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  • Does access to electricity change poor people’s lives?


    February 15th, 2019

    Globally, just under one billion people have no access to electricity. This means no effective lighting to study at night, no refrigeration to keep medicines, and limited opportunities to run businesses. The United Nations have set a goal to provide affordable, reliable and modern energy for all by 2030. This is a very challenging goal which at Practical Action we try and support through our energy access work.

    However, a recent article in the Economist claimed that providing access to electricity is not as transformational as previously thought. Does this mean we are wasting our time? Definitely not!

    In our Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO) series of publications, we have highlighted the complex and multi-dimensional nature  of energy access. Providing electricity for household uses is of course no panacea for poverty reduction. We need to think about community needs (e.g. health centres, schools, street lighting) and productive uses to boost demand (e.g. agriculture). And while there is a lot of focus on electricity, other energy needs are as, if not more, important. This applies especially to clean cooking, with more than 3 billion people still dependent on dirty fuels for cooking, resulting in huge negative health impacts, especially on women and children.

    In our latest PPEO, we provide case studies demonstrating how inclusive energy access has been delivered at scale in a number of countries. We recognise that there remain serious challenges but we disagree with the Economist’s suggestion that cash-strapped countries should now effectively de-prioritise energy access. This is totally at odds with a recent call for a huge injection of extra cash for energy access from SE4All which found an annual investment short-fall of USD30 billion for electricity and USD4 billion for cooking.

    Energy access is and remains an enabler of development, especially when combined with other targeted policies and measures. That’s why we will continue to work with communities to achieve access to energy for all through a range of sustainable energy solutions.

    N.B.
    GOGLA and Crossboundary have also provided responses to the Economist article, showing the positive effects of energy access.

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  • Supporting the informal sector to deliver effective FSM services


    , | February 14th, 2019

    Next week sees an important gathering of practitioners, government representatives, funders and others focusing Faecal Sludge Management. From lowly beginnings in Durban in 2011, the growing numbers of people gathered at this two-yearly conference demonstrate an increasing recognition of the importance of this issue – supported by the SDG commitment to achieve ‘safely managed’ sanitation for all.

    Of course, ensuring people have access even to a basic toilet is still the crucial starting point in some places – including in the slum communities in Africa and Asia which are the focus of our work. The number of urban dwellers without even basic sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa rose between 2010 and 2015 from 177m to 215m (according to JMP figures).

    However, once levels of sanitation coverage begin to rise, particularly in urban areas, properly tackling the issues of how the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks can be safely cleared, transported and treated (the faecal sludge management – FSM chain) becomes ever more important.

    While tackling FSM has been recognized as important, there is still huge debate about how best it should be delivered. Many see enterprise opportunities for companies, small and large. Some take the route of helping companies to enter this business, especially if they have been involved in similar business lines perhaps in refuse collection (SWEEP in Bangladesh). Others see opportunities for youth employment in new business models for example with container-based services (Ghana’s Clean Team).

    A new study Practical Action has carried out in 3 secondary towns and one city corporation in Bangladesh reminds us again of the extent to which it is the informal sector which is already delivering these services. It also shines a spotlight on the extremely difficult working conditions they face.

    The study carried out in Gazipur, Faridpur, Bagerhat and Barguna interviewed 6 pit emptiers as well as 38 people working in solid waste management as part of the ‘Dignifying Lives’ project.

    • Many combined this work with other informal jobs such as being employed as street sweepers by the municipality, or working as rickshaw pullers or day labourers.
    • They may only empty pits 3-4 times per month as customer demand is fairly limited, although compared to other sources of income it is relatively well paid, charging around BDT 1,000-1,500 for emptying a small pit, while a daily labourer may only earn BDT 100 per day.
    • This work in Bangladesh is tied to particular communities and has been passed down for generations. Although levels of social acceptance for this work have improved, the harijan community as a whole is still treated as ‘untouchable’ to some extent.
    • Although they may have been provided with safety equipment, it was rarely used. Gloves, boots and masks were found to be too hot and impaired their movement, making the job harder.
    • New sludge carts and safety equipment.

      The work is often hazardous. Workers had suffered broken bones, cuts in their hands and feet and stomach problems, losing 4-5 days of work a month as a result.

    • They are usually poorly represented in discussions with decision-makers. Neither do they have access to social safety nets to support them if they fall ill or are injured.

    At the same time, we found in earlier work in Faridpur, 72% of households and 52% of institutions preferred to use the informal service providers, largely because they could do the job more quickly with less bureaucracy than the service offered by the municipality. For slum dwellers, the municipal service was not available because the trucks could not get close enough to their toilets.

    In our work in both Bangladesh and Kenya we are developing models and approaches for bringing these informal workers into the mainstream. We are interested in the extent of the service which can be provided by these entrepreneurs at the citywide level. If additional capacity is needed to meet service provision needs citywide, then who and how can additional capacity be brought in while not undermining opportunities for those who already rely on it for their livelihoods.

    We are also working on approaches through which their working conditions and access to social protection can be improved – and one solution is through forming co-operatives, and bringing those together into a nationwide network. That network in Bangladesh (the FSM Network) will be represented at the FSM5 conference. Come and find out more at their stand.

    I’ll be at the FSM5 conference, and looking to share experiences with others in the sector who are approaching the problem in similar ways. My focus will remain firmly on how the proposed systems meet the needs of poor communities and protect the interests of existing informal sector workers. Do follow me on Twitter @lucykstevens for updates.

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  • The Solar Challenge


    January 29th, 2019

    Practical Action’s new STEM Solar Challenge offers a great opportunity for young people to explore how solar power can transform the lives of people living ‘off-grid’.

    Set in the context of Practical Action’s work with communities in Gwanda, Zimbabwe who do not have access to mains electricity, the starting point for young people is a whole class activity to make a national electricity grid.  Pupils act as electricity pylons linking cities, towns and villages to power stations with string. The teacher then removes some of the string connections between towns and villages to simulate how some villages are not connected to the national electricity suppliers. Pupils have the opportunity to consider what life would be like for them without electricity before exploring ‘off-grid’ methods of generating electricity.

    Real life science

    This real-life context sets an ideal platform for relevant science investigations where pupils explore how electricity can be generated from alternate sources of energy including the use of solar cells. This also helps primary science and secondary physics teachers deliver the ‘electricity’ unit requirements within the UK’s science curriculum.

    ‘It’s been great teaching about electrical circuits in a real world context. It feels more meaningful for the children.’ K. MacManus, Primary Science Lead

    So what’s the challenge?

    Pupils learn about the varying needs and wants for electricity amongst a community living in a village in Gwanda. They include a teacher wanting lighting in her school, a nurse wanting a refrigerator to store vaccines at her clinic and family farmers wanting solar water pumps to help irrigate their crops.

    Their main challenge for pupils is to make recommendations on the best use of electricity to help meet the needs of the community generated from a limited supply of solar cells. To help pupils do this the education material includes access to simple spreadsheets and energy appliance cards (with information about their energy use per hour/day).

    The Solar Challenge can be used by teachers and schools in a number of ways, including as part of STEM lessons, as a curriculum enrichment day and for pupils to gain a CREST Award.

    To support the making of electrical circuits,  Practical Action have teamed up with TTS suppliers who have developed a bespoke ‘Solar Challenge Kit’ and/or the option to source solar cells.

    Off-Grid! Design Competition

    Building on the pupils learning and experiences of the challenge, Practical Action is running a design competition. Running until the competition deadline on 14th June 2019, pupils have the opportunity to develop their ideas for an ingenious solar-based solution to a number of scenarios/problems identified within the challenge.

    To download the FREE materials both for the Solar Challenge and/or Off-Grid Design competition go to

    https://practicalaction.org/solar-challenge

     

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  • Making Your Work Matter – Sharing Experience from the Rohingya Refugee Camp


    January 22nd, 2019

    The plight of the Rohingya people, dubbed as the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, has struck a chord with people from all over the world. Fleeing the destruction of their homes and escaping communal violence or alleged abuses by the security forces, thousands of Rohingyas made perilous journeys out of Myanmar, risking death by sea or on foot, to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, their migration to Bangladesh for a safe haven brought with it its own share of woes and worries. We may essentially be looking at a crisis within a crisis.

    Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, braving natural disasters every now and then. Since the arrival of the refugees, the once forested regions of Ukhiya and Teknaf of Bangladesh now lay bare and barren, undulated with overcrowded makeshift settlements. Stripped of its vegetation and devoid of a functional drainage system, the ground has now become a breeding ground for floods and landslides. This degradation poses severe threats to the refugees, in addition to the inherent natural disaster vulnerabilities.  

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

    To address this imperative issue, Practical Action decided to delve into finding ways the coping mechanism of the most vulnerable communities in the camp may be increased.

    Although Bangladesh has championed disaster management fairly well, the local government authorities of Cox’s Bazar are under-capacitated to cope with this increasing number of population, along with the greater threats of disasters. Due to a large number of people living in such close proximity, there is a greater need for faster and more effective assistance in the event of a disaster as well as to reduce vulnerability and risk exposure through preventive approaches.

    To increase the capacity of the camp dwellers with regard to disaster risk management and reduction, a batch of Rohingya youth volunteers had been oriented in the basics of DRR and taught first aid procedures hands-on.

    Training Day

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

    The training took place on a chilly winter morning, incidentally just the day after my birthday. Everyone was a bit sceptical. Will our weeks of preparation pay off? Will the language barrier be a problem? Will our modules excite them? These were questions we wouldn’t have an answer to till we started and did what we came here at 6:00 in the morning for.

    The whole team started to organize a portion of the Camp In-charge office, our venue for the training – affixing the banners, arranging the seats, preparing the welcome packages. Our scepticism took a back seat as we enthusiastically prepared to welcome our youth volunteers. What was a chaos of stacked chairs an hour ago, now looked ready to receive the participants. We were ready for the training.

    The clock gradually struck 9:00 and we started receiving our first participants. We were initially a bit concerned about the turnout of the training. All 25 out of 25 participants showing up on time was not something we expected. Having distributed the welcome packs among our participants, the training officially took off.

    The training started with an introduction to the whole organizing team who had been working tirelessly for weeks to make the training as impeccable as possible. As each of the modules were discussed, the participants listened with great enthusiasm. It was very evident from their demeanour that they were taking great interest in what was being taught. They were inquisitive and had meaningful questions to ask. Language did not seem like a barrier to their zeal for learning. When they were shown the first aid drills, they tried them hands on till they got them right. Their interest in the whole exercise was truly endearing and inspired us greatly. The long hours we put into this training paid off. Each participant looked content and motivated as they clapped towards the end of the training. The training was a success.  

    But the greatest takeaway from this training was the spirit of the refugees. Even in the face of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis, they learnt to not only survive, but to flourish and grow. They did not let their past transgressions take away from their joy of learning. They still treated life with the same inquisitiveness and spirit. Despite their past, they wanted to learn, be better and contribute towards a better community and a better world. We went to conduct the training to teach them about disaster resilience. But we came back having learnt a beautiful lesson ourselves –  never let your condition get the better of you.

    As we wrapped up the training, we left with content in our heart. Sometimes the work you do is not only about ticking off a milestone. 

    Acknowledgement: I would like to dedicate this blog post to Leonora Adhikari, the Lead of this project and all my wonderful colleagues in the Cox’s Bazar regional office for making this an experience I will cherish.  

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  • Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements


    January 18th, 2019

    When we reached Deurali Interlocking Block Udyog, a small enterprise making compressed stabilised earth bricks (CSEB), Simon Tamang was working alongside five workers. He was watering a stack of CSEBs while the workers were winding up the day’s work after moulding around 500 bricks.

    Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

    There is an increasing demand of these environmentally friendly compressed earth bricks, made from local materials sand and soil mixed with cement. Pointing to the stack under a pomelo tree, Simon said, “All are sold, already booked.

     

     

    Fuelling the reconstruction drive
    The enterprise, since its start in July 2017, has produced around 70,000 bricks. Twenty five one-storeyed buildings have already been built nearby with the earth bricks produced by Simon’s enterprise. And enterprises like Simon’s, supported by the UK aid funded Supply Chain of Construction Materials in Earthquake Affected Districts project, are helping the reconstruction drive in Nuwakot district.

    As you enter Nuwakot, you’ll come across reminders of devastation caused by the Big Earthquake three years ago. When the earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015 and the aftershock hit again on 12 May, 51% of the population of Nuwakot were affected. The temblors killed 1,000 people and injured over 1,000 more. Many people lost their homes or businesses. Over 70,000 buildings were damaged. City suburbs, where many families live, were hardest hit.

    Sharing the benefits of CSEBs
    Trained by the project, Simon has turned into an incorrigible optimist. He leaves no stone unturned to market the earth bricks at public events. He shares the benefits of building with earth bricks over fired bricks. He even teaches how to make walls from the earth bricks.

    A house built with earth bricks.

    If CSEBs are also used for big constructions like schools and community halls, people will accept them more wholeheartedly,” he said. “The village representatives are supporting me on this. It costs 20-25% less to make a house with CSEBs than with fired bricks and it takes less time as well.

     

     

    Increasing demand of CSEBs
    The Government of Nepal has disbursed earthquake reconstruction cash grants to people whose houses were damaged by the earthquake. Simon is confident that 150 families will soon have new homes built using his earth bricks.

    In addition, they will need kitchens,” he added. “People working as migrant workers in the Gulf and other countries will also build houses. As they are making roads everywhere, there will be more houses along the roads and for all the construction, they will need CSEBs.”

    Women in reconstruction
    While we were talking with Simon, his wife Tanu Maya offered us tea and joined the conversation. She is the proprietor of the enterprise and keeps the financial record. She also helps Simon run the business. On an average the couple earns NRs 50,000 (around £ 350) as net profit in a month.

    Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

    Women in Nepalese society are often discouraged from undertaking skilled manual work. Tanu Maya restricts herself to less skilled jobs of curing and transporting the bricks. She hasn’t tried making the bricks.

    In nearby Shanti Bazaar, five women entrepreneurs have overcome these cultural obstacles to form a successful business. Yankee, Dhanmaya, Aitmaya, Yangjee and Purchung formed their brick-making business after they lost their homes in the 2015 earthquake and shifted to the internally displaced people’s camp in Shanti Bazaar. Now they work together on all aspects of the business, including making the bricks. The enterprise has been so successful, they have been able to hire additional labour.

    The women entrepreneurs run the earth brick making business on their own.

    We started this enterprise to build our own houses,” said Yankee. “After that we will continue making bricks since the demand is on the rise.” The group intends to build 29 houses for themselves and sell bricks to build further around 300 houses in the surrounding.

    While the CSEB enterprises are generating employment, they are also motivating others to start an enterprise of their own. Simon shared his plight of working for a supply company in Qatar for four years where he had to shuttle between 26 different companies in the scorching heat.

    Working in foreign company is good only till you are strong,” he quipped. “There will be at least someone by your side here when you’re dying.

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  • The ASE conference just gets better and better for Practical Action


    January 17th, 2019

    Another year for us at the ASE Conference and as always it was AMAZING!

    Of all the conferences we go to throughout the year this one always inspires us the most.

    Trainee teachers with Practical Action's solar challenge at ASE conference This year we were promoting our new STEM challenge, The Solar Challenge, as well as talking about our existing popular challenges. and I am please do say it went down really well :-).  As well as talking about it to teachers on the stand we were able to demonstrate the challenge at a PSTT primary pop up, Teachmeets and at our training session.

    For me though, the ‘best bit’ is hearing from teachers and trainers how much they value the resources we produce, and the different ways in which they use them in schools, from embedding in the school’s curriculum, to using as the basis for enrichment days and gaining CREST Awards, and even as part of a cross-phase teacher training day.

    The atmosphere in the exhibition tent was fantastic too, and gave us the chance to get to talk and laugh with some of the other educators and explore we can collaborate to support teachers.  This included Millgate House Education, where we thought about how we could spread the word about  their new comic book on climate change, The adventures of Polo the bear and the Royal Academy of Engineering Education team who are planning some materials linked to their Africa prize for engineering innovation…watch this space!

    If you didn’t’ manage to get there this year then I would highly recommend for next year and/or you can always go to one of the regional events which are also great.  We will be in Edinburgh and a few others later in the year.

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  • The power of gravity


    January 15th, 2019

    The first time I came across a gravity goods ropeways was a long, long time ago in Dhading . I was on a bus travelling from Pokhara to Kathmandu and saw this giant cage coming down a hill.  This remained a mystery until 2012 when I joined Practical Action and spotted the very same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures.

    The gravity goods ropeway works on a very simple mechanism, using no fuel but only gravitational force. Two trolleys roll over twin steel ropes suspended between two stations, helped by pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station, another hauls up along the other rope from the lower station. A simple brake system regulates the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is simple, yet so effective!

    A challenging landscape

    The far west of Nepal has very challenging terrain with narrow trails, steep hills and mountainous ridges. Local people have no option but to walk this trail. When I reached the lower station in Tipada, Bajura, and said I wished to meet people in the upper station, Prem Saud, the GGR operator, pointed at a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.”

    As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper going through a forest. After walking for almost an hour, we rested in the shade of a tree and I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears and wild cats and my jaw dropped. I didn’t know whether to show my fear or act brave?  For the rest of the walk there were so many thoughts in my head, what if a bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail?

    All of a sudden I heard a crunch behind me. I could tell that someone was following. My heart was pounding like a drum beat. I turned around and saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. What a relief! I let the couple go ahead of me and watched them climb up the hill, with no signs of tiredness. The young man was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, and they looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, I was still trying to catch my breath.

    Joyful faces in Mana Gau

    Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau. The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range and the small community of around 200 houses surrounded by terraced paddy fields.

    People were busy with their daily chores in the fields or tending to cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where I met a woman who was nursing a year old baby. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. She used to walk for a whole day to get goods from the local market in Jadanga or Tipada).

    “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it was very scary.” But after the installation of the gravity ropeway, her life has changed for the better. In 15 minutes goods can reach her doorstep. She shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

    I was glad to see the happy faces of this small community. The gravity ropeway definitely made life easier. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on your back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to a half hour walk.

    A simple technology can indeed change life for better but Mana Gau still lacks proper road access and basic health services. There is still much to be done, Mana Gau is work in progress. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery with its own health clinic and road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produce. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty so that the men can return from working in the Gulf countries and India. I am sure one day I will be able to witness this and that will be the day when I will be truly smiling.

    BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid.

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  • The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal


    January 2nd, 2019

    I always get ‘fascinated’ by gravity goods ropeways. The first time I came across one was in Dhading. I don’t remember exactly when but I am sure it was a long long time back. Once I was travelling on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu and on the way I saw this giant cage coming off a hill. I wasn’t sure what it was inside the cage, nor did I know how that giant cage was moving. It was all mystery, until in 2012 when I joined Practical Action. During my first week at Practical Action, I was going through annual reports and brochures and that’s when I spotted the same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures. Instantly I could tell that it’s the same cage I saw in Dhading. I became curious and started reading about the giant cage. Little did I know, the giant cage was called ‘gravity goods ropeway’ (GGR) and it was one of the technologies Practical Action was promoting, especially in the hilly regions where they don’t have proper road access.

    Technological enlightenment

    The GGR works on a very simple mechanism. It is a green technology which does not require any fossil fuel and operates on gravitational force. It consists of two trolleys, rolling over two separate steel wire ropes (track ropes) suspended between two stations. The trolleys slide on the track ropes with the help of pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station along the track rope, another trolley with the consumers’ goods hauls up along the next track rope from the lower station. A simple brake system is fitted to the sheave at the lower station to regulate the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. The same year I joined Practical Action, I got a chance to visit the GGR project sites in Dhading and Gorkha, and I was really impressed with this simple technology. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is so simple, yet so effective.

    Pic: Gravity Goods Ropeway at the upper station of Mana Gau, Bajura

    The trail is no stroll through the jungle

    The topography of the Far-West Nepal is a very challenging one. The rugged terrain, narrow trail, steep hills and mountainous ridges surely act as defiance against anyone’s will. The locals are forced to commute this trail without any option. So was my situation when I reached the GGR station in Tipada, Bajura. After having a conversation with Prem Saud, the GGR operator, I intended to visit the upper station to get the clear picture of the community at the upper station. I spoke with Gopal Nepali, our field coordinator, he smiled at me, pointed a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.” I did not have any option but to follow his lead. I checked my watch and it read 10:45 am.

    We went down the road following a trail which led to the bridge connecting the two hills. As we were crossing the bridge, we could see a group of people fishing by the bank of the Budhiganga River. I know for sure that asking the locals the time it takes to cover the distance is just irrelevant but somehow I felt like asking for the sake of it. Gopal was walking in front of me, he turned around and said, “Umm, maybe it takes around one and half hour?” I did not know how to comprehend that statement. I just shook my head and kept following him. As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper. We were literally walking inside a forest. All I could hear was the squishing sound of my shoes against the slippery trail and my own breath. For a second I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was not suffering from the so called Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET). Just before I left Kathmandu, I was reading about PET. It is a dysfunction when the eustachian tube stays open most of the time and you start hearing your own self-generated sound, such as breathing, voice and heartbeat. I stopped for a while, took the water out from my back pack, took a sip and kept walking. After walking for almost an hour, we took a rest under a shade of a tree. I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears, wild cats and other random animals. My jaw just dropped. I did not know how to react. The way he said was very casual, as if they were his pet animals. I was so confused at one point, I did not know whether I was to show my fear or act brave? I am sure they must have come across these animals multiple times and it is nothing strange for them but for someone like me who has never seen a bear, the name itself is very scary.

    Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

    I knew the rest of the walk would be a long one for sure. After resting for a while, again we continued with our walk. There were so many thoughts in my head, what if the bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail, there were just too many what ifs going on at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a crunchy sound behind me. I could tell that someone was following me and it sounded like a giant footstep. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum beat. Again all these random thoughts were pouring in like a huge tsunami. Gopal was just a few steps ahead of me but somehow I did not even dare to call his name. I turned around without thinking twice and there I saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. I guess it took me only a second to turn around but that one second felt like forever. (Thank god that was not a bear.) I let the couple go ahead of me. I watched them as they were climbing up the hill, there were no signs of tiredness or fragility. I kept looking at them for a while. The young husband was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, it looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, for me, I was still trying to catch my breath. Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau.

    Commute that lasted days

    The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range smiling at me. The small community comprising of around 204 houses looked almost similar. I could spot a lot of terraced paddy fields from a distance. As we entered the village, people were busy with their daily chores. Most of them were either attending the field or grazing cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where a bunch of people were sitting in front of the shop, sipping a cup of tea, basking in the winter sun. I approached this friendly looking man and asked his name, with a strong voice he answered, “My name is Dan Bahadur Saud.” I introduced myself and he offered me a chair next to him.

    Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

    Our conversation went on for more than an hour, it was an interesting one though. Mr. Dan was in his early 50s. When he was growing up, it used to take days to carry salt on their back from Rajapur and Dipayal but after the motorway access, the commute was cut short to a day. Nevertheless, they still had to go to Tipada and carry goods on their backs. From Badimalika, it used to take 2.5 hours to get to Tipada and on the way back it was around 4-5 hours steep walk, carrying heavy goods on the backs.

     

    Basically, it used to take them the whole day to get goods from Tipada but after the installation of GGR things have changed. “Now, we don’t have to go all the way to Tipada. We call the shop owner and place our orders, and he sends the goods on the GGR. Within a couple of minutes, it reaches our upper station and from there it only takes us 15 minutes to reach our home,” smiled Mr. Saud.

    The joyful faces

    Pic: Nirmala Dhani

    Inside the tea shop I spotted a woman who was nursing a year old baby. After putting her baby to sleep, she came out and was doing the dishes. I went up to her and asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Saud. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. Her story was no different to that of Mr. Saud.  She too walked the whole day to get goods from the market (in Jadanga or Tipada). She shared, “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it used to be very scary.” But after the installation of GGR, just like Mr. Saud’s, Ms. Dhani’s life has also changed for the better, within 15 minutes the goods reach her doorstep. Likewise, Krishan Mati Devi Saud also shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

    Work in progress

    I spent almost three hours in the community talking to people and listening to their stories, and everyone shared their joy of having the GGR. After that three hours walk, I can totally relate to the joy of having a GGR installed at Mana Gau. It was already time for me to bid adieu, the sun was trying to hide behind the hills in the west. My watch read 4:45 pm. The thought of taking the same trail back gave me goose bumps but I did not have any choice. I knew that the next two hours will be one hell of a walk. I just do not know how I managed to cross that jungle, nor do I want to recall that again.

    Nevertheless, I was really glad to see those happy faces of this small hilly community. The installation of GGR in the hills of Mana Gau in Bajura district has definitely made life easier for hundreds of Dans, Nirmalas and Krishnas. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on the back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to half an hour easy walk. A simple technology can indeed change one’s life for better but to be honest Mana Gau is still far from development. I cannot argue to the fact that the GGR has made life easier for the locals but still they face uncertainty due to lack of proper road access and basic health services. I wish to not see any of those young couples with a new born walking through that jungle, nor do I want to see a pregnant woman rushing down the hills for immediate attention. I am glad that the GGR has helped reduce drudgery and promote inclusive and sustainable growth but as long as there is road access that connects the village to the main market centre and basic health services where the people can take benefit, then only I can smile with my heart out.

    I have a dream

    I know that Mana Gau is work in progress but I cannot wait to see the full-fledged development of this humble community. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own health clinic. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produces. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty. I have a dream that one day this village will have all its men back from the Gulf countries and India, and all of them will live in harmony. I am sure one fine day I will be able to witness all these and that will be the day when I will be smiling with my heart out.

    The BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. The project aims to promote inclusive and sustainable growth through better livelihood opportunities, thereby enhancing economic infrastructure by installing GGR. Likewise, it also focuses on pro-poor value chains which include better business linkages, enhance entrepreneurship skills of rural farmers and local traders, business networking and business development service provision to facilitate commercial/ urban value chain actors to make their business services accessible to rural areas. To learn more about the project, please click here.

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  • COP OUT!


    December 20th, 2018

    The climate change talks in Katowice were a roller coaster of highs and lows with a wide variety of issues on the agenda. As diverse as the agenda were the claims of the parties to the convention. Some parties have made excellent suggestions to move the negotiations forward and equally some parties have made plain ridiculous statements, especially those challenging the findings of the scientific community. These diverse perspectives present on one hand faith in human kind and global collaboration, and that despite the challenges somehow we are going to sort this mess out and get back to a new ‘normal’, on the other hand the deniers of climate change, concerned of forgoing economic opportunity, promising continued economic growth, the promotion of fossil fuels and especially coal in the energy mix and making warnings against leaving even a drop of fossil fuel in the ground, appearing on the balance sheet as stranded assets.

    Some of the high points have been a change in the language of many of the key parties. Even six months ago many parties were still in denial on the topic of Loss and Damage. They were strenuously denying that irreversible impacts were occurring and that some people and nations were facing losses and damages as a result of changing climates. This denial extended to interesting language such as ‘extreme adaptation’ or proposals for ‘transformational approaches’ to development. However, this language has changed driven by two pieces of evidence. First, the underlying signal of climate breakdown appearing all around us. In 2017-8 the planet has faced numerous climate catastrophes and their frequency and severity can no long be denied, no one, not even those living in the developed world, is insulated from the impacts of climate change.

    Sunil Acharya from Practical Action Nepal sharing experiences of the Adaptation planning process

    Secondly, and very timely for this COP, was the publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on 1.5oC. The IPCC has worked tireless over the last two years to produce a “…special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This report not only tells us what will happen if we exceed 1.5oC of warming, but more importantly provides a blueprint of what we need to do to prevent this happening. The report uses simple language, to explain what we need to do, what will happen if we don’t and the time frame for action. Starkly we have little more than a decade to bring emissions under control and any real chance to stabilise the climate at this level.

    But why do we go to the COP? We had a small but influential presence at the COP over the two weeks. We have once again punched above our weight against a backdrop in which some governments, research institutes, UN bodies and even some well know civil society organisations send delegations in the tens and hundreds. Although we only numbered three people at any one time, we actively contributed in a number of different ways. For example we engaged with and helped shape the position of civil society, in the first week no less than five articles appearing in the ECO negotiators bulletin including significant contributions from Practical Action. This bulletin is published daily and is widely read and valued by many of the negotiators. These articles shared the collective experience of Practical Action with recommendations of what needs to be done and how the negotiations should progress, to deliver not only on the climate change challenge but how to do this in a fair, equitable and transparent way.

    We were a partner in the launch of the innovative and propositional Climate Damages Tax, a polluter pays mechanism that seeks to require the fossil fuel industry to pay for the consequences of continued fossil fuel use.  This launch was widely picked up in the international media. We also participated in a number of side events, provided capacity building for developing country negotiators, and in our role as observers supported the views and positions of minorities and those unable to attend.

    It’s clear that for the negotiations to progress we need a new sense of global community, optimism and a renewed sense of urgency. The IPCC report made it clear that technologies already exist that would allow the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions in line with the 1.5oC goal of the Paris Agreement. But for these technologies to be rolled out there needs to be support and that support is needed in both finance and for capacity building. But what is lacking to unlock the climate finance challenge is political will.  A sense of collective effort that needs to be funded not only by donor governments but will also requires shifts in large scale investments stimulated through such innovative means as the climate damages tax.

    For myself the potential of the COP24 was best articulated by the words of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager. She was given the opportunity to address the parties and didn’t pander to the room. She spoke truth and wisdom to the assembled delegates. My hope is that the words and actions of the youngest members of society can inspire others to make the difficult decisions and enforce the actions necessary to respond to climate breakdown. This is the signal of hope coming from COP24 in Katowice – that the ask of future generations will be the stimulus necessary to generate the political will that is desperately missing to act now, before it’s too late.

     

     

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  • Leave no one behind: Nepal Reconstruction Project awareness campaign


    December 18th, 2018

    The Supply Chain Project, unique and innovative in its approach, intervened through the market systems, promoted local enterprises and introduced innovative solutions to provide affordable quality construction materials to earthquake affected people of the remote hill areas of Nuwakot and Rasuwa. The market-led approach implemented to catalyse the reconstruction process also aimed at creating awareness on the use of quality construction materials and access to complete market information. (Read more on Supply Chain Project)

    The idea was to leave no one behind. From person-to-person interactions to information dissemination through mainstream media, the project awareness campaign, with a strategic plan, appropriate message and right medium and channel aimed at making as big an impact as possible. It started with community level interactions, focused group discussions and later was escalated through mainstream media. With successful results in the two pilot districts, the project activities and communications strategy were scaled up in three additional districts of Sindhupalchowk, Dhading and Gorkha, .

    Community level sensitisation programmes 

    Sensitisation program and safety kit distribution in Nuwakot for the internally displaced people of Haku rural municipality. The village in Haku has been deemed unsafe to inhabit by the government.

    The initial phase of the campaign carried out interaction and information sharing programmes to the locals at the community level. The interaction programmes were ideal to introduce project interventions as well as spread the message of using quality construction materials to build earthquake safe structures. The community level sensitisation programmes were organised in major market and town hubs according to the clusters formed in the project districts.

    The project also conducted workshops for focused groups such as entrepreneurs, construction materials vendors and distributors, and government appointed engineers. These workshops in addition to providing information, would also serve as a means to generate project advocates for further information dissemination.

    Street drama

    Three young girls sit under a towel enjoying the street drama organized by Practical Action in Kalikasthan Raswuwa. As part of its awareness campaign, the project has conducted a series of street dramas throughout Rasuwa and Nuwakot that focuses on quality construction materials and building safe structures.

    A proven popular means to capture the hearts and minds of the people and delivering the required message, street dramas were displayed as a means to create buzz at the local level that would be followed up by messages in the mainstream media.

    The street performance was carried out in 15 locations in Raswua and Nuwakot. With an average of 200 to 250 in the audience, the street drama was successful in capturing the attention of the audience while subtly providing message on building safe structures and using quality construction materials. Such programs were also a good platform to share information about the project supported resource centers, enterprises and information centers.

    Street drama ‘Suracheet Baas’ being performed in Betrawati, a market hub in Rasuwa.

    Information Education Communications materials

    From leaflets to comprehensive manuals and how-to videos, the project produced IEC materials as required for its interventions and awareness objectives. Primarily, to provide a complete information package to the entrepreneurs and consumers alike, the project produced manuals and videos of the project supported technologies, such as booklets of timber treatment procedure, how to build with earth bricks (Compressed Stabilised Earth Bricks) manuals, machine maintenance along with simple how-to videos.

    In addition, project promotional communications content such as information flyers, brochures of project supported enterprises; posters were produced and distributed in awareness programs, events and workshops and disseminated accordingly. Hoarding boards emphasizing the use of quality construction materials were also erected in strategic places such as rural municipality offices and resource centers.

    Market Information App

    The app logo represents the initial letter ‘S’of the project name while also forming a link of a chain indicating the Supply Chain of construction materials, from the factory to individual households. Similarly, the background colour represents the colour of earth and bricks.

    The project developed a mobile app “Shulav Samagri” for comprehensive market information that would allow users to access information from the price of construction materials at different locations, transportation cost, mason details to local hardware retail shops and its price rates.

    The project is now in the process to handover the operational and upkeep of the app as the project period ends this year. Talks with Nepal reconstruction Authority, Post Earthquake Reconstruction Project and other relevant stakeholders for the handover of the application is ongoing.

    Radio programmes

    With the preliminary awareness activities now on the go, the project collaborated with local FMs, Nuwakot FM and Radio Langtang, to produce a radio program “Suracheet Baas”  that aired twice a week. The local stations further collaborated with similar local FMs in the district to air the same show to capture a wider audience as possible.

    Radio Langtang, partner radio station of the project, is operated by an all-female staff. The radio station produced and aired “Suracheet Baas” twice a week. The station now broadcasts PSAs project supported enterprises of CSEB, timber treatment facilities and stone cutting machines.

    In addition, promotional advertisements of the project supported enterprises such as CSEB (Compressed Stabilised Earth Bricks), timber treatment, stone cutting machine were aired  in various local FM stations in both pilot as well as scale-up districts of Gorkha, Dhading and Sindhupalchowk. The promotional ads helped generate demand as well as introduce the project supported activities to the general mass. Similarly, Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on timber treatment facilities and CSEBs have been produced and aired at the district level.

      Timber Treatment PSA

    CSEB PSA

    Public Service Video 

    Two PSA animation videos on identification of quality construction materials and emphasising its use were produced and disseminated through local and national television channels as well as various social network sites. Broadcast of the videos through national TV channels ensured the information would not only be limited to the project districts but available all across the country. The videos were aired just after the monsoon, at the advent of autumn, the preferred construction period and the start of holiday season.

    Whiteboard and doodle animation videos of project interventions (CSEB, stone cutting technology and demand aggregation) were produced and circulated in social network sites. These short introductory visual representations have been uploaded in social media platforms as well as disseminated in community level sensitization programs. Social media has already proved to become a useful marketing tool where some enterprises are promoting their products through such social networks.

    Journalist exposure visits

     The project also organised various journalist exposure visits throughout the project period to create awareness on the effective technologies introduced by the project. The project activities and interventions were covered by leading national dailies, local papers as well as international news agencies.

    Saving the earth with earth bricks

    Despite a small-scale awareness campaign, through a strategic approach, the Supply Chain  Project, in various degrees, has been able to influence the government stakeholders, peer organisations, as well as the general public. The government is set to approve the new building guidelines of the project introduced earth bricks, setting up small-scale enterprises is more efficient at the local level, peer organisations have adopted the project approach and methodologies and most important of all people have have access to affordable alternatives.

     

     

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