Archive for July, 2018

The rescuers

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 by

One of my (not-so-pleasant) vivid memories, is witnessing overflowing sludge from the septic tank at our home when I  was studying at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). My mother, one of the smartest ladies I have ever seen, just rushed to the nearby refugee camp, known as ‘Geneva camp’ in search of rescuers. It was getting dark, and we were desperately waiting for the arrival of the rescuers to salvage us from the mess and to relieve us from the sight of utter disgust at the entrance of our home.

Finally a troop of six people came with their ‘equipment’. Being a student of civil engineering, I was eagerly waiting to see the ‘operation’ with my own eyes. Despite my mother’s red-eyes and gesture of annoyance, I kept on observing with a hope of being a (devoted) engineer.

They brought with them the necessary equipment – some ropes and buckets together with a drum full of (so-called) chemical. They started by pouring the chemical from the mini drum which was simply kerosene. They mixed kerosene with water to dilute the sludge inside the septic tank to bring it to an optimum consistency. They tied the buckets to ropes and started collecting the semi-solid sludge from the septic tank by dipping the bucket into the tank, and then carried that to the nearby open drain and dumped it manually in the shadow of the darkness of the night. The operation continued for hours and finally shut down early in the morning at the cost of some few hundred Takas after some heavy haggling with my mother.

I had almost forgotten that memory in the midst of so many lovely and lively events of my life. When I entered my professional career, I discovered that many things have changed over time, in terms of technology, lifestyle and what not, but the story of the rescuers didn’t change much!

I started my development career after switching from hardcore civil engineering and devoted myself to work on the waste value chain. At some point of time, I wanted to know how septic tanks were emptied and came to know that the same practice prevailed even after two decades!

I continued my professional journey with the aim of turning ‘waste into resources.’ While working on the ‘waste value chain’, I found, people who are associated with managing waste as their day to day business, are the most neglected, deprived and vulnerable in society.

After two decades, my rusty memory again came to light. I noticed that we are using our toilets every day and our faecal waste is deposited into septic tanks. When these septic tanks are full and start overflowing creating nuisance, only then do we look for some untouchable sweeper communities to clean up the mess. And they appear as our ‘Rescuers’ to clean it manually using the same primitive technology – a rope and few buckets.

Unfortunately, even in the twenty-first century, people are cleaning human waste manually!

Every year at least 30-50 people die while cleaning septic tanks because of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gas generated inside the tanks. We really need to think of their lives, dignity and health and safety.

The stories of other ‘waste workers’ are not something rosy. Every day, no less than 20,000 tons of municipal waste are generated from our houses, offices, industries. The waste workers are putting their lives at risk for making our lives better.

Among the waste workers, women are even more deprived. Despite clear indication of the payment of equal wage for men and women in the National Labour Policy-2012, women are getting much less than men, and this is a common practice.

Nowadays, ‘waste’ is drawing the attention of many entrepreneurs. Some areas are booming like recycling plastic and mobile phones. But what is happening to the workers? What about their working environment? Wage parity? Dignity?

Sanitation and waste workers of all categories are lacking dignity and risking their lives, and surviving in an unhealthy and sub-human environment. We need to work to safeguard their dignity, realise their rights, minimise wage disparity and secure their health and safety.

I wish to continue my journey for my fellow brothers and sisters who are putting their best efforts towards making cities liveable. I want my memory to be replaced by a shiny new one.

 

 

Market based resilience building in Bangladesh

Thursday, July 26th, 2018 by

For the past week I have been visiting the Practical Action programme in Bangladesh to support their work on resilience programming. I attended the wrap up meeting of the GRP Project, worked with the consultant team undertaking the final external evaluation of the project, helped staff in the flood resilience programme design activities for the next phase of the project and attended the meeting of the Markets Development forum.

Bangladesh is a relatively young nation achieving independence in 1971 and being described by the then US foreign secretary as a bottomless basket. The country has progressed considerably in the recent past and Bangladesh set a landmark record in poverty alleviation by reducing it by 24.6% between 2000 and 2016, meaning more than 20.5 million people escaped the poverty line to find better lives for themselves. Bangladesh has also been praised in the world media for its outstanding successes with regards to various socio-economic indicators, such as the rate of literacy and life expectancy.

A demonstration of the commitment of the country to a market driven development approach was clearly demonstrated at the Markets Development Day that I was fortunate enough to attend. I gained a deeper insights into their valuable contribution to market driven development particularly as I was invited to provide the conference wrap up, due to the last minute withdrawal of the pre-agreed speaker. In summarising the conference I was made aware of the diversity of challenges matched to the wealth of critical thinking by the development actors in this forum.

The Market Development Forum is a forum of over 25 likeminded organisations exploring the use of markets based approaches to poverty reduction. As highlighted above Bangladesh has made significant gains in this area, but this is not felt equally by everyone. The theme of this year’s conference recognises this with the topic “Unblocking barriers to markets” with specific focus on the following;

  • Youth and jobs, in recognition of the rapidly growing youth population facing challenges with inadequate growth in the jobs markets
  • Humanitarian Context, the role of markets in humanitarian relief, especially reflecting that Bangladesh has recently seen the arrival of &&& Rohingya refugees
  • Financial inclusion, looking at linking the small scale informal financial systems developed in poor rural areas with mainstream finance and access to traditional banking and credit
  • Women’s Economic Empowerment, many economic sectors are dependent on predominantly women works with the garments sector the largest GDP revenue earner
  • Reaching the disabled, how to make markets truly inclusive and ensure that the many disabled people in Bangladesh have equal access
  • Social services, markets development on its own is inadequate this session looks at the parallel development of social systems necessary to support and stabilise poverty reduction benefits in often precarious markets

I was impressed not only at the level of participation in the conference, but also the diversity of organisations and perspectives displayed. The presentations were excellent and the question and answer sessions expanded the discussion indicating the depth and breadth of markets development thinking in the country.

What were some of the key take home messages I picked up from the conference?

For the markets in humanitarian context the challenges highlighted are in the case of the refugees is the almost instantaneous impact refugees have on existing value chains. The presenter highlighted that in Cox’s Bazaar where the refugee camps are located, the labour markets has collapsed from 500bdt[1] per day to less than 100, while the price of construction materials have increased with the price of raw bamboo poles tripling in price. In the flood case study the flood severs markets, causing value chains to be broken, as access to services, input and export markets become severed. In this situations it is important not to overlook the role of markets in the pre flood disaster planning, to ensure that forecasts and weather information are used to inform the markets actors to ensure that activities are matched to expected conditions and if extreme flood events are expected the critical supplies can be pre-positions for rapid deployment in the case of a flood event becoming a human disaster. Tools such as Emergency Markets Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) and Pre-Crisis Markets Assessment (PCMA) are invaluable tools to help agencies plan for markets based engagement in humanitarian contexts.

For the youth and job sessions the situation in Bangladesh is challenging. The country has a growing youth population but insufficient employment opportunities to offer this potential workforce. In addition the traditional education system is failing to deliver the practical skills necessary for employment. So structural changes to job markets need to start in the education system. The projects presented are looking to develop appropriate opportunities for these workers, including self-employment in formal as well as less formal emerging sectors. Finally for youth employment it is important to look at the right supporting services including Sexual and Reproductive Health, Gender Based Violence, skills training and job placements.

In the women’s economic empowerment, the first session highlighted the differential access to information for women and men. One project explored how the provision of information to women enabled them to explore alternative livelihood opportunities. Traditional extension services are focussed on providing services to men and male dominated institutions. New technologies can provide access to formerly disconnected groups. For example SMS messages reach wider audience and voice messages can reach illiterate members. The presenters reported that access to information is certainly benefiting women’s economic empowerment. But more importantly does the access to information lead to changes in the behaviours between women and men? Early indications are that access to information, is leading to women informally helping their neighbours and men being more tolerant of women’s engagement in additional activities and accepting if meals are late.

In my closing remarks I commented on the refreshing absence of any market maps in the presentations. It is important to recognise that they are a vital tool in markets driven development, but can provide a very unclear method to share findings with a large audience. It was great to get the core messages from their markets projects without descending into the nitty gritty of the value chain, the key actors, the supporting services, or the limits and opportunities presented by the enabling environment. My final comment was on the absence of the care economy in any of the sessions I attended. I was surprised in a forum in which gendered markets development projects were being presented that I learned little about the traditional role of women and men and the implications for the markets driven development on women’s existing role as the care giver.

[1] BDT Bangladesh Taka (100 BDT = 90 pence)

7 actions to boost small scale green enterprise in Bangladesh

Thursday, July 26th, 2018 by

The term “green business” is barely understood by the majority of people, even the business fraternity.

There is no clear definition of “green business” in Bangladesh yet. People take it as a business that either contributes to keeping the environment green, in other words, unharmed, or that doesn’t produce anything that contributes to a carbon footprint. Most people also understand that responsibility for keeping our environment green and safe rests solely on our own shoulders.

Green enterprise

The question is whether we have done anything to protect our environment? The answer is both yes and no.

The “yes” answer would come up with some cherry picked examples, but the answer “no” would be weightier,  because what we have done so far are just some unplanned initiatives that have turned out well. When I say unplanned, this does not mean that we don’t have any plan on paper – you would be amazed at the many wonderful papers and policies in place!  We are very good at writing documents like policies, laws, orders, etc., but lack the capacity and political will to put them into practice.

So, what could we do to sustain and scale up green enterprises?

Many ideas have been put forward, but I am going to share with you seven that I have picked up from a Learning Sharing Workshop, organised by Practical Action in Bangladesh, entitled, ‘Promotion of Green Enterprises for Accelerated Inclusive Green Growth’.

  1. We don’t have a government-approved definition of green business. Often small-scale green businesses are not considered by agencies that could have worked with and supported them. Therefore, this is essential to have a definition in place as soon as possible.
  2. With a government-approved definition of green business, entrepreneurs will get access to Micro Finance Institutes. At the same time insurance companies could open their doors to them to safeguard their business. Other private sector businesses will also join in.
  3. Small scale entrepreneurs are not holding back in spite of such an identity crisis. They are doing business which contributes to keeping our environment clean and safe. Our small-scale green entrepreneurs are mostly poorly organised and untrained, and they work in unhealthy conditions. The time has come to develop cooperatives for them. Unless they get organised, deprivation will continue, and they will be looked down upon. With unity, they will be able to achieve dignity.
  4. One of the important components of green business is organic fertiliser. Government needs to give especial attention into this. Every year we lose nearly 82,000 hectares of land in Bangladesh, and there are roughly around 2 million more mouths to be fed. We churn out the nutrients of our soil to produce more and more food from a gradually decreasing amount of land. At some point of time, our arable lands will stop providing us with food. Organic fertiliser is the only solution available to rejuvenate our soil. Now is the time for an orchestrated initiative to save our soil by promoting the green business of organic fertiliser.
  5. Kitchen waste could a good source of organic fertiliser. But, turning bio-degradable kitchen waste into fertiliser is not an easy task. It would take an orchestrated effort of different government agencies, private sectors, donors, NGOs and civil society groups. Effective and strategic partnerships to do this need to be put in place now.
  6. In the recent past, the collection, transportation and dumping of household waste (mostly kitchen waste) was managed by small scale waste vendors, commonly known as waste-pickers. Now that there is money to be made in this, vested interest groups have appeared to take over control of these. These groups are also controlled by the local political leaders. Strong steps need to take to give back these ventures to the real waste vendors, and provide support them to turn into green business entrepreneurs.
  7. With a government-approved definition of green business, a major public awareness programme needs to put in place so that people, especially unemployed people, will be inspired to start in this business.

You may be able to add other actions to this list. But, one action, which is essential is that we all work together for this cause – locally, nationally and globally to ensure that more people become involved with green enterprise.

Reaching the Last Mile: Challenges and Lessons from Early Warning Systems

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 by

Understanding Risk is a global community of researchers and practitioners working to identify, assess and communicate disaster risk. This year, the fifth Understanding Risk Forum was held in Mexico City. The Forum was attended by 1,050 people from 101 different countries and over 550 organisations, including Practical Action.

Our session on “Reaching the last mile” focused on communicating risk effectively to the people most vulnerable to disasters. In order for people to protect themselves from hazards, they need to receive information, understand it, and be able to act on the information.

However, there are many complex barriers faced by vulnerable communities: when information is shared via text message, people without access to a mobile phone can’t receive the information; if information is not communicated in local languages, or if technical or unclear wording is used, people who receive the information may not be able to understand it; and if people don’t know what actions to take, are afraid of losing their possessions, don’t have anywhere safe to go, or do not have decision-making power, they will not be able to act on the information.

Within vulnerable communities, factors including age, gender, ethnicity, literacy levels, physical capacity and poverty affect the needs, priorities and abilities of people to access, understand, and respond to information.

For example, a study that Practical Action is conducting in Nepal and Peru found that women and men often have different roles in evacuation. In addition, women experience unique difficulties evacuating related to their gender, presenting challenges related to their clothing, hair length, caring roles and responsibilities, lesser physical strength, and inability to swim. Perhaps because of these challenges, women prefer to evacuate earlier than men. However, because women lack decision-making power, they are often unable to take action until men decide to evacuate, by which time evacuation routes are more dangerous, particularly for women, presenting them with additional risks.

We were joined in our session by colleagues from BBC Media Action, the UK Met Office, Soluciones Practicas (our Latin America office), and the German Red Cross.

Lisa Robinson from BBC Media Action shared examples of their work in Bangladesh, where they partner with a local radio station, Oromia Radio, to broadcast a short radio magazine programme which provides practical advice on agriculture, water, sanitation and shelter.

They also broadcast a reality television series which visits vulnerable communities as they work with their neighbours and local government to build their resilience. They have found that their audiences and listeners trust this information because it is in their native language, specific to where they are, and is easy to understand. As a result, people are using this information to make decisions.

At the other delivery end, the UK Met Office is working to build the capacity of national meteorological services in hazard-prone countries. Nyree Pinder highlighted the key role that meteorological agencies have in identifying and communicating risk as they work within the government to protect lives and livelihoods. The UK Met Office is working through a range of programmes to build the capacity of national and regional meteorological services to improve climate information services, and is moving towards impact-based forecasting to better meet the needs of vulnerable communities.

David Lau from Soluciones Practicas highlighted how the team in Peru are engaging with the community to build resilience. As well as installing solar-powered field monitoring stations to measure rainfall using photographs and soil saturation, community groups (brigades) are formed and supported to use these stations, issue evacuation alerts, and conduct drills. In this way, knowledge is owned and trusted by the community, supporting improved resilience in the long term.

Mathieu Destrooper from the German Red Cross then demonstrated how the early warning system in Peru could be improved to give vulnerable communities more time to prepare: combining upstream water levels, rain forecasts and soil moisture levels could increase the time available from one to five hours, to one to five days.

However, as well as improving forecasts, there are key questions to consider regarding how to guarantee early action being taken at the community level. Context will affect whether early warning systems are best managed locally or nationally, how to define thresholds for alerting and taking action, and how to share warning information.

The session brought together a range of voices, perspectives and experiences in reaching the last mile. Our panellists worked in different countries, with different stakeholders and at different levels, engaging with national and local government, media, and directly with community members.

Across this broad range of experience, a key factor emerged consistently: there are a multitude of factors which affect people’s vulnerability to and experience of disasters. Our work on early warning systems must be context-specific and tailored to the needs of the people who have to respond to warnings in order to ensure action is taken and lives are saved.

Related links

Reaching the last mile: addressing gender inequality in early warning systems

Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact

Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

How the community in Bangladesh prepares for Cyclones – BBC Media Action

Early warning systems are a key component of community resilience to disasters and have the potential to save lives and livelihoods in hazard-prone communities.

… and it (FSTP) is working …

Thursday, July 5th, 2018 by

CW

This is not a normal garden but a constructed wetland with Canna lily and Phragmites karka — components of a decentralized faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) at Gulariya municipality in mid-west Nepal. They help treat the faecal sludge and keep the environment clean and unpolluted.

FSTP is a series of treatment process to reduce the pollution levels from faecal sludge. In this treatment series, the first step is to separate the liquids from the solids, treat both liquid and solid seperately where recovery of nutrients and reuse of treated wastewater is done as possible. (Read more)

Background

Safa and Swastha Gulariya project, successfully completed by Practical Action two years ago, initiated the “beyond toilets” approach by constructing a 3 cubic metres per day capacity faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) to treat the faecal sludge from pits and septic tanks connected with toilets. Gulariya Municipality also joined hands with the project by procuring a 4 cubic metres capacity cesspool vehicle using its own internal resources.

The project was able to achieve 100% toilet coverage in Gulariya Municipality with construction of 11,000 new toilets. Also, five communities were declared total sanitation communities.

Pictures: (L) FSTP under construction

(R) Cesspool vehicle of Gulariya municipality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more:

Gulariya Municipality declared “Open Defecation Free”

More than a toilet

Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business

FSM in Gulariya Municipality – An arduous journey

After the project completion, Gulariya Municipality was supported to develop a business plan for sustainable operation and maintenance of the FSTP system. The municipality has planned to operate the FSTP system along with solid waste management (SWM) in the same premises. This has helped the municipality to showcase the integrated model for management of solid waste as well as liquid waste. The premises was developed as a solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) facility.

Pictures: (L) Completed FSTP with composting plant and (R) sorting of recyclable plastics

Looking back study

A year after the project completion, an assessment study was carried out to assess the health impact of improved sanitation and environmental sanitation related activities carried out by Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. The specific objective was to ascertain the changes from the project intervention of open defecation free (ODF) and total sanitation on i) incidence and impact of water borne diseases in ODF and total sanitation communities of targeted peoples, and ii) impact on health due to i) sanitation improvement (ODF) and ii) integrated WASH (total sanitation). An abstract of this assessment can be assessed at WECC37.

The 1% requirement

The data collected during the assessment period showed 1.1% equivalent to 1 household had no access to toilet. The main reason behind this was the filling of pit connected to the toilet and the family reverting back to the practice of open defecation as they did not have the service of mechanised emptying of pits after they get filled up.

This 1% shows the importance of faecal sludge management for mechanical emptying of pits and septic tanks in the municipality to sustain the long gained behaviour change to construct and use toilets in the home rather than practising open defecation.

 

What is happening now?

The Gulariya FSTP is under operation now and the municipality is providing the on-demand service for emptying service. Cracked sludge cakes and liquid percolating out through collection system is showing the sludge drying beds are working in order. The main function of sludge drying beds is to retain the solid part on top and let the liquid (waste water) percolate to anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR) for further treatment.

Pictures: Sludge drying beds (L and M) and wastewater coming out of sludge drying bed (R)

And finally the treated wastewater from ABR is further treated using constructed wetland with horizontal flow bed planted with Canna lily and Phragmites karka.

Picture: Horizontal flow sub-surface constructed wetland