Halim Miah


Coordinator of operations, Knowledge Management, Practical Answers, Practical Action Bangladesh

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Halim

  • Flood resilience offers dignity to disabled people

    February 21st, 2017

    Co authored with Gurudas Biswas, Monitoring & Documentation Officer, V2R+ project, Bangladesh

    The extreme poverty status of Bangladesh (those with a per capita daily income of less than US$1.25) is reducing significantly in rural areas, but rural poverty is still higher than urban poverty in Bangladesh.

    Among the rural extreme poor, people with disabilities are the most marginalized. They are often excluded both from their communities and from development initiatives. Women and children are most vulnerable. They are the poorest of the poor.

    disability graphWHO and World Bank estimates that about 10% of the population in developing have a disability.  However, there is lack of nationally representative study or survey on disability in Bangladesh.  Other available studies like the Population Census 2011 and Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2011 show that the prevalence of persons with disability ranging from 0.90% to 1.41%.

    Disability and disaster

    Disasters like cyclones, tornadoes, thunderstorms and injuries from road accidents, and workplace accidents increase the number of disabilities. A study of Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, conducted in Bangladesh in the aftermath of super cyclone SIDR in 2007, revealed that most deaths occurred from drowning and multiple injuries. Among the nonfatal cases there was around 10% who were at risks of permanent disability if there were not treated properly.

    Including disabled people in flood resilience initiative

    disability graphThe mighty river Jamuna flows through Sirajganj.  It has a population of 3,215,873, (51.14%  male: 48.86% female. Most of the areas of Sirajganj are eroded by the Jamuna (river) and newly developed areas on the river are known as Char. The people of Char areas face discrimination in all sorts of areas of modern society. Moreover, they are often attacked by natural disasters like flood, windstorm, thunderstorm, drought and heavy rain. Floods, tornadoes and thunderstorms cause both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Besides, this district bridges the northern and southern parts of Bangladesh with rivers and roadways. Therefore people are at high risks of road traffic injuries too. Besides, flood and river bank erosion are recurrent phenomenon adversely affecting the socio-economic conditions of the people, most of whom are farmers.

    The Vulnerability to Resilience (V2R) project of Practical Action Bangladesh is working to build the resilience of flood vulnerable people of Sirajganj and Bogra District. The project has emphasized the inclusion of disabled people to improve their livelihoods. From the design stage of the project people with disability have been targeted.  A short survey in the communities found that 10.34% of households are holding with disability including physical disability such a lameness, or speech, sight or hearing loss.

    It was also revealed that people with disability were less happy.  A disabled person is seen as curse on the family and treated as a family burden and often neglected.  If the disabled person is the household head or earning member then the whole family goes is vulnerable.

    In the monsoon the project organised preparedness and awareness raising events including disabled people. Community Based Organizations (CBO)were trained to do emergency and response work with disability. Dduring search and rescue work the Community Based Organizations (CBO) move them first. The Local Resilience Agents (LRAs) also provided close and comprehensive assistance on preparedness, search and rescue work. In resilience building initiatives uplifting the incomes of poor people is important. So when an income generating initiative is underway, we give priority to families with members with disability as they are most vulnerable to any disaster.

    Food stall V2R+Md. Nur Hossain(45),  Ranipura Village of Belkuchi Upazila is paralyzed and has no land. The five members of his family were dependent on his wife’s (Morshida Khatun) income. She used to work part time in a weaving factory as daily labourer, selling clothes from house to house.  Her income was not enough to cover household consumption so that they had to depend on gifts from relatives.

    In 2014 when the V2R+ project began in Ranipura Village, as a flood vulnerable community Murshida Khatun’s household was included as project beneficiaries. In 2016, Murshida Khatun got 8000 Tk (£80) with one-day of training on business management from the project. She provided her husband with a tiny stall of of dry food and fast food items. Her husband can easily handle those as he does not need to use any fire or lift heavy weighst.  He is now planning to buy a digital weight measuring scale that is easy to use for people unable to carry heavy weights.  Having an income from both husband and wife is helping them to find their way out of misery and inspiring them to live with dignity.

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  • Promoting inclusive urban growth

    January 3rd, 2017

    Stories of urban cleaners society in Bangladesh

    by Md. A. Halim Miah, Makfie Farah, Uttam Kumar Saha and Hasin Jahan

    History reveals that there were a special group of people who, unlike other artisans like smiths and weavers, worked at cleaning sewerage and drainage system in the old urban civilizations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. They were mostly enslaved. We are now under the charter of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights where every man has equal rights to choose their profession and lead a decent life with dignity and equality.

    Urban cleaner is a caste or class?

    FSMAs well as that Indus civilization as we also had a thousand year old urban centre named Pundra nagar. That city had also had a ‘cleaner class’, a special artisan community culturally called ‘Harijan’.

    Among the society of cleaners in Bangladesh there are broadly two communities based on their religious identity – a Hindu or Harijan community and a Muslim sweeper community.

    In the Hindu religious system society is segregated into a caste system of four professional groups. The Harijan community is one of these. Mahatma Gandhi, a famous Indian political leader renowned for his non-violence movement and social reform, worked for the rights of those human groups who did not have minimum dignity as human beings.  He tried to bring them in the main stream Hindu society by giving them a new name. He called them Harijan (hari means most honourable) and that was officially declared as ‘scheduled’.

    There is no social stratification in Islam but in practice lower status communes exist in  society who are exploited in many ways due to their low status profession like ‘Kulu’ (traditionally oil producer), ‘Jhula’ (weavers) and ‘Hajam (circumcision).  As today many people from rural peasants society have moved away from their land and traditional livelihoods due to natural disasters and are forced to take shelter in urban and peri-urban areas. These poor people, who do not have skills that fit with the urban economy, are  engaging in this type of lower skills based employment. They face economic, social, and cultural marginalization.

    Political economy of cleaners

    participationAvailable statistics show that there are around 150,000 Harijan in Bangladesh.  If we include Muslim cleaners in this profession then the number is higher and is gradually increasing with urbanization.  There are around 532 urban centres in Bangladesh representing 35% of the population and contributing 80% of national GDP (MHHDC, 2014). Experts suggest that rapid urbanisation will mean that this number will reach 50% by 2030.

    Each day 13,333 MT of urban waste is generated – per capita this is ½ kg per day. This study was conducted in 2005 when there were 512 urban centres and the total urban population was around 25%.  This increased to 35% in 2016 so waste generation today could be around 20,000 MT per day.

    For a liveable city and healthy urbanization we need improved and modernized cleaning services and a professional group with skills and adequate logistics. We can not expect these improvements immediately, but need a priority plan to take the country and our economy to the stage of middle income countries where per capita gross national income starts from  US$1,026 to $ 12,475.

    How do we expect to do this when we ignore around two million people whose services are required daily to foster our urban economy and production? Are they being exploited? Is their work less economically valuable than that of other artisans among the urban classes? We cannot afford to ignore the cost of negligence of proper sanitation cleanliness.

    A study ‘The Human Waste’, conducted by Water Aid and Tearfund shows that  in developing countries 80% of disease is due to poor sanitation. People suffering from water borne diseases occupy half of the world’s hospital beds. Poor sanitation causes an increased burden of disease, numbers in hospital, a daily work loss, lower participation of children in school and the long term effect on health from anaemia and stunted growth.

    The report also reveals that school sanitation programs increase the enrolment of girls annually by 11%. My 12 year old daughter was admitted to a new school after her graduation from class five to six. In the beginning she reported to me that her school toilets were not cleaned properly so she did not want to continue at that school. She repeatedly reported this to her class teachers and she is now fine with her present school. So we can see how the social and economic value of this cleaning works!

    Why are cleaners not a development priority?

    The Bangladesh constitution confirms equal rights for every citizen under the article 19(1) “the state will attempt  to ensure equal; opportunities for all the citizens” and also article 20(1) where every citizens rights are agreed with same value  regardless of their caste, class, religion and sex. But in practice what we see is that communities like cleaners are deprived in many ways of equal access to basic citizen services.

    A recent study conducted by Professor Ainoon Naher and Abu Ala Mahmud Hasan among the harijan of northern Bangladesh (HEKS/EPER, 2016) shows that, “In general, the common feeling among the Dalit is that they have always been looked down upon by the mainstream/dominant groups who tend to avoid Dalit in public spaces”. It also reveals that Dalit women are the ‘marginalized among the marginalized’.

    Social safety nets are a major instrument of the Bangladesh government to reduce poverty and hunger. The allocation of safety nets is mostly rural biased with safety net packages more than three times higher in rural areas compare to urban (House Hold Income and Expenditure Survey , 2010, Pp. 72, BBS).  Girls from extreme poor communities who live in urban slums are not entitled to school stipend program as metropolitan cities are excluded from that safety net policy.

    The Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) network Bangladesh organized a national convention of pit emptiers on 7th December 2016 in Dhaka. Around 92 pit emptiers from 20 municipalities attended. It was an exceptional day for the development workers as well as for these most marginalized people. They identified plenty of eye awakening issues (revealed in the table below) about what we need to know if we really want to change the world

    Table:  Extent of deprivation of cleaners

    Health & SecurityEquityDignityFair income
    “We want equal attention in health care centres when we become sick”“We want to play together with all the children”

    “We are avoided in social events even though we attend we are humiliated”“What we earn monthly that is enough for twenty days and rest of the days we have to live with borrow from informal money lenders with high interest of repayment”

    What is the solution?

    Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary of the United Nations commented that ‘No- one left behind’ is the underlying moral code of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. He  emphasized that people who are hardest to reach should be given priority.  Practical Action Bangladesh have implemented a four year (2012-2016) multi-country (Bangladesh, Nepal & Sri Lanka) project named Integrated Urban Development ( IUD2) that focused on participatory planning for inclusive urban governance.

    The findings of this project are encouraging for development thinkers and policy makers. It followed a participatory approach to include urban cleaners in the development process with a drive to demonstrate pro poor urban governance.  Narratives from project beneficiaries show that they were enlightened by understanding the democratic process and how to identify problems and solutions through a participatory planning process. “We can arrange election in our SIC reformation, exercise and enjoy democracy”,  said Rumpa Begum, Slum Improvement Committee, Faridpur.

    We learned that to create an enabling environment for interaction between two classes of people (elite and proletariat) governance improvement is essential. At the same time a focus on improving skills and reducing health and safety risks is important for transforming any economic sector.

    Customized gulpher for emptying pitIn the history of human society the dominant class has always controlled advanced technology. So creating access to technology for this class can make change happen. I found this to be true for the cleaners’ community of the Faridpur municipality. At the beginning of this year Urban and Energy Service Program of Practical Action, Bangladesh organized an impact review and learning workshop. One of the main stakeholders of this program was city /municipality government. Anisur Rahman Chowdhury, an honourable counsellor of the Faridpur Municipality, who commented in one of the learning sessions on Practical Action’s engagement in the development of his city:

    “Earlier I myself never give space to stand my side any mathor (Cleaner) but when I found that they are now use machines for emptying pit. They do not get down into inside of the pit. I found there is no any bad smell with their body. They are doing like other mechanic or civil engineering works. So I sit with them in a same table at tea stall”.

    I think this is the way to change social perspectives and change the lives of the most disadvantaged communities in any country.  This has also been recommended by Mr. ABM Khurshed Alam, Chairman of the National Skills Development Council to make available modern tools and machinery which could change their status. He also suggested for arranging certificate course for increasing skills of the people of this profession.

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  • Why we should invest in disaster management

    December 14th, 2016

    Prioritise weather forecasting and early warning for local communities

    by Md. A. Halim Miah, Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan and Dr. Faruk Ul Islam

    Disaster management in Bangladesh has been transformed from disaster response and recovery to a risk reduction model. However though policy and law have been formulated based on the risk reduction model, policy priority is still required in many areas both in quality and quantitative improvement, such as shifting risk governance from centralized systems to people’s empowerment and redirecting disaster investment from response and recovery model to pre-disaster investment.

    Why more investment at pre-disaster stage?

    Bangladesh spent a lot in the last two decades on disasters. One flood in 1998 caused an estimated loss of US$ 2 billion –  4.8 % of national GDP. This figure might even be higher as loss and damage estimates focus on infrastructure and bigger public institutions and less on those of small entrepreneurs and small holder farmers.

    This loss and damage will increase if we do not invest in prevention measures such as community resilience building, critical infrastructure like dams, embankments, bio-dykes, green belts and the dissemination of risk information for the people live in vulnerable areas.

    voice messages for DRR BograAccording to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report the frequency and intensity of hazards will increase with greater risk particularly for developing nations. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable progress in some social indices like health, primary education, poverty reduction and in some areas of disaster related emergency response. Therefore mortality and morbidity from disasters have reduced significantly.

    Redirect financing from disaster response to development

    The total GNP of Bangladesh is growing.  At independence (1972-73) the total annual budget of Bangladesh was 7.8 billion (£78.5 million) but for the fiscal year 2016-17 it is 3.41 trillion taka (£34 billion).  Bangladesh has a growing national economy and  wealth and GDP per capita rose from US$2,038.7 in 2006 to US$3,136.6 in 2016.

    The World Wealth Report also shows that in 2000 the assets per head of adult men in Bangladesh were worth US$1069 and this has more than doubled to US$ 2347 in 2016. The rate of national poverty was 62% in 1992, which came down to 32% in 2010. But a very few of those who came out from poverty the ‘movers out of poverty’- could become part of the economic middle class (the range of income $2 to $4).

    According to renowned economist Binayak Sen, Director, Research, Bangladesh Development Studies in Bangladesh , the movers who are stuck in the range of $1 to $2 a day income are still  vulnerable to shocks and downward slippages (Sen, Binayak; June 2014, ICE Business, Dhaka).  This is a vicious cycle of income erosion where disasters like floods that recur pull those people behind so that they can not climb up the ladder. Studies reveal that investment in strengthening weather, climate and water information services is highly cost efficient for societal progress returning three times as much as monetary investment according to the CREWS Initiative. 

    Practical Action Bangladesh has implemention experience under Vulnerability to Resilience+, financed by the Zurich Insurance Group.  We found that by disseminating flood early warning messages to the community in understandable ways, flood vulnerable people living downstream of Brahmaputra basin were able to save their most valuable household and agricultural resources.

    We conducted a rapid assessment on the impact of flood early warning voice messages just after the flood which occurred in July –August 2016. Our preliminary findings revealed that people’s indigenous knowledge did not work.

    “The saying goes, if cloud passes from south-west to north-east we would think that the river Jamuna will be raised. But this year we could not understand the possibility of flooding. Therefore voice messaging was very important. Among my neighbours around ten farmers were able to harvest their jute when they got flood early warning voice messages with a minimum financial value of 9,000 taka (£90) for each. Those of us who live island like places, very close to the river evacuated with our cattle saving a minimum of household value of 100,000 taka (£1,000). So if voice messages cost 20 taka household then its return is more than 1000 times higher!”

    This is an example of how improving early warning systems for vulnerable people can save them from the vicious cycle of income erosion and enable them to continue to climb the steps of the ladder with the aim of reaching the gateway from poverty.

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  • A flood warning system to reduce economic loss in disasters

    May 18th, 2016

    Md. A. Halim Miah [1]and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan[2]

    Weather Forecasting Display Board: Atuilia weatherboard.

    This Weather Forecasting Display Board (WFDB) is both attractive and useful to the local community, especially to those who are vulnerable to flooding and other climatic disruptions.

    The results of the first pilot study show that rural people working in agriculture and shrimp farming found it very helpful.  Coastal areas like Atulia of Shyamnagar, Satkhira district and Zhilonga Union in Cox’s Bazar District are highly susceptible to cyclone and water surges, so found it very useful for their daily livelihoods.  It was scaled up at Sirajganj Sadar Upazila, a disaster prone area where flood and river bank erosion occur frequently.

    Shyamnagar Upazila, is a climatic hotspot and the majority of the people are manage their livelihood by shrimp farming. This Weather Board was first demonstrated at the Atulia Union Council of Shyamnagar Upazila in 2011.

    How does it work?

    1. Construction: A wooden frame with CI sheet and covered by transparent either glass or white plastic where clear, concise daily weather messages are interpreted with well-known symbols
    2. Function: If somebody doesn’t understand the messages on the board, they ask the Gyaner Haat people (Entrepreneur of Knowledge node at community level, Union Digital Centre) for an interpretation.  This helps them to understand about the implications of the messages of the board and what action they should take.
    3. Content:  Weather and climatic information are displayed like daily temperature, rainfall, humidity and sunlight hour along in attractive and relevant ways.
    4. Scientific Information is carried at local level:  Information is collected from the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) on current weather issues on a regular basis and interpreted on the Weather Forecasting Board for three weeks. It also provides agricultural information for farmers proactively like suitable crops variety during that time for planting, whether farmers should go for raising a seed bed, or releasing fries in the gher etc. in the current week.
    5. Link with extension agents:  The board includes necessary mobile phone numbers/contact persons of relevant government departments, so that farmers and fishers can make phone calls to Gyaner Haat and concerned  government professionals for necessary information and advice.

    Digital display of weather forecasting  and flood early warning

    Digital weather boardPractical Action trialled this  manual display board for access to weather and early warning information for reducing loss and better farming preparedness. This was a very low cost solution but effective. Now a day’s supply of electricity and internet connectivity has been expanded through a government Access to Information program (a2i) that is called Union Digital Centre.

    Practical Action in partnership with a2i project has installed a knowledge service branded as Gyaner Haat. In each Gyaner Haat there is an entrepreneur who has a computer, printer and internet connection. We get national weather and flood forecasting information from government authorized sources (Bangladesh Meteorological Department and Flood Forecasting Centre)  and these are translated into local dialects along with descriptive information for the farmers.  Information such as what they will do if the vapor level is high, what would be the effect of higher humidity enables farmers to make better preparation. The digital board allows easy and rapid information delivery at community level and thus contributes to saving poor people’s assets and resources.

    We are implementing this in the Sirajganj and Bogra districts, two of the most flood prone areas , which are recurrently attacked from flood during the monsoon season from July to September. This has been empowering knowledge poor people to benefit from forecasting and disaster preparedness. It is one of the knowledge intervention activities of the Zurich Flood Resilience Project in Bangladesh.


    [1] Coordinator Knowledge Service ( Operations), Practical Action, Bangladesh

    [2] Senior Knowledge Officer ( M&E), Practical Action, Bangladesh

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  • Sustainable Development Goal 11 and South Asian urban poverty

    April 15th, 2016

    The South Asian region comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, The Maldives and Afghanistan. It accounts for 14% of the world urban population and by 2050 most of the population of South Asian countries will be residing in urban areas. However the future for South Asia is greater urban population although most parts of individual countries are rural in nature.

    Urban population of South Asian Region

    Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

    Street dwellers in Dhaka City, displaced from rural areas

    Urbanisation has happened unevenly.  Some megacities have a high concentration of urban population like Delhi, Mumbai, Dhaka, Korachi, Kolkata and Colombo. But there is unequal resource concentration in some areas of those countries and a large population forced to migrate from rural areas.  People migrate for reasons like disasters, conflicts and there are also some pull factors like employment and standard of living.

    Dhaka is the epicentre of Bangladesh’s urban expansion. The World Bank labeled it the world’s fastest growing city, with an estimated 300,000 to 400,00, mainly poor, rural migrants arriving each year. (MHHDC: 2014;World Bank: 2007). A study by the Power and Participation Research Centre in 2010 revealed that only 21% of urban populations were born in the city they resided and this dropped to 16% for Dhaka (PPRC, 2010).

    Table1: Urbanization in South Asia, 2011, UNDP 2014

    Country Urban Population (1000) % of total population living in urban areas Annual rate of change of urban  population (1980-2011)
    India 388,286 31.3 2.87
    Pakistan 63,967 36.2 3.41
    Bangladesh 42,698 28.4 4.19
    Afghanistan 7,613 23.5 4.05
    Nepal 5,176 17.0 5.74
    Sri Lanka 3,175 15.1 0.37
    Bhutan 263 35.6 5.96
    Maldives 132 41.2 4.38
    South Asia 511,309 30.9 3.04

    Disparities in urban areas

    South Asia is the second fastest growing region of the world, with most of the economic growth taking place in urban areas while cities contribute three quarters of the region’s economic output. Though cities make a major contribution to economic growth only a minority benefit from this.  We see high rise buildings and luxurious apartments alongside shanty houses on the street and the growth of slums where millions of poor people live.  The number of slums show the extreme inequality of South Asian cities. 35% of the urban population live in slums in South Asia (State of the World’s Cities 2012/13).

    The  Mahbub ul Haq Centre report 2014 reveals that the extent of urban poverty cannot be understood only by income indicators, it should also focus on its intensity and severity. The urban poor have to buy everything at a higher cost than others and are unable to earn enough to attain a decent standard of living. Besides, income, the poverty of urban people in developing countries also deprives them of benefits like health, education and gender equality.  More than a fifth of children of urban areas in poor and middle income countries are estimated to be stunted and the incidence is higher among lower income groups. A recent ICCDR,B study in Bangladesh shows that three out of four slum households are in the lowest two quintiles (poorest and poorer)  compared with one in five in  non-slum areas.

    Table 2: Socio-economic Status Index, Bangladesh Urban Health Survey 2013, ICDDR,B

    Wealth quintiles City corporation slum City corporation non-slum Other urban
    Poorest 41.9 7.4 27.5
    Poorer 32.5 14.3 22.4
    Middle income 18.5 19.3 21.5
    Richer 6.1 24.5 19.3
    Richest 1.0 34.4 9.2
    Total 100 100 100
    Total Households 14,806 25,385 10,707

    This study also reveals that only 45% of women in slums completed at least primary education compared with 79% in non-slum and 69% in other urban areas.

    Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth

    Cities are the dominant drivers of the South Asian economy attracting huge numbers of people and generating significant economic activity. According to UN-ESCAP urban centres  contribute three quarters of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP).   The service sector makes a significant contribution to the total GDP of these countries. Earlier the agriculture sector played a major role but gradually the economic contribution of agriculture in these countries has been shrinking significantly.

    The South Asian economy has scope to improve its growth with development initiatives for cities and urban people.  To make cities liveable for current and future generations  as well as places of innovation,  it is essential to make existing economic growth inclusive. However the rate of urban poverty is lower than the rural poverty but the total number of poor people in urban area is alarming. For the sustainability of recent economic achievement in poverty reduction urban development initiatives must address poverty reduction. Recent population growth and trends show rapid urbanization, but development policies in South Asian countries are biased towards rural initiatives as the majority of the population live in rural areas.

    #SDGs 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainableSustainable Development Goal 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (SDG11)

    All United Nations countries have committed to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years.  In this global development agenda goal 11 gives priority to urban settlements with 10 targets.  The first is to ensure safe housing and basic services and upgrade slums and the third is to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacities for participatory integrated sustainable human settlement planning and management.

    Practical Action has successfully implemented this kind of urban development project in the South Asian region (Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) in the project Delivering Decentralization: Slum Dwellers Access to Decision making for pro-poor Infrastructure Services (IUD-II Project). The objective was to build the capacity of 44,260 slum dwellers, their organisations and six Local Authorities to plan, deliver and sustain community-led infrastructure services. The project, enabled the most excluded urban poor (untouchables/dalits) to negotiate with city authorities for their infrastructure development, raising funds by themselves for their own community development in addition to municipality grants.  Poor people’s access to other government and development agencies resources has increased, along with the influencing capacity of community organizations, the empowerment of women and raised income levels with demand led skills development.  This project could provide a model for designing similar projects in other cities by linking it with SDG11.


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  • Krishi call centre helps fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    April 8th, 2016

    Krishi Call Centre, a low cost solution to the extension challenges of the fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    “Hello, I am Ahsan Habib from Kishoreganj, my fishes are dying due to skin ulcer. What are the treatment measures for carp ulcerative syndrome? “

    Ahsan Habib is a small scale farmer. He has a pond with an area of 60 decimal (800 sq m approx). He farms carp, tilapia and local catfish in his pond. This season he stocked his pond with carp and tilapia fish. But, during first week of January he discovered his fish were dying with red ulcers on their bodies.

    He knew about the Krishi Call Centre from one of his neighbours, so he called 16123 for suggestions. The fisheries executive suggested he use lime and salt to disinfect the pond water and KMnO4 (potassium permanganate) to help the fish recover. After two days he called back to say that his fish were better now and wanted some suggestions for a proper feeding scheme. After few months, we learned that Mr. Shahidul saved his fishes and expected a 60 to 70,000 (£6,000-7,000) taka net profit. Every day Krishi Call Centre gets this type of call from local farmers about their problems.

    Fisheries for poverty reduction

    fishery BangladeshAttaining higher fisheries growth is a key factor in poverty alleviation in rural areas. Bangladesh has extensive aquatic resources and fish and fisheries are an indispensable part of the lives and livelihood of the people of this country.

    Bangladesh is a south Asian country, situated between latitude 20°34′ and 26°39′ north and longitude 80°00′ and 92°41′ east.  Hundreds of river crisscross the country. The river water is the soul of our country and provides fertility for our motherland. The climate of Bangladesh is congenial to fisheries and the country is endowed with many inland bodies of water. Our country has productive freshwater fisheries comprising 6,27,731 hectares of enclosed water and 40,24,934 of open water. The Bay of Bengal marine resources covers a huge area of 46,99,345 hectares. Bangladesh has 710 km of coastline and 25,000 sq. km of coastal area with a huge population, supporting a variety of land uses.

    The deltaic country is rich in fishery resources including 260 freshwater fish species, 475 marine fish species, 24 freshwater shrimp species, 36 marine shrimp species and other important species. In 2013-2014  Bangladesh produced 34,10,254 tons of fishery products and fish provides about 60% of our daily animal protein intake. In Bangladesh, fisheries sector plays a vital role in our national economy regarding employment generation, animal protein supply, foreign currency earning and poverty alleviation. More than 11% of the total population depends directly and indirectly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood.  The fisheries sector contributes 4.37% to GDP, 23.37% to agricultural GDP and 2.01% of the country’s export earnings. Fish is one of the most familiar, popular, tasty and nutritionally enriched food items of the world including Bangladesh. As a result of the global market economy along with so many food items, garments, and pharmaceutical products,  fish and fishery products also get the opportunity to enter the global market. Thus the fisheries play a crucial role in the national economy of Bangladesh.

    Challenges and opportunities in extension services

    krishiSmall scale pond farming has great potential for contributing to the increase in aquaculture production in coastal regions. These fishery resources are facing a severe threat of depletion because of lack of proper guidelines. The latest communication facilities like newspapers, radio, television and internet are used for disseminating knowledge to farmers.  There is no doubt that ICTs can play a vital role in giving better access to information in a cost effective way to the millions of poor, smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs. Mobile phone based call centers play a role in agribusiness in many countries. In Bangladesh, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions reached 131.085 million at the end of February, 2016.

    It is therefore timely for farmers that the Krishi Call Centre offers real-time advice on farming issues in Bangladesh. The Centre was launched in June 2014 by the Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury by dialing to the number, 16123, whilst addressing the National Digital Fair at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city. This is an initiative between Practical Action and the Agricultural Information Services (AIS), of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    Farmers can call 16123, the number of the centre from any mobile operator to seek advice on any problem related to livestock, fisheries and agriculture production. A farmer from any part of the country can contact to the Krishi Call Centre by dialing mobile number 16123 at the nominal cost  of 0.25 taka for a minute and share their problems/queries related to farming in local dialect. The specialists at the Krishi Call Centre provide suggestions to the farmers immediately. If the call centre operator is unable to address the farmer’s query, they consult with other specialists and then provide feedback.

    The southern part of the country is endowed with vast aquatic resources where aquaculture is a promising sector. But aquaculture is beset with numerous problems, especially disease. Fish farmers face immense problems when their farms are affected by diseases. Very few support centres are available in Bangladesh where they can get crucial information. Sometimes they go to their fisheries officer but fisheries officers are busy most of the time due to lack of enough manpower. It is also almost impossible for officers to visit farms and solve their problems in a single day. Hence, a large number of fish die and farmers lose faith in fish production.

    Another promising sector in aquaculture is shrimp farming.  The government earn a huge amount of foreign currency from this, but its is not free from problems. A viral disease can wipe out a farmer’s whole stock of shrimp and many fish farmers have lost everything. If farmers had enough guidelines regarding shrimp farming, they could easily avoid this horrendous loss.

    DRR and climate change risks solutions in the fisheries sector

    Climate change is an emerging challenge for the fisheries sector. The erratic weather makes our farming and fishing communities more vulnerable. Bangladesh is a low lying country which makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.  It is ranked first in countries affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Every year farmers face massive losses due to heavy rain or flooding. Flooding happens recurrently in some regions in Bangladesh but climate change has made this seasonal phenomenon more unpredictable. Earlier the rainy season lasted from mid of June to September but now it rains even in late of March and carries on until October.

    Practical Answers in Bangladesh have uploaded 500 questions and answers related to DRR and Climate Change adaptation solutions for better farming. These 500 questions and answers have been collected from farmers who are most at risk of flood and other environmental disaster. Zurich Flood Resilience Program has been supporting this. Those questions and answers are validated by the national experts from the Agricultural Information Services and uploaded in the repository of the Krishi Call Centre for answering the questions of farmers throughout the country.

    There are other problems small fish farmers face which hinder them from profiting from their farming, such as feed prices and the adulteration of fish feed. Feed industries do not maintain the appropriate composition of the feed according to their specification. But farmers can prepare their own on farm fish feed with proper guidelines.

    Fish farmers are often exploited by middlemen when they sell their fish to consumers through middlemen. If farmers are regularly updated with price information about their products, they can secure their expected price.

    The government does have some support programs for fisheries and fisher community.  But, due to lack of literacy many farmers cannot attain those services. By asking the Krishi Call Centre a small farmer or new entrepreneur can benefit without intermediaries.

    incoming call rate pie chartAt present of the total incoming calls to Krishi Call Centre, about 71% are agricultural calls, 17% livestock calls and 12% fisheries related. The call rate in case of fisheries is comparatively lower than others. Among the total calls in fisheries, about 43% are disease related, 27% management related, 26% culture related and 4% have other aquaculture related queries. Most of the calls on fisheries come from the northern part but fisheries dominate the middle and southern part of the country. It is necessary to disseminate information about the call centre and its importance to every corner of the country to ensure a golden revolution in our agricultural sectors. Different media workers, newspaper agencies, government offices and NGOs should come forward to publicize Krishi Call Centre services among the grass root level farmers.

    Other contributors: Md. Aminul Islam and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan

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  • Voice messages warn communities at risk of flooding

    March 29th, 2016

    In 2010 Germanwatch estimated that Bangladesh sustained losses of US$ 1.8 billion in damages between 1993 and 2012 from a variety of natural disasters at a cost equivalent to 1.8% of GDP. The 1998 flooding that affected over two-thirds of the country resulted in estimated damages and losses of over US$2.0 billion, about 4.8% of GDP. Research revealed that improve early warning and weather forecasting (EWF) can reduce loss and damage to lives and property at community level due to recurrent multiple disasters.  A qualitative assessment shows that receiving voice messages via mobile phone saved crops with worth $50,000 for some flood vulnerable communities of Sirajganj, an upstream region in Bangladesh that recurrently faces flood. Voice messages were sent to 250 mobile phone users. This amplified to additional 10-15 households and motivated people living in areas at risk during the last year’s monsoon to prepare against an upcoming flood.flood

    In 2015 dependency on nature and uncertainty of poor farmers like Anisur has changed because they received flood forecasts at community level. As a result they had the opportunity to plan for the flood and protect their lives and resources.

    Practical Answers initiated this bulk voice messages system as an experiment during the monsoon in the Sirajganj district amongst people at risk.  This service system was designed for the Zurich Flood Resilience project in Sirajgnaj district.  The voice message from Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB, Flood Forecasting Centre) said that there was the possibility of raised water height and forecast a risk of flooding for the next five days for communities living by rivers such as Jamuna.

    The original message created by BWDB was shared among a limited number of people. Practical Answers Zurich Flood project team collected the message and disseminated it to 250 stakeholders in  vulnerable communities.  It took an average of 36 hours to process and channell this message through a bulk voice message system to our responsive stakeholders.

    Farmer, Anisur Rahman, lives in Paikpara village by the side of the river Jamuna in Sirajgonj district. He told us how he benefited from this flood forecasting system. He heard the flood forecasting information from a volunteer of the project named Asanur Begum.

    “I have a small pond where I cultivate fish but that pond does not have sufficient boundaries that could protect my fish from flooding.  When there was lower rainfall I could save the fish as the pond did not submerge. Asanur apa, a project volunteer, organized a group meeting and shared the voice message about the rising water of the Jamuna river. Listening to her advice and after hearing the voice SMS I caught most of the fish from my pond and sold them for TK 6000 (£6).  Otherwise all my fish would be gone, as in past years and I could not get this amount of money. Short messages saved my fishes and helped me to earn money by selling the fish. So this message should be continued and we should all be responsive to the messages”.


    Other contributors: Mokhlesur Rahman, Guru Das Biswas and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan

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  • Can Practical Answers help alleviate the global burden of illiteracy?     

    September 22nd, 2015

    September 8 was ‘World Literacy Day’.  At this moment there are 775 million people in the world who are illiterate and two- thirds of these are women. 98% of literate people live in developed countries while for the least developed countries literacy rates average around 65%.  Around 40% of adults (15 years and above) in Bangladesh are non literate, roughly 64 million of the employment market.

    The burden of illiteracy

    Bangladesh’s position is in the list of lower middle income countries and per capita income of Bangladeshi people rose from $1190 to 1314$ from last year.  Studies revealed that lower literacy is a cause of multiple under development.  “Illiteracy increases higher rate of unemployment, crime, long term illness and prejudice against women” (World Literacy Foundation).

    A study on child labour shows that earlier generations who had some literacy and numeracy were successful in finding better employment and came out of extreme poverty even in the poverty stricken areas of Bangladesh. This study also shows that among the children who could not continue their schooling due to their parent’s poverty, but had three or four years schooling, were able to find skilled employment in trades such as auto mechanics, driving, welding, tailoring, or carpentry, which have a better daily wage than those who could not read and write. Earlier generations (who were also once child labourers) who did not have literacy and numeracy could not find better employment and continued to work in physical labour intensive employment, with high health risks and lower duration of productivity and lower wages.

    How we can escape from these dire consequences? What are the alternative solutions for those marginalized people? We are paying the cost of illiteracy  in many ways in our daily life . Road traffic injuries cost 1-2% of national GDP each year in Bangladesh while most of the drivers and pedestrians most vulnerable to accidents are poor and illiterate.

    According to World Literacy Foundation research, Bangladesh loses 0.5% of its total GDP to illiteracy. Bangladesh observed World Literacy Day as a high priority and the country’s Prime Minister  attended a national event organized by the Ministry of Education. Therefore it can be said that literacy and education are high priority issues of the state and the policy makers. The country aims to attain 100% literacy rate by the year 2014. The relevant ministry has chalked out an initiative to provide fundamental literacy among 4.5 million non literate people throughout the country.  However what would be the fortune of the 60 million others in Bangladesh?

    Krishi call centre

    Krishi call centrePractical Answers Bangladesh has been implementing decentralized and diversified knowledge services for the marginalised such as the illiterate.  We have the Krishi Call Centre, a mobile phone based technology and knowledge service, where both the literate and non literate can get answers to their livelihood related problems. We introduced voice messages for those who cannot read and write, so they can learn and access information that they require in their daily lives. Besides we have numerous audio and visual knowledge contents and these are followed Open Data Sources Policy so people who are hearing impaired they can also have also learning access.

    A study relating to youth and marginalized employment in Bangladesh shows that there are some departments who offer different training and skills programs but adolescents who dropped out of school could not access those low cost programs as enrolment on those programs requires at least eight years education. Data shows that in earlier generations many people learnt their skills through traditional systems such as carpentry, goldsmithing and weaving. 

    To attain sustainability in our development we should introduce alternative learning systems where non-literate people and those with visual and aural disabilities can also have equal opportunity. By employing different digital means we can continue learning access to these non literate as lifelong continuous education.

    Vocational and technical skills and livelihood related training institutions can introduce voice content, audio content, pictorial materials and apprenticeships with special focus on the needs and limitations of the non-literate and if there is required to change any such policy which is caused to limit the learning scopes of our unfortunate non literates where they are victims of different structural injustice needs to take urgent action.

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  • Floating garden set to become world agricultural heritage

    August 7th, 2015

    Bangladesh is riverine country. Before the Green Revolution of the 1960s most of the country was inundated by seasonal rainfall. People had alternative livelihoods and culture like different flood tolerant rice varieties or green vegetables and transportation such as boats and festivals of boat races and swimming. Now most of the flat land is covered by irrigation projects where embankments and roads are created to cultivate high yield varieties of rice. There are still some regions which are inundated for several of months of the year. Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change and already we are experiencing its symptoms like very heavy rainfall and therefore unexpected flood in some areas.

    Necessity is the Mother of Invention

    floating gardenThere is an old proverb that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, which has become true for our people and country and one ofthe best examples is the floating garden.  Reviewing history and documents has shown me that in some parts of the south of Bangladesh – Nazirpur of Piruzpur, Gopalganj ‘floating garden’ are used to produce green vegetables as there are vast areas which are inundated for long time. Scarcity of land led them to this innovative practice for their survival.



    Promotion of the floating garden at national level

    An article of Haseeb Irfanullah in Land & Food shows that in the year 2000 some national and international NGOs like Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies and IUCN began to promote it in the similar geographical locations of Bangladesh. Successively CARE Bangladesh took it at another geographical region called haor region, a water logged area which usually floods for half of the year.

    Practical Action’s contribution

    For people who live in areas covered by water during the monsoon season, such as the riverine areas of Bangladesh, it is impossible to grow crops. Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.In 2005 Practical Action, Bangladesh took this local technology to Gaibhanda, a disaster prone area that suffers from flood and river bank erosion. River-eroded people sought refuge on embankments and lost their agricultural land and livelihoods. Practical Action wanted to help those internal refugees who had no land of their own, but live in areas surrounded by a large body of water, on common property making this challenge an opportunity. We introduced floating garden as an option for household consumption during the rainy season when the price of vegetables increases because of the lack of production. In 2010 this technology was extended at significant scale to other northern areas under DFID funded Pathways From Poverty project. Plenty of written material, both popular and technical, have been produced by Practical Action.  These include training materials, a technical brief in both Bengali and English, scientific write ups and presentations, blogs ands article for national and international publications. This practice is also taught in different schools as part of their curriculum.

    Finally the happiest news is that Bangladesh government and Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN are working together to declare this local practice as Agricultural Heritage of Bangladesh. We are looking forward to celebrate this as employees of Practical Action, who have made a significant contribution to the development and promotion of this technology..

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  • Development experience from the grass roots

    April 21st, 2015

    An idea began by a couple of international development organizations in Bangladesh has matured from the occasional event to a vibrant Knowledge Network in Bangladesh.

    Documents reveal that in 2009 Action Aid, Bangladesh organized an event called “Poverty and Development: Views from Grassroots”, the first of its kind.  Since 2007 Practical Action Bangladesh has been working with marginalized people with systematic knowledge services at community level and became a strong organizing partner in the following year. Gradually other INGOs which prioritise development from below and sustainability  joined with the initiative – Plan International Bangladesh and Save The Children, Bangladesh.

    1st Regional Knowledge Convention, Khulna, 2013

    There is plenty of theory about the participatory planning process but as yet few ideas and lessons from bottom to top. Since 2009 this consortium has organized four National Knowledge Conventions on the same broad theme, where key words were poverty, development and views from grassroots.

    In 2013 all the partners of this initiative realized that as the platform aimed to capture and take development learning of grassroots to the policy and stakeholders at national level, this convention should be held at local level so that people working with communities can participate directly with their development experiences instead of through their representatives.

    The result was the first regional knowledge convention at Khulna, a coastal region which is the most vulnerable to climate change in Bangladesh.  So review papers on development initiatives, research and best practices of the southern region were presented in that regional convention and came across with some way forward for further policy and practices changes. That first regional convention was widely praised in the national media and by development practitioners. In the concluding session the honourable divisional commissioner and other high officials of that region offered the way forward from a regional perspective.

    Taking this forward from grassroots to policy and development practitioners on 22 April 2015 the Second Regional Knowledge Convention will be held in Rangpur, in the northern region of Bangladesh, a drought prone region along with multiple natural hazards resulting in food scarcity (manga) for part of the year. This time we are aiming to capture the another regional dimension of Food Security, Climate Change and Childrens’ Rights.  So we are anticipating that we will get a national picture of development practices as well as new challenges regarding food security and climate change from both the North and South perspective and will be able to develop a policy briefing paper for development stakeholders.

    We are developing a national knowledge platform where six international development organizations- Action Aid Bangladesh, Practical Action, Plan International, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam and VSO will all work towards improving knowledge services for development initiatives implemented by them and their partners. Bangladesh aims to become a middle income country, where people’s skills and knowledge are enhanced to increase productivity and sustainable growth. This Second Regional Knowledge Convention will highlight the necessity of increasing demand of knowledge services and build national development partners to deliver services at community level as well as enabling policy and development practitioners to create the right environment for improving relevant policies and strategies.

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