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  • Climate Crisis. The New Reality.


    June 10th, 2019

    Beating drought with ingenuity, Turkana.

    Climate change is leading to increasingly frequent and more severe hazards and disasters. It’s something that is effecting us all but varies in severity. A recent article from the Guardian reported that Fairbourne in north Wales will become the first community in the UK to be decommissioned as a result of climate change. Whereas in Mozambique, Malawi and India, 3 cyclones of different scales have left millions homeless. From these different disasters caused by climate change people lose everything; their homes, livelihoods and even lives.

    But poor people are the most vulnerable and hardest hit.

    In Turkana, Kenya, devastating droughts are becoming ever more frequent. It’s down to climate change. Rivers have dried up and there’s not enough clean water. This has a disastrous impact on lives and livelihoods of 77,000 people.

                 Farmer herding camels, Turkana

    Most of the families in Turkana earn their money from livestock. Without water, their cattle don’t survive the droughts and families lose their only source of income. Because of this, many men have been forced to leave their homes and families to graze their animals in better pastures. Meanwhile, women and children have to spend most of their time and all their effort trying to collect water. They have to walk for miles, in extreme heat, to reach the nearest water point. A journey that can take the entire day.

    Practical Action puts ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world. We help people find solutions to the new disastrous climate reality – so that they can thrive and flourish despite the effects of climate change.

                Nogoroko from the village Lomokori

    Earlier this year, we visited Turkana to understand how difficult it is for people to live with the devastating effects of droughts. During our visit, we met Ngoroko. She is in her 50’s and lives in Lomokori. Because of droughts, Ngoroko has to spend most of her time collecting water. She says: “I wake up in the morning and there is no water. I go to look for water. That is how every day starts.”

    Fortunately, there is a solution. People like Ngoroko can beat drought. Because deep underground there’s enough water for everyone – it just takes a bit of ingenuity to reach it.

    A unique combination of solar-powered water pumps, water resource management and health training can help communities access clean water and use it to bring about long-term change. This ingenious combination is already changing lives in the parched region. We visited Nangorichoto and saw first-hand how families are flourishing despite the droughts. Theresa, a 40 year-old woman from the village described how access to clean water has changed her life:

                       Theresa sat with her children

    “I used to be away for the whole day collecting water from the river. I took the older children with me and left the younger ones behind. When I got back, the younger children were thirsty. I was tired from walking so far carrying the water.

    “Now there’s no problem. I have water whenever I need it. I’m clean and my children are clean. A nursery school is being built nearby and I’d like my grandchildren to be able to go to it.”

    People in Nangorichoto now have brighter, healthier and more rewarding lives. Women don’t have to spend all their time collecting water and can instead dedicate their time on running their own businesses, earning their own money. Children will be able to go to school and families are able to lead healthier and more productive lives.

    This ingenious combination has helped Theresa’s family overcome the fear of the never ending drought.

    With your support, we can help even more people adapt and flourish in the new disastrous climate reality.

    To find out more, click here.

                                                                                  Theresa’s sister showing her clean plates

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  • The challenge of scaling-up energy access in least developed countries


    May 31st, 2019

    As shown in the latest UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) tracking report published last week, we are making some progress towards the goal of universal energy access by 2030. The number of people without access to electricity is now down to 840 million (compared to 1.2 billion in 2010). However, progress has been patchy, with sub-Saharan Africa mostly left behind. Furthermore, there are still around 3 billion people without access to clean cooking. Unless progress speeds up, we are therefore set to miss the 2030 goal.
    Most people with an energy access deficit live in what the UN terms ‘least developed countries (LDCs)’ and a conference organised by the UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) took place in Beijing this week to discuss how energy access can be scaled up in these countries. China may seem a strange place for such a conference considering the fast pace of development in the country over recent decades. However, its Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organisation co-organised the conference and has big plans for bringing electricity to all through renewables.

    Practical Action worked with its partner Hivos to host a session on inclusive energy finance to reach the last mile, ensuring no one is left behind. A particular problem for LDC’s is the provision of energy access to rural and remote areas, where people are also generally extremely poor. Off-grid solutions provide plenty of scope but access to finance remains difficult, especially for mini-grids and clean cooking solutions. In our session, we had contributions from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Clean Cooking Alliance and the Dutch government, elaborating on funding and business opportunities. We also heard that much of this funding fails to reach those who need it most. Niru Shrestha, a woman energy entrepreneur, talked about the challenges she has faced to raise funding for her improved cookstoves business in Nepal; while James Cavula, a journalist from Malawi, talked about the struggle many people in Malawi have to access even the most basic energy services.
    Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to scaling up energy access in least developed countries. The conference concluded that there clearly is a need for increased multilateral funding for LDCs, as well as assistance to LDC governments for energy investment planning, project preparation and regulatory reform. This message will be taken to the forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit.
    Practical Action’s energy work mostly focuses on LDCs and we will continue to play our role, working with governments, industry, communities and other stakeholders to provide sustainable energy solutions.

     Myself and Niru Shrestha from Nepal

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  • Practical Action for the New Planetary Reality


    May 30th, 2019

    We never used to have mosquitoes here in the winter. Now we have them all year round,” said Purnima Chaudhary, the co-ordinator of a flood resilience group we helped form in the Bardiya region of Nepal.

    Year-round mosquitoes for Purnima is undoubtedly an inconvenience, but it’s also tangible evidence of a changing climate. As is the very existence of the flood resilience group.

    Two recent reports demonstrate just how much trouble we’re in. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report explores our reliance on nature for our survival, and how we’re destroying habitats, threatening species and abusing the global ecosystem with terrifying speed and power.

    Cyclone Idai destruction, Zimbabwe

    An earlier report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included a similar dire prognosis, which is already being played out. Earlier this year, three cyclones of unprecedented scale devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and India, leaving millions homeless.

    More recently scientists at Cambridge University  have announced they are setting up a Centre for Climate Repair. This will explore radical approaches to undoing the damage we have inflicted on the planet, including refreezing the Earth’s poles (through the artificial creation of clouds to shield the area below from the sun) and collecting CO2 emissions and converting them into fuel. All of these measures come amid a suspicion that, even with the best of intentions, the most optimistic plans to reduce our impact on the planet will not go far enough to slow down climate change to a less than disastrous level. The Cambridge initiative is being co-ordinated by Prof Sir David King, formerly the UK Government’s chief scientific advisor. He warns that “what we do in the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years”.

    It seems we truly are standing at an existential crossroads. Do we continue our denial and carry on headlong into greater destruction? Or decide that now is the time to radically change our ways?

    At Practical Action, we have been redefining the focus of our work in order to respond to the new planetary reality. We started by first looking back at our past.

    Looking Back

    Looking back, we are reminded of the philosophy of our founder, Fritz Schumacher, who was instrumental in creating and shaping our early existence.

    Schumacher’s ideas on economics, the environment and human happiness seemed outrageously fanciful to many in the 1960s, but today we can see clearly just how insightful and prophetic they were.

    He said we should never treat elements of the natural world as an asset that can be spent in the pursuit of even greater profit. We should treat them as precious capital to be put to work for the benefit of humankind – and always replenished. This point was echoed in the IPBES report.

    To use a banking analogy, we are spending the earth’s resources as if they were in our current account. But, in reality, we are spending from the global savings account that has taken tens of thousands of years to accumulate. All our transactions are withdrawals and we’re making no new deposits.

    As an illustration of just how much we are living beyond the planet’s means, the Worldwatch Institute calculates that there is 1.9 hectares of land for every person in the world for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average Mozambican uses 0.45 hectares, while the top consumers are Americans, using a staggering 9.7 hectares. The planet could only support a fifth of the current global population if everyone consumed resources at the US rate.

    Schumacher also advised us to stop measuring human progress in terms of GDP and money. Instead, we should think about the quality of life, the value of work, the health of relationships and the effectiveness of our social and economic systems in caring for and empowering people. Again, a key recommendation of the IPBES report.

    In his book, ‘Small is Beautiful’, Schumacher challenged development thinkers to stick to solutions that were people-shaped and people-sized. He vehemently opposed the idea of exporting complex commerce and manufacturing into countries without the infrastructure or skills to support them. That’s still our focus today. Small, community based proven solutions that can be taken to scale by others or be adopted by local or national policy makers.

    Looking Ahead

    We still hold the original values. We still believe that human ingenuity can overcome the worlds toughest problems. But we’ve had to refocus our work to make it effective in a rapidly changing world. We’ve identified four key areas of focus that will form the basis of our work.

    The climate crisis is affecting people in the poorest countries in two different but equally devastating ways. The first is the need to adapt lives and livelihoods to new climate situations. Rains that used to come no longer do. Crops that used to grow now fail. So we’re helping people to adapt to new ways of living and working. The second is the need to be adequately prepared for climate shocks, such as extreme weather events. Early warning systems, preparation and planning can protect lives and livelihoods and enable people to get back to normal more quickly after the floods or cyclones have ended.

    Most farming throughout the world, especially intensive and chemical-hungry farming, is no longer sustainable. We are degrading land for the sake of profit as we try to feed a global population that has doubled in the last 50 years. But we are fast approaching the time when the population can grow no further as we won’t have enough productive land to feed everyone. Unless, that is, we decide to make big changes to what we eat, consuming less meat and dairy products and more vegetables, grains and fruit. And big changes to how we produce food. That’s why we’re proving and promoting approaches to farming that work in harmony with nature rather than against it.

    Waste picker, Bangladesh

    Climate change is also driving people away from rural areas where they find profitable or even subsistence farming impossible. They head for the cities in search of work and a better life, only to find themselves in sprawling slums piled high with rubbish and riddled with open sewers and their attendant disease. Cities in developing countries grow by 10% every year but the provision of water and waste services simply cannot keep pace. We’ve developed and proven innovative approaches for water and waste management and we’re sharing this knowledge with city authorities, utility companies and community groups.

    Our final area of focus will be on clean, sustainable energy. This includes helping people to access the transformational power of clean electricity from the sun or flowing water. This will improve almost every aspect of their lives immeasurably, including their health, education and ability to make a decent living. And it also includes helping people to use alternative cooking fuels and stoves that don’t kill them or their children through harmful smoke inhalation.

    Sharing to multiply

    Everything we learn through our innovative projects around the world – both what works and what doesn’t – we share with others who can take our proven solutions into places where we have no presence or influence.

    It is fabulous to see our publications being the default texts for development students and practitioners on topics such as ‘Engineering in Emergencies‘. Or our manual on the sustainable management of human waste becoming national policy in Bangladesh. Or the government of Benin asking us to advise them on how they should implement their national energy policy in ways that protect the environment and benefit their poorest people.

    Through sharing in this way, ideas that start small can become big change for millions of people.

    We believe our approach, and the thinking of our founder Fritz Schumacher, have never been more relevant or more needed.

    We can all do something more

    At Practical Action, we have some solutions, but we don’t have all the answers. For things to really change, we need to persuade our world leaders to make the right choices for our planet. Practical Action has signed up to the UK Climate Coalition’s campaign entitled The Time Is Now, which calls for politicians to end the UK’s contribution to climate change and pass ambitious laws that create a healthier environment for nature and people.

    If you’re in the UK, add your voice by clicking here.

     

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  • Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: It’s Time for Action


    May 29th, 2019

    One Vision Creating Countless Hope.

    Entrepreneur Lily Akhter.

    From a destitute victim of river erosion to a successful entrepreneur, it’s not been an easy path for Lily Akhter (58). After losing everything from river deterioration in 2003, Lily and her husband with their 6 children started their new life in Baitul Aman slum, Faridpur municipality. Her husband’s earnings were not sufficient enough to feed 8 people a day which persuaded her to earn for her family.

    Lily got the idea of the sanitary napkin business from the Delivering Decentralisation project, implemented by Practical Action Bangladesh in association with Faridpur Municipality and local NGOs. This project worked towards institutionalising the participation of slum dwellers in municipal planning and budgeting the uptake of infrastructure technologies with the systems that are appropriate, affordable and maintainable for the long term. Here she received skills training on production, quality assurance and market promotion of sanitary napkins. With very few materials and machinery to start with (swing machine, plastic packaging), she produced her first sanitary napkins, which she sold only to her nearby community. She encouraged the neighbouring women of her community to learn this new earning skill and to get involved with her business. Seeing this innovative business in 2012, the 2nd Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP) of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED), extended cooperation to provide advanced skill training and financial support to expand her business on low cost sanitary napkins ‘APARAJITA’.

    This product is helping numbers of adolescent girls and adult women to have the appropriate sanitary materials for safe and hygienic management of menstruation. This practice of using sanitary napkins amongst the adolescent girl and women progressively reduces the malpractices around menstruation and saves them from severe health crises. She sells her products to neighbouring communities at cheap prices and at the market rate to adjacent hospitals, private clinics and medicine pharmacies. To meet the necessary expenses and remuneration of assistant women workers, she got BDT 10,000 in her hand every month and financial restoration of her family who now have a strong stand. Along with her own financial well-being, she’s created job opportunities for 16 poor unemployed women in her neighbourhood. The popularity of APARAJITA napkins are increasing because of good feedback from the customers.

    Globally, more than half of adolescent girls and women are currently of menstrual age all around the world. Many of them haven’t got access to menstrual hygiene products either, due to limited availability or excessive cost. Recently on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, Lily received an award (3rd prize) and a certificate signed by the Minister from Ministry of Local Government Rural Development and Cooperatives, the Chief Engineer of LGED and from LGED’s urban sector development programmes for her outstanding contribution in self-reliant entrepreneurship. This award has profoundly inspired her to widen her business at a larger scale outside of Faridpur and to help numerous girls and women to have a safe menstruation and diminish the social taboos and stigmas around menstrual hygiene management. She has been selected for a visit to Mysore, India to learn from the My Radha programme which is a flagship initiative of the Indian Government for women in economic empowerment.

    Currently Bangladesh’s Government are preparing a National Strategy for Menstrual Hygiene Management and the impact will only be observed when it is operations are set in stone.  To get this radical action of our Government operational, we need to stand by hundreds of Lily Akhter to make their vision actionable.

     

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  • Pumpkin Commerce for Fighting Poverty and Hunger


    May 29th, 2019

    Uttam Kumar Saha is a Strategic Lead of Urban and Energy for Practical Action in Bangladesh.

    I went to the northern Char areas in Rangpur last week along with the Agriculture team to facilitate the field visit with the Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. Char is the transitional, infertile sandy land, which generally goes under water for six months of the year and is always considered as one of the biggest poverty prone hot spot in Bangladesh.

    What I saw, heard and learned from my first visit, it couldn’t stop me from sharing my feelings. Hundreds of framers, including many women, gathered to meet the Secretary and share their decade long learning and the changes it has brought to their lives by growing pumpkins in Char.

    Women told me that they have sent their children to college and universities or abroad to work. They have also improved housing quality for a healthier life. I was very excited to learn the transformation stories especially from women farmers starting from a dilemma to believing in the technology. They have access to land and input support; knowledge and skill on farming for production, storage, packaging, marketing locally and nationally. In some cases they even export to Malaysia and other countries. Farmers did not leave the practice to grow pumpkins after the withdrawal of project support and most of them are continuing it as business’s or livelihood options.

    This is a great example to showcase how small technologies can bring a big change for millions of people. Despite many improvements, fair price and net profit are still a big concern for sustaining this innovative riverbed farming, which recently got space in the National Agriculture Policy. The secretary advised to move differently.  He shared the example of the French fry by KFC, which is a well-known fast food company in the world. A French fry is nothing more than frying processed potato in hot oil. Technologies they use and the values they add to prepare a French fry from a potato are simple but the cost is 25 times higher than a traditional potato. Time has come for Pumpkin farmers to learn valued ideas for commercialisation, product diversification and processing. Equally they need to explore the export market.

    What I realised is that Practical Action still need to continue working with these farmers and adopt systemic and private sector led marketing approaches to make the changes more visible, tangible and sustainable. We need to bring proactive and responsive export logistic firms and private businessmen, who have willingness, experience and capacity to invest in the pumpkin value chain.  We need to mobilise farmers to work collectively, preferably as a company or a business cooperative. And link with private sector as suppliers, subcontractors and even shareholders. We also need to demonstrate and develop mechanisation skill of farmers for lowering the cost for production and to reduce physical labour especially for women. A strong advocacy component is required to influence local and national stakeholders for an increased allocated budget to provide subsidised input and financial services to these landless farmers. Development of rural infrastructures like irrigation, storage and road by the Government can make it accessible and available to the business cooperatives of pumpkin farmers.

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  • Learning from failure: the untold story


    May 21st, 2019

    Absorbing failure and learning from it is not always easy. Building on failure is even more challenging and requires great strength of character. This Practical Action story has remained untold for a decade because looking at failure positively is not something we typically do.

    I’m taking this opportunity of sharing our faecal sludge management (FSM) journey – a story of how failure made us rethink a problem and develop a more ingenious solution that put addressing people’s fears and concerns at the centre. It took failure to make us see this. But from this small pilot project that failed, big transformational change is happening.

    Open defecation in Bangladesh has rapidly reduced over a decade and a half. A sanitation movement took place in Bangladesh where national Government and local Government Institutes, I/NGOs, the private sector and most importantly communities, participated with joint ownership. This social mobilisation resulted in the installation of millions of toilets, reducing open defecation. But we didn’t think much about faecal waste management. This resulted in another development challenge. Hence, the second generation sanitation problem evolved as ‘faecal sludge management’.

    In Bangladesh around 24 metric tons of faecal waste is generated every day in urban areas where two types of sanitation system exist. One is the ‘off-site’ system – a conventional sewerage network with a treatment facility. There is only one such system in Bangladesh situated in the outskirts of Dhaka city, in Pagla, which covers roughly a quarter of Dhaka city. The rest of Dhaka city and the urban areas of the entire country have on-site systems. These mostly consist of septic tanks with or without soak wells and pits connected to individual or community managed toilets. With the exception of a few municipalities, there are no treatment facilities. This poses a threat because of the increasing volume of faecal waste. Only around 7% of the total faecal waste is treated at Pagla treatment plant and the small number of FSM plants established very recently in a few municipalities.

    Usually septic tanks/pits are emptied manually using buckets and ropes. This is discharged into a nearby open drain manually in an unhygienic and primitive way. Sadly, in many cases the outlets of the septic tanks or toilets are connected to nearby public drains or storm sewers and remain out of sight as an invisible problem. This is a much less discussed issue and people often do not know where their sludge is going and the impact it has. The occasional spell of consciousness strikes when this invisible problem becomes visible by creating nuisance due to overflowing septic tanks.

    The first FSM plant in Faridpur

    Practical Action had long been active in the sanitation sector and was concerned about the potential threats of environmental pollution and public hazard of faecal sludge. To address the issue, Practical Action piloted the first ever FSM plant at Faridpur in Bangladesh back in 2008.

    When it started operation, it was soon realised that the elevation was too high and it was too difficult to lift the sludge. To correct that technical glitch an approach road with a ramp was planned to make the operation easier.  We continued to monitor the performance of the plant.

    Sadly, Practical Action had to shut down this plant not due to any technical fault but because of protests from the community. People were under the impression that the place would smell bad and that the value of their land, property and rent would depreciate due to the placement of such a plant. The issue reached such heights that it went as far as the then Minister and the plant had to be shut down within 7 days of operation.

    Participatory approach is key

    We realised that our site selection was not done with proper consultation with the community.  We really didn’t try to understand the socio-political implications of this plant and the concerns of the people. We did not make adequate effort for local and political buy-in as we had underestimated the significance of community engagement.

    In our professional life, in many cases, we often design projects considering the ideal scenario. Often people’s views, needs, expectations even emotions are ignored. We tend to go to them with prescribed solutions assuming ‘our thoughts’ are ‘their thoughts’ or even superior. We remain more accountable to ‘donors’ than ‘communities’ who should be the central attention of our work.

    Faridpur gets its FSM plant

    Learning from this failure, our subsequent approach became more participatory, inclusive and engaging. Eventually, after negotiations with the municipality, the Mayor of Faridpur was kind enough to allocate another tiny piece of land. But by the time we acquired the new land, the project period was almost over and the money had been depleted. With the remaining money, more research was initiated to sustain our FSM initiative in a consortium with WaterAid. Practical Action regained its strength after a successful demonstration of FSM.  Then following a global bidding process, we won a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to provide city-wide FSM services to the citizens of Faridpur.

    It is nine years since the construction of the first plant and Practical Action has now successfully established a large scale FSM plant in the same city- Faridpur. The new plant started operation in 2017 offering citywide services. Practical Action gave the utmost importance to the citizens and rolled out a city wide communication campaign to convince all segments of the local population. It ensured adequate political buy-in and local engagement where citizens and authorities were brought under the same platform to make them mutually accountable.

    Don’t underestimate the strength of the community

    So this is what we learned from our failure: the strength of community is enormous, and that community is the key. If the planning is not done with proper community engagement, no intervention can be sustainable. Political will is essentially very important. Without political and local buy-in working in municipalities is not sustainable. The failure which remained as a monument, in reality added a star in our learning curve, giving us the strength not to give up but to build on failure.

    We need to accept that in our work failures may come and albeit not-so-desirable, we should harness their hidden benefits.

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  • Global Platform for Risk Reduction 2019

    The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) takes place every two years. The platform is the foremost gathering for experts to explore how to reduce disaster risk and build the resilience of communities and nations. The platform is convened by the UNDRR, the United Nations office for DRR, and this year is hosted by the government of Switzerland. More than 4,000 participants and delegates from over 180 countries are registered to attend. This is a rich and diverse group of actors that bridge the worlds of humanitarian aid and development, representing, indigenous communities, gender, the disabled, academia, research, the private sector and civil society organisations. Critically this Global Platform is the last opportunity to support governments to implement national and local disaster risk reduction strategies before they are due to report on these alongside reporting on progress to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals in 2020.

    The recent global assessment of disasters reports that “Overall, floods have affected more people than any other type of disaster in the 21st century, including in 2018”. It is also clear that in many cases these losses are avoidable if resilience building is implemented more effectively. We believe this needs to start at the community level and is about not just implementing hazard mitigation measures but also empowering communities and individuals to make informed choices about the resilience building options available to them. Practical Action had a team from Nepal, Peru and the UK attending the meeting and we will contribute our practical field focused expertise at a number of events. This is all happening at a key moment when global attention is sensitised to the increased threat of loss and damage due to increasingly climate-supercharged extreme events such as Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Southern Africa. This is an opportunity to share our expertise in building the resilience of communities around the world and to influence policy makers to increase ex ante disaster funding and improve resilience policies, building on our expertise from the field.

    One area of special interest is to increase awareness of the scale of the loss and damage that is avoidable based on existing technologies.  Why is this ‘avoidable’ loss and damage still occurring? Because their is insufficient investment and many of the communities in which we work are just not seen as a priority.  So despite significant progress in developing early warning systems across the world, often by making use of advances in science and technology, huge unmet needs remain. Many developing countries, in particular least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), are not benefiting from these advances in the science and technology . Significant gaps remain, especially in reaching the “last mile” – the most remote and vulnerable populations with timely, understandable and actionable warning information, including lack of understanding to use available information. This is where Practical Action has a specific set of practical skills and we will be sharing this expertise at the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference (MHEWC-II) which takes place on the two days prior to the global platform starting on Wednesday.

    Monday 13th May Session 2: Enhancing the link between Early Warning and Early Action (EWEA) through impact-based forecasts (IBF). Madhab Uprerty from our Nepal programme will be sharing the latest experiences from our work in the Karnali river basin to make post event relief more effective.
    Monday 13th May Session 3: Science Technology and Innovation. Miguel Arestegui from our Peru programme will be sharing our experiences in ensuring socially relevant warning communication technologies reach the communities in a timely manner
    Tuesday 14th May Session 5: Evaluation of the socio-economic benefits of multi-hazard early warning systems. Colin McQuistan from the UK will be presenting our work on the cost and benefits of EWS in Nepal and how trust in EWS messages are unlocking additional resilience dividends from communities previously devastated by flash floods

    The workshop is organized by the International Network for Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (IN-MHEWS), in conjunction with the 2019 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the workshop aims to demonstrate how the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning and risk information can be improved, particularly highlighting the role that national governance plays in implementing and sustaining these systems.  The workshop will make recommendations to the global platform on progress to achieve Sendai target G, Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi‑hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

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  • Bridging the sustainable energy gap for smallholders in West Africa


    May 8th, 2019

    In West Africa, demand for food and processed food is increasing mainly due to demographic pressure  while smallholder farmers and processors face difficulties to respond to this demand. Producing and processing more could be facilitated thanks to sustainable and affordable energy.

    However, access to energy is still limited in West Africa, in particular in rural areas, where 9 out of 15 countries have rural electrification rates below 19% and policies for energy access are focused on the satisfaction of the household (domestic) demand. There is a gap in covering specific energy needs for agricultural value chains. To address this challenge, Practical Action through the project “Renewable Energy for Agricultural Livelihoods in West Africa – REAL” is engaging stakeholders for a nexus thinking to lift barriers that hinder access to adequate affordable and sustainable energy services that can be used for agricultural productive uses.
    (more…)

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  • Fashion comes at a price


    May 7th, 2019

    The impact of the fashion industry on water resources in Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporting country in the world. Around 80% of the country’s earnings come from the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, which contributes 16% to the country’s GDP. A total of 4.4 million people work directly in the fashion industry, providing support to more than 40 million indirectly for their livelihood.

    The concentration of the fashion industries is high around the river banks surrounding Dhaka due to easy access to the capital city via waterways and the availability of essential amenities. Industries generate significant amount of wastewater and discharge them into the surface water without proper treatment, polluting the river eco-system. The effluent contains pollutants including salts, dyes and bleaches, heavy metals, chromium etc. Over the last twenty years, surface water quality in and around Dhaka has significantly deteriorated due to unregulated industrial expansion. Water pollution is creating stress in domestic water use as well.

    According to the ranking of National Water Security Index, Bangladesh stands at the 5th lowest. The major reason for that is the deterioration of water quality in rivers and waterbodies due to the discharge of inadequately treated industrial wastewater, unregulated groundwater abstraction and saline  intrusion.

    Photo by Sarah Beckhoff

    An analysis of industrial water use in Bangladesh in 2015, showed that a total of 11,000 industries are operating currently in Bangladesh, of which more than half originate from the fashion industries. Typically, water for industrial use mostly comes from groundwater abstraction. The result of unregulated groundwater abstraction is causing the depletion of groundwater aquifers. With the growth of fashion industries, the demand for water is also increasing. In 2014, estimated water demand was around 4,000 million litres a day. This will increase by 250% by 2030, of which 98% is expected to come from groundwater. Average groundwater depletion in Dhaka city is 3m/year and at some places it led to a ‘water mining situation’, which means water will not be replenished in the aquifer for hundreds of years. Unregulated water abstraction may cause irreversible damage in different parts of the country.

    The fashion industry creates livelihood opportunities for millions of people but at the same time, these industries are polluting natural resources – water in particular. We simply cannot ignore the significant financial contributions of the industry and its influence on the socio-economic dynamics of the country. The question now is how to strike a balance between the positive and negative impacts. The easiest solution could be understanding the causes of pollution and minimizing the impacts on the environment and people.

    Minimizing water use

    There are water-efficient technologies and products which can minimize water use. We need to invest more on research and development. With the forecast increase in the need of water for industry, we need to plan ahead the investment required for future water security towards saving the environment. Often effluent treatment plants are too complicated and expensive. Context specific effluent treatment systems could be designed and operated to suit local conditions. We can promote the reuse and recycling of water and wastewater from the fashion industry. A simple example could be harvesting rainwater and recycling water within industry premises.

    Tackling plastic pollution

    Another issue is that packaging plastic impedes the natural flow of water and aggravates water pollution. The time has come to handle plastic pollution globally. We need to find alternatives but more importantly we need to consciously recycle plastic products now. Technologies are available for recycling to a large extent, if not for all sorts of plastic. However, the very simple issue is that recycled plastic products are always costlier than new plastic. Therefore, to promote plastic recycling, it is essential to change the mind-set, understand the financial implications and adopt a conducive policy environment to make it happen.

    The fashion industry needs to revisit its investment paradigm and operational approach to reduce its adverse effects on the environment and become a trendsetter for the globe.

    Acknowledgement: This presentation was made on invitation from Drip by Drip  at an event FASHION FOR WATER in Berlin on the occasion of the World Water Day, 22 March 2019

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  • Better information helps build resilience that protects


    April 23rd, 2019

    Mary Allen leads Practical Action’s work on agriculture and climate resilience in West Africa.  She has lived in the region since 1986, working on natural resource management and resilience to climate change.

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    In West Africa Practical Action is helping smallholder farmers and people living in low income households, improve their management of and resilience to climate-related risks such as drought and floods, through access to information and adapted knowledge services.

    In 2015 we co-founded the social enterprise Jokalante, whose name means ‘dialogue’ in the Wolof language. It is delivering a range of innovative ICT-enabled services to support uptake of emerging agricultural technologies.

    Four years on, by combining local language radio broadcasts and mobiles phones, Jokalante can reach 600,000 producers across Senegal.  It offers its business, development and government clients a powerful set of tools to engage with men and women living in rural communities, collect feedback and measure levels of satisfaction.

    Jokalante began by promoting a range of locally produced, high quality seeds of staple crops such as millet, sorghum, cowpea and groundnuts. Most of these varieties have a short growing cycle, suitable for years with low rainfall. Their use, alongside existing long season varieties can help farmers to be more resilient to the increasingly variable and unreliable rains in the Sahel. To further strengthen resilience, Jokalante added advice on using organic matter to improve soil fertility, to the promotional campaign for high quality seeds.

    Targeted weather forecasting

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    Practical Action also works to build resilience to climate risks through access to improved information on weather and climate. Many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face barriers of illiteracy, language and connectivity. This restricts their access to services based on text messages or smartphones. In Senegal, Jokalante is working with the national meteorological service to develop a sustainable business model for sending weather advisories to farmers and fishers, as voice messages recorded in the recipients’ preferred local language.

    Finding out how to increase effectiveness

    But improving access is only part of the solution. This information needs to be delivered to farmers in a way that improves their productivity, reduces risk or enhances resilience to climate shocks and stresses. We are using a systems approach based on the idea that everyone involved in the system works together to map the system and analyse how it works.  This will help identify possible changes to make, individually or collectively, to improve the flow of information and how it is used.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    It will take into account all the various factors that may affect the effectiveness of the service including advisory services, social norms and institutional arrangements.

    In Niger and Senegal, participants in pilot studies identified ways to improve men and women’s access to and use of climate information services, forged new partnerships to deliver them and identified locally-driven solutions. The approach has also been useful for designing a new system and a step by step methodology guide is available here on Climatelinks.

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    This initiative in West Africa is part of a wider body of work on the subject around the world, including climate information in Bangladesh 

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