Practical Action Consulting | Blogs

  • Beyond the jargon – why I’m participating in the UNLEASH Innovation Lab


    August 11th, 2017

    Here are some phrases many of us in the international development sector hate: innovative ideas, scale and scalability, accelerating impact, disrupting ‘business as usual’. These words have been so over-used that they’ve lost all meaning, and yet they continue to be plastered (mostly inappropriately) all over development programmes and initiatives.

    So when I read about UNLEASH, a ‘global innovation lab’ for ‘innovative, implementable and scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals’ that brings together 1000 ‘young global talents’ to ‘accelerate disruptive ideas by engaging top talents in problem-solving and co-creation’, I admit my first reaction was…eye roll.

    Emma working

    However, though I might be a sceptic of the international development sector, I’m an optimist when it comes to the potential for positive change in the world to happen.

    So when I looked closer at UNLEASH, I looked beyond the jargon, and I saw something with potential. UNLEASH is bringing together smart young people, people with energy and experience and fresh ideas, and facilitating a hands-on experience that allows them to learn and work together to help solve very big problems. This is very interesting to me for three reasons.

    1. There’s a big problem I care a lot about solving.

    Improved cooking stove in Kenya

    I care a lot about the access gap – the fact that billions of people still lack access to very basic technologies and services like electricity, clean water and clean cooking facilities. Five years ago I co-founded a social business called Pollinate Energy to tackle the access gap in urban slums in India. Pollinate Energy uses door-to-door sales agents to distribute products like solar lights, water filters and clean cookstoves on credit to people who otherwise have no ability to access or pay for these kinds of technologies. Today, I work at Practical Action and collaborate with actors from across the sector to figure out how we can better support organisations like Pollinate Energy and improve distribution channels to close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    2. I solve problems most effectively when I work with a team who care as much as I do.

    I co-founded Pollinate Energy with 5 other young people, and we worked together in a highly collaborative, iterative environment. We had different skillsets and personalities, we pushed each other and learnt from each other, and there was plenty of conflict. We made rapid decisions and many mistakes, but we also adapted quickly. While there are some people who would undoubtedly hate this approach to working, I loved it. UNLEASH is seeking to create a similar ‘start-up’ environment for people who share a vision. When I’m in this kind of environment I am at my best and can make a real contribution.

    3. UNLEASH seems to genuinely value and promote diversity.

    Participants at UNLEASH are coming from 129 countries, and it seems the majority are coming from the ‘global south’ which is a refreshing change. Just over half of participants are women. And participants have been chosen based on their experience in tackling the problems that the lab is trying to solve. This kind of diversity is critical to tackling any big challenge, but especially international development challenges.

    The idea of an ‘innovation lab’ that brings together different stakeholders to try and solve development challenges is not wholly new. But it’s hard to find research on whether other innovation labs have actually had an impact. Have they produced new solutions that work? Have they made hidden issues more visible or built momentum that has forced action? Have they developed the skills and knowledge of practitioners? I don’t know – and it seems the international community needs to put more effort into measuring the success of these kinds of initiatives – but I think there’s no question that UNLEASH has potential. And not just potential to deliver on its goals of building solutions to the SDGs, but also potential to prove that innovation labs can have a genuine impact.

    To a large extent, the success of UNLEASH will rest on the shoulders of the 1000 young leaders who have been given the opportunity to be involved. We can go a long way towards delivering on the goals of UNLEASH if we:

    • genuinely build on experience and lessons learnt, and don’t reinvent the wheel
    • use systems thinking to truly understand the problems we’re trying to solve and why these problems exists in the first place
    • come with the right attitude and in the right spirit, not focusing on building our own networks / promoting our own business / adding to our CV.

    If we can do this, we might produce some interesting new ideas and approaches that the whole international development community can benefit from. And hopefully some of these ideas and approaches will help us close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Direct seeded rice – A promising resource efficient technology


    June 29th, 2017

    Arjun Bhattarai, a 51-year-old farmer living in Koshi Haraicha of Morang district, grows rice as a major crop in his land. Out of his three children, a daughter and a son are blind by birth. So, with the help of his only wife and some casual workers, he used to grow rice and vegetables in his own 8 kattha (1 Kattha = 333.33 sq. meter) and leased 10 kattha land. They were able to hardly meet their annual household needs. Moreover, technical issues like lack of knowledge concerning cultivation techniques, suitable seed variety, pest and diseases, irrigation facility and unavailability of labour in the time of need have made them more vulnerable.

    Arjun sowing rice seeds using a drum seeder. (c) Practical Action/Prabin Gurung

    He joined a Pilot Programme for Climate Resilient Agriculture (PPCR) -Rice training and demonstration plot activity in April 2014 with the hope of getting technical support to improve his farming practice and productivity while reducing the cost of cultivation.He showed keen interest in developing a demonstration plot in his own land. However, he was quiet hesitant to try the new technology of Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) in his land. He was afraid that whether or not the new technology would give the same production as the traditional transplanting technology.

    What is DSR?

    Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) is a resource efficient technology that can overcome constraints and limitations of traditional cultivation technology. Various constraints of traditional cultivation technology like higher water and labour demand, extra expenses during raising nursery, uprooting and transplanting, uncertain supply of irrigation water and increased frequency of drought has necessitated alternative techniques like DSR that not only reduces the cost of production but also assure its sustainability.

    DSR is not common in Nepal because of lack of technical knowhow, marginal and scattered land, low land holding capacity of Nepalese farmers and poor irrigation facilities. There are some basic requirements for successful direct seeding like, big plot of well leveled land, more than 0.25 ha (1 ha = 10000sq. meter), large enough to use a machine; and good irrigation facility so that the land can be irrigated and the water can be drained easily.

    Before the project intervention, he had also practiced SRI (System of Rice Intensification) with the help of District Agricultural Development Office (DADO) Morang, with a good productivity. However, as it required lot of skill and labourers, he was unable to continue the technology. In this regards he found DSR as a suitable option to conventional transplanting and modern SRI technology. He says, “Though I was confused on the performance of DSR, I found that this technology can reduce labour cost significantly and perform better in poor irrigation facility too.”

    Direct seeded rice seedlings 20 days after seeding

    Usually in DSR, first 20 days after seeding is the most important period and critical for successful establishment. If irrigation water is not under control then DSR plants cannot develop as per the expectation. During this initial phase of establishment of seedlings, irrigation should be done just to saturate the field. If irrigation water is above the saturation threshold, i.e., standing water in field then it affects emergence and early development of seedlings, and the seedlings can even die.

    More yield with less input

    Arjun used to produce 4 mann ( 1 mann =  40 kgs) per kattha but this time he was able to produce 5 mann rice per kattha, also his cost of production was reduced by 25% as he used only two labourers during his entire cropping period.  In DSR, the labour required for nursery raising, uprooting and transplanting of seedlings are saved to the extent of about 40% and up to 50% water is saved as nursery raising, puddling, seepage and percolation are eliminated. The fertiliser use efficiency is increased and early maturity (15-20 days) helps in timely sowing of succeeding crops. Likewise, up to 50% energy is saved because of elimination of field preparation for nursery raising, puddling and reduced water application for irrigation. Even the methane emission is reduced and the soil structure is not disturbed as in puddled transplanted system. And the elimination of transplanting means less drudgery to farm women labourers. Also the cost of cultivation is reduced due to the reduced labour and energy costs.

    Direct seeded rice 40 days after seeding

    Challenges in DSR cultivation

    However, while cultivating DSR, farmers in Nepal face challenges like land topography, irrigation and drainage facility, and availability of inputs like herbicides and lack of technical know-how.

    Weed is a major problem in DSR, and it can be only managed through proper time management, controlling and weed-free irrigation system. Most of the irrigation water in Nepal comes through irrigation canals that are fully contaminated with weed seeds and also this irrigation water is uncontrollable, periodic and not sufficient for good production.

    In this regards, we have identified possible consideration and modification that have to be applied while practising DSR method of rice production in Nepalese context. Based on our experiences, we have developed following intervention to achieve significant results, thereby reducing weed infestation.

    1. Use of Glyphosate: Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that kills all grasses and weed. It should be sprayed before land preparation. However, use of glyphosate should be limited only to those plots which have higher weed infestation and are lying fallow for a long period.

    2. Suitable land selection and Controlled irrigation: Usually DSR can be cultivated in all types of soil and land. However, due to difficulty in irrigation water management, upland lands are more suitable than flood-prone lowland.

    3. Use of post emergence herbicide (15-20days after seeding): Post emergence herbicides like 2-4 D and Nominee gold (Bispyribec) are being used to control weeds. Usually these herbicides are used alone or in combination to bring weed concentration below economic threshold.

    4. Irrigation Water Management: Care should be taken for first 20 days after seeding. After 15 days, seedling phase enters to tillering phase and irrigation management is not a big problem after that. As we select upland land for DSR, we do not have much flooding problem. For the first 15-20 days, irrigation is done just to saturate soil from irrigation canals or deep borings. After 20 days, irrigation and other management aspects are same as traditional/transplanting technology.

    Having learnt about the technical know-how of cultivating DSR, Arjun is happy to continue it over the traditional method. He says, “I was in a dilemma whether or not to try this technology, but now I am confident that I can adopt this technology without any difficulty and even my neighbours are planning to follow this technology.”

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Meeting rural electricity needs in Malawi


    June 20th, 2017

    An expanding geographic area of work for Practical Action is in Malawi’s agriculture and energy sectors.

    Malawi has an agro-based economy, with the agriculture sector contributing 30% to the national GDP annually.  Increasing challenges from the changing climate and the demand to feed a fast growing population are driving an increasing focus on this sector. Practical Action has a valuable role to play, which I will talk about in a future blog.  Today I want to concentrate on our role in the provision of electricity.

    Malawi relies on a limited number of hydroelectric stations to generate its electricity. But grid generation is only able to provide power to 10% of the population and within that to only 1% of the rural population. Current generation plans fall far short of meeting the growing national demand. We know that electricity provision – for lighting, for cooking, for small businesses, for water pumping for irrigation is crucial for social as well as economic development.

    Malawi microhydro

    Microhydro site

    Currently there is a high reliance on fuel wood, cow dung, agricultural waste, candles, diesel and paraffin for energy provision in the rural communities but these solutions are not cost effective or environmentally sustainable compared to renewable energy technologies.

    Practical Action is working to address this shortfall in rural electrification through applying its strong international pedigree in pioneering off grid power generating solutions to producing results and learning in Malawi.

    Over the past five years we have established a functioning minigrid serving communities, small business, schools and health facilities in the Mulanje area in the south of Malawi. This facility will soon see three hydro schemes generating electricity from the rivers falling from Mount Mulanje.  This operation is managed and maintained by a local social enterprise and is the first independent power producer in Malawi to be approved by the Government. Practical Action also has other ongoing electricity generation schemes in Malawi, this time using solar power, providing electricity to pump water into irrigation schemes in Chikwawa and Nsanje in the lower Shiree. We are already seeing results in the form of household and community lighting stimulating improved education, improved healthcare and efficiency of small businesses.

    Malawi milling

    Diesel powered milling machine

    The greatest opportunity we have now is not to continue delivering these solutions ourselves but to produce solid evidence and learning from our past and current work and share this widely to allow others to take the delivery forward. By learning from these interventions and using this knowledge of what worked and what did not work we will define our role in Malawi by assisting and supporting others in the off grid sector. This approach will ultimately give more people access to electricity.

    A real example this new role comes from a scoping visit last week to a new hydro site North of Muzuzu. We have an exciting opportunity to facilitate a hydro based electricity generation minigrid through working with a group of commercial coffee producers, local communities and artisan entrepreneurs, funding agencies and the Ministry of Energy.  The potential is there to create a minigrid that provides power for local businesses to develop, to provide communities with lighting, to provide electricity to improve education and healthcare standards and also to power the coffee growers and processers thus stimulating economic output.

    malawi coffee

    Coffee co-operative

    Before we go further, we must be clear of the level of responsibility that lies with us – there are downsides as well as upsides to this initiative. Our role initially will involve learning and experience to feed into a thorough feasibility assessment taking into consideration the technical possibilities of harnessing the river flow and the economic sustainability using supply costs and demand forecasts. We must also emphasise the social and environmental impact. The project site is in a rural and forested part of northern Malawi and we must ensure that the generation scheme and the development that it catalyses minimise environmental degradation (the aim is to improve this aspect) as well as incorporate plans to  address the social changes resulting from increase concentrations of people around the electricity access areas.

    We believe that our learning and evidence from our current and past minigrid work places us in a very strong position to produce the best possible outcome.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • What’s next for ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’?


    June 1st, 2017

    Each year the World Bank bring together their country representatives from around the globe to measure progress and push forward on new initiatives.  ‘World Bank land’ in Washington DC becomes a bustling mini-city within a city. Even the bus stops get the messages out.  My favourite this year was Rich countries shouldn’t define poverty for poor countries’world bank

    I was there to participate in a panel discussing the relevance and progress of their four year pilot of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture program (EBA).

    Work began on this in 2013, funded by donors like DFID, USAID and Gates Foundation. It set out to become a high profile global programme that assesses countries regulatory environment for agri-business. The intention is to provide governments and others with information which will help them to make better policy and investment decisions.

    Over the past four years Practical Action has been engaging with this program because we know that:

    1. Farmers and other agri-business players are deeply affected by the enabling environment and, whatever the context, it can have a direct impact on their ability to make money from their activities. Part of this is determined by the regulatory environment, but only part.  Our work highlights many more issues not covered by the EBA.
    2. Regardless of what NGOs think of tools like the EBA, they can be influential, whether we like them or not! The World Bank’s flagship program Doing Business is in its 14th year and has been shown to shape regulation in the 190 countries that use it. So however imperfect, we recognise that this type of information is used by policy makers and investors.

    Throughout the pilot phase the EBA program has had harsh criticism from a high profile campaign Our Land Our Business. This group are concerned that the EBA will “create a race-to-the-bottom between countries as they clamor for World Bank investment dollars”.

    Practical Action has not joined this campaign but instead has been working closely with other INGOs like Christian Aid to engage with the EBA team to push for a stronger focus on:

    • Ending poverty – we’ve argued for the EBA to focus more on those aspects that will promote inclusion, i.e. benefit smallholders and others who struggle to achieve gains from agri-business, particularly women, despite their dependency on the sector for their livelihoods.

    end povertyWe want this ambition to move from obscurity to full visibility. A bit like these pictures I took of the World Bank building during the meetings. A big (literally!) reminder for all of the primary purpose of the World Bank.

    • Long-term environmental sustainability, making agricultural sectors towards fit for purpose in a changing climate. This needs to be bedded into key areas of the EBA (seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation) not sitting on its own, as a special island of optimism without regulatory teeth.

    Agri-business as usual is not an option

    There is global consensus that agri-business as usual is no longer an option. Kristalina Georgieva the World Bank’s CEO, opened a packed session on “The Future of Food” with a strong call for changes to a failing food system. We’re interested in how the EBA can support (as opposed to undermine) those changes to happen. The ‘Our Land our Business’ campaign is deeply concerned that it will exacerbate the failings of the food system. We are more optimistic. Over four years we’ve had some good conversations with the EBA team. However it’s been challenging for them to incorporate feedback because of their very tight data collection schedule and the limitations of the tool, because the donor mandate of the project means the focus is solely on regulation.

    EBA2017-Report17 1It is encouraging to see that in this recent progress report  attention is given to both environmental sustainability and gender. The EBA team are clear that it’s still very much work in progress. They are moving the program to biennial data collection and reporting which is very positive because it means they can take some time to address the more challenging issues. This is vital if the EBA is not to skew decision-making on agriculture in the future.  For the next phase of this program as they continue to develop and expand it there needs to be a clear intent to deliver:

    • Deeper engagement and meaningful consultation in-country – dedicated to incorporating views of agri-business and civil society as well as public actors.
    • More attention on inclusion and environmental sustainability – integrate them properly into the EBA so they are in the data sets and scores which will get the attention of policy makers. Make them what this is about. It’s a great opportunity for the EBA to make the shift that is needed actually happen.

    It is so important for users and supporters of the EBA to take a balanced approach, given that regulation is a very small part of the picture when it comes to an effective enabling environment for agriculture. In particular the World Bank and the EBA donors should focus on delivering the SDGs by supporting wider investment in processes that will shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

    For Practical Action that means investing in systems that rely on fewer external inputs, creating lower risk agriculture for the majority.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (Swachh Bharat/Clean India Mission), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

    During the conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressing the following issues:

    Why work on FSM  The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

    The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh
    Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”.  Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

    Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference

    • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day
    • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.

    • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.

    Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.

    FSM Business ModelTaking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues.

      • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
        • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
        • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
        Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector,

    e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

    Outstanding questions and food for thoughtPreliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

    • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
    • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
    • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

    For more information about why our sanitation work matters, watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • What if preparedness action was informed by forecasts?

    Imagine if we had forecast information that a flood disaster was likely to strike a particular location and we could anticipate the rain coming but were unable to do anything in that small window of opportunity. It would make sense if we were able to take early action and help vulnerable communities prepare before a disaster event based upon the available forecast information. Forecast based Financing (FbF) is a niche concept in the humanitarian sector that allows us to take actions based upon the best science ahead of time when it is not too late to respond.

    FbF combines disaster management and climate research where scientific weather forecasts are used to anticipate possible impacts in high risk areas and predefined plans automatically mobilizes resources before a disaster event.

     

     

    Current preparedness plans are often normative and based upon the average level of risks though there is a huge potential to scale up humanitarian actions when science indicates the increased level of risks regarding impending hazards. So far the policy directives have increasingly spurred investment in improving preparedness, enhancing existing early warning systems and response initiatives. But it has clearly overlooked much needed linkages between early warning and early actions for improved preparedness and response.

    FbF triggers early action based on forecasts, bridging the gaps between preparedness, disaster risk reduction and emergency response. Likewise, FbF also supports the Sendai Framework’s emphasis on the paradigm shift towards risk management and mobilizing investments to avoid new risks.

     

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC) is currently providing Technical Assistance (TA) to the World Food Programme (WFP) Nepal  in reviewing climate risks and flood early warning systems of Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Surkhet, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts  in Western  Nepal. The engagement will seek to develop dynamic Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) where thresholds triggers flood preparedness actions in the aforementioned districts.

    With contributions from Madhab Uprety – DRR Consultant at PAC

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Flood Dynamics in the Karnali Basin, West Nepal


    July 6th, 2016

    The Karnali is a trans-boundary river that originates from the Himalayas and flows along the steep and hilly terrain of West Nepal. The Karnali drains into the Terai plains from a narrow gorge at Chisapani where the river splits into the Geruwa and Karnali rivers, creating an inland delta before converging as the Ghagra in India (Zurich 2015). The river carries snow fed flows and has significant discharge even during the dry seasons. Based upon historical discharge records, 80% of the total flow occurs during the monsoon season with maximum flow events mostly occurring during the months of June through September (Dixit, 2009).

    The geomorphological origins of the Karnali bifurcation along with river shifting is not well understood, which is probably dictated by tectonics and attributed to the process of mountain building in the Himalayas (Sinha et al, 2014). Despite being one of the largest rivers of Nepal, there exists dearth of research on river morphology of the Karnali mega-fan (Zurich, 2015), and even less is known regarding the sediment dynamics and its impact on flooding at a basin scale. However, what is known is that the Karnali River floods the Terai plains every few years, and the frequency has increased in the past decade with major floods occurring in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014.

    Understanding the catchment response for rivers in Nepal is highly complex owing to the dynamic geomorphology upstream coupled with topographic and geological constraints (Nepal et al. 2014). Moreover, it is challenging to comprehend the catchment response during high intensity and short duration precipitation events that trigger flash floods downstream (Shrestha et al, 2008).  Floods are also dependent upon river morpho-dynamics and local slope conditions and generally follow non-linear pathways (Sinha et al, 2014).

    It is critical to understand non-linear pathways to flooding in large river basins such as Karnali, where myriad of engineering structures such irrigation canals and hydropower plants are currently being planned to divert water flows. With the changing climate, magnitude and frequency of floods are expected to increase in the near future (NCVST, 2009), altering the dynamics and carrying capacity of the rivers that would most likely impact the future flood conditions, which cannot be discounted for the Karnali River.

    LANDSAT Imagery indicating the relative locations of the Karnali and Babai rivers as they drain from the hills, along with both bifurcation point from Chisapani and re-joining of the Karnali River in the Indian floodplains

    LANDSAT Imagery indicating the relative locations of the Karnali and Babai rivers as they drain from the hills, along with both bifurcation point from Chisapani and re-joining of the Karnali River in the Indian floodplains

    Note: This post first appeared in the Flood Resilience Portal

    http://www.floodresilience.net/blogs/flood-dynamics-in-the-karnali-basin,-west-nepal

    References:

    1. Dixit, A. (2009). Kosi embankment breach in Nepal: Need for a paradigm shift in responding to floods. Economic and Political Weekly, 70-78.
    2. Gautam, D. K., & Dulal, K. (2013). Determination of threshold runoff for flood early warning in Nepalese Rivers. IDRiM Journal, 3(1), 126-136.
    3. Nepal, S., Flügel, W. A., & Shrestha, A. B. (2014). Upstream-downstream linkages of hydrological processes in the Himalayan region. Ecological Processes, 3(1), 1-16.
    4. NCVST. (2009). Vulnerability through the Eyes of Vulnerable: Climate Change Induced  Uncertainties and Nepal’s Development Predicaments. Kathmandu: Institute of Social and  Environmental Transition-Nepal (ISET-N), Nepal Climate Vulnerability Study Team (NCVST).
    5. Shrestha, A. B., Shah, S. H., & Karim, R. (2008). Resource manual on flash flood risk management. Internat. Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD. http://lib.icimod.org/record/7891.
    6. Sinha, R.; Kale, V.S.;Chakraborty, T. (2014), Tropical rivers of south and southeast Asia: Landscape evolution, morpho-dynamics and hazards, Geomorphology 227, 1–4.
    7. Zurich Insurance (2015). Risk Nexus: Urgent case for recovery: what we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River floods in Nepal.

     

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Good and not so good news from the World Humanitarian Summit


    June 13th, 2016

    Two weeks ago I attended the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul and thought I would share a few thoughts.

    Firstly, the positive message! The side-event on the Moving Energy Initiative with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves went very well: The next phase of funding was agreed and additional funding for the energy in emergencies sector was announced. The event was well attended and Practical Action made connections with important partners for us in the energy space.

    Baroness Verma from DFID and Susan Myers from the UN Foundation spoke at the event, reinforcing international commitments to delivering sustainable energy for all in conflict and disaster situations.  Participants pledged to investigate the linkages between gender-based violence and energy access, as well as work with humanitarian agencies to innovate with technology and approaches to increase access to household cooking energy and renewable energy in refugee camps.

    Moving energy initiative

    On a less positive note, the summit as a whole was, as expected, a demonstration of political wrangling. The high-level commitment emerging is the Grand Bargain, which commits to a target of 25% of humanitarian funding going to local NGOs by 2020. This includes greater use of cash transfers and global south implementation partners. But will this work in practice? Will it change the way major donors fund and the way the UN bodies implement? The feeling at the summit was no.  MSF were the strongest voice in this arena, refusing to even attend the summit, but many other NGOs and groups at the conference were voicing similar concerns.

    The challenge we face as a development organisation when working with the humanitarian community is – does the existing system work for the poorest and most vulnerable people? Many in the sector think it does not, and that we have a failing system in need of radical reform. Many field workers at the summit felt we should leave the UN and the international summit process and start doing things differently, independently, and directly. Were Practical Action to consider engaging further in the humanitarian sector, we need to think carefully where our engagement should focus.

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • A Progressive Approach to Climate Compatible Development

    co-author Francis Muchiri

    Sustainable development will increasingly be judged on emerging metrics such as climate compatibility and gender-sensitive approaches.

    Climate change is a collective challenge facing the world today, and any effective solutions to slow down or mitigate its effects will need collaboration at all levels. It continues to manifest itself through natural shocks that are increasing in intensity and frequency: raging floods, extended and unpredictable droughts, compromised eco-systems and so on. The effects of climate change have a direct bearing on industry, industrialisation, food security, human migration trends, production systems, availability of water, and overall poverty levels, with the greatest negative impacts being felt by the most vulnerable groups.

    Because of the diffuse nature of its effects, conversations around climate-compatible development should take into account the diversity of efforts required: from the broader policy level, right down to the communal level, that will lead to greater impact. Kenyan women selling charcoal in Bondo market

    Women in both rural and urban areas face barriers (social, economic and political) that limit their ability to cope with the impacts of climate change. However, there is a danger in singling them out as passive victims or recipients to the benefits of adaptation or mitigation activities. Any collective efforts need to engage women alongside men and any other groups, as potential actors or agents for change. Information on the effectiveness of gender-sensitive approaches has not been quantified and analysed to produce clear evidence on the need for engendered approaches in climate compatible development. The lack of segregated data makes it difficult to demonstrate the link between gender, adaption and mitigation activities. Indeed, the impacts of climate change are experienced differently according to age, sex, location, and economic activity. It further has a composite effect on education, employment and the health sector, among others. We need to ask ourselves whether ongoing interventions incorporate strategies that ensure equal participation of both women and men.

    This presents a unique opportunity; to provide the required benchmarks on the effectiveness of gender-sensitive climate compatible development to create frameworks for future planning, investment and resourcing. Successful implementation of these interventions will require a demonstration of equity, where everyone benefits from, and is able to contribute to these measures regardless of their social status, locations, gender, occupation and so on.

    Evidence produced from Practical Action’s program implementation over the past 50 years has shown that community initiatives and interventions will neither be effective nor sustainable unless there is equitable buy-in and contribution from both men and women. Based on complete projects that integrated gender-sensitive approaches, there exist prospects to demonstrate how and to what extent engagement of both women and men in adaptation and mitigation efforts has contributed to the achievement of specific objectives, while improving their livelihoods.

    Susan Asiko lives in Kibera. She found herself in an unfortunate position when her only source of livelihood as a domestic worker came to an abrupt halt. After months of living from hand to mouth, and many times sleeping on an empty stomach, a neighbour introduced Susan to the briquette making business. With minimal education, Practical Action provided both business and technology support that has empowered her to manage her enterprise and make business decisions effectively. From an initial investment of Kshs. 200, she has been able to grow her business, producing an environmentally-friendly fuel for household use, and see her children through school. Her enterprise is meeting a number of varied goals: it is making use of available waste material, reducing reliance on ineffective biomass at the household level within her locale, and limiting the pollution generated from unclean fuels here. It might seem like a drop in the ocean, but because she was able to access relevant training, she can now make her individual contribution towards mitigating against the effects of climate change. How much more can be done to build an army of Susans?

    Practical Action through its consulting arm, Practical Action Consulting, is collaborating with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) across three regions (Latin America, Eastern Africa and Southern Asia) to manage Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)’s learning study dubbed “Gender Equality and Climate Compatible Development: Drivers and challenges to people’s empowerment”.

    The study will manage the production and dissemination of high quality evidence on gender-sensitive approaches to Climate Compatible Development (CCD) including how and to what extent they can contribute to increasing women’s ability to engage in adaptation and mitigation efforts in ways that affect the long-term impacts. The findings from the three sub-national studies will be used to substantiate the benefits of gender equality within the development and adoption of policy decisions and the subsequent design and implementation of appropriate development programmes in the case study countries and beyond.

    The one-year study will look at the adoption and meaning of ‘gender-sensitive’ approaches to Climate Compatible Development in different urban contexts, and also build understanding of the roles both men and women play in climate change related initiatives. It will also explore the socio-economic, political and cultural factors and conditions which either support or constrain gender responsive policies; strategies, approaches and actions; and the existing barriers in effective participation of women in decision making for activities around disaster risk reduction, post-disaster recovery, adaptation and mitigation in varied settings.

    In Kenya the CDKN Project will evaluate, through a gendered lens to CCD, the five-year Comic Relief Funded project titled People’s Plans in to Practice: Building Productive and Liveable Settlements with slum dwellers in Kisumu and Kitalewith part of its strategic focus on ‘People Living in Slums’. The project was implemented jointly by three partners; Practical Action, Kisumu Urban Apostolate Programme (KUAP) and Shelter Forum in collaboration with the defunct Municipal Councils of Kisumu and Kitale, commencing in 2008 and closing in December 2013.

    The overall aim of the project was to improve the well-being, productivity and living conditions of poor people living in informal settlements in Kenya and the East African region, 80% of who were women and children. It aimed at ensuring their inclusion in the planning and development processes of the Local Authorities; and by improving access to clean water, better sanitation, waste management, drainage, supporting secure land tenure and affordable housing.

    The CDKN study will document efforts made by development agencies to integrate gender into climate compatible development whilst identifying gaps that exist both in programming and policy at national and county levels. This will inform subsequent design and implementation of appropriate urban development strategies in cities and towns experiencing similar challenges.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Learning from 2014 Karnali River Floods in West Nepal


    August 5th, 2015

    As part of Zurich’s flood resilience program, the post event review capability (PERC) provides research and independent reviews of large flood events. It seeks to answer questions related to aspects of flood resilience, flood risk management and catastrophe intervention. It looks at what has worked well (identifying best practices) and opportunities for further improvements.

    The Karnali region in Nepal experienced major flooding in August 2014, causing 222 deaths and severely affecting more than 120,000 people. The challenge now is to recover, build resilience and to prevent similar damages and loss during future disasters.

    Urgent Case for Recovery: What we can learn from the August 2014 Karnali River Floods in Nepal is a post event review evaluating flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, and opportunities for building flood resilience in Nepal. The post event review conducted by ISET International, ISET-Nepal, Practical Action Nepal and Zurich examines two rivers and two districts in the area affected by the floods -the Karnali and Babai Rivers in Kailali and Bardiya districts in West Nepal.

    While the early warning systems saved many lives, these lives have been irrevocably changed with the widespread loss of livelihoods, property, and critical infrastructure. The challenge now is to prevent such damages and loss from future disasters and develop local resilience. A common misconception is that building resilience is an expensive, resource heavy process. However, critical gaps in the disaster management system can be fixed with inexpensive and simple solutions.

    Problems seen in the 2014 floods – such as unwieldy response procedures and lack of information – hamper response to all disasters, including the recent earthquakes. Decision-making processes should be improved, more reliable data gathered, and aid needs to get to those people who need it most. In the end, it comes down to finding ways to become ‘resilient’ to disasters. Resiliency means risk mitigation and preparation, not just picking up the pieces and starting again after every new catastrophe. This is also the focus of Zurich’s flood resilience alliance program.

    Schematic of Karnali and Babai Basin

    Schematic of Karnali and Babai Basin

    Focusing on the disaster management landscape as a whole, including disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery, this post event review evaluates the flood events, impacts, response and recovery to understand what happened, what could have been done differently, opportunities for action, and identify opportunities for improving flood risk and disaster management as a whole in Nepal.

    The bigger picture that emerges from the 2014 floods in Nepal can be applied more universally: long-term thinking and addressing chronic problems that increase hazards should be part of the picture to get beyond relief efforts. Much work is still needed to save individuals, families and entire communities from the devastation of floods.

    No Comments » | Add your comment