Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • Women central to an effective response to changing climates


    March 7th, 2019

    #BalanceforBetter

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

    Women carrying fire wood Dibyapur, Nawalparasi, Nepal

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

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

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

    Women fish farmer, Jessore Bangladesh

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

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  • Building resilience from the weakest links


    February 28th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    January 22nd, 2019

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

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

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

    Training Day

    Photo Credit: Farhana Shahnaz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Related links

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

    Collaborative mapping creating local flood resilience with global impact

    Advanced Early Warning Systems Protect Lives and Livelihoods in Nepal

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

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

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  • Technology for Development


    June 28th, 2018

    Why is technology justice central to international development?

    As history demonstrates, technology provides a catalyst for change. Practical Action has been working on flood Early Warning Systems (EWS) for over ten years and we have seen not only technology adoption taking place but also social change occurring.

    At the Technology for Development conference the focus is very much on the former, but in my active participation and interaction with the conference delegates I am interested to explore the latter.

    Looking beyond the hardware

    Practical Action’s experience of developing EWS, demonstrates the benefit that new technologies can have on development. However, although technology may provide a jump in capability, understanding the nature of the change is vital if these developments are to be maintained. We need to understand the causal factors in adoption and what are the threats to this progress being maintained?

    EWS appear to have a transformational impact on the communities that they reach, although this transformation doesn’t take place immediately in synchrony with the delivery of the technology, there is a time lag between the rollout of the technology and the social change needed to embed the EWS into people’s lives.

    For EWSs the following greatly simplified process takes place:

    • Phase one – No EWS, the community lives at high risk, they may implement a basic observation based systems and flee at the onset of each flood event, but losses accumulate as population density and climate change impacts progress;
    • Phase two – EWS arrives but trust is not yet built so impact on behaviours is limited. Critical is the provision of reliable warning combined with the delivery of actionable warning that people can understand and follow;
    • Phase three – community members begin to trust the EWS system, they begin to rely on it as rainfall events, this starts to adjust behaviours, rather than fleeing when the warning is announced they prepare for the evacuation, and in the process they start to learn about what preparedness actions are the most beneficial;
    • Phase four – communities begin learning about hazard profiles, and that no floods are the same, they start to recognise critical impacts and trends in the hazard event, this learning leads to adaptations in their lives and livelihoods to limit loss and damage.

     

    At the Technology for Development conference we are hearing a lot about the success of the technology systems, but less about the impacts these systems have on people’s lives. People almost seem to be passive beneficiaries rather than components in the system. As we have learned, the EWS must become integrated into people’s lives. This will enable people living in flood prone areas to be empowered and informed to live with the risks they face.

    Looking at the roll out of EWSs, and how this is being reported in the key global agreement, we find a similar disconnect. Reporting for global agreements is too focussed on the technology roll out and not on the impact the technology has on avoided losses. Most systems are focussed too heavily on the monitoring and warning components and most systems are failing to reach the poorest and most hazard prone.

    Recommendations

    Investment in technology is vital if we are to deliver on the SDG’s, to put the Sendai framework for DRR into practice and to meet the global obligations under the Paris Agreement and hence avoid the disaster of climate induced change. Central to delivery under the Paris Agreement is the need for a financing mechanism under the Loss and Damage mechanism to ensure investment to put in place to ensure avoidable losses are maximised.

    EWS are vital transformational mechanisms, not as simple silver bullets but as catalysts for behavioural change. It’s not just the hardware but the orgware and software that also requires investment, time and patience, and the system must be owned and for the communities to ensure these benefits are delivered.

    Find out more

     

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  • Elevated hand pumps supply clean water during floods


    June 18th, 2018

    Dakshin Sahipur, a small village near the bank of the Karnali River in southern Nepal, gets flooded every year. Most of the residents here are former bonded labourers, freed after the Government of Nepal abolished the bonded labour system in 2002. The government provided five kattha of land (around 1.700 square metres) for each family for their sustenance. However, the land provided was prone to flood during monsoon and drought for the rest of the year.

    One of the residents, Phoolbashni Chaudhary, 45, explains:

    “Every monsoon, our land gets flooded, we lose our crops and more often we lack clean drinking water. Our hand pumps get submerged in flood waters for more than a week. Even after the flood recedes, small water beetle like insects come out with the water for a month.”

    a. Common hand-pump in Phoolbashni’s house. b. Phoolbashni Chaudhary carrying water from raised hand-pump

    The hand pump is a major source for drinking water in this area. But because of its height it is submerged during floods. Flood water enters into the hand pump and contaminates the water. When the flood recedes, small water beetles come along with water from the pump and people can only use the water after filtering it through cloth.

    The government provides water purification tablets as part of the relief materials after the flood recedes. But because the information on the use of these tablets was unclear, people used to put all the tablets directly into the hand pumps.

    Khadananda Jaishi, a neighbour of Phoolbashni shyly said,

    “We had no idea about the use of the water purification tablets so we used to put the tablets directly in the hand pumps and simply filter the water to remove the insects. Now we understand, why we used to fall sick after flooding!”

    Things are different now for the residents of Dakshin Sahipur.   Community members have constructed an eight foot tall raised platform for the hand pump along with a deep bore system for irrigation. They use the hand pump for drinking water during monsoon and irrigation at other times.

    Nepal Flood Resilience Project (NFRP) provided 60% of the cost of building the raised hand pump.  Practical Answers, the knowledge service of Practical Action, is supporting the communities to develop the knowledge and skills required for different livelihoods by providing relevant training.

    Thanks to the deep bore irrigation and the training, member of the community have started growing vegetables commercially. Khadnanda Jaishi was able to earn NPR 40,000 (£278) selling sponge gourds and pumpkins in the three months’ from March to May this year.

    Phoolbashni happily said, “We don’t need to worry about drinking water during the monsoon and we are making the best use of it in other months of the year as well.”

    She added, “We had never thought we will be able to grow vegetables in this dry and sandy soil but now we are making profit of at least NPR 5000 (£35) a month.

    It has really changed our daily routine and life.”

    Khadananda and Phoolbashni busy in their vegetable garden

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  • Authorities join local communities on mock flood exercises in Nepal


    June 13th, 2018

    USAID/OFDA funded project, implemented by Practical Action and Nepal Red Cross, joined hands with government agencies and communities to organise mock flood exercises in Kankai and Kamala River basins in Jhapa, Siraha and Dhanusha districts marking World Environment Day on 5 June 2018.

    Mass SMS from DHM

    It was organised in coordination and collaboration with the government’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, National Emergency Operation Centre, respective District Disaster Management Committees (DDMCs) and local governments together with DRR actors to help the communities. A total of 41 communities (26 in Kamala and 15 in Kankai River basins) participated in the drills simultaneously from 8:00 am in the morning for over next two hours.

    This covers 10 local governments, 7 municipalities and 3 rural municipalities where over 50,000 people are vulnerable to flooding at different level risks. The massive exercises, directly involved more than 5,261 women and 4,287 men as volunteers, 778 task force members, 265 disaster management committee members and 10 project staffs. The exercises were organised to test the systems and mechanisms of disaster prevention building on the early warning systems set up by the project in coordination and collaboration with the agencies, communities and organisations at local level.

    The project has tested the capacity of risk forecasting, monitoring and communication systems of end to end flood early warning system in these river basins through these exercises. The exercises were carried out considering minimum of 20 minutes lag time. In real flood event, the time for community ranges from 20 minutes to 4 hours in Kankai and Kamala River basins from the time they first get the flood information. The flood forecasting stations in Titriya for Kamala River and Mainachuli for Kankai River are the sources of flood forecasting at real events.

    Rescue by task force members.

    The District Disaster Management Committee comprises all appropriate government agencies, NGOs and private sectors in each district. The security forces (Nepal Police and Armed Police Force) also joined the mock flood exercises in different communities and jointly carried out the drills. “Such exercise can help improve the response capacity of community along with skills on coordinated actions to deal with emergency situations,” said the Chief District Officer of Siraha.

    The districts have taken leaderships and institutionalized the events through formal decisions and requested NEOC and DHM to help them. This year, the event was organized in six rivers in Nepal – Karnali, West Rapti, Babai, Kamala and Kanakai Rivers covering about one third of total flood prone districts in the Tarai.

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  • Flood mock exercise triggers disaster preparedness


    June 13th, 2018

    Disaster preparedness is crucial for prevention of losses and successful coping as well as building community flood resilience. Better preparedness ensures reduced loss of people, their assets and livelihoods. Building on the end to end flood early warning systems Practical Action has been helping communities in its projects to adopt ‘flood mock exercise’ as an approach to self-test the capacity to respond floods and institutionalise disaster preparedness at all levels in Nepal.

    Day of nationally coordinated action

    First aid volunteers performing mock drill.

    On 5 June 2018, while world marked environment day, flood vulnerable communities organised flood mock exercise to ensure they are ready to upcoming monsoon rains and potential flood they would generate. Generally, monsoon rains start by 10 June in Nepal. Therefore, the day is much appropriate to test the preparation and ensure everything is in place. On this day, community disaster management committee (CDMC) at grassroots level performs and leads different actions as a part of preparedness such as testing of risk information sharing devices/techniques, practicing of rescuing people at risk, providing first aid service, bringing people and their assets to safe place, informing local security personnel, serving dry foods among others and so forth activating available humanitarian clusters and coordination mechanism. These actions are linked to national level flood forecasting, monitoring and communication abilities. It’s truly a nationally coordinated action.

    Joining hands with local governments to initiate more actions on disaster preparedness

    Community members and stakeholders reviewing the event.

    Flood vulnerable communities coordinate with local government including emergency service providers for flood mock exercise. The local security forces perform flood mock exercise in collaboration with community people. Local governments joined flood vulnerable people in the exercise. This helped local governments understand community initiatives and institutionalise the flood preparedness actions during monsoon. The local governments determines the most flood vulnerable communities and takes decisions to perform flood mock exercises. Later on, after review of flood mock exercises, local government officials move on for further preparedness.

    A wake up call for all

    DHM’s text message on status of flood sent via Ncell.

    Flood mock exercise brings together all level DRR stakeholders together for single objective in common platform. Agencies responsible for risk monitoring, generating risk information and disseminating it to respective people and DRR actors has to work in in close coordination and collaboration. It is so interdependent that every agency should awaken to complete their tasks and provide and pass on the support to next. In Nepal, Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) is responsible to monitor flood risk and provide it to Emergency Operation Centers and other agencies. They monitor different systems and generate rainfall and flood risk information for different time period in defined river basins in flood early warning system. The other DRR agencies then, act on the available information. The information is shared and disseminated through defined diverse communication channels such as online bulletins, social media, telephones, text messages, FM radios, sirens and volunteers visiting door to door.

    During mock exercise, these all agencies and the community have opportunity to test the ability and functionality of the system they work in. Nepal’s largest private sector telecom Ncell have volunteered to send text messages to their subscribers in the area decided by the DHM or MoHA. The EOCs who are working on behalf of Ministry of Home Affairs mobilized a team to disseminate risk information messages and district government decisions as District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) decisions.

    Building community flood resilience
    This is an innovative strategy for disaster risk reduction promoting institutionalization of good practices and checking preparedness in time at the face of upcoming flood risks. Bringing everybody together it reveals the need of joint actions; the largest training for everybody useful to life saving. The communities lead the response supported by all around at local to international using modest technologies. It is small, simplified and very important. Truly beautiful!

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