Jodi Sugden


Jodi Sugden is Policy Assistant in Practical Action's Policy department

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Posts by Jodi

  • The Inspirational Women of Bangladesh

    March 8th, 2016

    I have been in Bangladesh for the last 8 days, visiting Practical Action’s flood Early Warning System project on the banks of the Jamuna river. During this time, I have had the pleasure of meeting some inspirational women that I would like to introduce on this International Women’s Day 2016.

    First of all: the women of the Saidabad Community Based Organisation (CBO).

    women empowerment CBO

    Women of Saidabad CBO

    Of the 70 CBO members, 43 are women. Every week they deposit Tk 10 (about 9p) into the CBO savings account. It doesn’t sound like much, but it soon adds up and if and when their village is inundated by floods, they can take out the money they have saved and buy food for their families. The CBO has an annual plan, which includes such activities as repairing the road to the village, and assisting with distribution of government welfare to elderly people in the community.

    One of their most critical functions is their role in the flood Early Warning System (EWS). The national Flood Warning and Forecasting Centre (FWFC) generates a flood warning for each Union Parishad (local administrative unit) which is sent by voice SMS to several people in that area, including three of the CBO members. They share this information by word of mouth, through the CBO, giving people as much as three days warning ahead of the flood, with which they can move their belongings, livestock and seed to higher, drier ground, harvest what can be salvaged from their crops, and move their families to a safer location, perhaps with friends or relatives in nearby towns.

    I would also like to introduce Jayashri, who teaches at the Saidabad school (on the right):

    women empowerment

    Teacher at Saidabad school

    This particular school is funded by BRAC, one of the largest and most well-established NGOs in Bangladesh, which supports a school in nearly every village in the country. Although Practical Action does not support this school directly, this basic education is essential if women and girls are to thrive in their local community – and to lead and contribute to the CBOs!

    There are many others I could mention, like the entrepreneur who provides digital services to her local community using a laptop, printer and modem provided by Practical Action’s V2R project, generating a very good livelihood that supports her family. In return, she also helps to spread flood early warnings, by updating the community weather information board.

    These inspirational women have not got to where they are without facing some challenges. Bangladesh has made incredible gains in reducing gender disparity, with the 8th lowest gender gap in the developing world (World Bank, 2016). The maternal mortality rate halved between 2000 and 2014 (Ibid), and women’s life expectancy rose from 54.3 years in 1980 to 69.3 years in 2010 (ILO, 2016). The female under five mortality rate is 20% lower than that of boys (UNICEF, 2011). Furthermore, the number of women holding seats in national parliament doubled between 2000 and 2014, from 9 to 20 (World Bank, 2016).

    However, some inequalities remain. While secondary school enrolment for women has increased to 51.3%, the percentage of those who finish secondary education varies widely by income group: 93% of women from high income families finish, while only 31% of women from low income families do (Ibid).

    According to the ILO, Bangladeshi society is moving away from the idea of women as a financial liability, however, their participation in the jobs market is concentrated in the lower level jobs, and on average are paid around 50% less than men.

    So yes, challenges remain. But Bangladesh has made huge strides towards gender equality in the last 15 years, and the women I have been lucky to meet this week are a living testament to what can be done for the country when they are enabled to lead and support their communities. Here’s to another 15 years of moving in the right direction.



    ILO (2016). A quiet revolution: women in Bangladesh. Available at:–en/index.htm

    UNICEF (2011). A perspective on gender equality in Bangladesh. Available at:

    World Bank (2016). Gender Data Portal. Available at:


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  • Disaster Risk Reduction and political economy

    January 19th, 2016

    At Practical Action, we know that investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is far more effective and efficient at saving lives and livelihoods than post-disaster relief – although both are necessary, to a greater or lesser degree. When more is invested in appropriate DRR, less relief is needed – as per the oft quoted fact that every $1 spent on DRR saves at least $7 in post-disaster relief (UNDP, 2016).

    Unfortunately, it is not always possible to carry out those DRR activities that are the most obvious or the most urgent, because DRR is inextricably linked to the political economy.

    For example: Practical Action works with one community just outside Piura, in northern Peru. Piura is the capital of a province with the same name and is economically the second most important region in the country outside of Lima.

    The community of Polvorines is built on a seasonal wetland, so that during heavy rains, the water naturally drains there. The last time there was severe El Niño flooding in the area many houses were washed away and great damage done to life and livelihoods. One might think this would deter people from living in the area, but that was over 10 years ago now, and recent migrants to the area find it hard to worry about such a sporadic event. Furthermore, they have put much time, effort and resources into building their homes in a place from which they can reach their livelihoods in Piura, and the surrounding agricultural zone. Persuading them to move would not be easy, even if it were as simple as moving them into ready-made housing in another location – which it is not. The local municipality will not encourage them to leave either, as it was they who encouraged them to live here in the first place.


    flood disaster Peru risk reduction

    Los Polvorines, Peru


    So what can we do in such a difficult situation? Practical Action is using the Markets for DRR approach (M4DRR) to analyse some of the post-disaster risks associated with reconstruction, and see if they may be reduced. For example, should a large reconstruction effort be needed, will there be sufficient labour and construction materials available locally? Where are the bottlenecks in the market chain that moves construction materials to the area, for example, are there any vulnerable bridges that might be washed out? How much will it cost to reinstate basic services, such as water and electricity, and who will be able to access credit to pay for these? On what terms?

    The people of Los Polvorines are endangering themselves by living on unsuitable land because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. In the long-run, choices will have to be made. A flood event may provide the stimulus to move households to a more secure and appropriate location, if such a place can be found which still enables people to access their livelihoods. If not, ways will have to be found to make the area more suitable for habitation, for example by improving drainage, or raising houses onto stilts. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the community of Los Polvorines to mediate risk wherever possible.


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  • If we aim to leave no-one behind, we must reduce inequality within countries too

    September 22nd, 2015

    The concept of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries is integral to the language of international development (the clue is in the name). Even when we talk about ‘the global North’ and ‘the global South’, the meaning is clear: the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. This inequality is deeply unjust, with roots in an exploitative colonial system, and pernicious effects on human development and wellbeing. However, it is not the only inequality we must be concerned with.

    Inequality in the UK is on the rise: the Gini coefficient has risen from 0.24 to 0.34 in just 30 years, and the richest five families in the UK are now wealthier than the poorest 20% of the population. One in five people in the UK live in poverty, and research by Oxfam suggests that another 800,000 children and 1.9 million adults could be pushed into poverty in the UK by 2020.

    Internal inequality is not just a problem for the ‘developed’ countries: six out of ten of the world’s most unequal countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. The picture in Asia is not much better: China has made rapid gains in development, but the top 20% still earn around 10 times as much as the bottom 20%. The Gini coefficient for Latin America as a whole has dropped from 0.53 to 0.50 in less than 10 years, indicating that inequality is reducing; however, five countries still have coefficients above 0.50, and ten of more than 0.40.


    Young children standing in a typical poorly ventilated kitchen, Thimura, Nepal.

    Young children in a typical poor home in Nepal.


    Why does inequality matter?

    Furthermore, inequality will play a large part in how different sectors of society experience climate change. Take flooding in the UK, for example. Around one in six households in the UK is at risk of flooding, but of these households, there will be varying levels of social vulnerability, from those with savings and insurance, to those who have neither. This is the difference between temporary loss and damage, and the loss of all assets with no way to recover. Flood disadvantage is a combination of both high flood risk and high social vulnerability; reducing inequality and social vulnerability would therefore reduce flood disadvantage. UK government spending does not currently take social vulnerability into account however; around half of the investment to be made in reducing flood risk will go to local authorities with no significant flood disadvantage.

    In Bangladesh, as in many developing countries, the majority of women are employed in agriculture but do not own any land, and have very limited access to financial services such as loans and insurance. As their agriculutral systems are affected by changing rainfall patterns or rising sea levels and increasing salinity, women are less able to respond and recover form losses than men. This reinforces and worsens inequality, further marginalising women and pusing them further into poverty.

    Reducing inequality within countries, both ‘developed’ and ‘developing’, is therefore not only a moral right, but an essential part of building resilience to climate change and securing sustainable development for all.

    [1] A Gini coefficient of 0 would indicate perfect equality, where everyone has the same income, and 1 would indicate that all wealth is held by one person.


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  • Institutionalised vulnerability and the myth of the ‘natural’ disaster

    August 14th, 2015

    There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ disaster. Whether an extreme weather event or hazard results in a disaster depends on the degree of resilience a community enjoys. And what begins as one disaster can soon cascade into multiple, household level catastrophes.

    In March 2015, the Rimac river valley, east of Lima, Peru, experienced it’s heaviest rainfall in 80 years. This contributed to a mudslide that devastated the town, killing at least nine people and destroying homes and places of business.


    landslide Peru Chosica flood el nino


    Daniela Zügel spoke with those who lost their businesses to the mudslide (reported in her blog), including Señora Victoria, who owned a tire repair business. Victoria lost her business registration documents in the landslide; because was unable to report the loss within 48 hours of the landslide occurring – due to road blockages and the pressing need to support her family in the immediate aftermath – she will receive no support from the state to rebuild her business or replace her lost assets. This institutionalised vulnerability is a major contributing factor to the disaster that has struck Victoria, her family, and the families of the three people previously employed by the tire repair shop.

    The earthquakes in Nepal in late April and May 2015 revealed a similarly devastating level of institutionalised vulnerability. The Kathmandu valley has seen rapid urbanization in recent years, while emergency services have remained woefully insufficient; critical infrastructure and essential services were considered extremely vulnerable even before the earthquake struck (British Red Cross, 2014).


    earthquake Nepal


    Re-development is haphazard; building codes exist, but they are insufficient to protect from earthquakes such as those experienced this year, and only a fraction of new builds comply with them anyway. To make matters worse, new settlements on the edges of Kathmandu are being built in areas that have already experienced landslides, increasing the risk of further slope failure during the heavy monsoon rains.

    The situation in Nepal pushed humanitarian agencies to respond with emergency supplies and temporary shelter. However, this is not a long term solution. If we are to stop natural hazards from becoming human disasters, it is essential that we understand and deconstruct institutionalised vulnerability, and build community resilience in a sustainable way. In Peru, this may mean working with government institutions to re-design the laws that govern emergency response. In Nepal, this might mean working with the public and private sector to ensure that building regulations are appropriate and enforced.

    Practical Action is leading the way in measuring and strengthening community resilience through it’s work on the ground and it’s innovative partnerships, most notably with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, which brings together Zurich Insurance, Practical Action, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Making Centre, and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis to develop tools and strategies for measuring and strengthening community resilience to extreme flood events. The methodology is still under development, but the valuable lessons being generated will certainly enhance the quality and impact of our Disaster Risk Reduction projects in the future.




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  • Climate Smart Agriculture: making adaptation work for smallholder farmers

    April 27th, 2015


    The 9th Community Based Adaptation Conference  (CBA9) will take place in Kenya from the 24th to the 30th April. Practical Action is a co-sponsor of this event, and is sending speakers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the UK and Sudan. On Tuesday 28th April, Chris Henderson will be participating in a session on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’.


    Agriculture is fundamental to climate change adaptation in developing countries:

    • 50% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector – in the Least Developed Countries, it is 72%
    • Agriculture is dependent on biodiversity and other natural resources, and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events
    • One billion people continue to suffer from food insecurity – this is expected to rise by 15-40% by 2050 as a result of climate change
    • In developing countries, women are usually responsible for collecting fuel and water, and are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods – they will bear the greatest burdens of climate change, and have the potential to contribute to adaptation


    Technology choice is key in agricultural systems, and is never neutral. Which technologies are utilized in particular contexts will have social, economic and ecological impacts.

    ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is a broad term with relevance to all actors in the agricultural sector, from large-scale commercial farmers in the US to market vendors in Bangladesh. As such, it is being used to define diverse agricultural technologies and approaches, some of which are unsustainable and do not contribute to long-term food security or adaptive capacity.

    If Climate Smart Agriculture is to be useful for smallholder farmers in developing countries, it must embody the principles of Technology Justice:


    • It must be inclusive

    Existing production and market systems should be modified to be facilitate equitable access for smallholders to the technologies they need to reduce vulnerability and risk, capitalise on opportunities, and improve their livelihoods, resilience and well-being.

    Agro-ecology is a powerful tool for the inclusion of resource poor or otherwise marginalized farmer groups. It is knowledge-intensive rather than capital-intensive, minimizing financial outlay and the risks associated with taking loans to cover costs. By making production less expensive, agroecological approaches increase access to market systems for smallholder farmers, and in particular, women.


    Treadle pump agriculture technology women farmers

    Farmers in Nepal use a treadle pump to water their crops. Credit: Peter Crawford


    • It must support pro-poor innovation

    Agricultural innovation in response to climate change must move beyond vulnerability reduction; policies and interventions must be designed to increase the dynamic ability of communities to respond to unpredictable climate change.

    Key to appropriate innovation is user-centred design; the most effective technologies are developed in conjunction with those who will use them. Both women and men must be fully involved in the design and management of technologies and the institutions that affect their use. Knowledge and capacity-building for adaptation to climate change should integrate both scientific knowledge and the experiential, context-specific knowledge of end users.

    Investment in pro-poor innovation should focus on identifying alignment between private sector interests and development objectives for mutually beneficial relationships.


    • It must be sustainable

    High external input, fossil fuel-based monoculture production systems are unsustainable. Agro-ecological systems generate less greenhouse gas emissions, and the diversification of crops increases the resilience of smallholder farmers to extreme weather events and climate change.


    Biodiversity agriculture resilience adaptation

    Indigenous farmers in Bolivia display just a few of the 256 varieties of potato that can survive the harsh growing conditions of the high Andes. Credit: Ana Castañeda


    In many cases, agro-ecological production systems produce greater yields than high external input systems, particularly in unfavourable environments (e.g. here, here  and here). However, agroecology is fundamentally about optimizing production for the maximum sustainable yield. The natural resource base should nto be an after thought once the maximum yield has been attained; it is fundamental to continued food production.


    For further information on Practical Action’s participation at CBA9, see here


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  • Calculating the cost of landslides in Nepal

    April 20th, 2015

    Nepal is a mountainous country characterized by rugged topography, steep relief, extensive deforestation and high levels of seismic activity. With a climate characterized by intense rainfall and flash flooding, especially during monsoon season, the country is highly susceptible to landslides.

    All natural disasters pose a threat to poverty reduction efforts, as communities are forced to divert scarce resources towards rebuilding their lives. However, the socio-economic cost of landslides at the community level is difficult to measure and often overlooked.

    Direct costs include:

    • Deaths and injuries
    • Loss of houses, infrastructure, livestock and farmland
    • Interruption of communication and transport systems

    Indirect costs include:

    • Loss of agricultural, forest and industrial productivity
    • Loss of tourism revenue
    • Reduced real estate value
    • Adverse effects on water and irrigation facilities
    • Loss of tax revenues
    • Disease epidemics

    To better understand the impacts of landslides on rural communities and their coping strategies, Practical Action undertook a study of the Sindhupalchowk landslide, which occurred on the 2nd of August 2014 at 2.35am.


    Landslide Nepal cost communities

    The Sindhupalchowk landslide (Piggott, 2014)


    Eight wards of Sindhupalchowk were affected; 145 people died, and almost 450 people were displaced. The Sunkoshi river was blocked by a barrier of debris 409m long, 106m wide, and up to 55m high. Over 100 houses were destroyed, and many more houses and fields were inundated by the 3km lake created by the debris barrier. The landslide disrupted the functioning of two hydro-electric power plants, leading to a 1.5 hours of additional power-cut across the country – a loss of 57 MW of electricity.

    The main highway linking Kathmandu with China was blocked for several days and has taken over seven months to repair and return to normal traffic. Custom officers on this highway usually collect NPR 500 million (around $5 million USD) in tax revenues per month on this highway.


    Landslide Nepal cost

    Sindhupalchowk District (outlined in red) (Google Maps, 2015)


    Understanding the socio-economic costs of landslides helps governmental officials, policy makers, and managers of emergency response to:

    • Make more informed decisions on how to provide post-disaster assistance and relief
    • Effectively allocate money for landslide prevention in the future
    • Carry out repair and maintenance work
    • Estimate the cost and benefit of resettlement program for the landslides victims


    The full report can be found here



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  • The 9th Community-Based Adaptation Conference: ensuring adaptation works for smallholder farmers

    April 17th, 2015

    The 9th Community-Based Adaptation conference (CBA9) will take place in Nairobi, Kenya from 24-30 April, 2015. Organized by the International Institute of Environment and Development, and co-sponsored by Practical Action, the conference will bring together development practitioners to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing community-based adaptation to climate change.

    The challenge of climate change adaptation

    Climate change will exacerbate the global challenges we face: delivery of basic services, providing enough food for a growing and urbanizing population, and responding to increasing natural disasters. The impacts of climate change will be difficult to predict; however, it is clear they will be unequally distributed. The poor and the marginalized, particularly women and girls, will bear the greatest burdens.

    Women smallholder farmers community-based adaptation

    Women and girls are often more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and will bear the greatest burdens from climate change. Credit: Samuel Rendon/ Manuel Seoane

    It is vital that adaptation funding is targeted to benefit those who will find it hardest to respond. Adaptation must move beyond vulnerability reduction to building long-term adaptive capacity, empowering communities to make livelihood decisions in the face of unpredictable climate change.

    To take adaptation to scale, we must re-vision the role of the private sector. Development practitioners must facilitate equitable market access for those living in poverty, and inclusive, pro-poor technological innovation that benefits both smallholders and private investors.

    Technology choices affect communities’ adaptive capacity

    Technology choices made by farmers, planners, policy makers, research and the private sector to enable or promote agricultural adaptation to climate change are not neutral. Choices between different technologies and systems of governing these technologies have consequences for access (inclusivity), sustainable use (choices available for future generations), and resilience.

    As a sector, agriculture is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and climatic change, and in developing countries it employs over 50% of the population. Therefore, agricultural technology choices will have a huge impact on food security and economic development. If agricultural adaptation is to be beneficial for smallholder farmers in developing countries, technology choices must improve adaptive capacity and maintain the natural resource base upon which livelihoods depend.

    Key messages for CBA9

    • All actors – government, civil society, private sector – must recognise that technology choices are not neutral and have consequences for adaptive capacity, inclusivity, and sustainability
    • Communities must be re-engaged in analysis, planning and innovation in response to climate change
    • If community-based adaptation is to be effective, it must utilise both indigenous knowledge and experience and climate information and forecasts, with acknowledgement of what we do not know about the future
    • The gendered impacts of climate change and the additional burdens it will place on women and girls must be placed centre stage
    • We need to re-vision private sector involvement in community-based adaptation to take it to scale – this will require access to markets for products and inputs, and mutually beneficial relationships
    Market Bangladesh private sector community-based adaptation

    Taking community-based adaptation to scale will require access to markets for products and services. Credit: Mehrab ul Goni

    Practical Action at CBA9

    Practical Action will be sending representatives from Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru, the UK, Sudan and Zimbabwe to CBA9, who will present  a selection of Practical Action’s community-based adaptation projects from around the world (posters here, under ‘Key Publications‘). They will also facilitate several interactive learning sessions on a range of key issues, including the use of climatic information, the role of the private sector, and Climate Smart Agriculture.

    Find Practical Action at CBA9 here, and remember to follow us on Twitter! #cba9 @Jodi_Sugden @Chris_P_Hen @ColinMcQuistan

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