowledge for the benefit of herself and her community. Unfortunately, because of the social and cultural norms, it has not been possible. Like in many other indigenous communities in Bolivia, a woman’s role is to ‘serve’ her husband and children. This meant that Roxana, like other women in Altamarani, had to spend her days walking to the river bank and back to collect water and to do the washing. After these daily chores, there was no time left for anything else.

“That was our life. To climb up that ravine under the burning sun, with all the bottles of water and clothes that needed washing.”

In 2014, the course of Roxana’s life suddenly changed. This was the year when heavy rains and flooding tormented the little community in Altamarani. Because of the flooding, the people in the community lost over 80 per cent of their crops. In addition, their access to clean water was cut – leaving the whole community on the brink of survival.

roxana2Practical Action, in partnership with Christian Aid, responded to the emergency. Based on the analysis of the situation, they quickly identified, that the primary need in the area was clean water. Because of the flooding, the water was difficult to access. In addition to this, the water in river Beni was contaminated, causing severe health problems.

In order to solve the problem, Practical Action installed a solar-powered water pumping system which is a great technology for emergency response because it does not require any fuel costs. Thanks to this new technology, people in Altamarani now have access to clean water at their homes.

Because of the installed water pumping system, Roxana no longer spends her days walking to the river bank and back. This means that she finally has time to educate herself and to do other things she has always dreamt of. Shortly after the pumping system was built, she participated in the agroforestry knowledge exchange programme that thought her new, sustainable ways of farming.

“I have now returned to my community to put all that knowledge into practice. I wish everyone had the opportunity to leave and participate in these kind of activities, so they can learn. I want to keep learning.”

Because of her knowledge and eagerness to learn, Roxana is now one of the leaders in her community. Together with her husband, she owns a farm that produces fruits and medical plants. In the future, Roxana wants to keep on learning and developing herself for the benefit of the community.

Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Roxana!

Want to help women like Roxana this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here. 

Story of Kopila Chaudhary — how knowledge transformed my life

Monday, March 20th, 2017 by

The gift of material goods makes people dependent, but the gift of knowledge makes them free”, these profound words of E.F.Schumacher still hold true today. In fact, they are the foundation of Practical Action’s last mile knowledge service, Practical Answers. Knowledge sharing, skills development and capacity building allows vulnerable communitieMushroom farmings across the globe to improve their own livelihoods and thrive in future years to come.

Meet Mrs Chaudhary, a mother to five. She lives in the far west rural region of Nepal. This area has a past. The 17th July 2000 was a milestone in Nepalese history, the day the Government of Nepal abolished the Kamaiya systemthe abolishment of bonded labour. Kamaiyas were freed, Mrs Chaudhary was freed. Yet, life remained difficult. These families were sent to live in Mukta Kamaiya,­ communities of freed bonded labour set up by the government. Life remained difficult for Mrs Chaudhary, although she had been re-housed the promises of rehabilitation had not be fully fulfilled. Wage labour was essential if she was to support her family and change her livelihood for the better:

“The government had provided us four Kathha (approx. 14,500 sq.ft) of land with some money to start our new life as a freed Kamaiya, but it was insufficient to fulfil the daily needs of the family. I along with my husband worked as daily wage labour for 15 years but still struggled to make ends meet for our family and fulfil our children’s basic needs. Many organisations came to us in past; they sympathised on our situation and showed us hopes and inspirations but almost to no effect.”

Gyanodaya Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC), supported by Practical Answers, is located in the area. Owned by the local community, staff knew that the Kamaiya community must be supported through the gift of knowledge. Social mobilisers encouraged individuals, like Mrs Chaudhary, to join their training and learning sessions. These participatory trainings focus on income generation activities and diversification; key skills to improve the livelihoods of these vulnerable communities. Sceptical at first, participants of these sessions are now thriving commercial farmers specialising in agribusiness. Mrs Chaudhary is one of them. Social mobilisers from the CLRC Mushroom farminghad encouraged her to participate, sharing the benefits that neighbouring communities had gained since joining the training. During the training, she learnt how to write business proposals to apply for government grants:

“Surprisingly, I got a grant of NPR 40,000 (£300) along with some machinery for mushroom farming and now I have started commercial mushroom farming. I was able to produce 50kg of mushroom. With the money, I am building another tunnel to grow 200 more bags… CLRC has built hope on us to change our lives”

Knowledge sharing and skills development for individuals, like Mrs Chaudhary, enables vulnerable individuals to improve their own livelihoods by their selves, to grow and prosper without handouts. Knowledge empowers. Knowledge empowers women like Mrs Chaudhary to be business women supporting their family, community and growing their own confidence day after day after day.

Did you enjoy this story? If yes, go to our Mother’s Day site  and meet other inspiring women just like Mrs Chaudhary!

Want to help women like Mrs Chaudhary this Mother’s Day? Our Practical Presents Charity Gift shop offers some amazing Mother’s Day gifts that are designed to transform lives. More information here


Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 by

Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

During the conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressing the following issues:

Why work on FSM  The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh
Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”.  Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference

  • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day
  • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.

  • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.

Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.

FSM Business ModelTaking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues.

    • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
      • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
      • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
      Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector,

e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

Outstanding questions and food for thoughtPreliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

  • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
  • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
  • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

For more information about why our sanitation work matters, watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.



STEM careers in International Development

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 by

STEM careers poster Practical ActionDo you have students who are interested in the big global challenges we are facing? Do they  want to help find the solution to climate change and having enough food for everyone on the planet? If so a career in International Development could be for them.

My STEM(Science, Technology , engineering and Maths) job at  Practical Action,  is to produce education materials to help students discover how STEM can be used to reduce poverty around the world. Other people I work with have great jobs such as helping people get access to electricity, sharing information about the best materials to use to make a house flood-proof, working with communities to install solar powered water pumps, helping farmers breed salt-resistant crops… they are the scientists and engineers. Then there are people who do jobs you might not think of that are really important to the backbone of our organisation , like working in finance. They also get to travel around the world and see the great work our organisation is doing.

To raise awareness of the great opportunities a STEM career in international development can bring  we have a lovely free poster you can request and a number of case studies free to download at .  They would make a great display 🙂


STEM careers poster Practical Action

Life as a Barefoot Agro-vet; Govinda Khadka’s Story

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017 by

Things were bleak for Govinda Khadka (47) of Gajra village in Achham District a few years back. After being a primary school teacher for over a decade until 2014, Khadka quit his job due to low remuneration and instability. Before being a school teacher, he was a migrant worker alike most of his fellow villagers. He lived and worked as a labour in India for many years. His meagre income never paid enough for his family of five including his wife and three sons. With mere three ropani (1 Ropani = 508.83771 m²) of land and Indian labour job, there was no way that his children could be educated and well brought up. Hence, just like most of the youths in Achham, two of his sons were off to India to manage two square meals. At his mid-forty’s, Khadka had no job and just a small plot of land. All his sons had to take care of their own families. He and his wife barely had a source of income.

Alternative? Taking an Indian labour job!

Still healthy and fit, taking an Indian labour job crossed Khadka’s mind many times. But it was not an easy decision to leave his wife Rajyaswari Khadka (45) all by herself. Just like Khadka, many of the Achham dwellers opt for Indian labour jobs. Every year, 28,323 men and boys of Achham District leave to neighbouring India aspiring for a better living. In absence of better livelihood options back home, India seems most palatable platter in their plate. However, migrant labourer is not a great choice of life given the hardships and consequences that come along. Khadka, despite bearing a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) level education had such a thought; we can imagine the livelihood choice of more than half of Achham population who are not literate.

Transformative Barefoot Agro-vet Career

Khadka might have to leave as an aging migrant worker but thanks to POSAN, he was offered 35 days agro-vet training when things were at edge for him. After the training, he was able to pass test to receive an official agro-vet license. He was also supported by the project to establish an agro-vet shop with financial assistance of NPR 25,000 (£ 193). His fellow villagers came to a great sigh after his agro-vet was established to cater them veterinary and agriculture related services. Since many villagers residing uphill and away from his agro-vet shop also started demanding his service, his wife started looking at the shop while Khadka started providing a barefoot agro-vet service whenever he is called. Khadka shared with us, as a barefoot agro-vet, he found more satisfaction than any other profession. It has not just been a source of income for him but he gets to socialise with fellow villagers. He also thinks the profession has given him more happiness than ever as he loves to interact with people.

Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at night

Govinda Khadka providing barefoot agro-vet service on an urgent call by fellow villager at 8:00 in the night


“Being a barefoot agro-vet, I am able to make above NPR 40,000 (£ 310) annually. This is a lot of money for me. I have been saving most of the income for my retirement and possible medical expenses for me and my wife in future. However, it is not just about money, I get to socialise in every nook and cranny of this village and sometimes even beyond. People regard me for my service which means a lot to me. I imagine, only if I was not given this opportunity, I would not be leading such a respectful life.”


A Sigh that POSAN Brings….

Khadka is also supported by the project in vegetable farming techniques. While the Khadkas never grew enough vegetables for their own consumption due to lack of knowledge, now they barely spend any money in buying food. This also in a way has helped them make more saving. In fact, they sell the surplus once or twice every week in nearby Bayelpata market through which they make enough for their day to day expenditure. All in all, Khadka’s plans to save the income made through barefoot agro-vet service for his retirement explains how a small contribution from POSAN has helped ensure social security for him and his wife. His service is not just a business for him but is also associated to his wellbeing.

The Khadka couple today leads a happy life with least things to be worried about. They have food growing abundantly at their backyard and an agro-vet shop as a small scale enterprise. Above all, Khadka has his barefoot agro-vet profession which gives him pleasure and decent pay at the same time.

Almost every other household in Achham rear goats and barefoot agro-vet is high in demand

Almost every other household in Achham rear goats which clearly signals high demand for barefoot agro-vet

Knowledge matters and it empowers

Monday, March 13th, 2017 by

Three female Muscovy ducks were splashing in greenish water kept in a small concrete tub when we reached Bhumisara Poudel’s house. The drake was tethered to a post near the coop and the area was covered with a mosquito net. Nearby, a manure yard measuring 6 ft x 4 ft made from cement blocks was also covered with a mosquito net.

I wondered why they had mosquito nets everywhere around the manure yard.

The net stops rats and moles from eating earthworms,” said Baburam Poudel, Bhumisara’s husband. “These are not ordinary earthworms, each one costs NRs 3. We bought half a kilo of earthworms for NRs 1,500 (Around 15 USD) and these creatures have been helping us produce vermicompost enough for our seven kattha (1 kattha = 338 sq. m) farm.”

Demand-driven training to farmers

Jyoti Ale Magar, a social mobiliser at the Sauraha Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC) told us how Bhumisara started raising the earthworms for vermicompost. “We trained 20 farmers from this area on vermicomposting,” she said. “We organise the trainings as per the demand from the community.

With the support from Practical Answers Knowledge Services Programme, 22 CLRCs in 15 districts of Nepal have been organising trainings for farmers, interaction with agriculture experts and practical sessions at regular intervals.

Linking farmers to government and non-government organisations

During one of the interaction sessions, the CLRC connected Bhumisara with the Agriculture Service Centre in the area. The service centre provided a grant of NRs 25,000 to Bhumisara to construct a shed and a manure yard, and buy earthworms for vermicomposting.

As we were talking about the benefits of organic fertiliser, Baburam dug out a handful of vermicompost from the pit. Two small earthworms wriggled out of the dark brown compost. Putting them back to the pit, Baburam showed us how to determine whether the fertiliser was ready to use.

The ready-to-use compost is like a handful of dry CTC tea (black tea made by crush, tear, curl method),” he said. “It’s easy to carry and administer to the soil – not like the wet livestock manure.”

All they needed to do was to add livestock manure, dried leaves to the pit, keep it cool by sprinkling water at regular intervals. The earthworms would do the rest of the work.

Improving food security and livelihood

Learning how to prepare and handle vermicompost, we went to the adjacent farm to see how the vegetables were faring. The couple had recently harvested a crop of potatoes and the newly planted bitter gourd saplings were climbing up the stakes, with their tendrils coiling around them.

We harvested 10 quintals of potatoes in this three kattha plot,” said Baburam beaming with joy. “Earlier the plot yielded not more than 5-6 quintals. We sold some and have stored a quintal of potatoes in a cold store.”

The manure pit produced vermicompost enough for the potato cultivation. In addition, they had applied the compost to the bitter gourd saplings and the flowers at the front of their house.

Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others.

Bhumisara Poudel is happy with her vermicompost venture. She happily shares her knowledge with others. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

Spreading the knowledge

Close to the vegetable farm, I could see an outlet protruding from base of the manure pit and a reddish brown liquid dripping from the pipe. The water sprayed on the manure yard converts into a nutrient after getting in contact with the manure and earthworms. And according to Bhumisara and Baburam, it is more nutritious than the compost and can be collected in a bottle.

Bhumisara quipped, “Earlier the fertiliser used to be carried in truckloads, then in sacks and now in bottles.”

Appreciating his wife’s knowledge, Baburam said, “She learnt all this at the CLRC and I learnt from her.

Many people come to see how we are raising the earthworms and producing vermicompost,” added Bhumisara. “We are happy to teach them all the tricks of the trade.”

Now, they no more need to carry truckloads of wet livestock manure. It used to be a back-breaking chore before cultivation and lasted for 5-6 days at a stretch. The vermicompost can be stored and stacked in sacks and the liquid nutrient adds to the productivity of the crops.

Practical answers to the farmers’ queries

As we were having coffee after the snapshot of the manure yard and vegetable farm, Baburam let go the tethered drake. It started chasing the other three ducks and the place became lively with the ducks’ quacks.

The social mobilisers at the CLRCs respond to the queries of the farmers. They provide the related knowledge materials and invite experts to interact with the farmers.  This gives the farmers a better idea on managing their land, cultivating crops and starting alternative income generating activities.

I’m planning to dig a pond by the side of the coop,” told Baburam. “So that these ducks can swim and we can get fish to eat.”

Margaret Kariuku — A self-established businesswoman

Friday, March 10th, 2017 by

Margaret Kariuku is a Kenyan woman who has not had the easiest path to success. As a mother of four, she has struggled to find a stable income to provide for herself and her children.

“Three times, I have had to start again. Three times, I have had to rebuild my livelihood. It all begun in 2005, when I stopped working as a secretary in Nakuru town. I thought that I would get my life sorted, but as fate would have it, this would not be.MargaretKariuki2 (002)

After she finished working as a secretary, she moved to her father’s farm, hoping to re-establish herself as a farmer. At first, her maize crops yielded well. However, as the days passed, her crops went down. By the third year, there was nothing left to harvest, and Margaret needed to decide what to do next.

“I picked up the pieces and decided to set up a milk collection centre. I bought milk from the farmers and sold it to the residents. I also decided to buy a motorcycle. When it was not used to collect milk, it would be a taxi. That way, I had two income streams.”

In the beginning, Margaret’s new business did well. Two income streams guaranteed a stable income. Sadly, after couple months, she realised that her employees were embezzling money from her. She needed to close the business. “I almost got disoriented when I lost my second business. But I collected myself again and set up once more.”

This time, she decided to establish a business on her own. She opened a grocery store which provided just enough income to keep her going. One day, she overheard her neighbour talking about a new source of energy called briquetting. This sparked her interest. She participated in a conference, organised by Practical Action Eastern Africa and SCODE (Sustainable Community Development Services), where she saw a demo of the production process. After the conference, her neighbour suggested a visit to the briquetting production site in the neighbourhood.

Although reluctant at first, she accompanied her neighbour to the site – pretending to be an entrepreneur. At the site, she quickly learned, that she could earn better income as a briquettinbriquettesg entrepreneur than owner of a grocery store. Meanwhile, the costs and availability of the raw materials made it easy to enter the market. She went back home feeling energised and thoughtful.

“My hope was that even if my grocery store was not performing well, I had briquettes. I knew that if I’d start producing them, I would be able to make a better income. So I started to produce them manually. I thought to myself, this is really hard! However, Practical Action and SCODE helped me. They rented me a machine to aide production. I had found my salvation.”

Margaret launched her briquettes business in 2015 and has increased her sales ever since. She has also participated in Practical Action’s training programmes, aimed to enhance women’s energy enterprise opportunities in Kenya. In 2017, she won the Energia Women Entrepreneurship Award – A prize that recognizes individuals that have done outstanding work in the sector.

In the future, Margaret wants to further expand her business and create jobs in the community. “Many young people are jobless, and many women are frustrated because they have no way of getting income. So I can use the prize money to give them a chance, to teach them, and to give them skills so that they can benefit the way I have.”

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