Archive for April, 2018

Dragon’s Den with a twist: unlocking finance for energy access

Monday, April 30th, 2018 by

‘Dragon’s Den’ has been a very popular TV format where entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to potential investors, with versions of the show produced in nearly 30 countries.

New investments are also needed in energy access. There remains a very large financing gap between the amounts estimated to be needed per year to reach the 2030 SDG goal of universal access to electricity and clean cooking, and finance currently flowing. Various reports documented this over the last year including the suite of ‘Energizing Finance’ reports from SEforAll, Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook, and the IEA’s Energy Access Outlook.

What’s missing in the usual Dragon’s Den format is the voice of the consumer, who could ask questions about whether the product on offer will meet their needs.

Practical Action at the SEforAll Forum

SEforAll Forum 2018 logoAt this year’s SEforAll Forum, Practical Action together with CPI and Hivos are hosting a Partner Working Session on Energizing Finance: Thursday 3rd May, 14:30-16:00, Rossio room.

As part of this we’ll be inviting two organisations with great financing products to pitch their ideas. The twist is, they will be quizzed not only by potential investors, but also by representatives of their customer base: the off-grid businesses who are so starved of money currently. The finance products we’ll be featuring are:

  • The Renewable Energy Scale-Up Facility (RESF), which works by delivering early-stage finance to businesses in increments as they achieve key development milestones, in exchange for the option to buy equity at financial close, at better-than-market rate terms.
  • Green Aggregation Tech Enterprise (GATE), which helps mini-grid developers by acting as an aggregator and providing other business development services to mini-grids. They commit to providing mini-grids with a standardized payment system, and offer a standardized documentation, payment and energy accounting system.

These are just two of a range of 26 financing solutions brought together under the Climate Finance Lab which, since its launch in 2014, has mobilised more than $1 billion in sustainable investment.

This opportunity for potential beneficiaries of RESF or GATE to quiz them is part of the bottom-up revolution in energy access that is so sorely needed if we are to stand any chance of meeting our SDG goals.

What do we already know about finance for energy access?

Practical Action worked with SEforAll last year on the Taking the Pulse’ report as part of the Energizing Finance series. Focusing on five high-impact countries, we interviewed a wide range of small and medium energy access enterprises and other stakeholders to understand the challenges they face in accessing finance and growing their businesses to better serve poor and remote communities. We heard time and again about the barriers of lenders’ conditions to qualify for a loan in terms of collateral, track record or data. We heard about the problems of borrowing in foreign currency rather than local currencies which make it all-but-impossible to offer stable pricing to customers, or where restrictions on foreign exchange can make it hard to guarantee year-round supplies. We heard about the urgent need for working capital and for the easing of restrictive government regulations particularly for mini-grids.

The Taking the Pulse report highlighted the depth of the challenge in the clean cooking sector where current investments were so low they amounted to less than $1 per capita per year. In this cash-starved environment, companies are looking for ways to help customers borrow for clean cooking solutions, as well as better co-ordination and policy support for market-based solutions. The sector needs to recognise the opportunities in the fuels markets which may be significantly greater than in the stove itself.

Poor People's Energy Outlook 2017 cover imageOur 2017 edition of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook similarly pointed to the gap between current levels of financing, and the amounts needed to meet the energy service needs of off-grid communities. We emphasised the need for energy access financing across the spectrum: meeting needs for electricity and clean cooking, and for household, productive uses and community services (water pumping, street lighting, schools, health care, government services etc). We highlighted the extent to which an affordability gap still remains, requiring the right sorts of public finance targeted to close this gap.

We had a particular focus on the extent to which women are disadvantaged in terms of access to finance both as entrepreneurs and consumers. Levels of trust in their businesses are often lower, and they may be more affected by the requirements for collateral and track-record. And as consumers they may find it harder to access finance for purchasing products in their own right.

Graphic showing barriers and solutions to women's participation in energy access markets

Hivos and Practical Action alike will be bringing a clear focus to the Partner Working Session on our core questions of:

  • How will new finance solutions help bring energy access to those places currently not well served – remote and poor communities, where levels of affordability are low?
  • How will new finance solutions recognise and seek to address gender inequalities which disadvantage women and hold back progress on energy access?

The closing panel for the session includes strong civil society representation from Surabhi Rajagopal, co-ordinator of the ACCESS Coalition, who will bring these messages and challenges to the discussion.

We are looking forward to a fascinating and challenging event, and hope to see many of you there. The forum will also be very well covered on social media, so if you can’t make it in person, stay tuned all week for updates. #SEforALLForum

Climate Change Adaptation – From NAPA to NAP

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 by

I assume by this time there is no need for defining and clarifying what climate change is. But yet there are still some ambiguities among many of us as to what it actually is, on which many of us still are not so convinced.

When we say an increase of 1°C global (or national) average temperature, we do not usually believe that it affects us because we have diurnal difference of more than 10°C between minimum and maximum, and difference of over 30°C between winter minimum and summer maximum.  So we question ourselves why we are so panicking about just 1°C temperature change in our atmosphere?

But the difference that we have in our heads is the daily or seasonal difference or difference in events, and climate change is about the average of these events. Naturally the average climate values should not change significantly over the year, the annual average values of temperature should remain the same despite their diurnal and season variations.

In case of precipitation it is not just the annual average but also the seasonality, the form and characteristics of precipitation. So for precipitation, it is not just the annual average, but the average change in monthly and seasonal average values also matter.

Using statistics

We believe in statistics. When statistics tell us that there is a significant difference between two numbers, no matter how small it is, this indicates that there are certain disturbances and such differences will also have certain impacts around it as a consequence.

Nepal climate data analysis carried out by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) of Nepal recently indicates that even a change of 0.056° C per year in the maximum temperature over 43 years (1971 – 2014) is highly significant which could have potential impacts. So by this standard a change of 1° C is highly significant which will have a high impact on the environment and our life systems. Nonetheless there is still a belief that if there is a 1.5° C increase over 100 years, perhaps we can cope with it.  But if this happens over a short period of time, the impact will go beyond our capacity to cope.

The result of DHM of 0.056° C per year increase is based on observed temperature data of 1971-2014. This shows over the last 43 years of time with 0.056° C per year, there is already an increase of 2.41 ° C in Nepal’s average maximum temperature. Unfortunately the report did not provide information on the average temperature, but the increasing trend of the minimum temperature over the same period is not significant, it is smaller than that of maximum, pulling down the mean average below 2.41 degree C, which could be still within our coping capacity.

We have already observed the impact of such a temperature increase on the physical and social environments. The very obvious impacts we have seen are receding snow lines and declining of snow and glacier masses and an increase in the number and size of lakes formed from the snow and glacier melt water. As a rule of thumb rule the relationship between temperature and elevation in Nepal is such that for each 1,000 m increase in elevation, there is a drop of temperature of 5° C. So a 1° C average rise in temperature will recede the snow lines around 200m vertically with thinner depths of snow and glacier deposition.

We have also observed an increased number of intensive flood events, an extended monsoon season in recent years, and erratic rainfall that affects agriculture, which is the main livelihood of two thirds of the Nepal’s population. These events have affected the poorest the most who depend on natural environment for their livelihood and have poor coping capacity.
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) brought the concept of NAPA (National Adaptation Programmes of Action) in 2001 specifically to support the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to address their urgent and immediate needs to cope with impacts of climate change. With the supports from the UNFCCC mechanisms and several other funding agencies, the LDCs including Nepal have prepared NAPA and are in the implementation process. NAPA is basically a response and coping approach based adaptation. Its actions are designed based on observed impacts of climate variabilities and changes. It enhances the autonomous adaptation process of the communities. So the NAPA focuses to restore the damages or impacts already being brought about by climate change and find alternatives if they cannot be restored. As for example, if there is a drought because of erratic rainfall or drying up of water sources, NAPA helps to find out alternative mechanisms to cope with the problem. Similarly, if there is damage due to flood, NAPA helps to build mechanisms to prevent from further damage of such floods, etc. So NAPA designs its action plans based on observed impacts of the events, it does not design its actions based on the anticipated impacts of climate change that is going to happen in to the future.

In view of continuous increase in global temperature and erratic events of climate variables which have been anticipated to occur for next several decades, action plans under NAPA is not sufficient. NAPA is good for supporting autonomous adaptation which is more or less a natural process.

Realising the inadequacy of NAPA to take action now to address the needs for the anticipated events of climate change in the future, which did not exist in the past several thousand years, the UNFCCC came with the concept of NAP (National Adaptation Plan) in Cancun in 2010. But still there exist some confusions between NAPA and NAP, many of us think they are the same or similar, and when we discuss on NAP, the discussions do not get differentiated from NAPA. There is a need of understanding the objectives of NAP first, which is to act now for reducing potential adverse consequences of climate change in the coming future, which is completely different from NAPA that takes the actions based on the observed events. In short NAP is forward looking action. NAP theoretically does not prepare plan to build irrigation canal to address the drought faced last year hoping the same will happen, this will be done by NAPA, but NAP asks to take actions now to address the impacts of anticipated drought in the coming years which might not necessarily be the similar that occurred in the past.
In this context implementation of NAP needs more science based future climate information in addition to observed information. Nepal NAPA has refereed that Nepal’s temperature might increase by 1.2 – 1.4 degree C by 2030, 1.7 – 2.8 degree C by 2050/2060 and 3.0 – 4.7 degree C by 2090/2100 based on pre-2000 baseline and different models. Different models show there will be increase in temperature in the coming decades, but there is uncertainty in the magnitude of increase which results uncertainties in impacts as well. This needs periodic assessment and use of best science to minimise the uncertainties- both climate change and its impacts that helps identifying and choosing the most appropriate measures.
The uncertainties are also amplified by developments in social, economic, cultural and political sectors. NAP needs periodic information on the best future scenarios of these sectors to make it more effective. Such information need to be ensured at federal, province and palika (local level government in Nepal) levels for effective development planning and implementation. The strong climate science will minimise uncertainty in future climate predictions or scenarios. A federal level climate science mechanism under the relevant ministry needs to be established, its capacity needs to be enhanced and institutional mechanism should be established that this federal level institution or organisation has access to province and palikas to ensure that province and palika level governments have access to such climate information and use it.

In order to ensure integration of climate change in development and enhance the capacity, the existing provisions for NAPA can serve as foundation for NAP, but it is not sufficient. Institutional mechanism is required to ensure climate change integration in development at palika, province and federal levels. These institutions should be permanent as climate change is going to affect for next several decades. There are some institutional mechanisms at the federal level at present in Nepal, such as Climate Change Council under the chair of Right Honourable Prime Minister and Multi-stakeholders Climate Change Initiative Coordination Committee (MCCICC). But these mechanisms are not effectively functioning. Two actions are required to make them functional and effective 1) they need to be legally recognised by defining their roles, responsibilities and authorities in relevant acts, rules, regulations and legal documents, and 2) they need to have linkages with federal and palika governments. Currently they are not legally bound and they do not have local reach. It is not necessary that there should be a separate institutional mechanism for climate change from federal to province and then to palika levels, but the institutional mechanism for climate change can also be integrated with other existing mechanism like environmental or disaster management sectors given the functions can be delivered effectively instead of creating several such organisations mechanisms for different issues.

The other core element of NAP is to integrate climate change into development sectors or in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through strategies, policies, plans and actions. Climate change is not a separate issue from other development issues, rather it amplifies the existing issues that demands additional resources and capacities. The development sectors need to understand the future climate scenario, its potential impacts on respective sectors and the right technologies to adopt now that minimise and avert the potential future impacts on the particular sector.

Technical skills need to be built in the respective sectors who will be affected by climate change and who need to take actions. As for example, water resources will be affected by climate change. Therefore the human resource working in water resource should know how the water resource will be affected by change in climate, when and where will be affected and what will be the magnitude of the effect. Based on these scenario they should have the knowledge, skill, technologies, capacity and resources to use before the impacts are felt to avert it or minimise the impacts. The sectors will require additional resources in addition to what they possess or have access now. Such additional resources need to be allocated to the respective sectors basically the financial resources. Monitoring is essential to ensure integration of climate change in development sectors with the additional resources being allocated so that they do not just address the issues based on the past events like done by NAPA, but also address the issue based on the future events that are anticipated scientifically.

Clear policies, strategies and legal mechanism needed to ensure that development sectors integrate climate change into their development programmes and ensure resources and capacity required to address the future potential impacts of climate change. Nepal has already initiated NAP. It is a process to ensure climate change integration in overall sustainable development goals. The process needs to produce policies, strategies and legal instruments to ensure resources and capacity to address the potential impacts of climate change effectively in the coming decades. The process should not be delayed as the impacts of climate change do not wait NAP to be prepared and implemented. So sooner we integrate climate change adaptation in development, better we avert or reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on our sustainable development goals.

Why I felt it was important to break the silence

Friday, April 13th, 2018 by

This year on the International Women’s Day, I felt like sharing my personal story relating to “Menstruation”. Yes, we bleed! It is not comfortable!

Perhaps the most discomforting part is the practice of tiptoeing around it. Periods are the “one issue” we have been going to an extreme length to hide about ourselves. Everyone knows we are getting them, but we cannot talk about it!

What we do during period?

Women in Bangladesh, generally, do not talk about periods to men. Not even with their fathers or brothers. Women often feel too shy to go to a pharmacy and buy sanitary napkins in front of men. I have personally witnessed my friend refraining from buying them even at the situation of dire need, just because a man from her neighbourhood was in the pharmacy. My friend hesitated, and then decided to buy some cold medicine, which she did not even need, to justify her presence in the pharmacy to him. A couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation. That is what how we were brought up – we grew up believing, “no one must know I get periods”.

Growing up in a Muslim family, surrounded by Muslim neighbours and classmates, I have also practised and witnessed the strategy our mothers took to ‘hide’ periods from the male members’ of the family. Muslim women are excused from their Islamic duties of saying their prayers for five times a day, or fasting during the month of Ramadan on the days they have their period. Since ‘not praying’ or ‘not fasting’ would be a dead giveaway – all these women would “pretend” to pray, and wake up in the middle of the night[1] to pretend they will be fasting the next day.

That was as far as the struggle of ‘hiding period’ from others goes. Now let me talk about the actual experience itself. It is important to understand that each woman experiences period differently. The struggle starts at an early age, from school days. According to the UN, only 1 in 3 girls in South Asia are unaware about menstruation prior to starting. It causes significant embarrassment and trauma. Those with irregular cycles might experience sudden bleeding, anytime, anywhere. Managing it, when it starts, is a whole other issue. According to the Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, 82% of girls think that school facilities are inadequate for managing menstruation.

Some women, including myself, experience extreme abdominal pain, on top of the obvious discomfort. The pain disrupts our daily lives – personally, socially, professionally we can no longer function the way we normally do. The Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014 showed that about 40% of girls miss school for an average of 3 days/month due to period related discomfort.

I have been suffering from extreme abdominal pain during menstruation since 2015. Being a working woman since 2011, I have tried working through the pain since the beginning. My female colleagues from my previous workplace, though they sympathised, were strict on their position of keeping it hidden whenever a man walked by. My proposal for keeping sanitary napkin in the office, be it in the first aid box, or managed by our female admin official to deliver upon request, was met with serious laughter. To these women, a woman who did not take appropriate measure to face her period any day, any time, were committing a serious crime. In their eyes, a woman should be taking care of this issue by herself, the office should not be responsible for catering to her need relating to this.

It is not surprising that the majority of professionals, even women, think this way. I have worked through pain, tried neutralising the pain with high powered painkillers for years. Four months after joining Practical Action, I finally gathered up all my guts to walk up to my manager, and tell him about my suffering. I honestly do not know that made me gather that courage. Perhaps the inclusive attitude from everyone at the office made me feel safe. My manager not only sympathised, but also asked me to write an application to “work from home” during those days. When I responded by saying that I did not wish to take any additional benefits only because I was a woman, he assured me that taking ‘work from home’ was not that at all. Rather, it was essential to take care of oneself to perform the best for the betterment of the organisation.

I was soon shifted under another manager, due to a change in organisational structure. Luckily, my new manager, was equally supportive in this matter. Whether I wanted to work from home, or start for work a bit later than the usual time, he was totally fine with it.

Gradually, some sense started to come to me. It soon hit me that I was discussing my issue with my managers who were men. I excluded the men who matter to me the most – my father and my elder brother. It took me 18 years to finally pick up the phone and call my father to ask him to buy me some sanitary napkin. Sure, he was not comfortable, nor was I. However, it was a call that was 18 years too late. It was a late realisation that there was no need to hide this. He witnesses my suffering on a regular basis. If anything, me opening up to him helped him understand my suffering even more.

Why did I feel it was important to break the silence?

I am sure, a lot of people are already labelling me as ‘shameless’ – speaking of womanly matters in public. Honestly, I do not care! It is a regular part of my life, a regular part of any woman’s life. It is important to discuss it in the open because periods can cause significant discomfort and trauma and no woman should have to face it alone. No woman should feel ashamed of such a regular natural phenomenon. No woman should feel the need to wake up in the dead of the night, “pretending” to fast in front of her male family members to successfully hide that she is on her period. No woman should feel uncomfortable about buying sanitary napkins just because a neighbourhood “chacha” is in the same pharmacy. To sum it up – no need to hide something that makes us who we are – women!

When we celebrate women’s day each March 8, our focus should not be wearing purple, or holding a banner. All men and women should work on ensuring a friendly environment for both the sexes about raising the issues we face on a regular basis to those who do not face it, but are in a position to create an enabling environment for minimising it.

[1] In order to fast during the month of Ramadan, one requires having food before sunrise, which is called Sahri

The Climate Damages Tax, an idea whose time has come!

Thursday, April 12th, 2018 by

Pollution must be brought under control and mankind’s population and consumption of resources must be steered towards a permanent and sustainable equilibrium. E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

According to the last global review[1] Natural Hazards resulted in 9,503 deaths, 96 million people being affected, and economic costs in excess of US$314 billion. Weather-related events were responsible for the majority of both human and economic losses. Almost 90% of the deaths in 2017 were due to climatological, hydrological or meteorological disasters. Nearly 60% of people affected by disasters were affected by floods, while 85% of economic losses were due to storms, mainly from the three hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that struck the Caribbean.

94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

Climate change is fuelling many of these catastrophic weather events[2]. Unfortunately vulnerable countries, communities and ecosystems are on the frontline of this catastrophe. Poor people now face, due to lack of meaningful progress to reduce carbon emissions, changes in climate beyond the ability of people and local ecosystems to adapt to – a phenomenon described as ‘Loss and Damage’. However, Loss and Damage remains a political concept, mandated during the UNFCCC negotiations as a separate article in the Paris Agreement, but it is hamstrung with its roots mistakenly seen as in technical climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

This confusion is not helping anyone. It generates a sense that no one cares about the poorest and the most vulnerable. So it was great to see some progress at the recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), held in Bonn two weeks ago. They recognised that a definition for Loss and Damage is necessary, if we are to start to do anything to respond to the threat. But a definition will not be enough, the Paris Agreement will also needs to mobilise money to pay for the consequences of climate change. For the WIM its core mission remains delivering finance for addressing Loss and Damage. The WIM must engage constructively to understand what finance and support vulnerable countries need, and identify sources and how it will be channelled.

There are solutions such as deploying simple Early Warning Systems technologies such as these being piloted in Peru but they need financing

But we all know the global aid budget is failing to keep pace with the growing global demands[3]. Climate change is exacerbating existing global problems, drought leading to failed harvests, flood removing homes and livelihoods and acidification of oceans depleting fish stocks to name but a few. These local catastrophes drive climate migration, populations are on the move and social and political tensions are rising. One way this could be defused would be to make some real progress on addressing Loss and Damage. It would make long term economic sense to reverse these trends but to do this we need money for action. Why not put the polluter’s pays principle into practice? We should ensure that the polluting companies pay for the damage they have caused. One way would be to equitably implement a “Climate Damages Tax” on fossil fuel extraction, which could raise billions of dollars a year, funded by the industry that is responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions[4].

So Practical Action are proud to be part of a movement proposing that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is put into action. It is now time for the industry most responsible to pay for the damages it has caused, and for vulnerable countries worst affected to receive the financial assistance they so urgently need. This requires the introduction of an equitable fossil fuel extraction charge – or Climate Damages Tax – levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change when these products are burnt. The substantial revenues raised could be allocated through the UN Green Climate Fund or similar financial mechanism, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities forced from their homes. Finally, despite additional financial resources, it is recognised that we still need to push for the urgent replacement of fossil fuels, with renewable sources of energy assisted by the economic incentive of increasing the rate of the Climate Damages Tax over time.

If you want to learn more then please come along on Monday; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/climate-damages-tax-campaign-launch-tickets-44114116510

If you agree the Climate Damages Tax is an idea whose time has come, join us by signing the declaration here: https://www.stampoutpoverty.org/climate-damages-tax/climate-damages-tax-declaration/

[1] http://cred.be/sites/default/files/CredCrunch50.pdf

[2] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/climate-change-is-fuelling-extreme-weather-events/

[3] http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/GHA-Report-2017-Full-report.pdf

[4] http://www.theactuary.com/news/2017/07/100-firms-responsible-for-majority-of-co2-emissions/

2018 CSW: What lessons can we take forward to promote gender equality in our work?

Monday, April 9th, 2018 by

62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 12-23 March 2018

Last month, I participated in arguably the largest global gathering on gender equality – the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York alongside Arun Hial, our M & E Manager from the India office. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. During the Commission’s annual two-week session, normally held in March, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, academics and UN entities gather to discuss progress and gaps in the empowerment of women and girls. While Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress in political, economic and social fields, the session also provides a springboard for a lively agenda of civil society-hosted panels (which take place on the fringes of the high-level plenaries), on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to women’s economic empowerment, their representation in the media and more.

A global platform for reviewing progress on gender equality

This year, the priority theme for the session was “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. Central to this is the realization of rural women and girls’ fundamental human rights, which are necessary for their livelihoods, well-being and resilience – as well as to broader sustainable development for all. These include the right to:

  • an adequate standard of living,
  • a life free of violence and harmful practices
  • access and own land and productive assets
  • enjoy food security and nutrition
  • an education and healthcare, and
  • sexual and reproductive health and autonomy

Arun and I participated and shared Practical Action’s experience and lessons learnt from two projects namely the ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ project that seeks to raise awareness and knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst rural girls in India and the cocoa value chain work in Bolivia that seeks to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets.

Loise Maina, Gender Advisor making a presentation on the cocoa agroforestry work in Bolivia

Arun Hial from India Office making a presentation on the Sunolo Sakhi Project

Implications for our work at Practical Action

While there were no major surprises in the messages shared at CSW, some of the issues discussed are clearly directly linked to the topics that we work on at Practical Action. So what does this mean for us and our work? Firstly, out of the seven key priorities highlighted by UN Women as critical to empowering rural women and girls, it is important to note that we already have significant on-going work relating to three of the areas: sustainable energy and technology, clean water and sanitation, and increasing women’s climate resilience. However, as sadly noted in most sessions of the CSW and from the UN Secretary General’s report to the Commission, lots remains to be done, given that on virtually every gender and development indicator for which data is available globally, rural women were found to fare worse than rural men and urban men and women. We must consider why that is and ensure we look at the different impacts of our work not only on men and women generally but also from different social-economic backgrounds, in the knowledge that women’s experiences are far from homogenous. Areas we need to focus on in our programmatic and policy influencing work include:

  • Increase women’s access to essential rural infrastructure such as safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, water for irrigation, and technology including information and communications technologies – and empower women in the decision-making processes around these areas.
  • Focus more attention on food production to achieve food security and improved nutrition, particularly in poor and vulnerable households, many of whom are led by women.
  • As part of our women’s economic empowerment efforts, we also need to focus on financial inclusion and access to financial services for rural women farmers who remain largely marginalized, yet continue to play a critical role in sustainable agricultural production and in building food and nutrition resilience in many of the communities where we work.
  • Engage men and boys, as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, including those in rural areas.

We hope to continue taking these recommendations forward through close engagement with relevant country offices and by having strategic discussions at different levels of the organization particularly with the newly reconstituted Global Gender Group and change ambition hubs.

In the long-run, we should also consider opportunities to implement actions around other identified priority areas that we currently do not necessarily prioritize, namely: decent work and social protection, education and training, eliminating violence and harmful practices and empowering women as decision-makers and leaders. Ultimately, a successful approach to improving the impacts of our policy and practice work for women (and men) requires a holistic approach; acknowledging that many of these factors are interlinked and interdependent in women and girls’ lives, and that interventions seeking to address just one factor are likely not to achieve the sustainable and meaningful change that we hope to see for the people we serve.

Ever heard of a Floating Farm?

Friday, April 6th, 2018 by

Meet Shujit Sarkar, a 36 year old farmer from Bangladesh. Shujit is married to Shikha and they have four children.

Shujit earns his income by farming and selling fish fingerlings. He doesn’t own land or a pond so he has to keep the fingerlings in the canal nearby. Unfortunately, during the monsoon seasons, the canal water overflows and the whole village floods. During the floods, Shujit can’t feed or sell his fingerlings. This means that he struggles to feed his family.

This is a common problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Every year, the villages are devastated by floods caused by sea levels rising and monsoon rains. Their livestock and produce severely damaged or completely washed away. People have no choice but to try keep rebuilding what is lost.

Fortunately, Shujit found out about a charity called Practical Action. Practical Action was already working in Shujit’s community, helping the community members to develop a sustainable solution to the problem. Shujit contacted Practical Action and was introduced to a new technology called a floating farm. A floating farm is an ingenious farming technique which works in the local context. The garden floats on top of the water and a fish cage is assembled below. The plants help filter the water which means the fish can thrive. The fish create waste which fertilises the plants to improve growth. It produces enough sustenance to feed the farmers’ families, with enough left over to sell.

Shujit found this ingenious technology inspiring and wanted to invest in it. Practical Action provided him with the fish cage and Shujit bought 1,500 fingerlings. This is his first farming cycle and it has been very successful. What’s great is that the farming technique requires less effort and his wife is also able to help. She normally feeds the fishes and cleans the cage. Shujit now feels that there is hope for the future and the floods can no longer stop him making an income. In the future, he wants to build another fish cage and further expand his farming business.

Want to find out more about floating farms? Have a look at our project page: https://practicalaction.org/aqua-geoponics

Interested in supporting farmers like Shujit? Here’s a link to our support page: https://practicalaction.org/support/floating-farms

End energy poverty

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 by

Energy is one of the key indicators for development. Like other essential basic needs, a certain amount of energy is required for our survival. Depending on the context, livelihood patterns and way of living, energy needs are different. For example, nowadays, people in Bangladesh across all socioeconomic categories are using cellphones due to very high rates of penetration. So the energy requirement for charging cellphones has become a basic need for users.

Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in several sectors and has touched the base of being a middle income country. The Government has committed to supply electricity for all by 2021, and has increased production remarkably. But still 38% of people are outside the coverage of the national grid, of these 20% have no access to electricity.

Solar power bangladeshAn electricity supply doesn’t necessarily mean a supply of quality electricity. If we can’t ensure 24/7 supply, we cannot make productive use of energy in hard to reach areas. A flourishing rural economy, promotion of entrepreneurship and local-level business, and the establishment of better market linkages, requires an uninterrupted electricity supply. For example, if someone wants to build a hatchery, milk chilling centre or even cold storage in a remote area, all of which could contribute to the growing economy for the country, a continuous supply is a must. . However, investment in the power sector in Bangladesh is predominantly made adopting a top-down approach. This traditional approach of planning requires to be revisited.

Total Energy Access

Practical Action is globally renowned for its energy-related work. Its global call for energy is titled as Total Energy Access – TEA. Practical Action wants to end Energy Poverty.

One of its global flagship publication series is: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO). The recent two publications of PPEO series refer to three countries, of which Bangladesh is one. These publications highlight the perspectives poor people on energy.PPEO Launch Bangladesh

The previous publication in this series, PPEO 2016, focused on the energy needs of poor people living in off-grid areas of Bangladesh. These include household requirements, requirements for community services like schools, hospitals, etc., and also the need for entrepreneurship development. Apart from energy requirements, this publication figured out the priority of energy needs, affordability and willingness to pay.

The latest issue, PPEO (2017), reflects on the investment requirements for poor people to access energy, followed by the needs identified in the previous one. The total energy requirements have been derived for each of the segments such as solar homes systems, grid expansion and entrepreneurship. Together with the investment patterns, it identifies the challenges associated with the investment, and suggested essential policy recommendations.

Women’s energy needs

Reflecting on our typical planning mechanisms, how much do we really think about the need of the poor people? Do we think of women in particular?

Nowadays, women are taking up the role of farming and many of them are heading their families. Many women are emerging as entrepreneurs. Have we really thought about their energy needs? If we don’t offer them access to finance, build their capacity for financial management and provide hand holding support, they will simply lag behind. While investing on access to energy, we have to think the special needs of women, and how to ensure energy equity.

The outcomes of the PPEO study should give policy makers the food for thought and inspire action to adopt a bottom-up approach for energy solutions for energy-poor people.

Primary Science- What’s the story?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 by

I am a self-confessed twitter geek. I love twitter. I start my day with twitter. As soon as my eyes have focused after my alarm goes off and before I even have my first coffee I can’t resist having a quick peak!   For me it is both a way to keep up to date with what is going on in the sector, plus a way to share the work I do that I am so passionate about.

So, recently on twitter I was disappointed and dismayed to see a link to an article in TES on how primary science is ’dying ‘ in our primary schools. The article highlight concerns that:

I must admit I was surprised by this as my experience from going to conferences and feedback from teachers generally is that there is a thriving community of passionate science mad primary teachers out there. Maybe I only ever meet the already converted. I hope not.

It seems to me that a lot of factors influence the teaching of primary science. If you are a primary teacher where you live has a huge bearing on what support/training is available to you. If you are lucky enough to live in Leeds you will have a great support network. Just this week I attending the fantastic Leeds Primary Science conference and was really inspired by the teachers commitment there, not just to ‘do’ science but to do it with rigor,  focusing on good practice around the 5 key aspects of enquiry. Sadly not all areas offer support like Leeds, but there are other national initiatives out there with regional support you can look at. The Association of Science Education (ASE) has a great primary science community and offers CPD at its conferences. Primary science Quality Mark (PSQM) and the Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) also offer support.  For a different kind of hands-on help you could also tap into the STEM Ambassadors network, a network of STEM professional keen to come into your school to …for free!

Back to twitter…embracing social media really can help you with your science teaching. Primary Rocks has really taken off this year, and they love science! You can join then every Monday evening at 8pm on a twitter chat #primaryrocks and at the same time ( yes I do flick between the two!) the ASE have their twitter chat #ASEChat which includes sharing ideas on primary science. So many great people /organisations to follow, to start with I would recommend @theASE @CREST-Star @UnleashPriSci @priscigeeks @seeley_claire  @pstt_whyhow  @primaryrocks1 @PSQM_HQ  @IgniteFutures @lab_13 @Sarahpurplee  @kulvinderj @Scikathryn and of course @PA_Schools. Many of these also have Facebook pages too…why not do both!

Then there are lots of amazing free resources for primary science. Explorify is getting a lot of love from the primary science community, and other resources can be found on schoolscience.co.uk and the STEM Learning website. Then there are our primary materials of course and the materials linked to the CREST Star and CREST Discovery awards

So… back to what’s the story. I think it is that if you are a primary teacher and you want to see good quality primary science in your school it’s up to you gather all the support you can then dive it. Things you can do to get started include:

JOIN – a local support network if there is one in your area, and look at schemes like the PSQM or PSTT.

ATTEND – conferences that host CPD, such as the ASE national and regional conferences

CONTACT – organisations willing to help you, like the STEM Ambassadors network

FOLLOW – inspiring/supportive accounts on twitter and Facebook.

USE – The great free resources that are out there…including ours!

Here’s hoping that if enough primary teachers do that the report in a few years time will tell a different story.

Enhanced preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai basin

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 by

The flood preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai River basin has been increased in the period of last three years. The project has carried out different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits, etc., to increase the flood preparedness, risk reduction, mitigation and response capacity of communities and local governments.
“Before the project intervention in our communities, we had to individually prepare for the monsoon flash flood. We did not have adequate knowledge on flood risk, flood monitoring and water in our community was the only way we knew there was flood,” says Durga Prasad Rajbanshi of Kichakdangi. “When the flood hit the community it was difficult for us to save our lives and properties. Things would go worse when the flood hit during night or the flood occurred without heavy rainfall in our locality,” he explains the suffering of the people in his community. Identifying the heavy loss of lives and properties and limited flood response capacity of the community in Kankai River basin, the Kankai end-to-end early warning project was started with one of the major key outcomes as strengthening community and stakeholder awareness and capacity in data and information sharing, understanding, monitoring and preparing for effective EWS and response to the flood disaster in Kankai River basin.
The project designed its activities and ensured involvement of communities and stakeholders from central level to local district, VDC or municipality level for increased flood preparedness and response capacity. Different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits on DRR, EWS, search and rescue, community action for disaster response(CADRE), DRR mainstreaming at local level, Institutional management of EWS, flood mock exercise, etc, were organised throughout the project period for shifting the priority of local communities from flood affected to flood prepared communities and shifting the priority of local government from flood relief and rescue to flood preparedness and mitigation.
“Previously we had pre-monsoon cluster meeting and updating of district disaster preparedness and response plan (DDPRP) as preparedness measures but these measures were limited to the district level only. However, after the delivery of the project activities the preparedness scope has changed in Jhapa. Flood mock exercise from district level to community level is organised to test and evaluate the response capacity of the community and the stakeholders. The coordination with community and stakeholders is strengthened for better preparedness,” says Lok Raj Dhakal, president of Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) Jhapa.
The preparedness scope of the communities has been changed in the recent years. The influence of the project activities has motivated the communities to prepare with go bag (jhatpat jhola) with important documents and valuable goods. The communities keep their moveable belongings to a raised level to avert damage from flood. “Whenever we get flood alert or warning, we put our moveable assets to a higher level and take our livestock to a safer place,” says Raj Bhakta Sunuwar, CDMC coordinator at Hokalbadi.

Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

“We did not think about disaster preparedness and mitigation measures; only discussed about relief and emergency response but after building our capacity on DRR with the support of Kankai end-to- end EWS project, we have allocated resources from VDC council, the people are aware and have mobilized the resources in highly vulnerable communities identified by the government to establish DRR fund, improvements of escape routes and DRR planning and emergency response,” says Rajendra Parajuli, VDC secretary of Taghadubba VDC. As a result of capacity building of communities and local government in Jhapa and Ilam districts in Kankai River basin have established DRR fund at all 25 communities, 11 VDCs and 2 municipalities, he adds.
The upstream and downstream communities have established and strengthened linkage and network for better flood preparedness. The communities have established and strengthened coordination with local government and security forces for flood preparedness. The flood mock exercises with active participation of community, stakeholders and security forces have enhanced the flood response capacities of all. “Participation in mock flood exercise helped us in developing our capacity and coordination for effective rescue and response during a disaster,” says Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, in-charge of Korobari police post.
“Previously we did not have adequate knowledge for flood monitoring and our response was limited to moving away to safe place when the flood water risked our lives. But it was not good as moving with children and belongings was very risky,” says Roma Mandal of Nayabasti. “We have now learned about flood risk, the vulnerabilities in our communities and flood monitoring. We keep our belongings safe with onset of the monsoon. The CDMC and task force members coordinate pre mock exercise, update us with necessary contact numbers. We update our communication channels and equipment so that we are well prepared before the flood hits our community,” she adds.
The local VDCs and municipalities (now rural municipalities and municipalities respectively) have started to allocate some budget for local DRR fund since the time of project interventions in Kankai basin. This has capacitated the local government to act for preparedness and implement emergency mitigation measures. The communities have also established and been mobilizing DRR fund which has made them capable of carrying out small mitigation measures and preparedness activities before the flood. Mitigation measures like culverts, evacuation routes, bio-dykes are built or upgraded for better flood response.

Bio-dyke protecting river bank at Korobari

Bio-dyke (local technology) protecting river bank at Korobari

The scope of flood preparedness in Jhapa has increased in the recent years after implementation of the project. This can be evaluated from the fact that there were no any human casualties and less damage to properties in the project communities in comparison to other adjoining communities in Kankai River basin. However, the preparedness of the communities and stakeholders is not adequate to avert losses of lives and properties. Awareness, capacity building trainings and standard operation procedure (SoP) for functioning of EWS needs to be developed for better flood preparedness and response.