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  • IPCC special report on 1.5°C


    October 8th, 2018

    In 2015 the Paris Agreement, the global compact signed by the governments of the planet to tackle climate change, was agreed. In the negotiated process to reach this agreement some governments still had doubts about the degree of warming that was acceptable and necessary to maintain global development. These governments led by Saudi Arabia, asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to undertake a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Recognising as we do that some increased emissions in developing countries may be necessary in efforts to eradicate poverty. This report and the summary for policy makers, based on review of more than 6,000 independent research papers was released on Monday 8th October at 3am UK time.

    The report identifies that human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and if action isn’t forthcoming global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C by 2030. This warming is set to persist for generations even if zero emissions pathways were implemented immediately. The report indicates that current global challenges related to heatwaves in inhabited regions (high confidence), increased rainfall and flooding in several regions (medium confidence), and expanding drought (medium confidence). So the heatwaves, forest fires, tropical storms, flood and droughts aren’t going to go away any time soon.

     

    Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C is projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain (high confidence). Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C. So we need to act and we need to act now.

    One existing opportunity is to link action to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has long been realised that tackling climate change is essential to deliver on the SDG’s. The graphic below illustrates the linkages between mitigation options and the SDGs, clearly demonstrating that our future is incompatible with continued use of fossil fuels.

    Mitigation options deployed in each sector can be associated with potential positive effects (synergies) or negative effects (trade-offs) with the SDGs. The degree to which this potential is realised will depend on the selected mitigation options, the supporting policy and local circumstances and context. Particularly in the energy sector, the potential for synergies is much greater than for trade-offs, a reminder that we need to commit to zero emissions and need to act on this now.

    Based on the stark evidence nations must now respond by signalling their intention to increase their national emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. They have the perfect opportunity as this December the world gathers for the annual UN climate talks. We need to lobby our governments to take this report and its message seriously. They must commit to strengthen policies and actions that cut global greenhouse gas emissions, invest in measures to limit future climate risks, and do more to help communities cope with the climate impacts that are now unavoidable.

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  • The change we want to see for urban slum dwellers


    September 25th, 2018

    Last week the World Bank released an update of its ‘What a Waste’ report. It highlights how over 90% of waste in low-income countries is openly dumped or burned. This affects everyone, but impacts poor people the most. Rubbish is rarely effectively collected in their neighbourhoods. It causes pollution (including 5% of global climate change emissions), acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other diseases and blocks toilets and drains. It can exacerbate the impacts of flooding. Landslides of waste dumps have buried homes. The situation is only likely to get worse as the combination of urbanization and population growth, together with growing consumption, will lead to a 70% increase in global waste in the next 30 years.

    The release of this report coincides with the meeting of our global leadership team, and with re-vitalising of a crucial internal hub drawn from expert staff from across the world, to provide greater leadership and collaboration in our actions.

    Practical Action has been focusing on supporting urban poor communities for nearly 20 years in our programmes in Africa and South Asia. Our teams on the ground have witnessed these changes first hand, and have built up expertise over time on how to work effectively in these contexts with multiple stakeholders: helping slum communities to ensure their voices are heard, and local authorities to be better able to respond.

    Our work over the last few years has focused on basic services: water, sanitation, hygiene and solid waste management. This is because we know that improvements in these issues makes a dramatic difference to the day-to-day realities of women and men. It helps them live healthier lives, less burdened by the struggle of inadequate services and unpleasant, dangerous conditions. It helps restore dignity and ensure they feel included as part of the city. But also it can be a ‘gateway’ to helping them go on to solve other problems they face. We know that there are challenges for urban Local Authorities, who can be poorly staffed and resourced, struggle with effective community engagement, and lack knowledge of the latest appropriate technologies, financing mechanisms or ideas for partnerships.

    On the positive side, the existing informal sector already plays a huge role in delivering essential services in sanitation, water supply and rubbish collection and recycling (as work by WIEGO shows). The World Bank report suggests there are 15 million informal waste pickers in the world, and that if supported to organize this work can be transformed to provide decent livelihoods and support municipalities in delivering a good service. They can be at the heart of the circular economy, and models of green and inclusive growth.

    Practical Action’s work has strong, concrete evidence:

    Linking our areas of work

    Practical Action is also increasingly trying to see the links between different areas of our work – for example linking our work on solid waste management with energy (biogas technologies), or with our work on improving soil organic matter (composting of faecal sludge and kitchen waste).

    In our global strategy, we remain committed to improving the lives of urban poor communities. We are aiming to support the achievement of the SDG goals of universal access to these services in the towns and cities we are working in across Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

    Our unique approach works with existing systems and stakeholders, puts poor people at the heart of everything we do, and identifies how the right kinds of technologies can be part of positive change. In a fast-changing world, we need to be agile to respond as these challenges grow. We need to find new ways to walk with some of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities through engaging positively with the private sector, and inspiring local authorities and national departments to be pro-poor in their thinking, actions and financing.

    Internally we are committed to doing even more to promote peer-to-peer learning to challenge and inspire staff as they discuss compelling stories, exchange learning, plan together, and gather our evidence to engage effectively in national and international policy dialogues.

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  • My kind of Heroes … the unsung WASHeroes of Gulariya

    “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”

    – Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

    My kind of Heroes is a long remaining B(ack)LOGS gathered while visiting field during the implementation of Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. I got to know them after seeing them – the characters, their tone of voice, and the setting that presents an opportunity to day dream of La La Land. The conversations, the twists and the plots got into unnatural accounts of highs and lows and I felt like a small novice boy boasting and jumping around with their practices, learning and wisdom gathered as true knowledge to share among others.

     

    The Mask of Zorro

    My hero, a down-to-earth family man, when puts on a home-made mask containing the spirit of the sanitation, he becomes a natural and confident leader which allows him to lead a team at a plastic recycling facility. Under the mask, he can explain the various processes of faecal sludge treatment plant components. He easily explains the sludge drying bed, what it does and how it functions.

    The sludge drying bed separates solid and liquid part using sand and gravel layers, solid part gets dried in top of sand and liquid part goes to the tank (anaerobic baffled reactor),” he says in a very confident manner.

     

     

    Wonder Woman

    My hero, is full of doubt about the plan, what to do with very unusable plastics. But she pushes on, when others would have quit, to keep on segregation of plastic which do not have value for transaction.

    My hero wrestles with her own portrait to stop being a hero, still in her best shining moment in the current circumstances.

     

     

     

    The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

    My hero, a normal man became an entrepreneur by chance and dived deep into biosand filter business after acquiring basic construction technique. He started his own business named “Kritag Raj Biosand Filter Industry”.

    My hero, presents a cheerful character and there is a charm hiding under his rough exterior, full of joys and hard work.

     

     

    The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

    My hero is full of contradiction where she operates an inclusive public  toilet facility. She was assigned to operate the facility by her husband after he signed an agreement with the municipality office.

    My hero, being a housewife, was forced by circumstances to a change while being afraid initially, but now can boast around on her work.

     

     

    The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

    My hero, an experience mason started working at the age of thirteen. He started his own entrepreneurship of ring construction after receiving knowledge of sanitation business in couple of trainings. He had had his doubts on the plan thay may not work. But he kept pushing on providing rings for toilet construction and has helped his own municipality become open defecation free.

    My hero, got recognition from the municipality and his children feel proud of the work he has done.

     

    So tell me about your hero … who he/she is?

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  • Time to Adopt Disaster Impact Assessment in Development Initiatives


    September 9th, 2018

    In the recent pasts, it has been observed that human activities play prime role in creating disasters. The impact of 2015 earthquake in Nepal took lives of 9,000 people and completely damaged nearly 500,000 rural and urban houses. The 2015 April earthquake in Nepal destroyed and damaged properties worth more than USD7b, which is over 1/3 of the GDP. The main reason to such a huge loss and damage was due to weak housing and infrastructure that were built without paying proper attention to potential impacts of earthquake. The monsoon flood in 2017 affected nearly 1.7 million people and completely or partially destroyed 190,000 houses. The 2017 monsoon flood damaged properties worth nearly USD600m, which is around 3% of the country’s GDP. The reason behind such damage was again weak structure built on the flood plains without assessing the potential impacts of the flood. This year (2018) flood in Hanumante River in Bhaktapur (Kathmandu valley) damaged over 500 houses, nearly 30 factories, over 100 shops, schools and hospitals. The reason behind this damage was building human settlement on the riverbed encroaching right of river with no assessment of potential flood and its impacts. Despite the knowledge that flood would enter, the structure were not built safe from flood. In these events, human error was clearly observed as a key reason to disasters.

     

    The Sikta Irrigation canal in Banke district of Neal is costing the government millions of rupees every year to maintain it because the design did not pay adequate attention to the potential impacts of the flood to it. The irrigation canal not only gets affected by flood, but it also creates flood in the downstream communities where the people did not experience such flood in the past.

     

    We have been observing that the rural roads in Nepal built without any design and assessment has created thousands of landslides and debris flow downstream taking lives and properties of the people. The roads themselves are also affected by landslides and flood costing to government thousands of money to maintain and compensating to households who have lost lives and properties.

     

    We can go on and on for several such development interventions and initiatives where they bring disaster to local communities and the development initiatives are not safe from the disaster as well. So a brief review of how the development initiatives are designed and implemented clearly tells us that at the design phase there is a serious error with no assessment of potential disasters the development initiatives can bring and the potential magnitude of disaster that these development initiatives have to face. Until the disaster impacts are seriously assessed as a mandatory process for every scale and type (large and small, public and private) of development initiatives, the investment will create problem by bringing disaster to nearby communities, and they will also be affected by disaster that require high maintenance cost making the project a waste of resources and unsustainable.

     

    So the time has come to make Disaster Impact Assessment (DIA) for each development initiatives small or large, private or public, mandatory. A DIA will assess the potential disaster that the development intervention can create in the development site where there was no such disaster in the past. Potentially the development initiatives can create floods, inundations, siltation, debris flow, landslides, soil erosion, river pollution, loss of habitat and resources, fire, health/ disease epidemics, accidents, problem of waste, or any such hazards that can bring disaster to the nearby communities where such hazards did exist in the past. The impact of disaster could be far lasting and wide spread. The DIA should assess such potential disasters that the development interventions will potentially bring or create. The value of impact of such potential disasters (risk) should be assessed at the designing phase together with cost of humanitarian activities, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction because of the potential disaster that could be brought by such development interventions. The cost /impact should also accommodate the social, environmental and cultural cost due to potential damage to these resources by the disaster created by development interventions.

     

    The DIA should also assess the impact of disaster on the development initiatives and interventions if the development activities cannot be avoided from that particular location. As for example Sikta Irrigation project was a must in that particular location, but it gets affected by flood annually. As it is not built adequately strong to resist the impacts of flood, it gets destruction annually by the flood. It seems the design did not assess such potential floods, as a result each year it has to bear millions of rupees for repair and maintenance. This is an example from many such projects. The thousands of private, government and public building destroyed by 2015 earthquake was primarily because the risk of earthquake was not properly assessed and proper protection measures were not adopted timely. The houses built on the river bed in Hanumante River in Kathmandu valley did not pay attention to the risk of flood, so they got affected by flood.

     

    So it is time now that we have to learn from the past where we did not assess the potential disaster of development initiatives and intervention to local communities and environments, because of which they created man-made disasters. Similarly because of lack of assessment, these development interventions and initiatives have been adversely affected by disaster and the government has to pour millions of taxpayers’ money on their repair and maintenance annually.

     

    DIA will look at the disaster risk aspects of the development initiatives and provide following recommendations

     

    1. The appropriateness of the particular development intervention or initiative in that particular location. The cost of potential humanitarian activities, post disaster activities such as rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction, and the cost of repair and maintenance of the initiative compared to the anticipated benefits from the development interventions
    2. If it is feasible then the assessment will provide recommendations to prevent potential disaster that the development interventions can create to the community and the environment, at the project period and throughout the life of the initiative
    3. The assessment will also provide recommendations for the protection and resilience measures to be adopted for the development initiatives to be safe from the potential disasters that can affect them. This will include measures to adopt at the time of development and construction, and after the completion at the time of benefit taking from the initiatives.

     

    However the DIA should not be like EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) which has become like a ritual. The DIA should be done by an independent study / assessment team commissioned by the government. It is government’s responsibility to protect its people and their properties, and the properties of the state.

     

    The DIA will need robust tools and methodologies. It is not to prevent development initiatives from happening, but to enhance the value for money of the development initiatives and interventions, and protect lives and properties of the people, and that of the state. It should be part of designing process and should not take unnecessarily long time that delays the development process.

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  • Climate Change is back in the News


    , | September 6th, 2018

    The last few years have started to place climate change back on the political map, not in respect to astounding stories of climate denial but because the foresight of scientists such as James Hansen[1] finally seems to be coming to fruition.  Last autumn witnessed the most devastating North Atlantic Hurricane season on record. A season that the poorer Caribbean counties are only just started to recover from, some may say just in time for the next one. Europe has experienced exceptional heat waves, globally the planet has exceeded numerous temperature maximums and worryingly some planetary system appear to be showing signs of failure. Perhaps most worrying for anyone living next to the sea, is the collapse of the arctic ice sheets. It’s starting to be pretty obvious to everyone except the incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that we are entering a new normal, one of increased and less predictable weather.

    Currently the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (UNFCCC), signed into force back in 1994, are meeting in Bangkok to progress negotiations on the rule book for the Paris Agreement. The negotiations have so far been convened in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration but based on the first three days there still remains a lot of work to do. So what are the key areas where further work is required?

    The scientific community is nearing the completion of a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on keeping within 1.5oC[2]. It’s clear from the full report that this is extremely unlikely and we are falling behind efforts to meet the Paris Agreement. Current commitments as document in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) landing us well above 3oC warming. This will have catastrophic global impacts but mostly on the poorest, those least responsible for the problem in the first place.

    One of the sticking points in the negotiations and obvious here in Bangkok is finance, or the lack of it. The developed world made a pledge in Copenhagen to provide support to the developing world to respond to the losses caused by climate change. The promise was for $100Bn in addition to existing development budgets to finance climate action. The global community rapidly mobilised the Green Climate Fund as the conduit for this funding, but sadly the promised level of funding is not being met and the majority of the funding is going on Business as Usual mitigation projects with little going to adaptation, and no mechanism in place to cover Loss and Damage caused by irreversible climate change. As we are seeing for some people and communities climate action is already too little and too late, they are living with the consequences of a changed climate.

    But who should pay for the irreversible consequences of climate change, should the polluters pay? One simple way to do this would be the introduction of a climate damages tax[3]. A fossil fuel extraction charge levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change. The use of the substantial revenues raised would be allocated, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities already forced from their homes.

    Finally on technology, something close to the hearts of myself and my colleagues at Practical Action. Technology is critical to limit warming to less than 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement proposes a technology framework, meant to provide guidance on technology as a means along with finance and capacity. The Technology Mechanism that came out of COP 16 in Cancun, is great but has had limited achievements. It has been stymied by lack of funding and struggled to get past the first stage of top down, gender blind technology needs assessments. The framework was meant to enhance the process to deliver technology to support transformational climate action, by bringing more actors on board and by empowering the voice of local communities and national governments. The sort of participatory action necessary to deliver in the spirit of the Paris Agreement. Parties seem to have lost their ability to dream big and develop the technology framework that the world needs, unfortunately it feels like we are stuck at square one[4].

    [1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jun/25/30-years-later-deniers-are-still-lying-about-hansens-amazing-global-warming-prediction

    [2] http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/the-climate-damages-tax-an-idea-whose-time-has-come/

    [4] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/skeletons-castles-and-closets-a-reflection-on-technology-negotiations-at-sb46/

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

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

    Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

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

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

     

    New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

    Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Insights for Urban WASH programming

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

    My personal highlights

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

    What was missing?

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

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

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

     

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  • Why is Raspberry Pi perfect for building flood resilience?


    August 20th, 2018

    Could a palm-sized $10 computer become a life-saving tool against disasters and climate change? In this blog, Rob Mullins (Raspberry Pi co-founder) and Miguel Arestegui (Disaster Risk Reduction specialist at Practical Action) discuss how the Raspberry Pi micro-computer is building flood resilience in Peru and how it could help us in the future.

    A Raspberry Pi micro-computer. Source: www.acadecap.org

    A Raspberry Pi micro-computer. Source: www.acadecap.org

    Creator meets user

    Raspberry Pi was founded by Rob Mullins and five other friends in 2009 at Cambridge University. Rob and Eben Upton (now CEO of Raspberry Pi trading) met to discuss “how applicants for computer science had fallen sharply and how those applying had less experience than in the past. The solution, we thought, was to build a low-cost computer. The idea was that this would be something that children could own, experiment and create with and build into exciting projects.”

    Since then, more than 15million Raspberry Pi computers have been manufactured and it has become the go-to technology for creating low-cost, yet powerful, solutions to local problems.

    Miguel Arestegui and his team have used the technology to adapt and improve flood early warning systems in Peru

    “As part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance we’re working in communities [in Chosica, Peru] where we have the problem not only of floods but also of rapid debris flow”. 

    Without enough warning, communities cannot escape the danger. Although national warning systems do exist, Miguel explains, “There is a strong distrust of flood forecasts, because we have a serious lack of historical data in this area”. An effective local solution was clearly needed.

    Miguel’s team discovered that the “Raspberry Pi Foundation has this weather station kit  for high schools, and that gave us an idea: what if we tackle this need…[by] adapting or developing this sort of early warning system?” 

    Miguel and Practical Action then worked with the community and local government to implement a warning system controlled by monitoring stations based on Raspberry Pi. The micro-computers receive and process information on rainfall, soil moisture and river water levels, and take pictures. This information then feeds into platforms that issue alerts.

    An ‘end-to-end’ early warning system composed of four components, including monitoring which in Chosica is controlled by Raspberry Pi. Source: Practical Action

    An ‘end-to-end’ early warning system composed of four components, including monitoring which in Chosica is controlled by Raspberry Pi. Source: Practical Action

    From toy box to tool box

    So what is it about the Raspberry Pi that makes it the perfect flood resilience tool?

    It’s open-source

    “The fact that the board is used by so many people means it’s become a standard component” says Rob. Plus, because all those users are creating projects with open-source code “other people can build on them and improve them”. This means there’s a community of people and experience to kick-start new projects.

    Miguel’s experience demonstrates this advantage: “We completely constructed this [early warning system] with the community. The open-source code was the building block that helped us complete this in […] just over one year. It would have been impossible if we were working on our own.” 

    It’s adaptable

    Because users have full access to Raspberry Pi codes without commercial constraints, the technology can be tailored perfectly to fit need. “People are able to use computers as tools” says Rob, “they’re able to produce the solutions themselves rather than having to go to someone else to provide the implementation. This stimulates local solutions to local problems.”  

    For example, in Chosica the previous early warning system was controlled by nation-wide commercially-owned software, which made local-scale changes impossible. But Miguel explains that because the new system was based on Raspberry Pi adaptations could be made based on local knowledge, for example “to take data more often than what technical studies would suggest. This was later found to be necessary based on the short lead time for these rapid events, stressing the importance of local memory in data scarce regions. The fact that these technologies can be locally adapted makes them good for building resilience, which goes way beyond isolated preparedness measures.”

    It’s low-cost but not low-tech

    “Previously, low-cost implied low-tech” says Miguel. To have both high-tech and low-cost “is providing a new platform that could help link the gap between local needs in developing countries and the usual high cost of equipment that hinders National Scientific Institutions to address those needs”. 

    Rob agrees, he has seen that “there is enormous scope to…replicate an expensive and very specialised system using something like Raspberry Pi to produce something that is technically almost as good, but using a very low-cost solution.”  

    Miguel Arestegui with first version monitoring station controlled by Raspberry Pi in Chosica, Peru. Source: Practical Action

    Miguel Arestegui with first version monitoring station controlled by Raspberry Pi in Chosica, Peru. Source: Practical Action

    The future of risk, resilience and Raspberry Pi

    How do our experts think the technology will change in the future, and how could this make an even better tool in the fight against climate change?

    Better hardware

    Rob, as the hardware expert, thinks the next few years will bring “ultra-low power computers that can be used in these monitoring applications. Also computers that eventually just biodegrade and don’t have the impact on the environment that they do today.”

    Better connectivity

    Miguel sees a future where more and more of us are connected to the internet. “Right now there are some constraints with connectivity that I think are going to start changing quite rapidly. [This] is going to provide so many tools for people in vulnerable situations”. 

    Changing the way people can share their own knowledge will help them cope with climate change. According to Miguel, “in climate vulnerable areas there is a critical problem in the lack of connection between the impacts of climate change and the amount of data you have in those areas. I think that these technologies can help the role of local information that communities themselves can provide to address this gap.”

    Better networks

    Rob says “even though the community is very strong I still think there are opportunities to build better networks, for example between universities in different countries”.

    But Miguel predicts better networks may also need to exist at higher levels. “I am curious to see if we arrive at some sort of standardisation of these open-source and decentralised initiatives. It is useful to adapt development to local contexts but I think to scale-up these initiatives and make them reliable and robust enough to take to high-level discussions, a level of standardisation is needed.” 

    Local volunteer Anghelo Dueñas with the latest version of the Raspberry Pi based monitoring station. Source: Practical Action

    Local volunteer Anghelo Dueñas with the latest version of the Raspberry Pi based monitoring station. Source: Practical Action

    To discover more solutions for building flood resilience, or to find other information and guidance visit The Flood Resilience Portal

    Or find out more about Chosica’s flood early warning system in this technical brief, or this 360 degree video 

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  • The rescuers


    July 31st, 2018

    One of my (not-so-pleasant) vivid memories, is witnessing overflowing sludge from the septic tank at our home when I  was studying at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). My mother, one of the smartest ladies I have ever seen, just rushed to the nearby refugee camp, known as ‘Geneva camp’ in search of rescuers. It was getting dark, and we were desperately waiting for the arrival of the rescuers to salvage us from the mess and to relieve us from the sight of utter disgust at the entrance of our home.

    Finally a troop of six people came with their ‘equipment’. Being a student of civil engineering, I was eagerly waiting to see the ‘operation’ with my own eyes. Despite my mother’s red-eyes and gesture of annoyance, I kept on observing with a hope of being a (devoted) engineer.

    They brought with them the necessary equipment – some ropes and buckets together with a drum full of (so-called) chemical. They started by pouring the chemical from the mini drum which was simply kerosene. They mixed kerosene with water to dilute the sludge inside the septic tank to bring it to an optimum consistency. They tied the buckets to ropes and started collecting the semi-solid sludge from the septic tank by dipping the bucket into the tank, and then carried that to the nearby open drain and dumped it manually in the shadow of the darkness of the night. The operation continued for hours and finally shut down early in the morning at the cost of some few hundred Takas after some heavy haggling with my mother.

    I had almost forgotten that memory in the midst of so many lovely and lively events of my life. When I entered my professional career, I discovered that many things have changed over time, in terms of technology, lifestyle and what not, but the story of the rescuers didn’t change much!

    I started my development career after switching from hardcore civil engineering and devoted myself to work on the waste value chain. At some point of time, I wanted to know how septic tanks were emptied and came to know that the same practice prevailed even after two decades!

    I continued my professional journey with the aim of turning ‘waste into resources.’ While working on the ‘waste value chain’, I found, people who are associated with managing waste as their day to day business, are the most neglected, deprived and vulnerable in society.

    After two decades, my rusty memory again came to light. I noticed that we are using our toilets every day and our faecal waste is deposited into septic tanks. When these septic tanks are full and start overflowing creating nuisance, only then do we look for some untouchable sweeper communities to clean up the mess. And they appear as our ‘Rescuers’ to clean it manually using the same primitive technology – a rope and few buckets.

    Unfortunately, even in the twenty-first century, people are cleaning human waste manually!

    Every year at least 30-50 people die while cleaning septic tanks because of carbon monoxide and other poisonous gas generated inside the tanks. We really need to think of their lives, dignity and health and safety.

    The stories of other ‘waste workers’ are not something rosy. Every day, no less than 20,000 tons of municipal waste are generated from our houses, offices, industries. The waste workers are putting their lives at risk for making our lives better.

    Among the waste workers, women are even more deprived. Despite clear indication of the payment of equal wage for men and women in the National Labour Policy-2012, women are getting much less than men, and this is a common practice.

    Nowadays, ‘waste’ is drawing the attention of many entrepreneurs. Some areas are booming like recycling plastic and mobile phones. But what is happening to the workers? What about their working environment? Wage parity? Dignity?

    Sanitation and waste workers of all categories are lacking dignity and risking their lives, and surviving in an unhealthy and sub-human environment. We need to work to safeguard their dignity, realise their rights, minimise wage disparity and secure their health and safety.

    I wish to continue my journey for my fellow brothers and sisters who are putting their best efforts towards making cities liveable. I want my memory to be replaced by a shiny new one.

     

     

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  • Market based resilience building in Bangladesh


    July 26th, 2018

    For the past week I have been visiting the Practical Action programme in Bangladesh to support their work on resilience programming. I attended the wrap up meeting of the GRP Project, worked with the consultant team undertaking the final external evaluation of the project, helped staff in the flood resilience programme design activities for the next phase of the project and attended the meeting of the Markets Development forum.

    Bangladesh is a relatively young nation achieving independence in 1971 and being described by the then US foreign secretary as a bottomless basket. The country has progressed considerably in the recent past and Bangladesh set a landmark record in poverty alleviation by reducing it by 24.6% between 2000 and 2016, meaning more than 20.5 million people escaped the poverty line to find better lives for themselves. Bangladesh has also been praised in the world media for its outstanding successes with regards to various socio-economic indicators, such as the rate of literacy and life expectancy.

    A demonstration of the commitment of the country to a market driven development approach was clearly demonstrated at the Markets Development Day that I was fortunate enough to attend. I gained a deeper insights into their valuable contribution to market driven development particularly as I was invited to provide the conference wrap up, due to the last minute withdrawal of the pre-agreed speaker. In summarising the conference I was made aware of the diversity of challenges matched to the wealth of critical thinking by the development actors in this forum.

    The Market Development Forum is a forum of over 25 likeminded organisations exploring the use of markets based approaches to poverty reduction. As highlighted above Bangladesh has made significant gains in this area, but this is not felt equally by everyone. The theme of this year’s conference recognises this with the topic “Unblocking barriers to markets” with specific focus on the following;

    • Youth and jobs, in recognition of the rapidly growing youth population facing challenges with inadequate growth in the jobs markets
    • Humanitarian Context, the role of markets in humanitarian relief, especially reflecting that Bangladesh has recently seen the arrival of &&& Rohingya refugees
    • Financial inclusion, looking at linking the small scale informal financial systems developed in poor rural areas with mainstream finance and access to traditional banking and credit
    • Women’s Economic Empowerment, many economic sectors are dependent on predominantly women works with the garments sector the largest GDP revenue earner
    • Reaching the disabled, how to make markets truly inclusive and ensure that the many disabled people in Bangladesh have equal access
    • Social services, markets development on its own is inadequate this session looks at the parallel development of social systems necessary to support and stabilise poverty reduction benefits in often precarious markets

    I was impressed not only at the level of participation in the conference, but also the diversity of organisations and perspectives displayed. The presentations were excellent and the question and answer sessions expanded the discussion indicating the depth and breadth of markets development thinking in the country.

    What were some of the key take home messages I picked up from the conference?

    For the markets in humanitarian context the challenges highlighted are in the case of the refugees is the almost instantaneous impact refugees have on existing value chains. The presenter highlighted that in Cox’s Bazaar where the refugee camps are located, the labour markets has collapsed from 500bdt[1] per day to less than 100, while the price of construction materials have increased with the price of raw bamboo poles tripling in price. In the flood case study the flood severs markets, causing value chains to be broken, as access to services, input and export markets become severed. In this situations it is important not to overlook the role of markets in the pre flood disaster planning, to ensure that forecasts and weather information are used to inform the markets actors to ensure that activities are matched to expected conditions and if extreme flood events are expected the critical supplies can be pre-positions for rapid deployment in the case of a flood event becoming a human disaster. Tools such as Emergency Markets Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) and Pre-Crisis Markets Assessment (PCMA) are invaluable tools to help agencies plan for markets based engagement in humanitarian contexts.

    For the youth and job sessions the situation in Bangladesh is challenging. The country has a growing youth population but insufficient employment opportunities to offer this potential workforce. In addition the traditional education system is failing to deliver the practical skills necessary for employment. So structural changes to job markets need to start in the education system. The projects presented are looking to develop appropriate opportunities for these workers, including self-employment in formal as well as less formal emerging sectors. Finally for youth employment it is important to look at the right supporting services including Sexual and Reproductive Health, Gender Based Violence, skills training and job placements.

    In the women’s economic empowerment, the first session highlighted the differential access to information for women and men. One project explored how the provision of information to women enabled them to explore alternative livelihood opportunities. Traditional extension services are focussed on providing services to men and male dominated institutions. New technologies can provide access to formerly disconnected groups. For example SMS messages reach wider audience and voice messages can reach illiterate members. The presenters reported that access to information is certainly benefiting women’s economic empowerment. But more importantly does the access to information lead to changes in the behaviours between women and men? Early indications are that access to information, is leading to women informally helping their neighbours and men being more tolerant of women’s engagement in additional activities and accepting if meals are late.

    In my closing remarks I commented on the refreshing absence of any market maps in the presentations. It is important to recognise that they are a vital tool in markets driven development, but can provide a very unclear method to share findings with a large audience. It was great to get the core messages from their markets projects without descending into the nitty gritty of the value chain, the key actors, the supporting services, or the limits and opportunities presented by the enabling environment. My final comment was on the absence of the care economy in any of the sessions I attended. I was surprised in a forum in which gendered markets development projects were being presented that I learned little about the traditional role of women and men and the implications for the markets driven development on women’s existing role as the care giver.

    [1] BDT Bangladesh Taka (100 BDT = 90 pence)

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  • 7 actions to boost small scale green enterprise in Bangladesh


    July 26th, 2018

    The term “green business” is barely understood by the majority of people, even the business fraternity.

    There is no clear definition of “green business” in Bangladesh yet. People take it as a business that either contributes to keeping the environment green, in other words, unharmed, or that doesn’t produce anything that contributes to a carbon footprint. Most people also understand that responsibility for keeping our environment green and safe rests solely on our own shoulders.

    Green enterprise

    The question is whether we have done anything to protect our environment? The answer is both yes and no.

    The “yes” answer would come up with some cherry picked examples, but the answer “no” would be weightier,  because what we have done so far are just some unplanned initiatives that have turned out well. When I say unplanned, this does not mean that we don’t have any plan on paper – you would be amazed at the many wonderful papers and policies in place!  We are very good at writing documents like policies, laws, orders, etc., but lack the capacity and political will to put them into practice.

    So, what could we do to sustain and scale up green enterprises?

    Many ideas have been put forward, but I am going to share with you seven that I have picked up from a Learning Sharing Workshop, organised by Practical Action in Bangladesh, entitled, ‘Promotion of Green Enterprises for Accelerated Inclusive Green Growth’.

    1. We don’t have a government-approved definition of green business. Often small-scale green businesses are not considered by agencies that could have worked with and supported them. Therefore, this is essential to have a definition in place as soon as possible.
    2. With a government-approved definition of green business, entrepreneurs will get access to Micro Finance Institutes. At the same time insurance companies could open their doors to them to safeguard their business. Other private sector businesses will also join in.
    3. Small scale entrepreneurs are not holding back in spite of such an identity crisis. They are doing business which contributes to keeping our environment clean and safe. Our small-scale green entrepreneurs are mostly poorly organised and untrained, and they work in unhealthy conditions. The time has come to develop cooperatives for them. Unless they get organised, deprivation will continue, and they will be looked down upon. With unity, they will be able to achieve dignity.
    4. One of the important components of green business is organic fertiliser. Government needs to give especial attention into this. Every year we lose nearly 82,000 hectares of land in Bangladesh, and there are roughly around 2 million more mouths to be fed. We churn out the nutrients of our soil to produce more and more food from a gradually decreasing amount of land. At some point of time, our arable lands will stop providing us with food. Organic fertiliser is the only solution available to rejuvenate our soil. Now is the time for an orchestrated initiative to save our soil by promoting the green business of organic fertiliser.
    5. Kitchen waste could a good source of organic fertiliser. But, turning bio-degradable kitchen waste into fertiliser is not an easy task. It would take an orchestrated effort of different government agencies, private sectors, donors, NGOs and civil society groups. Effective and strategic partnerships to do this need to be put in place now.
    6. In the recent past, the collection, transportation and dumping of household waste (mostly kitchen waste) was managed by small scale waste vendors, commonly known as waste-pickers. Now that there is money to be made in this, vested interest groups have appeared to take over control of these. These groups are also controlled by the local political leaders. Strong steps need to take to give back these ventures to the real waste vendors, and provide support them to turn into green business entrepreneurs.
    7. With a government-approved definition of green business, a major public awareness programme needs to put in place so that people, especially unemployed people, will be inspired to start in this business.

    You may be able to add other actions to this list. But, one action, which is essential is that we all work together for this cause – locally, nationally and globally to ensure that more people become involved with green enterprise.

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