Lucy Stevens

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Lucy Stevens is Practical Action's Policy & Practice Adviser - Energy and Urban Services

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

Posts by Lucy

  • Chief Minister inaugurates Dhenkanal’s pioneering faecal sludge treatment plant, Odisha, India

    Dhenkanal, Odisha, India, Dhenkanal
    November 19th, 2018

    26th October 2018 marked a landmark moment for the town of Dhenkanal, with the ceremonial inauguration of the town’s faecal sludge treatment plant.

    The ceremony was presided over by the State’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik (the elected head of the state government). In a true sign of India’s digital age, the Minister inaugurated several such sites simultaneously, connecting via video conferencing to each during a national faecal sludge and septage management workshop held in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. At each site, an event was held attended by all the stakeholders involved in the project.

    We began this work in 2015, when at the time, the urban sanitation situation in Odisha was very poor. The 2011 census found that 35% of urban households in the state did not have toilets, the 2nd worst situation of all India’s states. There was also no provision at all within the state for the safe treatment of faecal sludge, and most urban areas did not have a sewerage system (baring parts of four major towns).

    A year ago we reported on the ‘trade-offs and choices’ in urban sanitation projects, and some of the challenges we have faced in our work to improve the sanitation situation in three towns in India’s Odisha State. It is a huge testament to the project team to have got to this point where the first of three treatment plants we have planned has been inaugurated and is ready to become fully operational.

    The work in Dhenkanal was initiated in 2015. The treatment plant is part of a wider set of activities and has been strongly backed by all local stakeholders, with the state government providing the municipality with new vehicles to help increase rates of pit emptying. It forms an important pillar of the city sanitation plan that the project also supported. We have also supported the construction of community toilets in slums, raised awareness of sanitation and hygiene issues, and built the capacity of local and community stakeholders. We are aiming for a viable end-to-end solution for the safe management of faecal sludge across the town.

    Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

     

    Completed faecal sludge treatment plant, Dhenkanal

     

    Municipal vehicle delivering sludge to the faecal sludge treatment plant, Dhenkanal

    The work is driven under Practical Action’s Project Nirmal, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with the Centre for Policy Research, Arghyam, the respective Urban Local Bodies and the State Government of Odisha.

    As a result of these efforts a recent national sanitation survey placed Odisha among the top-performing states for its efforts to achieve Open Defecation Free status, and make progress on sustainable sanitation more widely.

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  • World Water Week 2018: highlights from an urban WASH fanatic

    Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm
    September 3rd, 2018

    Practical Action Publishing was in the forefront for us this year at World Water Week in Stockholm. The event is a key point in the WASH calendar with 3,700 delegates over a packed week of discussion and learning.

    Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

    Our exhibition stand was a reflection of the depth and breadth of Practical Action’s engagement in water and sanitation issues across the organisation. We featured a range of Practical Action Publishing materials from manuals, to experience-sharing books, to more weighty academic texts. We included materials from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and our Urban WASH and Waste programme. We were joined by Nazmul Chowdhury from Bangladesh, whose attendance was sponsored by the Securing Water for Food programme, featuring our work on sandbar cropping. I was delighted that the opening plenary featured aQysta and their river-powered irrigation pump which we helped pilot in Nepal under our energy programme.

    The materials we featured and the team of staff were a small illustration of the ‘One Practical Action’ we are aiming for in our global strategy.

     

    New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

    Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

    Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment. Written by Kevin Taylor, a world expert with many decades of experience and described as, “one of the most pragmatic and experienced engineers I have ever encountered” by a key adviser from the World Bank. His book is set to become THE go-to text for people designing the details of appropriate, low-cost treatment plants, and was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank.

    Scaling up Community Led Total Sanitation: From Village to Nation, by Kamal Kar, a founding father of the CLTS movement. He charts what he sees as the next stage for the movement as we move to SDG 6 and the global elimination of open defecation. The book will be available from January 2019.

    Associated with this, we featured and promoted Innovations for Urban Sanitation: Adapting Community-led Approaches written with the CLTS Knowledge Hub at Sussex University and PLAN International, and drawing on innovative experiences from Practical Action’s work in Kenya and Nepal. It is a guide for practitioners wanting to adapt CLTS methods to work in urban contexts.

    All of these books are or will be available FREE to DOWNLOAD in perpetuity. The World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have ordered 1,800 copies of the Faecal Sludge book for distribution through their networks globally. And they can be purchased at very reasonable rates.

    As our content development manager Clare Tawney pointed out, the Faecal Sludge book is an illustration of what Publishing aims for in all our work: to provide high quality materials useful to practitioners as much as academics, widely available and distributed, for free or at affordable prices.

    Our promotional push including on social media resulted in a spike in page hits and downloads. My twitter account @lucykstevens had 13,500 impressions, 21 new followers and 57 re-tweets.

    Insights for Urban WASH programming

    While the conference was very diverse, I was following strands and networking with like-minded organisations on global trends in the WASH sector: learning about the state of play on approaches, financing and policy. I was reflecting on the contribution our own projects and programmes make to this, and the extent to which the needs of the urban poor are being addressed. I spent an intense three days listening, discussing, contributing and networking with old friends and new: partners, funders and policy-makers.

    My personal highlights

    1. My week started with a ‘Morning of Systems’ hearing from the partners from ‘Agenda for Change’. This set the tone for the week as the WASH sector seeks to move from delivering taps and toilets to changing the official, government-led systems and capacities which will see these things delivered ‘for everyone for ever’.
    2. Reflections from DFID’s policy team that the tide is turning. Policy-makers have heard and understood the urgency of addressing the needs of the urban poor, and there may even be a danger of forgetting the needs of rural communities. The AfDB is launching a new Africa Urban Infrastructure Fund, and AMCOW includes ‘safely managed’ sanitation which they understand as dealing with on-site urban sanitation in their strategy to 2030. The question remains (as stressed by SWA chief Catarina de Albuquerque) how to make the best use of available resources.
    3. Insights into the continuing fragmentation and dysfunction of parts of the system. From Uganda we heard how well civil society has been organised, but that connections are still not always made between Ministries. In many countries responsibilities for sanitation are still separate from water, and those for sewered sanitation separate from on-site sanitation. Cases where on-site sanitation is taken on as the mandate of a city-level utility are celebrated as a rare exception.
    4. The hilarious interference of pathogens (willing participants kitted out in bright t-shirts) at WSUP’s session on faecal pathways, reminding us of the routes to exposure (the sanipath tool is useful) and the importance of multi-pronged strategies to reducing this, including the on-going role of good hand and food hygiene.
    5. The growing confidence and maturity of container-based sanitation service providers, with good cross-learning happening. We need to think more seriously about how these services could be part of a diverse range of options available to households.
    6. WSUP’s useful framework for the enabling environment for urban sanitation which helped to crystallise much of the good work Practical Action is already doing in this area.

    What was missing?

    • Very limited discussion on hygiene. Few sessions featuring it in the search function of the app.
    • A disappointingly low level of discussion on gender issues in the mainstream sessions. There seems to have been almost no attempt to understand what the gender issues might be in pit emptying and faecal sludge treatment services, and it rarely comes up in discussions.

    There remains much for us to do as Practical Action and at times I felt frustrated by our lack of resource, profile and global reach compared to other larger or more specialist organisations.

    However, I left the conference feeling encouraged that the work we are doing is in tune with current debates in the WASH sector. I will now be better able to guide our future programmes, and help our project teams discuss their work in ways which chime with current thinking. Our work is not at a huge scale, but it is innovate, linked well to existing systems and service providers, and adds new insights to the body of practice globally.

     

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

    April 30th, 2018

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

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

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

    Practical Action at the SEforAll Forum

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

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

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

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

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

    What do we already know about finance for energy access?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • ‘Woman’s Hour’ in Odisha

    Rugby, Warwickshire, UK, Benn Ward
    March 8th, 2018

    Growing up and becoming a young woman in India can be a confusing, terrifying prospect in some rural and poor urban communities. Young women are given the barest of facts and no proper explanation of what is happening to their bodies. Traditions tell them they are both ‘unclean’ while menstruating; and that they are ‘now a woman’. They face up to the terrifying prospect (still practiced in some rural communities) of physical isolation in separate huts for the entirely of their period; as well as the potential of early marriage (despite child marriage being made illegal) to a man likely twice their age or more.

    Sunolo Sakhi radio broadcast

    So what can a simple radio show do in this context? How can the broadcast word make any difference? Of course it cannot be powerful on its own, but when combined with the courage of those teenagers and young adults, it can create shock-waves of change.

    This is something I heard about first hand during a visit to Sunolo Sakhi clubs in the town of Bhubaneswar in Odisha State in November last year. Their Facebook page is here. And see this short Video to find out more.

    A radio show now in its 3rd series with more than 30 hours being on air so far and being broadcast across six towns in the state of Odisha is allowing young women the chance to understand menstruation and all that surrounds it. The show, broadcast for an hour on a Saturday afternoon and then available as a podcast, allows girls to phone in and ask questions of an expert. Practical Action has supported the radio show, and helped girls and young women to form clubs at the community level where they can get together to listen to the show and discuss it.

    Sunolo Sakhi in braille

    To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD, the team launched a braille version of the accompanying material: part of a commitment to make it even more widely accessible.

    These girls have not had an easy time of it. They had to fight with their mothers and fathers to be allowed to even meet up. There was fear that the knowledge would be disrespectful and turn their daughters against them. All this simply to listen to a radio show together once a week.

    The groups have been built, by social community workers. Building trust is essential, we start with a small number of slums (15 per month), and groups are now operating in 80 slums. Social mobilisers work with mothers in the community to build trust. These ice-breaking activities are essential: menstrual hygiene remains a cultural taboo and without building trust, awareness and openness girls would not be granted approval to join the clubs. Forming clubs is not easy, and it is essential to work closely with mothers and other families and community members, especially men.

    Members of the Sunolo Sakhi club

    On the show, questions are answered about the practicalities of menstruation: what is normal; and whether the myths they’ve been handed down are really true. They sometimes listen with their mothers. It opens a space for discussion, guided and organised by local facilitators. This may be the start of allowing these young women some basic agency. In urban contexts at least it can help gradually change the myths that constrain them. They will never forget what they’ve learned from week to week – and when asked how they would pass it on to their daughters they were adamant that the secrecy and taboos of the past would end in their generation.

    Speaking at launch of Sunolo Sakhi braille edition

    I confess I’m a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – a national treasure of British radio which has been occasionally criticised as being too ‘safe’ with its discussions of how to make the best cakes, but also for being dangerously radical. It shares an objective of being a space where women lead the discussion about the topics of the day and how they experience them. It was a revelation to hear from these young women about the power of radio to both challenge and inform.

    What did the girls think should be the future of the show? They felt there was still much to do on the issue of menstrual hygiene, but other associated issues were important too, in particular questions of child marriage, and there certainly seemed a huge appetite for the format and content.

    Sadly no commercial radio station wants to take the show on with its own resources. But for the time being Practical Action hopes to continue our support. Personally I have rarely seen such fantastic value for money in empowering girls to take control.

    Happy International Women’s Day 2018 #IWD #pressforprogress

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  • World Urban Forum 9: The good, the same-old, the hopeful, the shocking…

    Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
    February 13th, 2018

    The World Urban Forum (WUF9) is a major conference run every two years by UN-Habitat. This year it took place in the city of Kuala Lumpur from 7-13 February 2018.

    The last time this global community came together was in October 2016 to negotiate the ‘New Urban Agenda’ – the global urban agreement endorsed by the UN General Assembly about the future of the world’s cities. It was meant to give a steer to how all 17 Sustainable Development Goals should be implemented in cities.

    WUF9 was therefore an opportunity to take stock ahead of the more formal process of SDG reviews that will take place later this year, which will include a review of SDG Goal 11 on cities.

    Practical Action has long been involved in questions of good urban development, speaking from our experience of 20 years or so of working with urban slum communities on building materials, livelihoods, participatory planning and access to basic services. Our current strategy reinforces our commitment to supporting urban informal and slum communities with access to water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management. We have had representation at almost all of such conferences since they began in 2002.

    Uttam Saha, Lucy Stevens and Hasin Jahan at the Bangladesh Exhibition Stand at WUF9

    This time, we were a team of four: I was there from the global policy perspective and to fulfil our role as a lead partner of the World Urban Campaign. Three team members came from Bangladesh including our Country Director Hasin Jahan on the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh’s Urban Development Division. The delegation included the Minister of Housing and representatives from academia, women’s groups, and NGOs. They had an exhibition stand and two events where we had an opportunity to talk about our work.

    So what were my impressions? Of course, with such a large event with over 25,000 participants registered and hundreds of sessions over 7 days, we could only scratch the surface, but these are a few reflections:

    The good

    • UN-Habitat has a good track record of taking multi-stakeholder participation seriously, and this was again the case. Slum dweller representatives talked freely and openly with Ministers: academics, professionals and planners shared their views without an overt sense of hierarchy getting in the way.
    • We were able to form new partnerships and re-energise old ones. For example, we talked with PLAN International colleagues who are very keen to trial some examples of our composting work in Bangladesh. And in Kenya, we have made a link with UN-Habitat’s energy team on issues of waste-to-energy, with an invitation to participate in an up-coming workshop.
    • Our sessions allowed us to showcase our work on Faecal Sludge Management both in the context of secondary towns and for the displaced Rohingya community. They helped us to cement our relationship with key government actors and other partners.

    The Same-old Same-old

    The New Urban Agenda was supposed to be a turning point, setting a new direction for good development in urban areas. It contains excellent wording about e.g.: policies to prevent “arbitrary forced evictions”, “recognizing the contribution of the working poor in the informal economy”, and allowing “all inhabitants, whether living in formal or informal settlements, to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential“.

    However, I was left feeling that it has not had an impact. It is not providing a challenge to ‘business as usual’ for example:

    • The vision for cities expressed by those in authority, or sometimes by technocrats, is too often about glass, steel and highways, but people are rarely present in their vision. Certainly not people who provide services to the city, like recycling its waste, or feeding its office workers, or cleaning its homes. Slums and their resident are still talked about as a problem that other people need to solve – dismissing the people and their ability to be part of and lead their own solutions.
    • Federations of the urban poor represented by SDI (and also outside SDI), still have a struggle to make their voices heard at the local level with their municipalities

      Just outside the conference venue

    • Data collected at the global level (for example on WASH) still does not reflect carefully collected community enumerations despite continuing evidence that these numbers consistently underestimate urban poverty
    • The Special Session on Access to Basic Services seemed old-fashioned, with too much emphasis on city-wide master-planning and not enough on the latest thinking on markets-based approaches, and how to incorporate the formal and informal private sector.

    The Hopeful

    • UN-Habitat has drifted somewhat since Habitat III. It has not take the leadership it should have on SDG discussions, for example. However, a new Executive Director, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif  has taken up her position (just 3 weeks ago). She comes from being Mayor of Penang City in Malaysia for the last 7 years, so hopefully she has the skills to get things done, and to show the leadership the organisation so desperately needs. She is a champion of gender-responsive and participatory planning and budgeting.
    • Similarly the World Urban Campaign remains a growing and committed multi-stakeholder group: a project of UN-Habitat, with a collective aim of campaigning to raise issues of The City We Need. The group felt re-energised and with a clearer direction.

    The shocking

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked. but it was still horrifying to hear about the times when poorer, less powerful city residents are deprived of their homes and their livelihoods. And sometimes this is done in the name of ‘climate resilience’ if people are living on land that is prone to flooding for example (whether or not that flooding may actually caused by man-made actions further up the chain…).

    In my view, the best cities are those with vibrancy, local colour, life and mixing on the streets, safe public spaces that can be used by all for a variety of purposes, bringing together a diversity of people. Cities are their people as much as their physical fabric. It’s similar to Practical Action’s approach to technology: putting people at the heart of the solution. That is what we will continue to push for across all our areas of work, including our programmes in urban slums.

     

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  • Trade-offs and choices: realities in urban sanitation projects

    Dhenkanal, Odisha, India, Dhenkanal
    November 27th, 2017

    Development charities don’t often talk about the difficulties; about the delays and frustrations. They will tell you of the awful situation people faced, and then “ta dah” here’s our solution. Why? Because we don’t want to apportion blame or appear somehow incompetent. But shouldn’t we try to look at the underlying difficulties: alert others, adjust our programming and try to make the system work better? Isn’t there value in being a little more transparent about the difficulties?

    My visit to 3 small towns in India’s Odisha State brought these issues home to me. We have been working there to improve the sanitation situation through a range of technology options, new social and community engagement structures, new partnerships with pit emptiers, and constructing treatment plants for the safe final disposal of the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks.

    We have faced pressures for swift action on the construction of physical infrastructure. This links to the Swachh Bharat Mission – a flagship program of the national government, aiming to make the nation open defecation free by 2019 (the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Ghandi) and to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging. Although it is ultimately the responsibility of municipalities to build and maintain water and sanitation infrastructures in the city, NGOs and civil society can support the process, and work in partnership to help achieve the government’s goals. As a result, NGOs like Practical Action have been given tight targets or deadlines to deliver on their activities. We have been asked to complete all infrastructures within a year. At the same time, the approvals process continues to be slow.

    In two of the towns, the focus of our attention has been on the successful completion of some ground-breaking pieces of infrastructure (in particular faecal sludge treatment plants which will be among the first in the state). If they can be shown to work successfully, they could be a trigger for others to follow, and for the municipalities themselves (who in this case see themselves as integral partners in the exercise) to champion the work. Dealing effectively and safely with faecal sludge is a fast-emerging issue which will only become a higher priority as the Swachh Bharat Mission moves fast on the construction of new toilets.

    Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

    As a result, it has been an incredibly busy and complex time for the team of Practical Action and our local partner organisations. Some of the barriers they have had to overcome have included;

    • The need for approvals for construction, both to secure land and then for designs to be approved. For different types of infrastructure this has involved a whole range of different agencies at different levels, and can be extremely complex and time-consuming.
    • The lack of structure and clear plans at the municipal level for city-wide sanitation or waste management have meant decisions need to be taken from first principles each time.
    • Frequent changes of officials are common, but in some cases key municipal staff have changed 5 or 6 times over 12-18 months. A huge amount of time has to be invested in re-starting these relationships and ensuring understanding and commitments
    • Political pressures towards rapid completion of infrastructure, has squeezed the time available for adequate planning and engagement of all stakeholders in agreeing roles and responsibilities for system operation
    • The need for close interaction with government schemes which shape the available solutions, and which technologies are acceptable. For example, local rules apply to the quality of toilets that can be constructed, what subsidies are available under Swachh Bharat and how the up-front costs can be financed.

    With the Chairperson and Chief Officer, Dhenkanal

    What we have learned is that there are trade-offs and difficult choices to be made. For example:

    • To make any progress at all, especially in the early days of a relationship with a municipality, infrastructure may need to be delivered quickly, squeezing the time available for ideal amounts of planning and engagement with all stakeholders
    • Pressures of time, local regulations and common practices, used to try to ensure good quality construction can counter intentions to use labourers from the local community, or community engagement in other aspects of construction (such as procurement, quality checking, or keeping track of materials)
    • Pressures to start with things that are more within our own control, and which look impressive, ahead of less visible things that might in fact make the greatest difference to slum dwellers. Working on these may have to wait a little until we have built up trust.

    Taking an optimistic view, the pressure to complete construction, for example of the faecal sludge treatment plants, early on in the project (after one year of a two year project for example), does at least give us more time to work on getting the systems right and to monitor operation. In fact, this will ideally require longer than the year we have left to ensure all the hiccups in operation are addressed and resolved. The biggest challenges in the sanitation sector are all about sustained use, operation and maintenance. Community structures are in place to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making, but the detail of O&M still needs to be worked out.

    Community discussion on sanitation

    The World Urban Campaign’s vision is for the #cityweneed. A vision in which all residents have the opportunity for safe, healthy, and productive lives. Building on this, the New Urban Agenda endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016 commits governments to urban development which ‘leaves no-one behind… providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services”. It promotes approaches which are “participatory, promote civic engagement, and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants”.

    New Urban Agenda

    Achieving this as the direction for the achievement of SDG11 and in fact of all the SDGS in cities, will require pioneers, leadership and expertise. Demonstration of what is possible will help turn the tide on rampant inequalities and entrenched power bases. At the same time, the path can be full of obstacles both practical and political.

    • We need to learn, share and influence others to overcome these to achieve results in the best interests of the poorest residents.
    • We need to build trust in new ways of doing things so we can work in ways closer to the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

    There is a need for trust-building everywhere and increased capacity. Peer learning can be a powerful means of developing that, and it is something we hope to be able to foster more of over time in our programme in Odisha: between municipalities, between slum dwellers, between groups of informal workers.

    At Practical Action we will continue to learn and share our experiences, including the challenges. Watch this space!

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  • Imagine bringing up your toddler here?

    Kisumu, Kenya, Kisumu
    July 18th, 2017

    I recently visited Kisumu, Kenya, where Practical Action is working with two local partner organisations (KUAP and Umande Trust) in a five-year project to transform the sanitation situation for 64,200 residents of the city’s informal settlements.

    Drains polluted with waste and human faeces, Obunga, Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    We visited families to understand the extreme challenges faced by parents and carers looking after children under 5 years. As a Mum of two, the youngest of whom turns 6 next month, I could easily make comparisons. There are so many different stages babies, toddlers and children go through in those years, and so many challenges to keeping them healthy and happy. This area has been acknowledged as a blind spot within the already blind spot of understanding how to make progress on sanitation.

    If my children catch one of those nasty ‘winter vomiting bugs’ I know I’m in for a hard time. All that extra washing and cleaning up, and trying to bleach every surface I might have inadvertently contaminated.

    Now imagine dealing with 10 month-old twins with diarrhoea and vomiting with cloth nappies which have to be washed by hand, and where you can’t afford expensive cleaning products. No wonder the whole family got sick.

    Family from Obunga, Kisumu, with their older boy and one of their 10 month old twins (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Children are generally taken out of nappies far earlier in developing countries than in the UK – and it seems that can mean more accidents, that can be hard to clean up where floors are not just mud or concrete and not easily wiped.

    And when children are old enough to manage their own toileting, the pit latrines adults use are not places for children. They are often filthy with excrement on various surfaces, and not designed to be used with little legs. Parents would rather put down old newspapers for children, or get them to use a potty, with the contents disposed in the toilet. But then again, sometimes children have to be left while the parent is at work in which case they are more inclined to just use an open space outside.

    Latrines are often generally avoided by young children (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    This is not uncommon. In a global study in countries with poor sanitation, UNICEF found that over 50 percent of households with children under age three reported that the faeces of their children were unsafely disposed of. Even among households with improved toilets or latrines, some unsafe child faeces disposal behavior was reported by caregivers.

    Every time these children and carers want to wash their hands they need to get the basin, soap and container of water out separately. It’s enough of a struggle to remind my children to always wash their hands and that’s when the basin is right there with soap on hand.

    Handwashing (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Practical Action is working to transform the situation – using a combination of school-led and community-led total sanitation, which uses visual demonstrations to explain how an environment polluted with so much faeces is damaging everyone’s health. Encouraging handwashing and making it easier is also an important focus. We’ve been running the programme for a little over a year with good results so far, and action will be ramping up in the coming year. With the support of Public Health Officers and a cadre of amazingly motivated ‘natural leaders’ from the community we think the collective behaviour change needed will be ignited.

    As one Public Health Officer told me: “it’s one thing to force people to build toilets, but that’s not the answer. What matters is that they are used by everyone all the time.” And that’s the change we’re aiming for: a shit-free environment and a healthy future for Kisumu’s children.

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  • CLTS making an impact on sanitation in Kisumu

    Kisumu, Kenya, Kisumu
    July 4th, 2017

    Over the last year or so, Practical Action and our partner organisations KUAP and Umande Trust, have been rolling out a programme of urban-adapted CLTS (community-led total sanitation) in informal settlements in Kisumu. The work is part of a five-year project supported by Comic Relief.

    Last week I visited and was treated to a demonstration of some of the team’s favourite tools, as they described both what works best, and some of the challenges of taking these tools designed for rural contexts, into urban environments.

    Open Defecation hotspot in Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    Differences in context

    Two years ago, I visited similar work in Nakuru, and summarised 11 differences between urban and rural CLTS. Many of these also apply in Kisumu. The local team themselves identified these features of urban areas as the most important in making collective triggering and behaviour change more challenging:

    • Large areas with large populations, with the need to break this down into smaller chunks to reach more people
    • Large numbers of tenants, with the need to persuade landlords to invest in better sanitation
    • The opportunity to reach people through the area’s schools, with children taking messages home from ‘health clubs’
    • A diverse, shifting, population where attempting to persuade your neighbour to change their ways may be seen as disrespectful
    • Open Defecation does not only mean hotspots, but can also mean polluted latrines, leaking and ‘hanging’ toilets open to the drains, flying toilets, open dump sites with waste such as sanitary towels and nappies, burst sewer lines, and the work of pit emptiers where the contents of a pit is emptied directly onto open ground.

    We have mapped all these sources of open defecation through transect walks using GIS technology and combined all the information to generate open defecation ‘heat’ maps. The aim of a CLTS approach is to help communities to eliminate all of these.

    Open Defecation Hotspot Analysis for Obunga low income settlement, Kisumu

    Favourite triggering tools

    In CLTS, it is often the ‘triggering’ process that is the most dramatic. This is the moment when, through demonstrations and visual tools, community members realise the drastic environmental situation they find themselves in, where they are, in all likelihood, eating each other’s poo.

    Public Health Officers trained by Practical Action have been supporting the process through their cadre of community health volunteers. At the same time, natural leaders have emerged from initial triggering events. These passionate and committed people have done the bulk of the triggering events so far. Many of the tools they use are familiar to CLTS practitioners such as:

    • Mapping of landmarks, houses and open defecation hotspots
    • Transect walks to open defecation hotspots and broken latrines
    • Bread and faeces side by side to watch the flies move from one to another
    • Clean water which is then polluted by faeces on a stick, and people no longer want to drink it
    • Calculations of the volume of faeces present in the community
    • Health cost calculations of the amounts spent on treating diseases caused by an environment polluted with poo

    Among the most impactful of these was reported to be the health cost calculation because in urban areas, people are acutely aware of the cost of everything.

    CLTS triggering in action, Nyalenda, Kisumu (c) Practical Action, Patrick Meinhardt

    In the area of Nyalenda called ‘Dago’ where we met the team, there has been a dramatic improvement. A major search had to be mounted to find any faeces with which to demonstrate! It was reported that almost all the plot-owners had now built toilets. But this area was more spread-out with enough space for digging simple pit latrines and fewer tenants. The process will likely be slower and need to involve many more stakeholders and different technology choices in more densely populated areas where soils either collapse too easily, are too rocky, or where the water table is high.

    We are learning from our recently completed work in Nakuru, and as the process moves forward we will share more highlights. The Public Health Department are keen to learn from others and celebrate the first communities becoming ODF. That may require some local adaptations of the verification protocol relax the requirements for hand washing facilities at the toilets, which is what has blocked settlements in Nakuru from achieving this status.

    As the process moves forward, we’ll share more updates and insights via our blog.

    Together with Plan International and the CLTS Knowledge Hub at IDS, Sussex University, we are compiling experiences of urban CLTS to create a new guide that will be launched later this year. This builds on the ‘Addis Agreement‘ which shares experiences of urban CLTS published in 2016.

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  • Habitat III: The buzz word is “implementation” – but will anything really change?

    Quito, Ecuador, Quito
    October 17th, 2016

    Quito Habitat IIIThis week in Quito, the UN Secretary General and delegations from around the world are gathering for the Habitat III conference, and to sign up to the “New Urban Agenda”. This is the first all-UN meeting since the SDGs were agreed and the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. It is a once-in-twenty years opportunity for all member states to agree to a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future for the world’s cities and urban spaces.

    Practical Action is here, speaking at events, and as a member of the General Assembly of Partners, and the World Urban Campaign. We are talking about a greater voice for slum dwellers and the informal sector based on our urban water, sanitation and waste management work. A team from our Latin America office are here talking about the great work we do on disaster risk reduction in urban contexts in general, and as part of the Zurich flood resilience alliance.

    Unlike many UN negotiations, the debate here is less about agreeing the fine details of the text, and more about what will follow. The buzz word everywhere is about ‘implementation’. We need to move from discussion to putting this new agreement into practice on the ground. And the need for that is enormous. The world’s urban populations continue to grow, and with it urban inequalities and the number people living in dire poverty is also growing. People continue to settle on lands which are at risk of natural disasters. And at the same time, evictions of slum dwellers continue, sometimes in the name of development.

    facilitators-raju_origThis stunning set of photographs taken by women slum dwellers as part of a PhD project we are jointly supporting with the Bartlett Centre, UCL, shows some of the daily struggles of accessing water in Kathmandu.

    The Habitat III process is calling for ‘implementation’ and Practical Action among many others is already implementing work in the spirit of the New Urban Agenda: making space for the voices of slum dwellers and informal workers, ensuring they can live with dignity and without fear in safer, cleaner environments. We were already doing this, and will continue to do this.

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    So what added value with having a global agreement bring? Past agreements of this sort provided some added leverage for a few years, and then were largely forgotten, having very little influence. First, it is only if this agreement can be tied both to the SDGs and to global accountability mechanisms that it will really have some traction. Second, it needs to be localised and made real not at the level of national governments, but for local authorities and city leaders.

    The agreement requires a report on progress to the UN General Assembly every four years, feeding into the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as a way of ensuring coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals. But will this really be enough to ensure progress? So for all the excitement of a global agreement being signed this week, this is surely just the start. Much work remains to be done to lock-in the good words and turn them into something meaningful.

    Practical Action at Habitat III

    Tuesday 18th: 8-10am, National Library CSO Stakeholder Roundtable

    Tuesday 18th: 8-9am R7 Building Inclusive and Resilient Cities for the urban poor to withstand natural disasters. Practical Action Peru DRR lead Pedro Ferradas talking about our experiences of DRR and reducing vulnerabilities.

    Wednesday 19th: 9:30-10:30 R12 Practical Action side event: Slum Dwellers, youth, city-wide planning and accelerating urban service delivery together with DPU and World Vision International.

    Video of Lucy speaking about the issues that matter to Practical Action as part of the World Urban Campaign.

     

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  • World Toilet Day 2015: good news and bad news

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    November 18th, 2015

    But Mummy, I CAAAAN’T WAIT – the familiar cry for anyone with children. Fortunately we live in a place where a safe, clean toilet our children can easily use, with soap and water on hand, is never far away.

    But this basic human right is not available to everyone. #wecantwait is the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day on 19th November.

    BAD NEWS: The 2015 JMP report finds that 2.4 billion people are still without access to improved sanitation facilities and 946 million still defecating in the open. Schools and health centres also frequently lack these basic facilities.

    GOOD NEWS: Globally, progress has been made, and we should celebrate this. In 1990 only 61 countries had more than 90% of their population with access to improved sanitation. In 2015, there are 97 countries that have reached that milestone.

    BAD NEWS: However, in urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa the situation has worsened over the last few years, as provision of sanitation has failed to keep up with population growth. There was a decline in water or sanitation coverage in urban areas in 14 out of 46 countries between 1990 and 2015. There are large inequalities in access within urban areas according to wealth, and while in many countries, the gap is closing, that is only happening slowly.

    We know this matters because the health burden of poor sanitation in urban areas can be particularly acute. It has been linked to child malnutrition and stunting as a result of recurrent bouts of diarrhoea. The difficulties for women to find a safe, dignified place to use a toilet and in particular to deal hygienically and discretely with menstruation are often enormous.

    GOOD Beautiful toiletNEWS: is that governments and donors have been trying to catalyse change, and put more focus on sanitation. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership brings together over 90 country governments, external support agencies, civil society organisations and others to catalyse political leadership and action. The last set was agreed in April 2014, with commitments made by 43 countries and 12 donors.

    Many of the country commitments were about strengthening the enabling environment, and so did not focus on particular targets or segments of the population. On the other hand, countries were encouraged to focus in particular on reducing inequalities and improving sustainability. In three-quarters of country overarching visions there was a recognition of the elimination of socio-economic or geographic inequalities, and 27 countries made a total of 58 commitments to eliminating inequalities.

    BAD NEWS: However there were still only 34 commitments (11%) which mentioned the word ‘urban’ and only 6 (2%) which made specific reference to poor urban communities or urban inequalities. One commitment referred to tackling faecal sludge management which is a key part of the urban sanitation challenge.

    In September this year, the global community adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 tackles water, sanitation and hygiene, and within that Target 6.2 is about sanitation:

    Target 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

    To be measured as: Percentage of population using safely managed sanitation services

    Which means: Population using a basic sanitation facility (current JMP categories for improved sanitation) which is not shared with other households and where excreta is safely disposed in situ or transported to a designated place for safe disposal or treatment

    This goal is ambitious. We have a long way to go in achieving even basic sanitation for all, and only 15 years to achieve it. At the next high level meeting of SWA in April 2016, we would love to see more commitments with a specific focus on the urban poor, and on the safe disposal, transportation and treatment of excreta.

    Practical Action has been working on these issues on the ground for a number of years, and has decades of experience of working with the urban poor in Africa and Asia. We have exciting work on faecal sludge management in particular with urban poor communities in South Asia. We are committed to sharing our learning ensuring a wider adoption. Based on this experience we are calling for:

    • The SDGs, to measure and prioritise access to basic sanitation for all, while in urban slums in particular, work towards safely managed sanitation which will actually lead to improved health.
    • Data disaggregation which helps us understand the global progress (or lack of it) on sanitation for the urban poor – welcoming the work already done on this by JMP
    • More countries and donors to make commitments specifically for the urban poor in the next round of Sanitation and Water for All and at the South Asian Conference on sanitation in January 2016.
    • More and better quality engagement with civil society organisations in sanitation planning at national and local levels
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