Archive for June, 2018

Don’t squash the tomatoes!! #INWED18 at Birmingham City University with Practical Action

Friday, June 29th, 2018 by

It was a day of learning new skills, problem solving, developing understanding of global issues, breaking down stereotypes and a lot of fun at Birmingham City University last Friday. All in celebration of International Women in Engineering Day #INWED18

80 girls aged 12-16 years from 5 different schools took part in our Squashed Tomato Challenge, designing, building and testing a model of a system to move tomatoes down a mountainside…which in the real world would enable famers to transport tomatoes to market.
They had mentors from local industry working with them, fantastic female role models from BWB consulting, Arup and others.
Both teachers and pupils were full of enthusiasm for the day, and the opportunity it gave the girls to work together and find their own solution to a problem faced by a community in the developing world.

The impact the day had on the girls can be seen in their own reflections…

SONY DSC

’Engineering is not as boring as I thought it was…it helps people around the world’

Kitty, aged 13, Tudor Grange

When you think of engineering you think of things like cars, but from today I know there are more parts to engineering, like using it to help people…and not only men can be engineers but women too.’
Caitlin, aged 12 , Tudor Grange

‘I really liked it today as it has made me feel I can do something to help other people. I am disabled so I understand how some people need more help than others. It  made me want to give donations, and to tell people not to feel sad because there are solutions’
Payal, age 16, Mosley Park

 Teachers at the event told me they were keen to get back into school and do this challenge (and others) with their other pupils
‘I think this is fantastic. It’s a practical application and really easy to run. Great that it is set in a real world context that the kids can relate to. I’m thinking we could use it for a CREST award’

Hannah Grey
Assistant Head Teacher
Langley School

 

 

If you would like to do any of our STEM challenges and maybe use them to enable your pupils to gain a CREST award go to www.practicalaction.org/STEM. To download for free. All challenges are designed to fit the UK science curriculum and come with teacher’s notes, pupil worksheets. PPT, poster and certificates.

 

Technology for Development

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 by

Why is technology justice central to international development?

As history demonstrates, technology provides a catalyst for change. Practical Action has been working on flood Early Warning Systems (EWS) for over ten years and we have seen not only technology adoption taking place but also social change occurring.

At the Technology for Development conference the focus is very much on the former, but in my active participation and interaction with the conference delegates I am interested to explore the latter.

Looking beyond the hardware

Practical Action’s experience of developing EWS, demonstrates the benefit that new technologies can have on development. However, although technology may provide a jump in capability, understanding the nature of the change is vital if these developments are to be maintained. We need to understand the causal factors in adoption and what are the threats to this progress being maintained?

EWS appear to have a transformational impact on the communities that they reach, although this transformation doesn’t take place immediately in synchrony with the delivery of the technology, there is a time lag between the rollout of the technology and the social change needed to embed the EWS into people’s lives.

For EWSs the following greatly simplified process takes place:

  • Phase one – No EWS, the community lives at high risk, they may implement a basic observation based systems and flee at the onset of each flood event, but losses accumulate as population density and climate change impacts progress;
  • Phase two – EWS arrives but trust is not yet built so impact on behaviours is limited. Critical is the provision of reliable warning combined with the delivery of actionable warning that people can understand and follow;
  • Phase three – community members begin to trust the EWS system, they begin to rely on it as rainfall events, this starts to adjust behaviours, rather than fleeing when the warning is announced they prepare for the evacuation, and in the process they start to learn about what preparedness actions are the most beneficial;
  • Phase four – communities begin learning about hazard profiles, and that no floods are the same, they start to recognise critical impacts and trends in the hazard event, this learning leads to adaptations in their lives and livelihoods to limit loss and damage.

 

At the Technology for Development conference we are hearing a lot about the success of the technology systems, but less about the impacts these systems have on people’s lives. People almost seem to be passive beneficiaries rather than components in the system. As we have learned, the EWS must become integrated into people’s lives. This will enable people living in flood prone areas to be empowered and informed to live with the risks they face.

Looking at the roll out of EWSs, and how this is being reported in the key global agreement, we find a similar disconnect. Reporting for global agreements is too focussed on the technology roll out and not on the impact the technology has on avoided losses. Most systems are focussed too heavily on the monitoring and warning components and most systems are failing to reach the poorest and most hazard prone.

Recommendations

Investment in technology is vital if we are to deliver on the SDG’s, to put the Sendai framework for DRR into practice and to meet the global obligations under the Paris Agreement and hence avoid the disaster of climate induced change. Central to delivery under the Paris Agreement is the need for a financing mechanism under the Loss and Damage mechanism to ensure investment to put in place to ensure avoidable losses are maximised.

EWS are vital transformational mechanisms, not as simple silver bullets but as catalysts for behavioural change. It’s not just the hardware but the orgware and software that also requires investment, time and patience, and the system must be owned and for the communities to ensure these benefits are delivered.

Find out more

 

Why universal access to the Internet should become a priority for Practical Action?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 by

This is the second part of “doing development in a digital world“ blog series. You can read the first part here.

The Internet has had profound impact on our lives – from accessing information to communication with each other to civic participation. But for many people, access to the Internet is still a privilege, not a right. In this post, I would argue why universal access to the Internet should be a priority for Practical Action.

The progress to achieve the global goal of “universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020” has been slow. ITU estimates that 3.9 billion people don’t have access to Internet, majority of them live in Global South. As an example, let’s take the countries where Practical Action operates (see Chart 1). Only Kenya and Peru have “significant” number of internet users – slightly over 40% of population. The lowest is Bangladesh at 14.4%. 

Chart 1: Internet use in Practical Action focus countries (Source: SDG tracker)

If we apply the gender lens, the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than men. In Africa, this gap is widens to 25%. Despite the popularity of mobile internet, South Asian women are 26% less likely to own a phone than men and 70% less likely to use mobile internet.

At current pace, it will take another 20 years to connect the world.

Access to the Internet is closely associated with human rights: right to freedom of expression, privacy and freedom of association. The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2016: “[the] rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. Nevertheless, digital rights are systematically undermined.

We witnessed how governments and tech companies abuses their power to exert greater control over the Internet and markets. Authorities in Zimbabwe shutted down WhatsApp during anti government protests in 2016. Early this month, Bangladeshi authorities blocked a popular news portal “the Daily Star” for more than 18 hours without explanation. The Facebook data harvesting scandal and the accusation in conducting mass surveillance were another blow to the internet freedom.

What makes me optimistic is that citizens and organisations around the world actively involved in access to the Internet debates. Around 80 organisations have joined Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) to “overcoming the affordability barrier to access for women, the poor, rural dwellers, and other marginalised populations”. India’s citizens fought and won the case for the net neutrality protection. Last year, India’s Supreme Court asserted the right to privacy protection.

Chart 2: What ICT trend will positively impact the aid/development sector over the next 5 years? (Source: Catholic Relief Services)

As highlighted by 619 senior development professionals participated in Catholic Relief Services’ ICT international survey, connectivity, i.e. access to the Internet, will have more positive impact than other technologies (see Chart 2). On the condition, of course, that people can  access and use Internet in a meaningful way. What the experience has taught us, we can’t completely rely to governments and big tech companies to work on these issues, however good are their intentions. Citizens, CSOs and NGOs should participate and build alliances for making universal access to the Internet reality as well as for the protection of digital rights.  

I believe Practical Action is in the position to support these efforts. After all, people need reliable, affordable and secure Internet connection to access services that are provided by Practical Action. Practical Action could build upon its experience providing internet access to rural communities in Bolivia under the Willay Program 2007-2014. This wouldn’t be easy but feasible. As argued in my previous post, it would require commitment, time and investments. 

 

Molding the mud for better future agricultural extension

Thursday, June 21st, 2018 by

Access to extension services is one of the critical constraints in agriculture. Only 15% of the worlds’ extension agents are women. Globally, women have limited access to agriculture inputs, technology, knowledge and practices. In case of rural areas of Nepal, due to existing socio-cultural norms, women have even minimal access to extension services.

Reshma Shahi from Galje, Kalikot which is one of the remotest corner of the country would like to have more women extension workers in her village. She believes a woman can learn more from a woman than from man.  She is currently studying Bachelors in Education (B.Ed). Unlike many educated and aspiring youths in Nepal, she wants to pursue career in agriculture. She feels really proud to be recognised as a change agent in rural agriculture. She started growing vegetables last year. This year, she is growing vegetables in more land and selling all the surpluses in the nearby market. Each season, she makes up to NPR 80,000 (GBP 555) from vegetables.

 

Reshma Shai working in vegetable polyhouse

Reshma’s parents used to grow only cereals in their land. They thought vegetable farming was a demanding business since it requires more knowledge, care and investment. In 2017, Reshma got vegetable production and marketing training. She learnt about new varieties, farming practices, poly house technology and profitability of growing vegetables. Later, she attended other trainings, exposure visits and interaction meetings with vegetable market actors under the BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project funded by European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid.

After receiving training, Reshma tried to convince her parents to consider vegetable farming. First, they were sceptic but her multiple attempts to convince them, they finally counted in. Now, Reshma’s parents are delighted to see her educated girl growing vegetable and making money from it.

“I contact either Local Resource Person (LRP) or agrovet if I need to know something about vegetable farming.”  We have only male LRPs in our area and women in our locality find women LRPs more approachable and comfortable to talk to. I have also acquired much knowledge about vegetable growing.  It requires technical education in agriculture to become a LRP. I want to save money to invest on my sister’s education. I want to make her an efficient agriculture technician”, says Reshma Shahi.

Rhesma has good access to agriculture inputs, she has wonderfully using various irrigation techniques and she has great access to the markets. With the knowledge, skills received and the system established by the project, she is confident to continue vegetable farming and further enhance her farming skills.

As a famous proverb says, “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” if we empower more women like Reshma, we will see a domino effect in agriculture extension in rural areas of Nepal. More number of women extension workers will substantially increase women’s access to extension services and will contribute more in food production.

Support For Developing Countries – Great choice AQA!

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018 by

At Practical Action we are delighted that the examination board AQA have included ‘support to developing countries’ as one of their recently released contextual challenges offered to GCSE D&T students.

As an international development organisation with a focus on technology to address poverty, we are delighted that students have been given this great opportunity to complete an indepth project on such an important issue.

As an ex D&T teacher, I would be tempted myself to spend some time browsing through Practical Action’s main website, which is full of inspirational stories of how peoples’ lives have been transformed through access to technology in areas such as Renewable energy, Water and sanitation and Food and agriculture.

For those of you that like to find out more of the technical details behind the projects, we have a wide range of technical briefs and publications that provide technical information to support the international project work.

Support for GCSE students

As a starter activity I would be tempted to inspire them to choose a development context by running a mini hands-on STEM challenge this term. Any of the STEM Challenges are good, but the Stop The Spread and/or the Squashed Tomato challenges are most suitable for Yr10 students and quickly introduce them to how life changing technology can be.

As for your students needing to identify particular clients and stakeholders for their product research and development, I’d suggest these top three FREE downloadable materials make good starting points on Practical Action’s School’s site.

  1. Global Goals – introduces the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as Goals Global) that highlight a set of targets to reduce/end world poverty by 2030. Many of the Global Goals including Water and Sanitation, Climate Action, Sustainable Cities have targets whereby technology plays an important role.
  2. Global Project Ideas – a set of five sheets that set out some of the biggest global challenges and a wide range of issues/problems for which technology can play a significant role.
  3. Design For A Better World – a designed based activity enabling students to think of the technologies and product we need in the future to meet the Global Goal targets.

    Design For A Better World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope these materials help you and your students to feel inspired to choose a development theme for their GCSE project. Please get in touch if we can be of further help schools@practicalaction.org.uk

Elevated hand pumps supply clean water during floods

Monday, June 18th, 2018 by

Dakshin Sahipur, a small village near the bank of the Karnali River in southern Nepal, gets flooded every year. Most of the residents here are former bonded labourers, freed after the Government of Nepal abolished the bonded labour system in 2002. The government provided five kattha of land (around 1.700 square metres) for each family for their sustenance. However, the land provided was prone to flood during monsoon and drought for the rest of the year.

One of the residents, Phoolbashni Chaudhary, 45, explains:

“Every monsoon, our land gets flooded, we lose our crops and more often we lack clean drinking water. Our hand pumps get submerged in flood waters for more than a week. Even after the flood recedes, small water beetle like insects come out with the water for a month.”

a. Common hand-pump in Phoolbashni’s house. b. Phoolbashni Chaudhary carrying water from raised hand-pump

The hand pump is a major source for drinking water in this area. But because of its height it is submerged during floods. Flood water enters into the hand pump and contaminates the water. When the flood recedes, small water beetles come along with water from the pump and people can only use the water after filtering it through cloth.

The government provides water purification tablets as part of the relief materials after the flood recedes. But because the information on the use of these tablets was unclear, people used to put all the tablets directly into the hand pumps.

Khadananda Jaishi, a neighbour of Phoolbashni shyly said,

“We had no idea about the use of the water purification tablets so we used to put the tablets directly in the hand pumps and simply filter the water to remove the insects. Now we understand, why we used to fall sick after flooding!”

Things are different now for the residents of Dakshin Sahipur.   Community members have constructed an eight foot tall raised platform for the hand pump along with a deep bore system for irrigation. They use the hand pump for drinking water during monsoon and irrigation at other times.

Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) provided 60% of the cost of building the raised hand pump.  Practical Answers, the knowledge service of Practical Action, is supporting the communities to develop the knowledge and skills required for different livelihoods by providing relevant training.

Thanks to the deep bore irrigation and the training, member of the community have started growing vegetables commercially. Khadnanda Jaishi was able to earn NPR 40,000 (£278) selling sponge gourds and pumpkins in the three months’ from March to May this year.

Phoolbashni happily said, “We don’t need to worry about drinking water during the monsoon and we are making the best use of it in other months of the year as well.”

She added, “We had never thought we will be able to grow vegetables in this dry and sandy soil but now we are making profit of at least NPR 5000 (£35) a month.

It has really changed our daily routine and life.”

Khadananda and Phoolbashni busy in their vegetable garden

Sun, Water, Life

Friday, June 15th, 2018 by

There was an Afghan, a Pakistani, an Ethiopian, a Somalian and an Englishman…. Sounds like the start of a bad joke but fortunately it is not!

But it is a reflection of the global interest in addressing the crucial issue of access to affordable water supplies that are so needed to sustain communities, particularly those without access to affordable energy and reliant on agriculture for food security and income generation.

All of these nationalities were squashed in friendly harmony in the back of taxi making introductions on the way to a two day workshop on the use of solar power for pumping water.

The workshop was hosted by the solar water pumping company Lorentz at their technology centre in Hamburg. Lorentz are a German company and have been focused on solar water pumping for more than 20 years (Sun, Water, Life is their mantra). They doing nothing else but solar water pumping systems, from development to manufacture to installation and aftercare through a global network of distributors and partners.

They have a wealth of experience in installing systems in some very challenging locations and conditions and across a range of applications from refugee camps to remote impoverished communities. What perhaps sets them apart from other pump manufacturers is their integration, and application of, software into the pump controller and an app based interface to monitor and control pump performance. They also have an app based system that can enable PAYG services for the provision of water, either for household use or irrigation.

Setting aside any particular manufacturer what became absolutely clear for the assorted participants is that it makes little sense to look at energy, water and food in isolation of each other. For those struggling to meet their daily needs in rural communities these three resources are increasingly under pressure from population growth and the impacts of climate change. The ability to pump water using free clean energy to irrigate land and provide improved sanitation gets to the heart of this challenge.

Of course what is not free is the technology to make this happen. The upfront investment cost of a good quality system is still higher than that of a diesel or petrol pump. However, this is soon recovered (can be as little as 2 years) when the cost of fuel and maintenance is taken into account.

And the cost of solar pumping has decreased significantly over the last 5 years as the panels required to capture this free energy have tumbled in price as they have become a commodity item.

So how can this cost be met?

Two approaches, using widely available technology in the areas we work in, were shared during the workshop:

  • Pay at point of extraction (Pay at pump) – A pump is loaded with credits. This allows for pre-payment of water either locally or centrally.
  • Pay at point of delivery (Pay at tap) Consumers pre-load secure tokens with credits (litres). Smart Taps dispense water and reduce credits on the token.

As Practical Action we already have a number of projects on the go making use of solar power for irrigation and the provision of drinking water. This includes working with small holder farmers in Zimbabwe to help them to increase their income through the use of solar powered irrigation to improve crop production, and getting better prices for their produce in the local market.

With the costs decreasing and the technology forever improving the opportunities to harness this free energy source in emerging economies are increasingly being recognised by both the private and public sector. We seek to encourage this and find innovative ways to scale up affordable use of this technology.

Authorities join local communities on mock flood exercises in Nepal

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 by

USAID/OFDA funded project, implemented by Practical Action and Nepal Red Cross, joined hands with government agencies and communities to organise mock flood exercises in Kankai and Kamala River basins in Jhapa, Siraha and Dhanusha districts marking World Environment Day on 5 June 2018.

Mass SMS from DHM

It was organised in coordination and collaboration with the government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, National Emergency Operation Centre, respective District Disaster Management Committees (DDMCs) and local governments together with DRR actors to help the communities. A total of 41 communities (26 in Kamala and 15 in Kankai River basins) participated in the drills simultaneously from 8:00 am in the morning for over next two hours.

This covers 10 local governments, 7 municipalities and 3 rural municipalities where over 50,000 people are vulnerable to flooding at different level risks. The massive exercises, directly involved more than 5,261 women and 4,287 men as volunteers, 778 task force members, 265 disaster management committee members and 10 project staffs. The exercises were organised to test the systems and mechanisms of disaster prevention building on the early warning systems set up by the project in coordination and collaboration with the agencies, communities and organisations at local level.

The project has tested the capacity of risk forecasting, monitoring and communication systems of end to end flood early warning system in these river basins through these exercises. The exercises were carried out considering minimum of 20 minutes lag time. In real flood event, the time for community ranges from 20 minutes to 4 hours in Kankai and Kamala River basins from the time they first get the flood information. The flood forecasting stations in Titriya for Kamala River and Mainachuli for Kankai River are the sources of flood forecasting at real events.

Rescue by task force members.

The District Disaster Management Committee comprises all appropriate government agencies, NGOs and private sectors in each district. The security forces (Nepal Police and Armed Police Force) also joined the mock flood exercises in different communities and jointly carried out the drills. “Such exercise can help improve the response capacity of community along with skills on coordinated actions to deal with emergency situations,” said the Chief District Officer of Siraha.

The districts have taken leaderships and institutionalized the events through formal decisions and requested NEOC and DHM to help them. This year, the event was organized in six rivers in Nepal – Karnali, West Rapti, Babai, Kamala and Kanakai Rivers covering about one third of total flood prone districts in the Tarai.

Flood mock exercise triggers disaster preparedness

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018 by

Disaster preparedness is crucial for prevention of losses and successful coping as well as building community flood resilience. Better preparedness ensures reduced loss of people, their assets and livelihoods. Building on the end to end flood early warning systems Practical Action has been helping communities in its projects to adopt ‘flood mock exercise’ as an approach to self-test the capacity to respond floods and institutionalise disaster preparedness at all levels in Nepal.

Day of nationally coordinated action

First aid volunteers performing mock drill.

On 5 June 2018, while world marked environment day, flood vulnerable communities organised flood mock exercise to ensure they are ready to upcoming monsoon rains and potential flood they would generate. Generally, monsoon rains start by 10 June in Nepal. Therefore, the day is much appropriate to test the preparation and ensure everything is in place. On this day, community disaster management committee (CDMC) at grassroots level performs and leads different actions as a part of preparedness such as testing of risk information sharing devices/techniques, practicing of rescuing people at risk, providing first aid service, bringing people and their assets to safe place, informing local security personnel, serving dry foods among others and so forth activating available humanitarian clusters and coordination mechanism. These actions are linked to national level flood forecasting, monitoring and communication abilities. It’s truly a nationally coordinated action.

Joining hands with local governments to initiate more actions on disaster preparedness

Community members and stakeholders reviewing the event.

Flood vulnerable communities coordinate with local government including emergency service providers for flood mock exercise. The local security forces perform flood mock exercise in collaboration with community people. Local governments joined flood vulnerable people in the exercise. This helped local governments understand community initiatives and institutionalise the flood preparedness actions during monsoon. The local governments determines the most flood vulnerable communities and takes decisions to perform flood mock exercises. Later on, after review of flood mock exercises, local government officials move on for further preparedness.

A wake up call for all

DHM’s text message on status of flood sent via Ncell.

Flood mock exercise brings together all level DRR stakeholders together for single objective in common platform. Agencies responsible for risk monitoring, generating risk information and disseminating it to respective people and DRR actors has to work in in close coordination and collaboration. It is so interdependent that every agency should awaken to complete their tasks and provide and pass on the support to next. In Nepal, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) is responsible to monitor flood risk and provide it to Emergency Operation Centers and other agencies. They monitor different systems and generate rainfall and flood risk information for different time period in defined river basins in flood early warning system. The other DRR agencies then, act on the available information. The information is shared and disseminated through defined diverse communication channels such as online bulletins, social media, telephones, text messages, FM radios, sirens and volunteers visiting door to door.

During mock exercise, these all agencies and the community have opportunity to test the ability and functionality of the system they work in. Nepal’s largest private sector telecom Ncell have volunteered to send text messages to their subscribers in the area decided by the DHM or MoHA. The EOCs who are working on behalf of Ministry of Home Affairs mobilized a team to disseminate risk information messages and district government decisions as District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) decisions.

Building community flood resilience
This is an innovative strategy for disaster risk reduction promoting institutionalization of good practices and checking preparedness in time at the face of upcoming flood risks. Bringing everybody together it reveals the need of joint actions; the largest training for everybody useful to life saving. The communities lead the response supported by all around at local to international using modest technologies. It is small, simplified and very important. Truly beautiful!

Saving seed and grains from flood

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 by

Chandra Bahadur Rokka Magar and his neighbours in Tikapur Municipality, ward 5 of Kailali district, face the wrath of floods every year.

Chandra Bahadur showing water level during flood

Magar says, “Our village is near the Karnali River, so we face flood very often. In some years the floods are more disastrous. In 2014, floods swept away all of our belongings and it took more than a year to recover.”

Magar and his neighbours lost their standing crops to floods. The stored seeds and food grains were soaked with flood water. And due to stagnant water and prolonged rainy days, they were unable to dry the seeds and food grains in time and lost them completely.

Thanks to a government river engineering project, for the last three years, they have not faced such disastrous floods. A dyke constructed along the river bank has protected the village from flooding. However, last year the floods damaged  the dyke and the villagers are worried about flooding this year.

Chandra Bahadur standing in front of his raised grain storage

Magar is anxious, “If the government does not repair the dyke on time, we’ll need to be prepared to face the floods again.”

Learning from the previous flood damage and with the guidance of Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP), Magar and his neighbours plan to plant a flood tolerant rice variety this season and have built a raised grain store on a 36 square foot platform 4.5 feet above the ground.

Magar says, “Even if the flood level is not always disastrous, we face flood regularly. Our seeds and grains used to get damaged every year. So with the guidance of NFRP staff, we have constructed raised grain storage. I can store 12 quintal of grain (1 quintal equals to 100 kg) in it, safe from flood.”

This time Magar and the other farmers of Tikapur will have grain to eat and seeds to plant when the floods recede.