Archive for October, 2017

Using real-world context in science and STEM

Friday, October 27th, 2017 by

I have always been passionate about both children’s education and global issues, so it’s a bit of a no brainer to me that where possible children’s learning should be set within a real-world, global context.  Happily this is also something that both the new science and D & T curricula in the UK are encouraging, so there is more reason that ever before for teachers to use this approach.

In addition to making subjects more relevant and engaging Global Learning fosters respect for others, cultural awareness, empathy and a desire to make a difference to the world…all important values for the future generation, and the skills employers are looking for in a globalised society.

For many years now at Practical Action our schools team have been producing resources that fit the UK science and D & T curriculum, but are also flexible enough to be used in STEM/science clubs, off-time-table days, transition and more. Our resources can also be used to gain a CREST award from the British Science Association, or as part of the Eco-schools initiative

Most popular are our STEM challenges, which challenge pupils to find a STEM solutions to a global issues e.g. how to grow crops on land prone to flooding ( Floating garden challenge), gaining access to clean water and hand washing facilities ( Stop the spread) and what to do with waste plastics (Plastics challenge).

Teachers around the UK are including our material in their planning, not just because they raise awareness of global issues and help develop those vital values and skills but also because they engage and motivate young people, and increase their interest in STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.

So, if you are a teacher and have not tried our materials with your class before then why not:Plastics challenge

  • Take a look at our documents showing where our resources fit the UK science curriculum and choose one to make your lesson more engaging.
  • Try out a STEM challenges in your STEM/science club
  • Look at which resources can be used to gain a CREST award and maybe entered into the Big Bang Fair competition

If you do use any of our materials with your pupils please let us know…we love feedback!

I will be hosting an #ASEChat on Monday 30th October 8-9pm UK time, on this subject so please do join me to share any ideas or resources you may have that have worked for you…and to pick up some new ones.

To keep in touch you can also follow me on twitter @julieBrown01, and  FaceBook  and sign up to our STEM Matters newsletter.

Pumpkins against poverty and climate change in Bangladesh

Thursday, October 26th, 2017 by

Pumpkin farming in Bangladesh helps some of the most vulnerable people to cope with floods & climate change and so escape poverty. This reveals critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces.

How is climate change creating poverty in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is repeatedly named as the country most vulnerable to climate change. In particular, more frequent and intense rainfall plus rising sea-level is making flooding much more likely. While for some countries coping with climate change is a problem for the future, impacts are already being felt in Bangladesh. The Asian Development Bank reports that more rain is falling and extreme events, such as floods, are becoming more common and severe. Rural areas are being caught in a devastating cycle of droughts and floods. In a country where 70% of the population directly depend on agriculture this is a serious problem.

Weather events have cost Bangladesh $12billion in the last 40 years, says The World Bank. By 2050, it’s likely that climate change could further reduce the amount of food farmers can grow by up to 30%. As the impact of climate change becomes more severe, it will hamper any attempts to improve the poverty and malnutrition that effect vulnerable people across the country.

To make matters worse, the most vulnerable people are often forced to live in the most dangerous areas. For example, the poorest families are often only able to build their homes and farms on the very edge of riverbanks, which are washed away during floods. As floods become more common people are more frequently losing their homes, livelihoods and food supply – trapping them into cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

How can pumpkins fight poverty?

The Pumpkins against Poverty project run by Practical Action is working with 6,000 of the most vulnerable people in 26 villages across Bangladesh. The aim is to help build their ability to cope with flooding and climate change.

While floodwater washes away riverbanks, homes and fields, it also creates new islands (called sandbars) in the middle of the flooding rivers. Practical Action is helping communities to turn these sandbars into pumpkin fields. With the time it takes to dig a small hole, and the addition of a small amount of compost, individuals who lost their fields to floods are guaranteed a harvest. Even better, women are actively participating in pumpkin farming around their household tasks – supporting themselves and their children.

Practical Action is also helping farmers to sell the pumpkins they do not eat. Pumpkin selling can offer a great additional income for families, especially in the monsoon season when prices are three times higher than at other times in the year.

The project has generated huge employment for some of the poorest people in Bangladesh, and especially for vulnerable women. Pumpkin growing has increased food security and the ability of communities to cope with flooding and the impacts of climate change. It has also transformed individuals into agricultural entrepreneurs, helping them to escape the trap of poverty and malnutrition.

Why is this an important lesson for the rest of the world?

The Pumpkins against Poverty project is a clear example of how simple technology can build communities’ resilience to the disaster events climate change brings. The project hopes to support the most vulnerable individuals in Bangladeshi society by actively involving women and children, and so strengthen communities from the bottom-up.

It is widely recognised that local and bottom-up innovations, such as the Pumpkins against Poverty project, are crucial to both cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce the contribution to the cause. Despite this, there is a large gap in our understanding of how practical technology can be turned into successful projects on the ground. To be effective, projects need to carefully consider the local context and involve the community at every step. Practical Action’s Pumpkins against Poverty project is helping individuals suffering from the impacts of climate change. Moreover, it provides critical lessons for some of the biggest problems our world faces: hunger, nutrition, employment and gender inclusion.

Find out more…

If you would like to read more on technological solutions for climate change in Bangladesh see the Adaptation Technology in Bangladesh report by the Gobeshona sub-group.

Alternatively discover other solutions to increase flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal which is dedicated to providing specialist advice and guidance.

More of Practical Action’s work in Bangladesh can be found here.

Learning to fail

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 by

Often we celebrate success and seldom talk about failures. In a modern work-space it is difficult to imagine an environment where we confidently and openly talk about failures. In evaluation meetings we focus our energies on ‘best practices’ but less on ‘lessons learnt’. For me, success and failure are impostors, and I believe that the process leading to either or in some cases neither is key.

Habitually we do not want to try innovative ideas for we fear failure, and now and again the magic associated with naivetés of trying new and untested technologies is treated as a liability; so (hush hush) these things are off limits as we are super engrossed in conducting evaluations and finishing reports in an ever evolving professional work-space. Getting things right at the first go might be valid from a project management perspective, but is that realistic when we talk about trying to change the world and inspire others by demonstrating something unique or niche.

When we tried piloting simple low cost water level sensors in the foothills of the Karnali basin, West Nepal, we failed spectacularly. The rationale of trying the technology was not to replace the existing monitoring system but to test if these affordable water level sensors can provide redundancy to the current systems which are rather expensive to operate. First, we tried with acoustic sensors and realized that its capability was limited for large rivers and there was a spider nest in one of the equipment when we tried extracting the data. I was lucky not to get bitten. Nevertheless, three months later we tried again with LiDAR sensors, only to realize that the battery connection was weak and there was no data, yet again after few months we changed the sensor specification and are now nervously hoping that it would record some data.

Piloting low cost water level sensors in lower Karnali River, West Nepal

Whilst these sensors worked perfectly fine in laboratory conditions, we were appalled to see irregular field behaviour. Ah! The fallacies of being too research oriented and mechanistic – but the spark generated by the excitement of trying something innovative and trusting ones instinct was unparalleled. Perhaps one can conclude that the senor technologies did not adapt well in mountainous environment. Despite trying multiple times, are we ready to give in to criticism or failures? Nah! We are ready to fail again, not because we have the funding to fail but we are keen to look into the technical issues on why the sensors did not record data and what can be improved? The possibility of the sensors working well with real time data transmission and solar panels excites us. The sheer joy of ‘trying again’ is pure bliss! We are un(cautiously) confident that this technology might work one day and has the potential to change the spectrum of early warning and environmental observations. However, perseverance is critical, and not being deterred is crucial.

International development is evolving in radical ways and while these changes are happening subtly, it surely does demand that we evolve from normative ways of thinking and styles of working. Yet we still fancy being on the safe side and avoid talking calculated risks. Having failed many times in the past, we are not scared of failing any more rather we are eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fail, and Failing is Fun when you have colleagues and supervisors that support you in the process. When we start celebrating failures as equally as success that is when magic happens.

International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017

Friday, October 13th, 2017 by

International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

“The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

In 2017 IDDR once again focuses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and man-made hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

Find out more…

See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

 

[1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

[2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

[3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

Better veterinary services in remote areas

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 by

The EU funded Livestock Epidemio Surveillance Programme for Eastern Sudan (LESP-ES) aims to establish effective  epidemio-surveillance and control of trans-boundary animal diseases and priority diseases and link with national institutional frameworks through strengthening capacities for epidemio-surveillance.

Different activities were conducted to accomplish this including the provision of three check points on the border with Ethiopia, at Basunda in Taya and Galabat as well as Alassera in Guresha.  There are also three interstate check points at Shajarab and Sada  between Gedarif and Kassala State and Khyary between Gedarif and Gezera State.

In order to provide proper veterinary services at those points, the programme has supplied nine motorbikes at these check points in addition to the three motorbikes already in Gebesha Aburakham and Sefawa to cover the long borders.

Veterinary technicians were appointed to take responsibility for providing veterinary services and monitoring livestock movements in these vital area, taking into account that livestock  know no borders in their search for pasture and water.

The programme has helped improve the of skills and experience of veterinary technicians through multiple training courses for those at checkpoints among others.

Hassan Yousif Abdalla From Guresha was one of these technicians deployed  at the Alassera check point near the Ethiopian border. He expressed his appreciation for the role played by the programme and Practical Action in supporting veterinary services in remote rural areas where it is difficult to find veterinarians because numbers in the state are low.  He said that having an office here was a dream come true. Now it’s much easier to deliver veterinary services and to work with people in different villages as well as those who come asking for help.

Hassan said that before the motorbikes arrived it was difficult to monitor livestock movements or provide support to pastoralists and animal owners because villages were so scattered  and the roads unpaved.

“Now I can travel to all surrounding villages and provide veterinary services and meat inspections and to investigate all outbreaks of disease whenever I’m notified.  I can even provide help to pastoralists and animal owners across the border with Ethiopia. They come and ask for help because we are neighbours and have a common weekly livestock market in this area.  The programme had provided me with a mobile phone so anyone can reach me.  I can always ask  the local animal resources directorate for advice when I need it.”

Hassan said that he provides treatment and extension services even at household level and his work covers more than thirteen villages.  He performs meat inspections at the weekly livestock market and monitors the meat provided at local restaurants for the sake of better public health.

Hassan is sure of the importance of checkpoints as means of providing veterinary services to poor people in marginalized areas but has some worries about the sustainability of the service after withdrawal programme support.

Livestock owner Adam Nemer said that the presence of check points in the area encouraged farmers to concentrate on their herds because it is easier now to find support when needed.  He explained:

“Hassan helps us a lot.  He treats sick animals and provides guidance and advice on how to rear the herd and how to avoid diseases through better nutrition.  He also encourages us to undertake routine vaccination in order to prevent major disease outbreaks.”

Finally Hassan explained that the caravan should be provided with extra veterinary field tools that would help them in performing their duties.

Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 by

An innovative flood early warning system grants life-saving hours of preparation to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. In July, 2016 this system alerted 13,000 people to impending floods 3 hours before the traditional warning system was triggered.

Nepal is one of the one most flood-exposed countries in the world, and the people who live in the Karnali River basin are also among the most vulnerable. More of the world’s poor live in this area than in any other regional river basin. Poverty plays a significant role in vulnerability and resilience to natural hazards, as those with fewer resources are less able to protect themselves from flooding, and are also impacted to a greater degree by the loss and damage caused by floods.

With so much at stake, time is crucial for families to protect themselves, their homes and their livelihoods. The current early warning system in place measures water levels upstream of the lower part of the river basin, using real-time measurements to trigger a warning, sent via SMS messages, for communities downstream when a pre-determined threshold is crossed.

This approach is simple, sustainable and saves lives, but its effectiveness is constrained by the limited lead time it provides. Typically, communities have only two to three hours, making it difficult to save assets, livestock and tools, and presenting challenges for more vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, pregnant women, the elderly and children.

With little time to prepare, families are placed at serious risk when flooding occurs

 

Practical Action’s solution

With the support of the Zurich Flood Alliance Programme, we worked with Dr Paul Smith of waternumbers[1] and Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) to pilot a new approach which would increase the lead time and the detail of information provided by the early warning system. This approach is based on probabilistic forecasting, presenting the likelihood of water levels crossing danger and warning thresholds, rather than simply reporting what is happening as it is happening. This information is communicated visually to key decision-making personnel in the DHM. Initial results indicate that this approach could provide up to five additional hours of early warning, and the DHM has now adopted this model and is rolling it out to all major river basins across Nepal.

Proven success

During the 2016 monsoon in western Nepal, we were able to see the impact of this new system. When rainfall stations recorded heavy rainfall on 26 July, the forecast generated by the probabilistic system at 8:00 am indicated that the water level would rise above the danger threshold within the next three hours. Based on this, the DHM issued a flood advisory, and over 13,000 at-risk people received SMS messages alerting them to the risk. The danger threshold was crossed at 11:00 am, with water levels reaching 5.4 metres, and peaking at 8.15 metres at 10:00 pm.

The longer warning lead time from probabilistic forecasts was significant in minimizing the risk to lives and livelihoods as communities gained extra time to prepare, evacuate, and respond.

Find out more

For more detailed information, please refer to the full article by Paul J. Smith, Sarah Brown and Sumit Dugar, ‘Community-based early warning systems for flood risk mitigation in Nepal’ published in the Journal of Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

[1] A consultancy committed to assisting the management of risks from natural hazards using sustainable, innovative and tailored modelling and analytical solutions

Improving understanding of flooding and resilience in Nepal

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 by

In Nepal, accurate understanding of flood risk is limited by inaccurate or outdated information. Five innovative techniques have been used by Practical Action and partners to address these challenges and share the information with communities and government authorities.

This blog outlines these five techniques, which are detailed in full in this report.

Rivers originating from the Himalaya are a vital resource for around 10% of the global population. The rivers irrigate land, supporting the agricultural livelihoods of communities living across the 255 million hectare wide Terai plain in which Western Nepal is located. However, heavy rainfall during the monsoon season can cause a rise in water levels that mean these rivers become a source of devastating floods.

Practical Action has been working with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology in Nepal and an interdisciplinary team of geoscientists, engineers, social scientists and architects from the University of Edinburgh to better understand the flood risk faced by these communities.

An accurate understanding of the areas at risk of flooding is of critical importance to preparedness and resilience. Access to this information helps communities, local and national government agencies and civil society groups to act effectively to protect vulnerable people, livelihoods and infrastructure. Decisions on where to build emergency shelters and land use can be influenced by this information, for example.

The Karnali River is highly dynamic, changing pathways, shape and depth as it transports millions of tons of sediment along the river bed

1. Variable levels of sediment

Rivers which originate from the mountains in Nepal carry millions of tons of sediment during monsoon season. This sediment can change the shape of the underlying river channel, meaning that the water level alone does not indicate the amount of water in the river.

Solution: Using an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler we measured the amount of water in the river at different times of year and at different cross-sections of the channel. We were also able to use this technology to measure flow velocities for the first time. We also measured the size of sediment grains on gravel bars and in filtered water samples. These measurements were then used to accurately calculate the quantity of water in the river so that flood levels could be predicted – enabling resilient land management, irrigation practices and crop usage.

2. Outdated topography maps

Satellite data is crucial for mapping flood risk. However, the maps currently being used in Nepal are based on data from 2001, but the course and elevation of the river has changed significantly since then.

Solution: We developed more detailed flood risk maps using up-to-date and in-depth satellite data. This allowed us to analyse how flood risk is affected by changes to the river shape and to identify areas at risk that were previously overlooked.

3. Channel migration and switching

Channel migration occurs when a river bank is eroded causing the river to move across its plain, while channel switching occurs when the accumulation of sediment causes a river to change course. If either occur during a flood, the new channel position may put unprepared communities at risk.

Solution: Using optical satellite imagery, we were able to map out the historical channel pathways of the Karnali River and to understand the frequency and patterns of river channel movements. This enabled the identification of areas most vulnerable to flooding.

4. Social dynamics

Communities often change as result of development or in response to disasters like flooding. This change can be caused by anything from new economic opportunities or business openings to new community arrivals, people moving to find work or whole families being displaced by flooding. These all contribute to changing demographics and vulnerabilities which authorities need to be aware of in order to protect communities.

Solution: We interviewed community members to determine how flood risk interacts with their day-to-day lives. We found that the region is undergoing major social transformation which, while increasing the availability of cash and opportunities, is exposing people to new vulnerabilities. For example, the rise in concrete housing construction creates a sense of security in communities, but means that homes are less mobile and more valuable, increasing the potential loss due to flooding.

5. Construction techniques

Nepal has many examples of traditional flood-resilient construction methods. However, these have been displaced by modern techniques and materials, like reinforced concrete. Although it is easier to verify the resilience of concrete buildings than comparable traditional designs, they require different skills and technical expertise to build and are more expensive. Therefore, modern construction is not always appropriate for vulnerable communities who may not have the resources to safely construct and maintain modern designs.

Solution: We studied the construction methods of homes and shelters in a range of settlements and proved the resilience of some traditional techniques such as using timber posts to elevate main living floors. We concluded that hybrid construction systems should be developed, which bring together both traditional and modern methods, and that evolving systems should only use concrete where essential to guarantee resilience without unnecessary costs for households or contributions to climate change.

Rising water levels put the communities who live near the river at risk of flooding

Next Steps

Rivers like the Karnali, which have high and variable sediment loads, directly impact the people living near them, and we need to better understand how their changing behaviour affects flood risk.

We also need to be able to share knowledge about safe and resilient modern building techniques so that investment in structural development effectively reduces the risks of flooding and other hazards.

The team conducting this research project was formed from a range of disciplines across physical and social sciences. The benefits from working together and sharing knowledge and learning across the team became increasingly evident as the project progressed, resulting in greater insights into the challenges and potential solutions to those challenges related to flooding in the Karnali basin. Using an interdisciplinary approach to research, whilst challenging, can ultimately lead to unanticipated leaps in knowledge.

The full report can now be accessed here.