Climate change | Blogs

  • Climate Crisis. The New Reality.


    June 10th, 2019

    Beating drought with ingenuity, Turkana.

    Climate change is leading to increasingly frequent and more severe hazards and disasters. It’s something that is effecting us all but varies in severity. A recent article from the Guardian reported that Fairbourne in north Wales will become the first community in the UK to be decommissioned as a result of climate change. Whereas in Mozambique, Malawi and India, 3 cyclones of different scales have left millions homeless. From these different disasters caused by climate change people lose everything; their homes, livelihoods and even lives.

    But poor people are the most vulnerable and hardest hit.

    In Turkana, Kenya, devastating droughts are becoming ever more frequent. It’s down to climate change. Rivers have dried up and there’s not enough clean water. This has a disastrous impact on lives and livelihoods of 77,000 people.

                 Farmer herding camels, Turkana

    Most of the families in Turkana earn their money from livestock. Without water, their cattle don’t survive the droughts and families lose their only source of income. Because of this, many men have been forced to leave their homes and families to graze their animals in better pastures. Meanwhile, women and children have to spend most of their time and all their effort trying to collect water. They have to walk for miles, in extreme heat, to reach the nearest water point. A journey that can take the entire day.

    Practical Action puts ingenious ideas to work so people in poverty can change their world. We help people find solutions to the new disastrous climate reality – so that they can thrive and flourish despite the effects of climate change.

                Nogoroko from the village Lomokori

    Earlier this year, we visited Turkana to understand how difficult it is for people to live with the devastating effects of droughts. During our visit, we met Ngoroko. She is in her 50’s and lives in Lomokori. Because of droughts, Ngoroko has to spend most of her time collecting water. She says: “I wake up in the morning and there is no water. I go to look for water. That is how every day starts.”

    Fortunately, there is a solution. People like Ngoroko can beat drought. Because deep underground there’s enough water for everyone – it just takes a bit of ingenuity to reach it.

    A unique combination of solar-powered water pumps, water resource management and health training can help communities access clean water and use it to bring about long-term change. This ingenious combination is already changing lives in the parched region. We visited Nangorichoto and saw first-hand how families are flourishing despite the droughts. Theresa, a 40 year-old woman from the village described how access to clean water has changed her life:

                       Theresa sat with her children

    “I used to be away for the whole day collecting water from the river. I took the older children with me and left the younger ones behind. When I got back, the younger children were thirsty. I was tired from walking so far carrying the water.

    “Now there’s no problem. I have water whenever I need it. I’m clean and my children are clean. A nursery school is being built nearby and I’d like my grandchildren to be able to go to it.”

    People in Nangorichoto now have brighter, healthier and more rewarding lives. Women don’t have to spend all their time collecting water and can instead dedicate their time on running their own businesses, earning their own money. Children will be able to go to school and families are able to lead healthier and more productive lives.

    This ingenious combination has helped Theresa’s family overcome the fear of the never ending drought.

    With your support, we can help even more people adapt and flourish in the new disastrous climate reality.

    To find out more, click here.

                                                                                  Theresa’s sister showing her clean plates

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Practical Action for the New Planetary Reality


    May 30th, 2019

    We never used to have mosquitoes here in the winter. Now we have them all year round,” said Purnima Chaudhary, the co-ordinator of a flood resilience group we helped form in the Bardiya region of Nepal.

    Year-round mosquitoes for Purnima is undoubtedly an inconvenience, but it’s also tangible evidence of a changing climate. As is the very existence of the flood resilience group.

    Two recent reports demonstrate just how much trouble we’re in. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report explores our reliance on nature for our survival, and how we’re destroying habitats, threatening species and abusing the global ecosystem with terrifying speed and power.

    Cyclone Idai destruction, Zimbabwe

    An earlier report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included a similar dire prognosis, which is already being played out. Earlier this year, three cyclones of unprecedented scale devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and India, leaving millions homeless.

    More recently scientists at Cambridge University  have announced they are setting up a Centre for Climate Repair. This will explore radical approaches to undoing the damage we have inflicted on the planet, including refreezing the Earth’s poles (through the artificial creation of clouds to shield the area below from the sun) and collecting CO2 emissions and converting them into fuel. All of these measures come amid a suspicion that, even with the best of intentions, the most optimistic plans to reduce our impact on the planet will not go far enough to slow down climate change to a less than disastrous level. The Cambridge initiative is being co-ordinated by Prof Sir David King, formerly the UK Government’s chief scientific advisor. He warns that “what we do in the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years”.

    It seems we truly are standing at an existential crossroads. Do we continue our denial and carry on headlong into greater destruction? Or decide that now is the time to radically change our ways?

    At Practical Action, we have been redefining the focus of our work in order to respond to the new planetary reality. We started by first looking back at our past.

    Looking Back

    Looking back, we are reminded of the philosophy of our founder, Fritz Schumacher, who was instrumental in creating and shaping our early existence.

    Schumacher’s ideas on economics, the environment and human happiness seemed outrageously fanciful to many in the 1960s, but today we can see clearly just how insightful and prophetic they were.

    He said we should never treat elements of the natural world as an asset that can be spent in the pursuit of even greater profit. We should treat them as precious capital to be put to work for the benefit of humankind – and always replenished. This point was echoed in the IPBES report.

    To use a banking analogy, we are spending the earth’s resources as if they were in our current account. But, in reality, we are spending from the global savings account that has taken tens of thousands of years to accumulate. All our transactions are withdrawals and we’re making no new deposits.

    As an illustration of just how much we are living beyond the planet’s means, the Worldwatch Institute calculates that there is 1.9 hectares of land for every person in the world for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average Mozambican uses 0.45 hectares, while the top consumers are Americans, using a staggering 9.7 hectares. The planet could only support a fifth of the current global population if everyone consumed resources at the US rate.

    Schumacher also advised us to stop measuring human progress in terms of GDP and money. Instead, we should think about the quality of life, the value of work, the health of relationships and the effectiveness of our social and economic systems in caring for and empowering people. Again, a key recommendation of the IPBES report.

    In his book, ‘Small is Beautiful’, Schumacher challenged development thinkers to stick to solutions that were people-shaped and people-sized. He vehemently opposed the idea of exporting complex commerce and manufacturing into countries without the infrastructure or skills to support them. That’s still our focus today. Small, community based proven solutions that can be taken to scale by others or be adopted by local or national policy makers.

    Looking Ahead

    We still hold the original values. We still believe that human ingenuity can overcome the worlds toughest problems. But we’ve had to refocus our work to make it effective in a rapidly changing world. We’ve identified four key areas of focus that will form the basis of our work.

    The climate crisis is affecting people in the poorest countries in two different but equally devastating ways. The first is the need to adapt lives and livelihoods to new climate situations. Rains that used to come no longer do. Crops that used to grow now fail. So we’re helping people to adapt to new ways of living and working. The second is the need to be adequately prepared for climate shocks, such as extreme weather events. Early warning systems, preparation and planning can protect lives and livelihoods and enable people to get back to normal more quickly after the floods or cyclones have ended.

    Most farming throughout the world, especially intensive and chemical-hungry farming, is no longer sustainable. We are degrading land for the sake of profit as we try to feed a global population that has doubled in the last 50 years. But we are fast approaching the time when the population can grow no further as we won’t have enough productive land to feed everyone. Unless, that is, we decide to make big changes to what we eat, consuming less meat and dairy products and more vegetables, grains and fruit. And big changes to how we produce food. That’s why we’re proving and promoting approaches to farming that work in harmony with nature rather than against it.

    Waste picker, Bangladesh

    Climate change is also driving people away from rural areas where they find profitable or even subsistence farming impossible. They head for the cities in search of work and a better life, only to find themselves in sprawling slums piled high with rubbish and riddled with open sewers and their attendant disease. Cities in developing countries grow by 10% every year but the provision of water and waste services simply cannot keep pace. We’ve developed and proven innovative approaches for water and waste management and we’re sharing this knowledge with city authorities, utility companies and community groups.

    Our final area of focus will be on clean, sustainable energy. This includes helping people to access the transformational power of clean electricity from the sun or flowing water. This will improve almost every aspect of their lives immeasurably, including their health, education and ability to make a decent living. And it also includes helping people to use alternative cooking fuels and stoves that don’t kill them or their children through harmful smoke inhalation.

    Sharing to multiply

    Everything we learn through our innovative projects around the world – both what works and what doesn’t – we share with others who can take our proven solutions into places where we have no presence or influence.

    It is fabulous to see our publications being the default texts for development students and practitioners on topics such as ‘Engineering in Emergencies‘. Or our manual on the sustainable management of human waste becoming national policy in Bangladesh. Or the government of Benin asking us to advise them on how they should implement their national energy policy in ways that protect the environment and benefit their poorest people.

    Through sharing in this way, ideas that start small can become big change for millions of people.

    We believe our approach, and the thinking of our founder Fritz Schumacher, have never been more relevant or more needed.

    We can all do something more

    At Practical Action, we have some solutions, but we don’t have all the answers. For things to really change, we need to persuade our world leaders to make the right choices for our planet. Practical Action has signed up to the UK Climate Coalition’s campaign entitled The Time Is Now, which calls for politicians to end the UK’s contribution to climate change and pass ambitious laws that create a healthier environment for nature and people.

    If you’re in the UK, add your voice by clicking here.

     

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Pumpkin Commerce for Fighting Poverty and Hunger


    May 29th, 2019

    Uttam Kumar Saha is a Strategic Lead of Urban and Energy for Practical Action in Bangladesh.

    I went to the northern Char areas in Rangpur last week along with the Agriculture team to facilitate the field visit with the Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. Char is the transitional, infertile sandy land, which generally goes under water for six months of the year and is always considered as one of the biggest poverty prone hot spot in Bangladesh.

    What I saw, heard and learned from my first visit, it couldn’t stop me from sharing my feelings. Hundreds of framers, including many women, gathered to meet the Secretary and share their decade long learning and the changes it has brought to their lives by growing pumpkins in Char.

    Women told me that they have sent their children to college and universities or abroad to work. They have also improved housing quality for a healthier life. I was very excited to learn the transformation stories especially from women farmers starting from a dilemma to believing in the technology. They have access to land and input support; knowledge and skill on farming for production, storage, packaging, marketing locally and nationally. In some cases they even export to Malaysia and other countries. Farmers did not leave the practice to grow pumpkins after the withdrawal of project support and most of them are continuing it as business’s or livelihood options.

    This is a great example to showcase how small technologies can bring a big change for millions of people. Despite many improvements, fair price and net profit are still a big concern for sustaining this innovative riverbed farming, which recently got space in the National Agriculture Policy. The secretary advised to move differently.  He shared the example of the French fry by KFC, which is a well-known fast food company in the world. A French fry is nothing more than frying processed potato in hot oil. Technologies they use and the values they add to prepare a French fry from a potato are simple but the cost is 25 times higher than a traditional potato. Time has come for Pumpkin farmers to learn valued ideas for commercialisation, product diversification and processing. Equally they need to explore the export market.

    What I realised is that Practical Action still need to continue working with these farmers and adopt systemic and private sector led marketing approaches to make the changes more visible, tangible and sustainable. We need to bring proactive and responsive export logistic firms and private businessmen, who have willingness, experience and capacity to invest in the pumpkin value chain.  We need to mobilise farmers to work collectively, preferably as a company or a business cooperative. And link with private sector as suppliers, subcontractors and even shareholders. We also need to demonstrate and develop mechanisation skill of farmers for lowering the cost for production and to reduce physical labour especially for women. A strong advocacy component is required to influence local and national stakeholders for an increased allocated budget to provide subsidised input and financial services to these landless farmers. Development of rural infrastructures like irrigation, storage and road by the Government can make it accessible and available to the business cooperatives of pumpkin farmers.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Global Platform for Risk Reduction 2019

    The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) takes place every two years. The platform is the foremost gathering for experts to explore how to reduce disaster risk and build the resilience of communities and nations. The platform is convened by the UNDRR, the United Nations office for DRR, and this year is hosted by the government of Switzerland. More than 4,000 participants and delegates from over 180 countries are registered to attend. This is a rich and diverse group of actors that bridge the worlds of humanitarian aid and development, representing, indigenous communities, gender, the disabled, academia, research, the private sector and civil society organisations. Critically this Global Platform is the last opportunity to support governments to implement national and local disaster risk reduction strategies before they are due to report on these alongside reporting on progress to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals in 2020.

    The recent global assessment of disasters reports that “Overall, floods have affected more people than any other type of disaster in the 21st century, including in 2018”. It is also clear that in many cases these losses are avoidable if resilience building is implemented more effectively. We believe this needs to start at the community level and is about not just implementing hazard mitigation measures but also empowering communities and individuals to make informed choices about the resilience building options available to them. Practical Action had a team from Nepal, Peru and the UK attending the meeting and we will contribute our practical field focused expertise at a number of events. This is all happening at a key moment when global attention is sensitised to the increased threat of loss and damage due to increasingly climate-supercharged extreme events such as Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Southern Africa. This is an opportunity to share our expertise in building the resilience of communities around the world and to influence policy makers to increase ex ante disaster funding and improve resilience policies, building on our expertise from the field.

    One area of special interest is to increase awareness of the scale of the loss and damage that is avoidable based on existing technologies.  Why is this ‘avoidable’ loss and damage still occurring? Because their is insufficient investment and many of the communities in which we work are just not seen as a priority.  So despite significant progress in developing early warning systems across the world, often by making use of advances in science and technology, huge unmet needs remain. Many developing countries, in particular least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), are not benefiting from these advances in the science and technology . Significant gaps remain, especially in reaching the “last mile” – the most remote and vulnerable populations with timely, understandable and actionable warning information, including lack of understanding to use available information. This is where Practical Action has a specific set of practical skills and we will be sharing this expertise at the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference (MHEWC-II) which takes place on the two days prior to the global platform starting on Wednesday.

    Monday 13th May Session 2: Enhancing the link between Early Warning and Early Action (EWEA) through impact-based forecasts (IBF). Madhab Uprerty from our Nepal programme will be sharing the latest experiences from our work in the Karnali river basin to make post event relief more effective.
    Monday 13th May Session 3: Science Technology and Innovation. Miguel Arestegui from our Peru programme will be sharing our experiences in ensuring socially relevant warning communication technologies reach the communities in a timely manner
    Tuesday 14th May Session 5: Evaluation of the socio-economic benefits of multi-hazard early warning systems. Colin McQuistan from the UK will be presenting our work on the cost and benefits of EWS in Nepal and how trust in EWS messages are unlocking additional resilience dividends from communities previously devastated by flash floods

    The workshop is organized by the International Network for Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (IN-MHEWS), in conjunction with the 2019 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the workshop aims to demonstrate how the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning and risk information can be improved, particularly highlighting the role that national governance plays in implementing and sustaining these systems.  The workshop will make recommendations to the global platform on progress to achieve Sendai target G, Substantially increase the availability of and access to multi‑hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Better information helps build resilience that protects


    April 23rd, 2019

    Mary Allen leads Practical Action’s work on agriculture and climate resilience in West Africa.  She has lived in the region since 1986, working on natural resource management and resilience to climate change.

    _________________________

    In West Africa Practical Action is helping smallholder farmers and people living in low income households, improve their management of and resilience to climate-related risks such as drought and floods, through access to information and adapted knowledge services.

    In 2015 we co-founded the social enterprise Jokalante, whose name means ‘dialogue’ in the Wolof language. It is delivering a range of innovative ICT-enabled services to support uptake of emerging agricultural technologies.

    Four years on, by combining local language radio broadcasts and mobiles phones, Jokalante can reach 600,000 producers across Senegal.  It offers its business, development and government clients a powerful set of tools to engage with men and women living in rural communities, collect feedback and measure levels of satisfaction.

    Jokalante began by promoting a range of locally produced, high quality seeds of staple crops such as millet, sorghum, cowpea and groundnuts. Most of these varieties have a short growing cycle, suitable for years with low rainfall. Their use, alongside existing long season varieties can help farmers to be more resilient to the increasingly variable and unreliable rains in the Sahel. To further strengthen resilience, Jokalante added advice on using organic matter to improve soil fertility, to the promotional campaign for high quality seeds.

    Targeted weather forecasting

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    Practical Action also works to build resilience to climate risks through access to improved information on weather and climate. Many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face barriers of illiteracy, language and connectivity. This restricts their access to services based on text messages or smartphones. In Senegal, Jokalante is working with the national meteorological service to develop a sustainable business model for sending weather advisories to farmers and fishers, as voice messages recorded in the recipients’ preferred local language.

    Finding out how to increase effectiveness

    But improving access is only part of the solution. This information needs to be delivered to farmers in a way that improves their productivity, reduces risk or enhances resilience to climate shocks and stresses. We are using a systems approach based on the idea that everyone involved in the system works together to map the system and analyse how it works.  This will help identify possible changes to make, individually or collectively, to improve the flow of information and how it is used.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    It will take into account all the various factors that may affect the effectiveness of the service including advisory services, social norms and institutional arrangements.

    In Niger and Senegal, participants in pilot studies identified ways to improve men and women’s access to and use of climate information services, forged new partnerships to deliver them and identified locally-driven solutions. The approach has also been useful for designing a new system and a step by step methodology guide is available here on Climatelinks.

    _____________________

    This initiative in West Africa is part of a wider body of work on the subject around the world, including climate information in Bangladesh 

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Technology builds community resilience to climate change


    April 1st, 2019

    Practical Action is working in West Africa to help small-holder farmers and people living in low income households, improve their management of and resilience to climate related risks such as drought and floods, through access to information and adapted knowledge services.

    In 2015 we co-founded the social enterprise Jokalante, whose name means “dialogue” in the Wolof language, to deliver a range of innovative ICT-enabled services to support uptake of emerging agricultural technologies. Four years later, by combining local language radio broadcasts with mobiles phones, Jokalante can reach 600,000 producers across Senegal and offers its business, development and government clients a powerful set of tools to engage in dialogue with men and women living in rural communities, collect feedback and measure levels of satisfaction. One of the first technologies promoted by Jokalante was a range of locally produced, high quality seeds of staple crops such as millet, sorghum, cowpea and groundnuts. Most of these varieties have a short growing cycle, suitable for years with low rainfall. Their use alongside existing long season varieties can help farmers to be more resilient to the increasingly variable and unreliable rains in the Sahel. To further strengthen climate resilience, Jokalante added advice on using organic matter to improve soil fertility, to the promotional campaign for high quality seeds.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    Practical Action also works to build resilience to climate risks through access to improved weather and climate weather information services (CIS).  Many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face barriers of illiteracy, language and connectivity which restrict their access to CIS based on text messages or smartphones. In Senegal, Jokalante is working with the national meteorological service to develop a sustainable business model for sending weather advisories to farmers and fishers, as voice messages recorded in the recipients’ preferred local language.

    But improving access is only one part of the solution. CIS need to be delivered to farmers in a way that improves their productivity, reduces risk or enhances resilience to climate shocks and stresses. In the Climate Information Research Initiative (CISRI) we have looked at ways to improve the overall effectiveness of climate information services, using a systems approach. The Participatory Climate Information Service System Development approach is based in the idea that if CIS system actors map the system and analyse together how it works, then they will be able to identify possible changes they can make, individually or collectively, to improve the flux of information and how it is used by farmers. The approach supports system actors to assess all the various factors that may affect the effectiveness of the service including advisory services, social norms and institutional arrangements.  During pilot studies in Niger and Senegal, participants identified intervention points to improve men and women’s access to and use of CIS, forged new stakeholder partnerships to facilitate CIS delivery and identified locally-driven solutions. The approach has also been useful for designing a new CIS. More information and a step by step methodology guide are available on Climatelinks at: www.climatelinks.org/resources/PCISSD-guide.

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • What do Flood Resilience and Nepalese Thali have in common?

    After four years as a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance (“the Alliance”), I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of our work in West Nepal. Practical Action and our local partner, CSDR, have been working for 5 years to support communities to become more resilient to the river Karnali’s floods.

    Improving flood resilience is a multi-faceted objective, which involves making the link between development and disaster risk reduction. The definition of flood resilience used by the Alliance recognizes this transversality: resilience is “the ability of a system, community or society to pursue its social, ecological and economic development objectives, while managing its disaster risk over time in a mutually reinforcing way” (Keating et al., 2017).

    To grasp better the variety of issues that flood resilience embraces, the Alliance has developed a conceptual framework called the 5C-4R: 5 “Capitals” (Human, Social, Physical, Natural and Financial) and 4 “R” (Robustness, Redundancy, Resourcefulness and Rapidity), based on the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) that was adopted by the UK’s DFID and the properties of a resilient system developed at MCEER at the University of Buffalo.

    After a one-hour flight from Kathmandu, a three hours’ drive and a delicious Nepalese Thali Set, a dish that accompanied me all along my time in Nepal, I started a three days visit to flood-prone communities where we implemented interventions to strengthen their resilience to floods. The field visit gave me an outlook of concrete actions related to some of the flood resilience properties described in the 5C-4R framework:

    – Banana is a crop that resist to minor floods and as such, is an example of increasing Robustness to withstand floods. Training 25 farmers, who then get organized to sell their banana products together, is a good example of improved Human and Social capital. Learn more about banana farming in flood deposited sandy oil in our Technical Brief.

     

     

    – Community shelters give villagers a Rapid way to safeguard goods and assets in case of floods, increasing thus the Physical capital of households. When there is no floods, these shelters are used for other tasks such as community meetings, adult education, and vegetable collection center. As such, there are an example of Resourcefulness, and a mean to strengthen Human and Social Capital.

     

     

     

    – When poor farmers with reduced lands are trained to grow mushroom in small huts, they improve their Financial capital, as they generate extra resources that can help them to cope with negative impacts of floods. They also improve their Redundancy, as they do no longer depend on a single source of income (for more information on Indoor Oyster Mushroom farming, you can download this Technical brief).

     

    After meeting such resilient people in Lower Karnali came the time to go back to the capital. But I would not leave without eating a last Nepalese Thali Set. And I started thinking on what the communities I met have in common with this delightful Nepalese dish. I realized that they share similar resilience properties:  Nepalese Thali Sets are usually served Rapidly, they provide different types of calories to make Redundancy a reality while the limitless refills definitely make you Robust. And Thalis always managed to balance flavours in a very resourceful way!

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Women central to an effective response to changing climates


    March 7th, 2019

    #BalanceforBetter

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

    Women carrying fire wood Dibyapur, Nawalparasi, Nepal

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

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

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

    Women fish farmer, Jessore Bangladesh

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

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Building resilience from the weakest links


    February 28th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Taking stock – 10 years of the climate investment funds


    February 1st, 2019

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

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

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

    Parabolic troughs at Noor solar power station

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

    1 Comment » | Add your comment