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  • Practical Action on Jersey ITV news


    Jersey, St Lawrence | November 16th, 2018

    When your job is writing materials to engage the next generation in Practical Action’s work there is nothing more satisfying when you see that in action!

    Last month I went to Jersey with my colleague Bren Hellier. Following on from a week of activities with primary pupils run by The Jersey Museum which focused on our Ditch the Dirt challenge, we delivered workshops with Jersey Overseas Aid to over 100 secondary students over three days.

    stop the spread

    ”We could be engineers!!”

    Minister for International Development Jersey working with pupils on Practical Action's Stop the Spread challenge

    Carolyn Labey, Minister for International Development Jersey working with pupils on Practical Action’s Stop the Spread challenge

    The secondary students soon got to grips with our Stop the Spread challenge which highlights the global issue around the spread of infectious disease and includes activities where children design and build their own hand washing station, plus produce education materials for primary age pupils in a school in Ethiopia. They came up with all sorts of ingenious solutions and really understood the importance of the work our two organisations and others are doing to address this.

    The workshops caused quite a stir on the island and we were featured on Jersey ITV news , in the local press and on the radio!  We also had a visit from Carolyn Labey, Jersey’s Minister for International Development who got stuck into the activity and told the students about her role on the island.

    Some of the comments from the pupils included

    ‘I learnt that water is a vital part of being healthy’
    Finlay

    ‘I really enjoyed developing problem-solving skills…using what I had learnt in science in a real like situation and learning about Ethiopia and the UN global goals’
    Hugo

     ‘I like doing this because it get everyone involved and makes sure everyone’s voice is heard’
    Joss

    ‘I had heard of JOA and what they did but didn’t realise it was on such a bit scale’
    Jessica

    The materials pupils were using during the two weeks had been adapted for Jersey and included reference to Jersey’s own issues with the spread of cholera in the past. These materials can be found at www. joa.je/schools

    What’s next?

    We’re running a competition open to all pupils in Jersey. They are asked to send in a short video showing how they have worked in the challenge, including a demonstration of their model in action. Entries will be judged by JOA and Practical Action and the deadline is 11 March 2019.  If what I saw was anything to go by the quality will fantastic. More details here.

    Following a meeting with the Jersey Government’s Head of Curriculum we’re hopeful that it won’t be long before many teachers in Jersey will be using our materials in their own teaching, embedding them in their schools’ curriculum.

     

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  • Technology helps lift women out of drudgery in rural Nepal


    October 25th, 2018

    General Information:

    About 40% Nepalese women are economically active and they bear the double burden of works in the family chores and doing farm works. But, the women from Manaagaun and its periphery have extra burden of fetching household consumable goods from Tipada, a nearby rural market with one and half kelometre distance. Anyone who wants to cross this distance has to face challenges and risk posed by Rudakhocha Vir, a hill having sharp-sloppy landscape.

    Being a development worker, when I was through the hill I found it a terrifying adventure whereas men and women of the areas had no other options but to walk frequently on those dangerous slopes carrying more than 50 kg weight on their back before the operation of ropeway.  If anything untoward happens, there is no way to get away from the highly possible fatal accident. If you look beyond the edge of the walking trail, you’ll see below the slopes descending to Budhiganga River which is scary, even to look at. The trail is so narrow that it looks like two big snakes hardly crossing each other!

    Installation of Gravity Goods Ropeway:

     

    Lower station of the system

     

    The situation no longer remained the same. After the installation of a Gravity Goods Ropeway[1] (GGR) no one now needs to travel on such risky road shouldering heavy belongings. The system was installed connecting Tipada (rural market center) and Manaagaun (remote village) of Bajura district, in November 2016. It is 908 metres long with an inclination of 34 degree. While installing the system under the financial and technical support of BICAS project, there were two expectations: to reduce women’s drudgery and enhance income of local households by ensuring easy circulation of local products, here however I will only discuss about the first expectation.

    Operation of the system:

    For its smooth functioning, a GGR management committee is formed and a member of it operates the system twice a week- Wednesday and Saturday for about 3 hours per operating day. In 3 hours, about 16 trips of different goods are usually shipped up and down, which guaranties two-way income to the management committee. Part of such income will be used for its repairing and maintenance purposes to continue its services in the future.

    People’s recognition:

    While travelling to the upper station of GGR, I met Ms. Binda Saaud waiting for her trip of rice bag which was to be shipped from the ropes of the ropeway on 22 June, 2018. She is a local resident of Manaagaun, about an hour walking distance from the upper station of GGR. According to her, she comes here twice a month to fetch rice and other consumable goods to feed her family of five members.

    Pulling out consignments in upper station

    When I requested her to share her hardship she endured while walking on such steep and narrow foot-trail with more than 50 kg weight on her back, Ms Saaud, at 40, shrunk her face, which was in fact enough for me to understand her ordeal by reading her face. About 18 months before the installation of GGR, her life was full of hazard. She lamented “all the time our life was in risk of falling down on the banks of the river with a zero chance of being alive while descending and ascending the hill with heavy load.” In this remote and rural setting, there are many stories of such agony, but walking with heavy load in such steep landscape was much agonising for them.

    During the course of the conversation, she said technology, however, has really made a significant difference to their lives.

    Reducing women’s drudgeries:

    As said above by Ms. Brinda Saud, it is absolutely true that the system or the technology has made significant differences to them on the following aspects:

    Firstly, the system has contributed to reduce the threats to their lives: no women need to walk on such a long and risky foot-trail via Rudakhocha Vir with their heavy loads of utilities essential for their household consumption. Their gravity of burden has now shifted to the ropes of GGR.

    Secondly, before the installation of the gravity ropeway, a commuter or a porter had to walk about two hours shouldering heavy load on their back to climb the hill to get near the upper station of the system. It was much difficult and painful work for each household, particularly for women over there. Now, with the gravity ropeway, any goods take only 1.22 minutes to cover the same distance, if load is properly uphold in both the ropes. Women from about 250 households of Manaagaun and periphery have utilised their time and energy saved from such risky travel to take care of their family members, work in the farms or do other income generating works.

    Finally, the gravity ropeway has also helped cut down the cost by two-third on the total wage a porter would take on any consignment. Average saving from the use of the system to carry consumable goods from lower station to upper station of the system is about NRs. 6,000 (approx. US$ 60) per year for a family of at least five members.

    In this way, a small, cost-effective and zero-energy based technology has made a sufficient contribution to reducing women’s drudgery, risk and cost in remote villages of Nepal.

    *******

    [1] Gravity goods ropeway is a means of transportation that uses earth‘s gravity to transport goods without the use of external energy use.

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  • IPCC special report on 1.5°C


    October 8th, 2018

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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  • The change we want to see for urban slum dwellers


    September 25th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

    Practical Action’s work has strong, concrete evidence:

    Linking our areas of work

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

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

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

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

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  • 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

    I met my kind of heroes on visits to Gulariya during Practical Action’s Safa and Swastha projects there. I got to know them – their characters, their tone of voice, and their situations that gave me the opportunity to dream of La La Land.

    The conversations, the twists and the plots – the highs and lows made me feel like a small boy boasting and jumping around.  I gathered their practices, learning and wisdom as real knowledge to share with others.

    The Mask of Zorro

    This hero, a down-to-earth family man, puts on a home-made mask containing the spirit of  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.

     

     

     

    Wonder Woman

    My hero, is full of doubts about what to do with unusable plastics. But she pushes on, when others would have quit. She still separates plastics which have no commercial value.  She wrestles with her own image to stop being a hero, doing her best in the current circumstances.

     

     

     

    The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

    This hero is a normal man who became an entrepreneur by chance.  He became involved in the biosand filter business after learning basic construction techniques. He started his own business named “Kritag Raj Biosand Filter Industry”.  This hero is a cheerful character and there is a charm hiding under his rough exterior, full of joy and hard work.

     

     

    The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

    The entrepreneur hero is full of contradictions. She operates an inclusive public  toilet facility, and was assigned to operate this facility by her husband after he signed an agreement with the municipality office. Being a housewife, she was forced by circumstances to change.  Although initially afraid she is now very proud of her work.

     

     

     

    The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

    This experienced mason started working at the age of thirteen. He started his own ring construction business after learning about the sanitation business in couple of training programmes. He had had his doubts, fearing that his plans might 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 is he/she?

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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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