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  • What if the ‘last mile’ was our first priority?


    March 13th, 2019

    Empowering women in the energy access sector is a no brainer. Including the perspectives and skillsets of over 50% of the population is not just the right thing to do, it benefits businesses materially and financially – as Value4Women and Shell and BURN Manufacturing demonstrate. Given this win-win situation, why are some people still not convinced?

    Pushing for progress

    63rd Commission on the Status of Women logo

    CSW63 is taking place from 11 to 22 March 2019 at the United Nations in New York.

    At the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week I heard that just 18% of Asian Development Bank investments/programmes have a gender equality component compared to 79% for the WASH sector, which is ‘better suited’ to gender mainstreaming. Given energy’s role in enabling health, education and productive and social development, surely we should all be doing better than 18% by now…

    SDG7 and SDG5 are mutually reinforcing

    Our work with energy-poor communities shows that gender equality and universal energy access are mutually reinforcing. When women participate meaningfully in energy access markets, they enjoy wider empowerment outcomes (i.e. improved intra-household power dynamics), and energy access is increased – including in ‘last mile’ communities living beyond the reach of the grid and outside the conscience of most decision-makers.

    But we also know it’s tough for women to thrive as energy consumers and entrepreneurs. As our Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2017 explores, women’s lack of access to appropriate finance, particularly when it comes to scaling their energy enterprises, is a huge challenge. In each and every session I have attended this year at CSW, the ‘access to finance issue’ has come up – across sectors and geographies – and I can’t help but feel like gender inequality will remain out of reach if we don’t crack this. Other challenges to women’s participation in energy access markets include reduced mobility due to family responsibilities; little knowledge of core business skills; and low self-belief.

    North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project

    In the North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project local Women’s Development Associations help provide finance for energy-poor households to cook more cleanly and safely.

    What are we doing to enable women energy entrepreneurs?

    We’ve teamed up with women across different energy access value chains in Kenya and Sudan, to build their capacities in business, computer and financial management skills, while also providing professional and personal mentorship to help build their confidence as valuable stakeholders. Crucially, we’ve done this in partnership with the private and public sectors to develop their understanding and activities around women entrepreneurs’ needs and contributions; and advocated for local and national stakeholders to proactively mainstream gender throughout energy policy, planning and delivery.

    It’s not rocket science!

    This is about creating systems and processes that proactively include people who are traditionally overlooked, at all stages of the project cycle: from design to evaluation. It’s at the heart of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2018, which explores how to deliver energy access at scale while also leaving no one behind. In fact, it’s a thread running throughout our work at Practical Action – in our Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) programme and the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), which provides support to last-mile distributors in the energy access (and other) sector. Taking an inclusive lens to energy access is not rocket science – but it IS the difference between catalyzing progress and stifling development.

     

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  • Women central to an effective response to changing climates


    March 7th, 2019

    #BalanceforBetter

    Climate change is now accepted as a global crisis, but solutions have so far been inadequate and have largely ignored human and gender dimensions. This is despite the fact that marginalised and poor people, including women, are affected first and hit hardest. Recent evidence indicates that women’s views, needs and their participation has been largely excluded from the design and planning of climate change responses, including major policies. Moreover, women are often perceived primarily as victims, and not as equal and active partners in risk reduction, adaptation and mitigation strategies. Recent hazards highlight this dilemma.  Women and children are fourteen times more likely to die than a man during a disaster event. In the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh which killed approximately 140,000 people, the mortality rate of women over 40 was 31%.  And in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami more than 70% of the dead were women. Why, because women stayed behind to look for their children, or older relatives. Women in this region often can’t swim or climb trees, which meant that they couldn’t escape.

    Women carrying fire wood Dibyapur, Nawalparasi, Nepal

    Women are typically more vulnerable due to their dependence on natural resources and structural inequalities in their access to economic resources, as well as social and religious stereotypes. A common example is the cultural position of women within the home: unable to participate in public conversations, women are often kept from receiving emergency warning or climate adaptation information. In particular, women in remote communities are more vulnerable due to their marginalized position and lack of access to and understanding of alternatives.

    Practical Action has long recognized the centrality of gender in effective climate smart development and we have now prioritized gender alongside climate technology in all the work we do.  To do this effectively we need to recognize that women and men perceive and experience the rapid impacts of natural hazards and the slower consequences of changing climates differently. We need to factor this into our engagement strategies, the way we interact and work with communities and the project development plans that guide their work.  But perhaps most importantly we need to lead by example.

    We have long recognized that women are all too often seen as victims of climate change and disasters. We realize that we can challenge this perception and promote the fact that they are well positioned to be agents of change through mitigation, management and adaptive activities in their households, workplaces, communities and countries if the necessary socio-cultural changes are promoted, and this means engaging men to accept this change. One of our recent studies found that community institutions such as disaster management committees were better managed, finding that institutions that lacked effective women’s participation and leadership were at least 20% less effective.

    Women fish farmer, Jessore Bangladesh

    Women can be effective leaders within their communities when it comes to addressing the harmful effects of climate change. Where women can help devise early warning systems and reconstruction efforts, communities may fare better when natural hazards strike a second time. Women’s innovation have been heralded in sectors such as water, energy and reforestation – all of which are critical climate change issues. Their efforts must be incorporated into climate change policies from the outset and promoted through capacity building. But a major obstacle to this may be their participation above the household or community level. Our experience indicates women’s participation at these levels is limited, and that this probably prevents their experiences and perceptions from shaping higher levels of decision-making power. Women’s input in these arenas will be needed if gender is to figure more prominently in policy and practice, and that this policy and practice will meet the needs of 100% of the population and not just the 50% who currently dominate.

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  • Ingenious water and waste solutions changing lives


    March 6th, 2019

    On Friday, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day. People around the world will be celebrating women’s achievements whilst calling for a more gender-balanced world.

    For Practical Action, the day is particularly important. We work with women around the world – helping them find solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, made worse by persistent gender inequality. We do this by putting ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world.

    A good example of our ingenious approach to problem solving is the work we do with communities in Choudwar. Choudwar is a busy city in India where a lack of clean water services and inadequate and unsafe sewage management puts lives at risk on a day-to-day basis. Most of the slums don’t have proper toilets. Waste is dumped in local rivers, polluting the water sources.

    We visited one of the slums in Choudwar to understand how difficult it is for people to live under these conditions. During our visit, we met Kamala. She is 75 and lives with her five sons, their wives and children. Her community does not have access to clean water, sanitation or waste management services. People have to go to open fields nearby to relieve themselves and there’s no one to take care of the human waste afterwards.

    As you can imagine, living without a proper toilet and sanitation services is particularly challenging for older women like Kamala. She says: “Different seasons come with different problems. Monsoons are treacherous. The field is slippery. We have to carry water with us all that distance. My legs start to hurt half the way.”

    Practical Action challenges the idea that poor people should have to live in squalor and want to make cities healthier, fairer places for people to live and work. We are working with communities, municipalities and utility companies to deliver sustainable sanitation, water and waste management services. This ingenious combination of different solutions is going to change cities for good and transform the lives of women like Kamala.

    Kamala says, “The new toilets that are being built have given hope to my old and broken bones.”

     

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  • Building resilience from the weakest links


    February 28th, 2019

    The weakest link is the limit of strength of the chain. No matter how strong the other links are, individually, the chain can be no stronger.

    When we engage in international development, we are often challenged to work at the system level.  We are expected as outsiders to be able to understand the complex and complicated series of interconnections of interrelated causes and effects.  But in these systems, doesn’t it follow that the poorest and most hazard prone are the weakest links in this overall system? Doesn’t it therefore not make sense that to build resilience or reduce risk that we need to focus on these weakest links? Isn’t it these weakest links in the community around which the resilience of that community must be built?

    But as development professionals are we any good at unpacking this complexity and being able to identify these weakest links?  Isn’t the development dice loaded in the favour of the slightly better of, the more eloquent and those members that have the time, energy and wherewithal to reach out to the project, to meet with the project staff and articulate their concerns?

    Lesson one, we mustn’t confuse the complexity and the muddied reality of the field with a simple chain in which the weakest links can easily be identified.

    We need to be aware of how ‘we’ as development practitioners frame the development challenge and how this framing of the questions we ask can influence. What we ask influences what the community ‘hear’ and their ‘understanding’.  Poverty, hunger, vulnerability to natural hazards or climate change are not ‘characteristics’ of different groups of people. But in development speak this is all too often how they are portrayed.  When we talk about ‘lifting people out of poverty’, or ‘building their resilience’ are we avoiding ‘the underlying cause’ of the problem and instead working on the ‘symptom’?

    People are poor or vulnerable not as a result of the natural hazard or due to climate change , but due to inequality or poor sanitation, living in the wrong location, not having a voice or not having access to services available in the wider community. So its paramount that before we do anything that we understand the local context, while recognising that this context will be complicated, it will be messy and it will be complex.

    Lesson two this complexity isn’t insurmountable, there are some nifty tools to help out…

    To help us unpack and start to understand these underlying causes its vital that we take time to engage, listen and learn. We need to borrow from the skills sets of anthropologists or sociologists to understand the multidimensional human interactions that are the modus operandi of how the project will influence. There are a wide variety of tools to help us do this, but sadly in the modern development sector with tight deadlines and the need to be seen to be delivering these are often forgotten. Are we too eager to start fixing the problem? Are we forgetting to establish a strong foundation upon which to build the development process?

    And how are we measuring success? Are we guilty of translating the smiling faces and nods of agreement as confirmation that we are on the right track, rather than critically assessing our actions and the implications of these actions on the community or group that we are working with?

    Final lesson:  Don’t despair, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    We must remain vigilant. Even if you do not speak the local language, as development practitioners we can all observe and see the manifestations of local power dynamics playing out in front of us. We must remain aware of the processes within power systems that could underlie the causes of many of the problems identified. Its often difficult, especially for local project staff, to find the motivation to assess the power relationships, instead relying on ‘systems mappings’ undertaken through ‘stakeholder engagements’ that reinforce existing assumptions?

    Nobody today would question the challenge of gender equity and the importance of bringing women into the development process.  But as we have observed this shift from gender neutral to gender sensitive to gender transformative is difficult, is occasionally seen as unnecessary and consumes time and resources.  But we must at all costs avoid being coerced and motivated to engage in projects and research that comes with ready-made framing that discourages or make it difficult to identify underlying causes and effects, that only reaches certain actors and leaves many excluded from the process?

    To avoid this we can ask simple questions like ‘Who is in the room?’ Who is speaking and why are they always speaking?’  ‘Why am I seeing the same faces every time I visit this community?’ ‘Why do people fall silent when someone new walks in the room?’  Its easy, all we need to do is take a moment, look out the window, are there people going about their daily business in the fields or in the nearby market, and if so why are they not in the room and engaging?

    When we engage in problem framing its vital to get to the bottom of the problem.  As I said at the beginning; to build resilience we need to be clear on whose resilience we are building and make sure that we are focused on the weakest link in the system. This is not only to ensure that no one is left behind, but to ensure that we are being honest to the community that we are purporting to support.  We need to be cautious in development, but appreciate that there are plenty of tools out there to help us do engagement better the most important of which are possibly our own eyes, ears and our own questions!

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  • Striding Ahead – The Story of How the Livestock Business Centre is Changing Lives


    February 26th, 2019

    Livestock as an important segment of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh has seen an exponentially growing demand. Its prospects as a driver of substantial and sustainable socio-economic change are very promising, however, there remains a lot of room for improvement. There has been a dearth of knowledge with regard to the livestock sector, leading to unaddressed gaps. There is a lack of service and quality inputs for the rural farmers, affordable distribution network and absence of private companies’ business hubs in the community level. That is where the Livestock Business Centre (LBC) comes in. The LBC performs a facilitative role, with the underlying objective of working towards benefitting the rural poor farmers. It has been designed to address all the unmet knowledge needs of the farmers, with a goal of commercialization of rural livestock products and relevant services and inputs. It also ensures affordable output supply for the rural poor farmers, which is contributing to market access and income increase of the rural producers, value chain actors and other market players.

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC), in collaboration with a microfinance institute (MFI) established the Livestock Business Centre in Faridpur Sadr, which is an independent rural enterprise providing one-stop solution to farmers, with the vision of establishing a viable business model for products and services surrounding and including rural livestock products. This business aims towards a multi-pronged benefit approach for the producer community, for the traders as well as for the consumers. The objective of this project is to improve the supply chain by establishing rural business centre and distributions network and farmer groups and market-led production systems. 

    Many have made remarkable strides ahead benefiting from LBC. Stories of some have been brought to light.

    Sharifa Syed was a member of the Asha Committee when she heard about the Livestock Business Centre. She heard about the benefits of LBC and realized it was here to help. Inherently, she would face difficulty availing medical services for her cows. Quality feed was not readily available. Since LBC seemed like a welcome solution, she expressed her interest in availing the services of LBC. She first took a loan and bought one cow. Then she bought another a few months later. She then sold both the cows for a significant profit. After that, she never had to look back. She then repaid her loan to LBC and bought land with the rest of the money. She cultivated all sorts of vegetables, starting from cucumber, eggplant, gourd to onion, chili etc and made a huge profit from there as well. She invested some of her profit on renovating her house and the rest on her children’s education and household expenses. Riding on her initial success, she continued taking loans from LBC. She started from scratch and achieved resilience leveraging on the benefits of LBC. She now keeps busy all day tending her cows or working in the field. She boasted that her husband consults her for every major decision and her standing in her family and the society at large, has been cemented.

    Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have always been each other’s support throughout. They have been in the cattle rearing business for very long. When they first heard about the services LBC provided, they realized it tapped into a lot of their problem areas. They inherently faced some issues, particularly availing medical services for their cows. The local veterinary professional would not always be within reach. Additionally, availing medical services was a costly affair. It costed them BDT. 1000 to BDT. 1200, often as high as BDT. 2000. With LBC, medical services were now within their grasp, with just a phone call, and at zero costs. Things have become a lot easier for them since LBC happened. They collectively made the highest profit margin they ever made. In a very calculative move, they invested the profit in buying land and a trailer for cultivation, which led to greater profits for them. They can now support their children and cater to their needs with this safety net in place. The couple also hosts the LBC collection meeting in their courtyard, where all the cow rearers socialize, apart from talking about business. Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have set a wonderful example of how two partners have crafted a better life for themselves systematically, taking assistance from LBC.

    Afzal Hossain reaped the benefits of the LBC to the fullest with this timely planning. He sold the cow that he bought for a very lucrative profit for Eid, just a few months ago. He then systematically invested his profit to achieve a greater level of financial stability. He bought land with this profit and is looking to cultivate onions, which is particularly profitable in this time of the year. He estimates to earn an aggregate return of BDT. 4 lac through his clever investments, multiplying his initial investment by manifolds. He believes this was only possible because he had LBC’s support. LBC has made things a lot simpler for him. With living expenses increasing every day, he was having a hard time making ends meet with the profits he was making earlier. An underlying issue he had been facing was availing medical services for his cows. Not only would it be difficult to manage veterinary services, but it was also costly. The fee would range from BDT. 1500 to BDT. 2000. For cow rearers like Afzal, this kind of cash was not always readily available. If the fee of the vets was not ensured, they simply would not come, leading to catastrophic ramifications for the cow rearers. But Afzal feels the vets of LBC are one of their own. The vets are at his service any time the need arises, which has lifted a huge burden off his chest. With the convenience that LBC has brought, Afzal could diversify his income sources and become a more resilient individual.

    Abdul Kalam was sceptical about LBC at first but after hearing how his neighbours were benefitted through the service, he decided to try his luck. He previously had a bitter experience availing financial aid from the government microfinance scheme. The loan given then was a very meagre amount, not enough to meet his needs. Because of poor governance prevalent within the system, he also had to give away a huge portion of that loan as a bribe, ultimately not leaving enough for himself. He first took a loan from LBC and bought a cow. He then bought a second. He sold both his cows for a handsome profit, but he did not stop right there. With the huge profit he made, he cleared his loans and invested on land. He has been working relentlessly in the field to reap more profits. He was fortunate to have his wife Anowara by his side throughout. While he worked in the field, she would stay at home and tend the cows. Kalam wholeheartedly acknowledged his wife’s contribution. Leveraging on her enterprising spirit, he diversified his investment on goat, chicken, and turkey rearing. As a token of his appreciation, he made her a pair of gold earrings from the profits. Abdul Kalam and Anowara Kalam have a happy and prosperous life now. Because they are now more resilient, they hope to continue their youngest daughter’s education without restrictions. Abdul Kalam not only acknowledged his wife’s contribution, but he was equally thankful to LBC which gave him the footing to take up more ventures.

    It was evident from Naznin Akhter’s smile that things have been going in her favour. Naznin’s husband has a booming onion cultivation business, but she wanted to do something on her own and create an identity apart from her husband. Having heard about the benefits of LBC, she decided to avail the services. She bought a cow with her loan. When inspecting the feed provided by LBC, she found that it was of a much higher quality than local feed. She was also particularly impressed by the promptness of the medical services. Her effort in tending her cow yielded positive results for her, and she sold it for BDT. 3 lac 60 thousand, making a huge profit. With the additional income in hand, she was now able to contribute financially to her family as well. Some of the profit was invested in onion cultivation and the rest on her familial expenses. But Naznin made sure most of the investment went towards ensuring a better life for her daughters. Both of her daughters were students in the Faridpur Polytechnic Institute. Her oldest was receiving a degree in Civil Services and the youngest in Computer Studies. It would cost them around BDT. 6000 for their commute every month, which was now mostly covered from the profits made. Naznin wanted to set an example for her daughters, and she is proud to have done so. She believes because of the advises she received from LBC she now knows a lot more than what she had previously known. She can now transfer her knowledge and skill to her friends and acquaintances and help empower them. She is now very confident about her capabilities and is looking to buy two more cows in the coming months with support from LBC.

     

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


    February 15th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Supporting the informal sector to deliver effective FSM services


    , | February 14th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Taking stock – 10 years of the climate investment funds


    February 1st, 2019

    With 3 billion people still lacking access to clean cooking and almost one billion people without electricity, huge amounts of funding are needed to close the energy access gap. The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) are one of the avenues for funding this big challenge.

    Practical Action has a seat as an observer on the Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Programme (SREP) Committee of CIF and I just spent a week in Morocco attending a Committee meeting, as well as the CIF@10 anniversary conference. CIF was established in 2008 to help developing countries invest in low-carbon and climate-resilient development. It has had some impressive achievements – $8bn contributions received (with the UK as the largest donor country), US$1.2bn allocated to climate resilience, 11 MtCO2 saved per year and 185,000 people provided with improved access to energy.

    We got the opportunity to see what CIF has done on the ground with a to the visit the impressive Noor solar power complex. Noor (Arabic for light) has a capacity of more than 500 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP), a technology that has only been used in a few other countries. Rather than directly transforming solar rays into electricity as in the more common solar photovoltaic panels, CSP plants heat a heat transfer fluid to then run a turbine to generate electricity. CSP can also be combined with thermal energy storage, using for example molten salt. This allows Noor to produce electricity for up to 7 hours during the night when the sun does not shine. With Noor, Morocco has become one of the leading renewables countries in Africa. Without CIF funding for Noor, this would not have happened.

    Parabolic troughs at Noor solar power station

    Of course, CIF is not without its problems. Specifically, SREP has been slow off the ground, with just 4 out of a targeted 21 projects on energy access operational at present. Its total available funding of US$ 750 million is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed for energy access. Furthermore, there is some uncertainty about the future of the CIF, with some donor countries insisting that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) should be the only climate financing mechanism. However, as the GCF lacks resources and is not really working, this seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We cannot afford to let politics get in the way of effective climate action.

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


    January 22nd, 2019

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

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

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

    Training Day

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements


    January 18th, 2019

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

    Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

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

     

     

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

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

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

    A house built with earth bricks.

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

     

     

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

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

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

    Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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