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  • How to best finance ICT extension services in low and middle-income countries?


    September 11th, 2018

    The inherent functionality of ICT to easily transfer information helps to overcome barriers of traditional extension services. ICT extension services improve quality of agricultural information, reduce travelling time for visits, enable frequent communication between farmers and agents as well as increase accountability. More important, ICT extension services can reach large target groups – e.g. rural farmers and nomads – who otherwise excluded from the system, and for a fraction of costs of traditional extension.

    ICT extension services face barriers similar to traditional ones. Fiscal sustainability is one of them. The question of “who has to pay for the service” has become troublesome especially for NGOs. Should farmers as the end-users of ICT extension services pay their fair share? Should it be the responsibility of governments who have the mandate to provide access to information? What if private sectors take over the operation of ICT extension services?  This post explores the subject and different pricing models that have been created to serve end-users in low and middle income countries.

    Pressure over fiscal sustainability

    ICT extension services can be divided into two categories according to its value: commercial and noncommercial[1]. Commercial ICT extension services are typically private funded or private operated. They earn profit for medium term operation, i.e. over two years period, by charging fee from transaction (e.g. mobile payment) and information provision (e.g. membership fee). Noncommercial ICT extension services do not charge fee to end-users – e.g. low income farmers. The focus is non-monetary benefits such as knowledge improvement and behaviour change. By design, noncommercial ICT extension services are fully dependent on public funding, either from governments and donors.

    Fiscal sustainability remains a concern. Especially for noncommercial category that are often perceived as inefficient and financially unsustainable, mainly due to higher operational cost (than commercial ones), budget shrinks and weak political commitment[2]. Pressure to find alternative revenue streams has increased even though the circumstances are not always aligned with commercial goals. The flaw in the argument of “fiscal sustainability” is the focus: it often concentrates on how ICT extension services can make money instead of business model development/improvement.

    Business model for ICT extension services

    The concept of business model goes beyond economic value. Business model has other interconnected elements: the value of proposition, customer, internal capability, competitive strategy and growth[3]. These factors have positive or negative implications toward the use and repeat-use of ICT extension services, and ultimately its success. The value of proposition and customer elements are closely linked with system quality, information quality and service quality[4]. System quality is the desired characteristics such as usability, availability, reliability and response time, e.g. download time. Information quality deals with content issues such as personalized, completeness, relevancy, easy to understand and secure – if ICT extension services equipped with online payment. Information must include weather, price, tips, products and so on. Service quality is the overall support provided to customers, delivered internally or outsourced. Poor support will translate into lost customers or lost end-users.

    Business model should be carefully planned and implemented in all stages of ICT extension service development [1], not by the end of funding circle. The pilot (proof of concept stage) designs a prototype, followed by rigours user acceptance testing for small target groups. Typically, services are available for free, and with main goal to gain access to market. If successful, stage 1 (scalability stage) will improve and expand services to larger market. For commercial ICT extension services, membership fee or transaction fee is applied in this stage. Noncommercial ICT extension services pledge to funders for increased financial support. ICT extension services have to demonstrate high value to justify the costs of scaling up. ICT extension services may need to cease their operation if evidence suggested otherwise. Stage 2 (sustainability stage) is when ICT extension services become profitable. While marketing efforts become a priority to attract investors, business plan has to focus on improving the quality of services to reach the scale required for profitability.

    Pricing models for ICT extension services

    Creating business case for ICT extension services, especially those aiming for the bottom of pyramid “BOP” consumers, is tough. The World Bank report on Mobile Apps for Agricultural and Rural Development[1] validates this thesis. Only 15 percent (out of 92 studied apps) generates revenues over shares of SMS, transaction fees, or membership fees. Other 85 percent is dependent on government, donor or CRS funding for startup and operation costs. Table below gives example of pricing models, some overlap with each other, employed by ICT extension services (see table).

    Table: Pricing models of ICT extension services. (Source: adapted from the Qiang, et al., 2012 and GSMA, 2016).

    Charging fee to end-users, known as business-to-customer “B2C” approach, seems reasonable but difficult to apply in practice. Firstly, many end-users are farmers with low disposable income. Take into consideration, farmers still need to pay for capital costs, e.g. mobile phone, data connection or mobile credit, to access (noncommercial) ICT extension services. Secondly, farmers’ ability to pay and their willingness to pay do not always translate into actual payment. The experience of Tigo Kilimo, an agricultural value added service in Tanzania, demonstrates this dilemma[5]. Users increased by ten times within five months when SMS fee was removed. But when asked how much the service should cost, 80 percent of surveyed users agreed that the service should not be free (see chart). Thirdly, ICT extension services that rely on direct revenue from end-users can only attain fiscal sustainability through scale [6]. iCow service in Kenya charges farmers KES9 ($0.09) to receive 3 SMS tips per week; iCow’s  fiscal sustainability depends on recurring payment of 150,000 regular users and expansion into the region.

    Chart: Tigo Kilimo user’s willingness to pay (source: GSMA, 2018)

    To date, viable for B2C approach where end-users pay periodic subscription or through pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model are SMS, USSD, IVR and helplines. Any of them requires partnership with Mobile Network Operator (MNOs), and for two main reasons. End-users of ICT extension services are also MNO customers. MNOs are equipped with advance technology to reach the scale, both existing and potential end-users living in rural areas, and in a position to quickly implement the pricing models.

    Rather than relying on single revenue from end-users, ICT extension services can opt for businesses-to-business (B2B) transactions. Typically, ICT extension services cross subsidies end-users in exchange for marketing purposes by adopting B2B approach. It is also possible for commercial ICT services to combine B2C and B2B approaches.

    Digital Green which operates in several countries earns B2B revenues by creating videos, training and technology platforms for government, donor and private companies[7]. Digital Green determines pricing based on factors such as type of organisation, duration of engagement and support needs. For example, Digital Green covers costs of technology development and training while the government pays for the capital cost and operational cost. When working with private companies, all expenditures including technology development, training, capital and operational costs are covered by the partners.

    The question whether ICT extension services are best financed by the private, public or through joint efforts depends on its characteristics and local situations[8]. This requires research, planning and investment. In principle, ICT extension services should balance the different interests, needs and motivations of stakeholders. Regardless the option, farmers should have control and protection about the information and services they need and receive. Furthermore, technology adoption and advancement should be supported with broader regulatory intervention to foster innovation and to minimise commercial risks.

    Reference: 

    [1] Qiang, C.Z., Kuek, S.C., Dymond, A. and Esselaar, S., 2012. Mobile applications for agriculture and rural development.

    [2] Magesa, M.M., Michael, K. and Ko, J., 2014. Agricultural market information services in developing countries: A review. Advances in Computer Science: an International Journal3(3), pp.38-47.

    [3] Morris, M., Schindehutte, M. and Allen, J., 2005. The entrepreneur’s business model: toward a unified perspective. Journal of business research58(6), pp.726-735.

    [4] Delone, W.H. and McLean, E.R., 2003. The DeLone and McLean model of information systems success: a ten-year update. Journal of management information systems19(4), pp.9-30.

    [5] GSMA, 2016. Agricultural Value-added Services (Agri VAS) Toolkit 2.0. How to design, develop and market next generation VAS for the rural market. Available at: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/mAgri-VAS-Toolkit-2016.pdf [Accessed on 15 August 2018].

    [6] GSMA, 2015. Agricultural value-added services (Agri VAS): market opportunity and emerging business models. Available at: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Agricultural-value-added-services-market-opportunity-and-emerging-business-models.pdf [Accessed on 15 August 2018].

    [7] World Bank, 2017. Agriculture ICT Extension Services. Available at: https://www.innovationpolicyplatform.org/system/files/4_Agri%20ICT%20Extension_Agri_Nov20.pdf [Accessed on 1t August 2018]

    [8] Anderson, J.R. and Feder, G., 2004. Agricultural extension: Good intentions and hard realities. The World Bank Research Observer19(1), pp.41-60.

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  • My kind of Heroes … the unsung WASHeroes of Gulariya

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

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

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

     

    The Mask of Zorro

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

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

     

     

    Wonder Woman

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

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

     

     

     

    The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

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

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

     

     

    The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

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

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

     

     

    The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

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

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

     

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

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  • Climate Change is back in the News


    , | September 6th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

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

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

     

    New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

    Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Insights for Urban WASH programming

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

    My personal highlights

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

    What was missing?

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

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

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

     

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  • Why is Raspberry Pi perfect for building flood resilience?


    August 20th, 2018

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

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

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

    Creator meets user

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From toy box to tool box

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

    It’s open-source

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

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

    It’s adaptable

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

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

    It’s low-cost but not low-tech

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

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

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

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

    The future of risk, resilience and Raspberry Pi

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

    Better hardware

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

    Better connectivity

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

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

    Better networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The rescuers


    July 31st, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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  • Market based resilience building in Bangladesh


    July 26th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 7 actions to boost small scale green enterprise in Bangladesh


    July 26th, 2018

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

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

    Green enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Reaching the Last Mile: Challenges and Lessons from Early Warning Systems

    Understanding Risk is a global community of researchers and practitioners working to identify, assess and communicate disaster risk. This year, the fifth Understanding Risk Forum was held in Mexico City. The Forum was attended by 1,050 people from 101 different countries and over 550 organisations, including Practical Action.

    Our session on “Reaching the last mile” focused on communicating risk effectively to the people most vulnerable to disasters. In order for people to protect themselves from hazards, they need to receive information, understand it, and be able to act on the information.

    However, there are many complex barriers faced by vulnerable communities: when information is shared via text message, people without access to a mobile phone can’t receive the information; if information is not communicated in local languages, or if technical or unclear wording is used, people who receive the information may not be able to understand it; and if people don’t know what actions to take, are afraid of losing their possessions, don’t have anywhere safe to go, or do not have decision-making power, they will not be able to act on the information.

    Within vulnerable communities, factors including age, gender, ethnicity, literacy levels, physical capacity and poverty affect the needs, priorities and abilities of people to access, understand, and respond to information.

    For example, a study that Practical Action is conducting in Nepal and Peru found that women and men often have different roles in evacuation. In addition, women experience unique difficulties evacuating related to their gender, presenting challenges related to their clothing, hair length, caring roles and responsibilities, lesser physical strength, and inability to swim. Perhaps because of these challenges, women prefer to evacuate earlier than men. However, because women lack decision-making power, they are often unable to take action until men decide to evacuate, by which time evacuation routes are more dangerous, particularly for women, presenting them with additional risks.

    We were joined in our session by colleagues from BBC Media Action, the UK Met Office, Soluciones Practicas (our Latin America office), and the German Red Cross.

    Lisa Robinson from BBC Media Action shared examples of their work in Bangladesh, where they partner with a local radio station, Oromia Radio, to broadcast a short radio magazine programme which provides practical advice on agriculture, water, sanitation and shelter.

    They also broadcast a reality television series which visits vulnerable communities as they work with their neighbours and local government to build their resilience. They have found that their audiences and listeners trust this information because it is in their native language, specific to where they are, and is easy to understand. As a result, people are using this information to make decisions.

    At the other delivery end, the UK Met Office is working to build the capacity of national meteorological services in hazard-prone countries. Nyree Pinder highlighted the key role that meteorological agencies have in identifying and communicating risk as they work within the government to protect lives and livelihoods. The UK Met Office is working through a range of programmes to build the capacity of national and regional meteorological services to improve climate information services, and is moving towards impact-based forecasting to better meet the needs of vulnerable communities.

    David Lau from Soluciones Practicas highlighted how the team in Peru are engaging with the community to build resilience. As well as installing solar-powered field monitoring stations to measure rainfall using photographs and soil saturation, community groups (brigades) are formed and supported to use these stations, issue evacuation alerts, and conduct drills. In this way, knowledge is owned and trusted by the community, supporting improved resilience in the long term.

    Mathieu Destrooper from the German Red Cross then demonstrated how the early warning system in Peru could be improved to give vulnerable communities more time to prepare: combining upstream water levels, rain forecasts and soil moisture levels could increase the time available from one to five hours, to one to five days.

    However, as well as improving forecasts, there are key questions to consider regarding how to guarantee early action being taken at the community level. Context will affect whether early warning systems are best managed locally or nationally, how to define thresholds for alerting and taking action, and how to share warning information.

    The session brought together a range of voices, perspectives and experiences in reaching the last mile. Our panellists worked in different countries, with different stakeholders and at different levels, engaging with national and local government, media, and directly with community members.

    Across this broad range of experience, a key factor emerged consistently: there are a multitude of factors which affect people’s vulnerability to and experience of disasters. Our work on early warning systems must be context-specific and tailored to the needs of the people who have to respond to warnings in order to ensure action is taken and lives are saved.

    Related links

    Reaching the last mile: addressing gender inequality in early warning systems

    Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact

    Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

    How the community in Bangladesh prepares for Cyclones – BBC Media Action

    Early warning systems are a key component of community resilience to disasters and have the potential to save lives and livelihoods in hazard-prone communities.

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  • … and it (FSTP) is working …


    July 5th, 2018

    CW

    This is not a normal garden but a constructed wetland with Canna lily and Phragmites karka — components of a decentralized faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) at Gulariya municipality in mid-west Nepal. They help treat the faecal sludge and keep the environment clean and unpolluted.

    FSTP is a series of treatment process to reduce the pollution levels from faecal sludge. In this treatment series, the first step is to separate the liquids from the solids, treat both liquid and solid seperately where recovery of nutrients and reuse of treated wastewater is done as possible. (Read more)

    Background

    Safa and Swastha Gulariya project, successfully completed by Practical Action two years ago, initiated the “beyond toilets” approach by constructing a 3 cubic metres per day capacity faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) to treat the faecal sludge from pits and septic tanks connected with toilets. Gulariya Municipality also joined hands with the project by procuring a 4 cubic metres capacity cesspool vehicle using its own internal resources.

    The project was able to achieve 100% toilet coverage in Gulariya Municipality with construction of 11,000 new toilets. Also, five communities were declared total sanitation communities.

    Pictures: (L) FSTP under construction

    (R) Cesspool vehicle of Gulariya municipality

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Read more:

    Gulariya Municipality declared “Open Defecation Free”

    More than a toilet

    Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business

    FSM in Gulariya Municipality – An arduous journey

    After the project completion, Gulariya Municipality was supported to develop a business plan for sustainable operation and maintenance of the FSTP system. The municipality has planned to operate the FSTP system along with solid waste management (SWM) in the same premises. This has helped the municipality to showcase the integrated model for management of solid waste as well as liquid waste. The premises was developed as a solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) facility.

    Pictures: (L) Completed FSTP with composting plant and (R) sorting of recyclable plastics

    Looking back study

    A year after the project completion, an assessment study was carried out to assess the health impact of improved sanitation and environmental sanitation related activities carried out by Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. The specific objective was to ascertain the changes from the project intervention of open defecation free (ODF) and total sanitation on i) incidence and impact of water borne diseases in ODF and total sanitation communities of targeted peoples, and ii) impact on health due to i) sanitation improvement (ODF) and ii) integrated WASH (total sanitation). An abstract of this assessment can be assessed at WECC37.

    The 1% requirement

    The data collected during the assessment period showed 1.1% equivalent to 1 household had no access to toilet. The main reason behind this was the filling of pit connected to the toilet and the family reverting back to the practice of open defecation as they did not have the service of mechanised emptying of pits after they get filled up.

    This 1% shows the importance of faecal sludge management for mechanical emptying of pits and septic tanks in the municipality to sustain the long gained behaviour change to construct and use toilets in the home rather than practising open defecation.

     

    What is happening now?

    The Gulariya FSTP is under operation now and the municipality is providing the on-demand service for emptying service. Cracked sludge cakes and liquid percolating out through collection system is showing the sludge drying beds are working in order. The main function of sludge drying beds is to retain the solid part on top and let the liquid (waste water) percolate to anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR) for further treatment.

    Pictures: Sludge drying beds (L and M) and wastewater coming out of sludge drying bed (R)

    And finally the treated wastewater from ABR is further treated using constructed wetland with horizontal flow bed planted with Canna lily and Phragmites karka.

    Picture: Horizontal flow sub-surface constructed wetland

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