Sanjib Chaudhary


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Posts by Sanjib

  • What’s in a name?

    December 18th, 2014

    As we left the narrow alleys of Cusco, the natural delights of country life awaited us. The extremely beautiful countryside kept me glued to the car window throughout the journey.

    Being new to the place, for me, the most notable things on the way to Pomacanchi from Cusco were graffiti and lakes. The houses and walls that were painted with election symbols and slogans for the recently held regional and municipal elections pose stark contrast to the surrounding – a sort of visual pollution.

    However, the lovely lakes dotting the stunning landscape never let me look away. The area is famous for lakes and springs – Pomacanchi, Pampamarca, Acopia and Mosoc Llacta being the biggest and most important lakes in the area.

    A beautiful lake on the way

    A beautiful lake on the way

    Crossing Pomacanchi, the picturesque and biggest lake in the district, we arrived at the Pomacanchi District Municipality after two hours. Facing the yellow municipality building with arches is a wide square housing restaurants, parking space, flag poles, statues, benches and a small garden. We took quick sips of coffee and few bites of bread in a restaurant at the square. The local products were refreshing!

    As we walked along the corridors of the building, we were led to the Civil Registration Office. The office registers the birth and other important dates for Pomacanchi residents.

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Pomacanchi Municipality Building

    Antolin, the office Chief welcomed us and showed around his office. Amidst a rack of old registers were two computers, a scanner, photocopier and a printer. Novice to the modern technology, he learned to use computers with the help of Willay Programme and started keeping the correct birth dates.

    According to Antolin, earlier it was quite difficult to register the exact dates. People used to relate the dates with some major events happening around the date and the registration had to be done manually – noting down the details in thick registers.

    When the residents came to collect the certificates, it used to take hours to find their respective certificates among the stack of old files. Adding to the woe, the spittle applied to the index finger while rummaging through the pages dabbed the certificates. Sometimes, the certificates used to get ruined in the process.

    To tackle this, the programme has developed a reliable system. Now, the data can be easily searched in the system. With the system’s help, Antolin finds the details of a beneficiary in his computer within minutes and prints the certificate instantly. He has also started scanning old certificates and recording them in the system.

    In Pomacanchi, around 200 births take place in a year. According to the National Census of Population and Dwellings 2007, the population of Pomacanchi was 8,340.

    As the terrain is difficult and people reside in remote areas, they walk even for two days on foot to get to the registration office for registering births. Earlier, they had to wait for hours to get their work done. Now, Antolin takes no more than five minutes to register a birth date. And the beneficiaries no longer need to wait for hours.

    Showing us the system, Antolin said, “It is easier and efficient with the system on place.”

    The system feeds to the national data. The programme has also developed manuals to operate the system. The municipality has a support system in place to deal with system breakdowns and errors occurring during the process.

    Along with Pomacanchi, six municipalities in Acomayo and two municipalities in Cajamarca use the system.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration.

    Antolin, Chief of the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi describes the importance of birth registration. (c) Practical Action/Mehrab Ul Goni

    So, what’s in a name? And why do people flock to Antolin’s office to get the name, birth date and other details registered?

    Antolin says birth registration is children’s prime right as it provides them with legal identity opening doors to other rights ranging from health care and education to participation in polls and receiving protection from state.

    As we left his office, he was feeling proud of demonstrating the usefulness of the system to visitors from other parts of the world.

    (The team visiting the Civil Registration Office in Pomacanchi, Peru included Amanda Ross from the UK, Mehrab Ul Goni from Bangladesh, Sara Eltigani Elsharif from Sudan, and Upendra Shrestha and Sanjib Chaudhary from Nepal.)

    The Willay programme in Peru began in 2007 and until 2010 focussed on promoting ICT for governance, implementing demonstration projects in San Pablo (Cajamarca) and Acomayo (Cusco), deploying telecommunications network, improving information management systems and strengthening capacities of public officials in rural areas. The programme, implemented by Practical Action, is in its third phase and aimed towards the sustainability of the system.

    The programme has been funded by Ministry of External Affairs and Cooperation –Government of Spain, Municipality of Madrid and European Commission.

    To know more, read the brochure or visit the programme’s website.

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  • The woes of inequality

    October 16th, 2014

    What comes to your mind when you think about inequality? To me, it’s living in a sea of woes. Not because you are unworthy, but due to external factors that persist in the society and surroundings.

    Touch someone and be prepared to get ostracised
    I hail from a small village in Eastern Nepal and whenever I get to my native place, I like savouring local delicacies. While I was gulping down the mixture of puffed rice and chick-pea curry, an elderly man, in his late fifties approached the shopkeeper with a glass in his hand. The shopkeeper, keeping a distance from the man, poured tea from a kettle into his glass. With other customers, he would go to them with the glasses of tea and serve them with respect.

    I know both the men quite well. The tea-seller is a Haluwai whose traditional occupation is making sweets. Another man is a Dom whose traditional occupation is making household items from bamboo and rearing pigs. While the former is free to mingle with anybody, the latter is not even allowed to touch anybody. He is not even allowed to touch a hand-pump from where other people fetch and drink water. People still avoid touching him. And if by chance he touches anybody, he gets severe scolding and one who is touched runs towards a water source. To sprinkle water over his body in order to get purified.

    This is inequality to the extreme.

    Rare toilets and ubiquitous mobile phones
    The next thing that baffles me is the non-presence of toilets. In the urban areas almost every household has a toilet but it is a rare item here and people think having a toilet is leading a lavish lifestyle.

    This, to me, is inequality that can be addressed. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued orders to construct 5.2 million toilets in 100 days which turns out to one toilet every second.

    While almost everybody here has a mobile set today, people are not willing to construct toilets in their backyards. Since they are able to afford buying mobile phones and bearing the expenses of recharging from time to time, they simply need cheaper toilets. A little bit of change in behaviour and technology support from government and non-government organisations.

    Electricity at night means no sleep at all
    Adding to the woes is the frequent electricity cut-downs. While rest of the country too faces the power-cuts, the problem here is extreme. It affects agriculture as well. The sea of wires across the fields to run electricity-powered pumps remains useless most of the times during the day. And while people sleep at night, the farmers are busy running their motorised pumps to irrigate their pieces of land.

    Coping with the inequalities
    In spite of living amongst inequalities, people here are cooperative and always smiling. The scenario of untouchability is changing. People now have started communicating properly with Doms and other so-called lower castes, thanks to the social change and awareness brought by different agencies. Practical Action has supported such communities in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.

    While toilets were wonder items in the village, people returning from the Gulf and other countries (where most go to work as menial labourers) have started building toilets. The variety of different technologies used by Practical Action, as appropriate to each community, will be helpful to improve sanitation and health.

    Treadle pump

    Treadle pump

    Practical Action offers simple solution to sleepless nights for the farmers. The introduction of treadle pumps has increased the income that farmers generate from their land, both by extending the traditional growing season and by expanding the types of crops that can be cultivated. Called dhiki pump, it can be operated by legs. No electricity required!

    People are happy that the situation is changing and I am proud that Practical Action is one of the change-makers.

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  • A stitch in time saves nine

    Maharajgunj, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    August 6th, 2014

    What happens when a fast flowing river, gushing downstream, is blocked mid-way during monsoon season?

    The aftermath is disastrous.

    A massive landslide on early Saturday morning at around 2.30 AM Nepal Standard Time at Jure village of Sindhupalchok district, 80 kilometres from capital city Kathmandu, wiped out the entire village. The landmass falling from a height of 500 metres formed a temporary dam, 45 metres high.

    The water flowing at a speed of 160 cubic metres per second (cumec) created a lake. Within 13 hours the newly formed lake extended about 3 km upstream holding a volume of an estimated seven million cubic metres of water.

    The photos from the landslide site are horrific.

    Significant damage

    Around 100 houses were swept away by the landslide. Thirty three dead bodies have been recovered from the site while 120 are still missing. A kilometre of the Araniko Highway, the only road from Kathmandu to China and a major Nepal-China trade route, has been damaged by the landslide. The route responsible for nearly 38 million Nepali rupees (about USD 400,000) worth of trade per day, seems, will not be in operation for a long time.

    The Bhotekoshi Hydropower Project generating 46 MW of electricity has been cut off from the central grid as its transmission lines have been snapped off. Likewise, the 2.6 MW Sanima hydropower station has completely submerged.

    Social media comes to the rescue

    While some people are still reluctant about using social media in developing countries like Nepal, Twitter came to the rescue. It was the social media that broke the news. The torrent of tweets from the landslide site from engineer Kapil Dhital (@bewitchkapil) made it possible to analyse the extent of disaster. His tweets, and retweets and modified tweets from his followers fed media the real story from the ground. The downstream communities were warned on time through local FM radios and cellphones as well.

    Preparedness downstream

    Nepalese security forces have worked day and night to handle the situation. They have been able to release some stored water through controlled explosions.

    Video of controlled blast by Nepal Army

    However, the risk of landslide dam outburst flood (LDOF) is still a major concern for the communities living in the vicinity and downstream. The landslide site is 260 km from the Koshi barrage and it will take the waters 17 hours to reach there.

    Fearing the flood in the Koshi River if the dam breaches, the district authorities in Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur districts are on high alert, as per the national news agency RSS (Rashtriya Samachar Samiti). People, both in Nepal and bordering India, have fled their homes and camped at safer grounds.

    In 2008, Koshi, the largest river in Nepal, breached the embankment inundating villages in Nepal and India. Scores of people were killed in Nepal and India. Around 60,000 people from 10,530 families had to be evacuated in Nepal’s Sunsari district alone. Whereas in Bihar of India, the figures touched one million. Properties worth billions of rupees were washed away by the floods. Because of this, the Koshi has earned the sobriquet “Sorrow of Bihar”. The Indian authorities have already moved more than 49,000 to safer shelters this time.

    Practical Action in Koshi Basin

    As members of Global Flood Resilience Alliance facilitated by Zurich (Zurich Insurance Group), Practical Action and Nepal Red Cross have supported Nepalese government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) and concerned District Disaster Management Committees to install electronic display boards in District Emergency Operation Centres (DEOC) in Rajbiraj, Gaighat and Inaruwa municipalities of Saptari, Udayapur and Sunsari districts to help officials keep track of the water level in Koshi River.

    Display board showing water level in Koshi River at Chatara

    Display board showing water level in Koshi River at Chatara

    Along with the real time flood level display boards, sirens have been annexed to each display that sound off automatically as the water level crosses the warning level at Chatara, 45 km north of Koshi barrage. The DEOC offices will share the water level record with concerned offices and Village Development Committees (VDC) located near the Koshi River. It will keep the villagers informed about any incoming danger.

    Timely information about the water level in the rivers and impending floods can save hundreds of lives and billions of rupees. The early warning system installed at Karnali, Babai, Rapti and Narayani rivers in the western region of Nepal with Practical Action’s support have proved to be a boon to the locals.

    The communities are able to monitor the level of rising water from the river gauges. As the level reaches the alarming point, the community mobilisation team warns the community of the danger ahead. They have also been trained to evacuate the families with the help of life jackets, torches and boats.

    Nature is the greatest leveler and we have no control over the natural disasters. However, a single tweet breaking the news and a single siren sounding off on time can save millions.

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  • Of tweets, tuin, improvisation and replication

    Maharajgunj Rd, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal, Kathmandu
    March 14th, 2014

    Last month, this tweet landed up in my timeline.


    Hanging to a rope, that too above a snarling river, is not only a tough task but can be highly risky sometimes. However, for mountainous countries like Nepal and Bhutan, ropeways are a boon in disguise.

    Recently while crossing the Bheri River (in mid-western Nepal) hanging on a primitive looking tuin, an aerial ropeway, I heard a fellow passenger praising an improved version.

    As we reached the other side of the river, our discussion continued and few elder farmers joined in. One of the farmers in the group had seen a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed by Practical Action.

    He was describing the benefits – “three hours’ walk reduced to two minutes’ drop”, “fresh products delivered to the road-head within minutes”, “no threat of falling in the river” and “like travelling in a cable-car”.

    An improved tuin installed by Practical Action – Safer rides to school.

    An improved tuin installed by Practical Action – Safer rides to school.

    Improved tuin and gravity goods ropeways are synonymous with Practical Action in Nepal. The Government of Nepal has started replicating the technology with Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agriculture Road (DoLIDAR) carrying out the feasibility study of GGR at other probable sites of Nepal.

    The replication of the improved technology has now crossed the borders of Nepal. Last February, the first GGR of Bhutan was installed by Tarayana Foundation with technical assistance from Practical Action at Malbasey of Samtse Dzongkha.

    The GGR at Samtse

    The GGR at Samtse


    Practical Action team at the inauguration of the GGR

    Practical Action team at the inauguration of the GGR

    The GGR at Samtse has reduced the travel time of two hours’ walk to 1.5 minutes’ drop. Now the agriculture produce like cardamom, ginger, vegetables and other commodities can be easily transported to the bottom station at Malbasey from the top station Changju.

    The installing team believes that the technology that has been quite successful in Nepal would highly benefit the 160 households in the vicinity.

    The technology is cost effective, time saving, energy efficient, environment friendly and reduces the distance. And above all, it wards off the dangers of travelling, hanging to a rope, like in the tweet.

    As you read this blog post and tweet it to your followers, it competes with other 9,099 tweets to get noticed.

    So, don’t forget to add the hashtags #GravityGoodsRopeway, #AerialRopeways to your tweet. It simply makes it more traceable.

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