Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

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  • Community based adaptation practitioners lead the way


    July 13th, 2017

    Blog co-authored with Colin McQuistan

    Practical Action’s team at CBA11

    The Community Based Adaptation (CBA) conferences provide a unique practitioners’ forum that is driving forward the ‘adaptation’ agenda of the UNFCCC. It is one of the few global gatherings on climate change not overwhelmed by political lobbyists or climate scientists. It is also unique in having strong connections with developing country governments and effective linkages with the global climate change policy processes.

    Adaptation is not being delivered in practice

    Whilst the urgent need for ‘adaptation’ is well recognised within the Paris Agreement, it is not being delivered in practice! There is a lack of confidence in committing finance, incorporating adaptation in national policy, and in implementing effective practices – especially in developing countries. When finance is committed, most does not reach the affected people and communities, so fails to deliver adaptation where it is needed most.

    Beat the flood game

    Colin McQuistan and Anita Van Breda (WWF) facilitating the session on flood resilience building using games

    Many governments, donors, private sector actors, NGOs, development agencies and communities themselves, realise the need for better evidence and ways of delivering adaptation. This issue is a high priority for Practical Action. For example, we recognise that achieving adaptation for resilient smallholder agriculture is key to eliminating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is vital that we make agriculture work for smallholder farmers and the poor. For Practical Action and for the development community the CBA conferences can help deliver better outcomes on adaptation.

    Rigan Ali at CBA11

    Rigan Ali Khan (Practical Action Bangladesh) proudly presenting his poster on the from Vulnerbaility 2 Resilience (V2R) project in Bangladesh

    The diverse participation by Practical Action, other national and international NGOs, African governments, donors and other practitioners in the CBA11, hosted by the Ugandan government from 26 to 29 June, illustrated the sharing and learning value of the CBA conferences. We ran a session on the opening day, with WWF US, on ecosystem-based approaches to reducing community disaster risk, which included an interactive game called Beat the Flood! Our Nepali colleagues shared our experiences in National Adaptation Planning (NAP) and how that process can be linked to Local Adaptations Plans of Action (LAPA’s).  A colleague from Bangladesh presented a poster on the role of ‘nature based approaches to building flood resilience’ and our work on scaling-up coffee agroforestry in Peru was given as an example of how practitioners can influence win-win development and environment policies.

    As a founding member, we are currently working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) – the lead organiser of the CBA conferences – to ramp-up the ambition and impact of this unique and important practitioners forum. Our ambition, along with most who participate, is that through the CBA community, we can help the international community deliver global change on adaptation for the poorest and most vulnerable, those least responsible for creating climate change.

     

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  • Progress in Pictures


    July 13th, 2017

    Prepared by Rabindra Singh and Yugdeep Thapa

    Practical Action has been implementing the project “Strengthening the Supply Chain of Construction Materials” in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts  of Nepal since June 2016. The UKAID funded project aims to help the earthquake affected households acquire quality construction materials at competitive price while rebuilding their houses. The following pictures portray the project activities

    On the cutting edge: The stone cutting machine, a simple technology, introduced in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts after the earthquake can cut upto 90   corner/through stones in a day, an exceptionally high number compared to 5- 6 stones produced manually. This reduces the cost of the corner/through stones by more than half and significantly saves labour cost for building stone houses. A household can save up to Rs 25,000 ($250) while building a 2 rooms stone masonry house using the machine made corner/through stones.

    Stone cutting work underway at Bhorle, Rasuwa/Thapa Y

    Stone cutting machine/Thapa Y

    Crushing rocks, building dreams: Sanu Tamang has been living in a temporary shelter in Dhunche since the 2015 earthquake, which reduced her house and nearly all of her village in Hakku-3  Rasuwa into rubbles. Ever since, she is making her living by crushing aggregates and nursing her dream to return to her village one day. The project is helping her and internally displaced people like her by organising them into groups, providing tools and safety gears and linking them to potential customers. Their income has increased  by 2 folds after the project support .

    Sanu Tamang at work/ Singh R

    Breaking boundaries:  With the current trend of the male population, especially in rural villages, migrating abroad for better employment opportunities, the female workforce has stepped up in the reconstruction process. They are engaged in construction materials production as entrepreneur and workers,  and as skilled mason in house construction.The women are earning Rs 700 ( $70) per day working in the enterprises and Rs 1200 ( $120) working as the skilled mason.

    The all-women workforce busy producing earth blocks in a project supported Compressed Stabilized Earth Block ( CSEB) enterprise in Uttargaya rural municipality/Thapa Y

    A Female mason building project supported model house at Rasuwa /Shrestha S

    Hitting the airwaves: Radio Langtang, partner radio station of the project, is yet another example of women breaking barriers. The station is operated by an all-female staff and is a bold statement in the traditional hilly areas of Rasuwa. The Radio broadcasts the project supported programme Suraktshit Baas for raising awareness on construction materials.

    Production team at Radio Langtang/Thapa Y

    Fate failed her but technology  helping her rise : Nigma Waglung, 48, migrated to Karmi dada Rawuwa, after a devastating landslide razed her house at Ramche to ground in 2057. She worked really hard to build a new house at Karmi Dada, only to lose it  to the earthquake in 2074. Nigma, single mother of two children, has been living in a temporary shelter, with no means ( and real zeal ) to build yet another house. However, a new Cement Stabilized Earth Block (CSEB)  factory supported by project in her village, has rekindled her hopes. CSEB are cheaper than fired bricks and requires less mortar and labor to build wall with. She has also been chosen for building project supported model house, which will save her labor cost.

    Nigma Waglung in front of her under construction house /Singh R

    Reining in the price : Maha- laxmi Cooperative, a women’s cooperative in Bhorle, Rasuwa, is responsible for demand aggregation of the surrounding communities. The cooperative in coordination with a national level supplier is able to provide construction materials to earthquake affected people up to 10% in discount rates than the market. This is possible through the project developed demand aggregation model, where collective demand and direct linkage with national level suppliers eliminates several middlemen whereby making construction materials prices significantly lower than the market prices.

    Mrs Chandra Kumari Paneru, the Chairperson of Maha Laxmi Co-operative sharing the benefits of demand aggregation/Singh R

    Weighing a sack of cement in Bhorle resource centre/ Singh R

    Quality assurance :  The influx of substandard construction materials is one of the major challenges for building resilient houses. To put a check on it , the project has been providing  local cooperatives engaged in demand aggregation  basic skills and simple equipment to check the quality of construction materials.

    Resource person at Bhorle checking the diameter of iron rebar with vernier caliper/Singh R

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  • Ecosystems underpin Sustainable Development


    June 30th, 2017

    There is incredible generosity in the potentialities of Nature. We only have to discover how to utilize them. E. F. Schumacher

    Practical Action have just attended the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA) a global platform of practitioners at which Practical Action country staff can share lessons learned and knowledge from our projects while also networking, sharing and exchanging ideas with practitioners working around the world. This year staff from Nepal, Bangladesh and Peru[i] were able to attend the conference, joined by two staff from the UK.

    This year the CBA took place in Kampala, Uganda. The conference lasted for three days and was attended by more than 300 participants from over fifty countries. The theme of this year’s conference was Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), a theme that would ring true to our founder Dr Fritz Schumacher who spent his life highlighting the fundamental interdependency between human existence and a healthy planet.

    The conference brings together an incredibly vibrant community of practitioners, and in its 11th year builds on over a decade of shared learning. One piece of common understanding is that climate change is happening now and is impacting the poorest the most. Those whose daily lives balance precariously on the frontlines of numerous threats many of which are exacerbated by climate change. Therefore a key driver for CBA practitioners is that we have to act quickly to reduce this threat.

    One cost effective way we can do this is to utilise the potential of nature and this is the basis of EBA. EBA is the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural ecosystems in a way that helps people adapt to climate change, coupled with people’s wise management of these natural components to ensure their preservation, to support the wellbeing of current and future generations. The key element is that ecosystems enhance the adaptation capacity of communities and community action protects the ecosystem services upon which they depend.

    Healthy ecosystems underpin people’s wellbeing and can help them adapt to climate change in four fundamental ways;

    The rapidity of climate change relative to the speed at which natural adaptation, otherwise known as evolution, takes place is challenging existing capacity to adapt. The exposure of people, their communities and societies to climates not experienced during their lifetime, or reflecting the period over which their complex wellbeing strategies have developed is placing new challenges on natural and human systems to adapt. Not only with the pace of adaptation required, but also in a way that can anticipate the uncertainty that the future will undoubtedly bring.

    CBA combined with EBA offers huge potential to reduce people’s vulnerability to a range of climate change impacts and provide significant co-benefits for biodiversity and people, especially those most vulnerable to climate change. We need to overcome any existing conflict between the two approaches, and then scale up from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions as rapidly as possible.

    [i] Unfortunately our Peru colleague was unable to join us although her paper was presented by Chris Henderson in her session on day two.

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  • Flood Resilience in Practice the potential for gaming


    June 27th, 2017

    In June 2017 at the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA11) Practical Action and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program collaborated to present a session on Community Based Adaptation exploring with practitioners the linkage between flood risk and heathy ecosystems, using a game. This game builds on Practical Action’s extensive experience on flood risk management, early warning systems and participatory flood resilience building, combined with WWF’s expertise on ecosystem and nature based approaches. The session was well aligned with the conferences objective to harness natural resources and ecosystems for adaptation, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the global challenge of climate change.

    To introduce the session Anita Van Breda from WWF, introduced the Flood Green Guide. A guide developed in partnership with USAID Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to support using natural and nature-based methods for flood risk management.

    We had a total of 59 people plus rapporteurs and facilitators at our session. This group was very diverse so to ensure each game group was made up of a mix of experienced and less experienced practitioners we undertook a few ice breaker activities. The final activity asked them to line up from least to most experience in regards to climate change adaptation based on the number of years they have been working in the field, they then numbered off from 1 to 5 to create five groups made up of experienced and less experienced members.

    The aim of the game is of course to win by gaining the highest score. To achieve a high score the group need to reduce losses from flood events and manage the river basin for the triple objectives of social, environmental and economic wellbeing. However, as well as having fun, and 98% of the participants reported that they had fun, we are also trying to impart some key lessons. By playing the game participants learn how to integrate social, environmental and economic considerations into disaster recovery, reconstruction, and risk reduction programs, specifically;

    • How natural capital and ecosystem services combined with more traditional approaches can build resilience to floods.
    • How to make the difficult trade off decisions between different mitigation options, hard infrastructure versus soft ecosystem based approaches and the implausibility of a one size fits all approach
    • How to build the soft capacities and skills needed by stakeholders to enable them to do this.
    • Highlight the diversity of actors and the challenge of bringing these actors together as a single river basin management institution, the idea of the river basin commission.

    Each group of 9 to 10 people was asked to form a river basin commission and to decide among the groups the role they would play. Ideally the group should be made up of a mix of government, private sector and communities, with representation across these broad groups including upstream, urban and downstream communities, national and local government, etc. The groups then elected a chairperson and a treasurer. The commission were then asked to make plans and implement these in rounds based on a map detailing a hypothetical river basin. As background they are informed that the river basin is highly susceptible to floods due to maritime location, mountainous watershed and high precipitation levels.

    The game is played in rounds representing a year, which includes the commission planning their annual activities based on their available budget, implementation of the plan, the arrival of the annual flood and responding to the consequences of the flood event.

    https://youtu.be/mypkJo-nk3o

    We were only able to play two rounds but provided enough time for a question and answer session at the end. One participant raised a very valid question on the validity of game playing to influence policy and practice. Game playing can provide multiple benefits in the challenging international development process. Firstly by playing a game such as this you can bring together diverse stakeholders who often do not work together. Role playing different roles allows local stakeholders to view problems from an alternative perspective. Most importantly allows different stakeholders to explore critical issues in a natural environment, this not only promotes understanding of different perspectives but can also aid in defusing future conflict.

    Following good development practices we asked all participants to fill in an evaluation form. Overall they enjoyed playing the game and found the interactive learning approach refreshing. They provided some excellent feedback on how to improve the game, such as thinking about upstream downstream linkages more, make the scoring system simpler, and provide fewer options for flood actions. Many participants commented on the economic centric decision making, although they recognised that this is a common problem. One key learning from the CBA conference is that if we continue with economic decision making then the social and environmental costs will continue to be overlooked. All participants enjoyed the participatory nature of the game, the fact that they were involved and were able to engage with their colleagues in developing their annual plan. This facilitated sharing of knowledge and experience and contribute to collaborative learning.

    Keep following the Practical Action colleagues at the conference and come back for a daily update.

    @Chris_P_Hen, @RiganAliKhan, @Sunilnpl, @gehedragurung and @ColinMcQuistan

    For more on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program: http://envirodm.org/

    The 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA11) https://www.iied.org/11th-international-conference-community-based-adaptation-cba11

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  • Squatters’ community transforming into flood resilient community


    June 22nd, 2017

    A squatters’ community of over 41 migrated families from different places as landless have been building their flood resilient capacities. They organized together, learned and put their efforts to disaster risk reduction. An end to end flood early warning system set up by Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) and Practical Action in collaboration with agencies of the government of Nepal with funding support from USAID/OFDA breaks down vulnerability to enhance community flood resilience.

    The vulnerability
    Sukumbashi Basti (squatters’ community) in Shiva-Satakshi Municipality used to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the area. The village is in the Kankai River floodplain in the north of east-west highway along the riverbank. The community has about 164 people in 41 households. They migrated from different places and settled in the open land of Kankai riverbank. Most people have to live in daily wage work as agriculture and other labour in the neighbouring cities Birtamod, Damak, Surunga and in the local markets around.

    Sukumbasi Basti at Kankai River bank

    The settlement falls in the alluvial fan of the river and the close proximity has increased the flood vulnerability of the community. The river is perennial but brings flash flood of very high speed during monsoon. On the other hand, they did not have a safe exit to reach the embankment on the outer side which is the only a safer place during flash flood. The community had a trail that too flooded during monsoon resulting village into an island. “The flood water in Kankai River and the heavy rain made lives at risk always during monsoon,” said Mr. Rudra Bahadur Neupane a local resident in the village, “We need to move towards the embankment at any time during night or day when the water level in the river increased.” However, reaching embankment was not easy and safe. Gullies created small flood ways from local rain making difficult to cross them to reach the embankment.

    The flood coping
    Community have encountered floods in the past and have suffered losses. Some of them are already flood victims in their origin from where they migrated here. A thick cloud above hills of Ilam (upstream) always frightened people with risk of flood. The access to safe place was the most difficult and they lived in a flood surrounded island. In the events of big flooding that caused heavy losses of grains and assets, they received relief support from different organisations such as NRCS, District Development Committee (DDC), Federation of Commerce and Industries and community organizations. Since it is very close to foothill they have very less time to prepare for and escape flooding. Therefore, they needed to be alert of the rainfall that would generate flood of damaging strength. The community were yet to organize well and devise strategies and actions. Initially they did not approach organisations, local government bodies and the District Disaster Relief Committee (DDRC) for flood risk reduction. The need to move from traditional relief approach to risk prevention and mitigation was realised although not materialised.

    Getting organised
    The communities had realised the need and importance of access to flood risk information well before the flood would reach their vicinity. This is what an end to end early warning system brings in. The NRCS initiated Kankai end to end flood early warning system project in 2014. The project approached and helped them to organise, identify problems and their root causes, devise solutions and organize resources to bring ideas into action. Initial community consultations were focused to organise communities to build understanding on flood exposure, vulnerability and risk together with community capacities and initiatives. These processes led to formation of disaster management committee, task forces and trainings. Gradually, in-depth discussions carried out to devise how community could reduce disaster risk and transform vulnerability into resilience. The NRCS has not only implemented the project but also linked communities to Red Cross movement and helped community to devise strategies and actions to reduce losses. Building on the trust they have with these agencies, the NRCS have strengthened community unity, linkage and improved confidence that they can reduce impact of the flood.

    Improving access road to escape flood
    The most and urgent action identified by the vulnerability and capacity assessment (VCA) was the access road to safe locations to escape flood. “There was need to build a safe evacuation route and during the initial meetings and workshops the community always put forward the request to support its construction,” says Badri Bhujel of NRCS.

    The access road before

    The community organised resources and contributed what they could on their own. They widened the foot trail and delineated the route to the embankment. They got two hum pipes from NRCS and constructed a drain across the road in 2015. The community collected cash from each household, approached local government bodies and agencies to support cash and materials to build stronger culvert to improve the evacuation route by building culverts and retaining wall to protect access road from flooding and sufficient spill way for torrents in between village and the embankment.

    They collected stones and locally available materials, NRCS provided cement, they purchased iron rods and other materials from the money they collected, local government sent a technician and finally community built a culvert with retaining walls that now provides a safe passage to the people during floods. The road is wider such that carts and ambulances can pass through.

    The access road after

    Formation of community disaster management committee (CDMC) organised them for disaster risk reduction. “When I participated in the VCA process I realised that the project helps us to identify ways and means to reduce our flood risk. We identified hazards and analysed their causes, driving factors and our vulnerability. On the other hand, we assessed required and available resources and capacity of our community,” Bharat Khaling Rai shared initial experiences of working together. “And the trainings, exposure visits and interaction with other communities and humanitarian actors organised by the project increased our understanding and confidence to mitigate flood risk and increase our coping capacity,” he said.

    Getting DRR into development
    The CDMC actively involved to the local development planning process through then ward citizen forum and influenced the process to include disaster risk reduction measures in development interventions. Now they hope to get some representatives elected to the local government bodies from the community as the election is happening soon. “We are now familiar with the local level planning and we have presented our request to municipality to upgrade our access road,” explained Rudra Nembang Coordinator of flood early warning task force in the CDMC showing their confidence to move forward on their own to approach authorities to access public fund. Development infrastructures are gradually incorporating DRR in design, layout and construction.

    Leading DRR locally and seeking outside support when required
    The community is now organised into CDMC and institutionalized interventions. They have regular CDMC meetings and have established a DRR fund. This fund will be used to provide immediate relief if any family in the community is in disaster situation. The community has a saving of NPR 40,150 (1 USD = NPR 100) in their emergency fund. They hold skills and confidence to construct small mitigation measures. They have tried to strengthen embankment of Kankai River to control river bank erosion and have planted 8,000 vetiver grass culms in 300 m of the riverbank. They contributed labour and purchased plants by raising cash from each household and invested NPR 200,000 (~US$ 2,000) through cash and work. The Lions Club of Kathmandu had supported for 3000 vetiver grass culms. They raised fund for to buy 5000 culms. “They can extract from these clumps and transplant,” said Lok Raj Dhakal showing the growing vetivers along the embankment slope, “They can sell vetiver culms in few years.”

    The community plans to continue efforts to strengthen riverbank through bioengineering. The grass is fed to livestock and has also potential to generate cash by selling. The NRCS has helped to build local leadership capacity and connect to outsiders to access better support following the principles of community led DRR approach for flood resilience.

    Growing vetiver grass along bank

    Community livelihood assets are yet weak and need external support to strengthen to make them robust and resourceful. Livelihood strategies need to improve for better and sustainable income options. Although there is a long way ahead to build community flood resilient and communities have transformed their approaches from seeking relief to prevention of disaster and being ready with capacity to cope with unanticipated ones.

    With Support from Krishna Basaula, Rakesh Shah, Hari Saran Khadka and Badri Bhujel, Jhapa, Nepal.

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  • 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction


    May 27th, 2017

    The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) takes place every two years. The platform is the foremost gathering on reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations. The platform is convened by the UNISDR the United Nations office for DRR[1] and this year was hosted by the government of Mexico. More than 4,000 participants and delegates from over 180 countries attended the meeting. This is a rich and diverse group of actors that bridge the worlds of humanitarian aid and development, representing, indigenous communities, gender groups, the disabled, academia, research, the private sector and civil society organisations.

    Practical Action had a team from Nepal, Peru and the UK attending the meeting and we contributed our practical expertise to a number of events. On days one and two Gehendra Gurung participated in the multi-hazard early warning conference sharing experience of our work in Nepal. Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical tool to inform local people as well as national and regional institutions about risk. Our innovative systems that link appropriate technology to deliver EWS to the poorest and most vulnerable, provide not only advance warning of the peril, but also contribute to learning about the dynamics of the hazard event, allowing appropriate and timely response. EWS are a critical component of risk informed planning and action.

    On day two of the conference Practical Action and Zurich insurance as representatives of the Global Flood Resilience Alliance participated in an official side event presenting progress on developing tools for measuring resilience and the forensic analysis of post events. This is part of our work with Zurich Insurance along with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) and the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School. I presented the lessons learned from the use of the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. The tool has been piloted by alliance partners in over 75 communities in 9 countries selected based on their flood risk.

    Michael Szönyi from Zurich Insurance presented lessons learned from the use of the Post Event Review Capability (PERC) tool in 9 countries. The tool is a post event tool to learn making recommendations to address things that went wrong, strengthen things that went well, notifying leverage points that reflect actionable, feasible, equitable and just actions that benefit the most vulnerable.

    On the final day Pedro Ferradas presented on the Ignite stage. He shared lessons from the recent destructive Peru floods of 2017. This session highlighted the need for effective representation especially of the poorest and most vulnerable in risk reduction and most importantly in post event reconstruction. We must ensure we do not lock in risk by repeating the mistakes of the past. Critical to this is not only participation from the local population, but recognition and respect for local and traditional knowledge. They may not be able to articulate risk factors using scientific or technical terminology, but they know how local conditions shape the underlying risk environment.

    The global platform was an inspiring event despite the scale and diversity of DRR challenges articulated. The platform is an inspirational market place of knowledge, skills, ideas and passion. However we still have a lot to do. Climate change is exacerbating existing risk and continuing unsustainable developments continue at a greater pace than risk reduction measures. So despite progress the risk reduction task grows with each day.

    To respond to these challenges we need to bring everyone into the discussion. Unsustainable development can only be tackled if we include environmental and social factors in decision making processes currently dominated by political and economic factors. So the excessive focus on governments and UN organisations on the plenary panels is a worry trend supporting a continuation of the status quo. These sessions are the key opportunities to influence the outcome document of the platform. Therefore the same debates are repeated. The limited panels limits the inputs and fails to recognise the value add of the very diverse audience. Let’s hope that Switzerland as host of the next global platform in 2019, can learn from the successes and limitations of the Mexican event. Some suggestions on how to do this include;

    • Break down the panels, be more inclusive of the diverse stakeholder present at the global platform. Too many panels were dominated by representatives of parties and UN agencies. Give space to the private sector, indigenous peoples, community representatives and civil society among the many other actors that can make a valid contribution to disaster risk reduction.
    • Centrality of the poorest and most vulnerable. I was surprised at the absence of community survivors in the panels, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and hear these human stories to ensure they are not repeated.
    • Ensure every panel is at the very least gender balanced. Too many formal sessions had token female participation. The organisers need to do more to ensure gender balance at the next event.
    • The importance of EWS must be maintained in Switzerland, but there is a need to build on the utility of EWS to inform risk planning, preparedness and response, to recognise the needs to review their effectiveness post event, to ensure they are delivering for the most vulnerable and at risk. End to End EWS are vital, but experience from Latin America indicates this is the area receiving the least investment.
    • Recognise the power of alliance organisations. The Global Network for Disaster Reduction[2] (GNDR) celebrated its tenth birthday in Mexico, and as an umbrella organisation provides a mouthpiece for larger constituencies to engage in the platform in an effective and practical way.
    • Pay attention to the underlying messages that the venue delivers. The Moon Palace arena and hotel was a well serviced and secure location. But the massive development failed to reinforce messages of sustainability and appropriate development. Rather epitomising excessive consumption, ignorance of social and environmental sustainability and inequality of consumption in a resource finite world

    [1] www.unisdr.org

    [2] http://gndr.org/

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  • Building farmers’ resilience through ICT based weather information


    May 26th, 2017

    Bangladesh has made significant advancements in the field of disaster management. We are good at response, but there are areas of improvement for overall management—most importantly preparedness and early warning systems.

    We generally consider a cyclone as a ‘disaster’ but consider flooding as a regular phenomenon, not a disaster. If we look at the policy documents, we will see that drought, salinity and even arsenic have been considered under the definition of disaster, but have focused less attention on these so far.

    flooding in SiragonjWhen we compare the loss that occurs due to different disasters, flood is the highest while drought comes fourth. Again, if we analyse the loss and damage among different sectors, the agricultural sector is the most affected and farmers are the worst victims. Loss and damage from drought or flood could be minimized by providing agro-meteorological information to farmers well ahead.

    Practical Action demonstrated this in Sirajgonj by providing agro-meteorological services to farmers, catering to their needs by tailoring the agricultural advice with voice messages with support from local organisations. The year round information flow prepares farmers for receiving the messages as a part of their regular practice and thus makes them more likely to respond to the advice immediately during a disaster.

    Many organisations, including I/NGOs are setting examples of good and workable models which need to be mainstreamed by the government.

    Agro-meteorological services could save farmers to a great extent but it remains a challenge to communicate with them using simple, easily understood language. Increasing ICT access and services to the majority of the population in Bangladesh needs to be utilized to its full potential. The government needs to support cost minimization for disseminating agricultural advice and early warning messages to reach the last mile.

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  • UNISDR 2017 Global Platform


    , | May 23rd, 2017

    Risk reduction must deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable

    In Sendai, Japan, a location that had been devastated by the eastern pacific Tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident, the world came together in March 2015 to sign into force the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. This framework aims to influence the policy and practice of national governments to reduce their risk, by providing practical guidance on how to reduce risk, how to prepare for disasters in cases where risk cannot be totally removed and to provide targets and indicators to monitor progress.

    This week in Cancun Mexico the world gathers for the first time since Sendai to report on progress. Cancun will greet world leaders, representatives from governments, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and community members. Practical Action is taking advantage of this gathering to demonstrate our expertise in community flood protection and will share our key lessons learned with this global audience.

    What are our key messages for this community? Practical Action along with our partners the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance Company and the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) will be presenting the lessons learned from our field projects at a number of key events. The messages that we will share with the global community are as follows;

    • Development must be restricted in hazardous zones and incentives for development that lead to urbanisation of risk areas should be avoided.
    • Investment is necessary in large scale flood risk management practices, including soft measures such as, erosion control, river widening, natural retention areas and hard construction approaches, levees, reservoirs, dams and weirs particularly to protect critical areas.
    • Nature based approaches to flood management are often overlooked, but healthy natural environments provide numerous services that help to reduce the impact of floods, from healthy natural habitats increasing infiltration and slowing run off, to a combination of nature based with more traditional flood mitigation measures to enhance the protection and reduce the investment and maintenance costs of hard infrastructure.
    • Hard infrastructure protection measures should be prioritised to protect essential infrastructure such as hospitals and power stations, etc. but must avoid incentivising the construction of new assets in the flood plain.
    • Pre-event financial options, including investment in pre event response measures, insurance, social support, and innovative risk transfer mechanisms are vital and must incorporate and respond to learning from advances in early warning systems and impact forecasting.
    • Post disaster streamlined access to these prearranged lines of credit and dedicated flood relief programmes, to ensure reconstruction can start promptly, while learning from the event to build back better.
    • Knowledge sharing and facilitation to all stakeholders is vital, but in particular honest reporting of lessons learned to communities enhances their self-protection and nurtures human agency. No one can be 100% resilient to flooding but by working in concert with neighbours benefits can be delivered at multiple scales.

    Strengthening community flood resilience requires a process this is multi-scalar, multi-sectoral and involves numerous actors; it cannot be achieved by governments, organisations of individuals acting alone. Flood risk reduction must be an integral part of policy making, planning and implementation. Effective flood risk reduction requires mutual partnerships with governments, private sector and civil society working alongside communities. With increased ability to learn, adapt and cope with shocks and stresses, communities can protect and build on development gains that they have already made, prevent their erosion, reverse accumulating losses and address the effects of underlying vulnerability that hold back their development potential. Floods are a natural phenomenon, and attempts to control flooding have proven short lived and futile, with climate change exacerbating the risk of floods we need to get smarter about our environment and learn to live with floods.

    http://www.unisdr.org/conferences/2017/globalplatform/en
    The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
    http://www.unisdr.org/

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  • An Innovative approach to measuring community resilience to flooding


    , | April 27th, 2017

    The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Measurement Framework

    In 2013 the Z Zurich Foundation initiated a global alliance of partners to understand what builds resilience to flooding. This alliance has taken an innovative approach – linking academic insights, humanitarian and development sector capabilities, as well as Zurich’s skills and knowledge – to enhance community resilience to flooding. The alliance includes the Zurich Insurance Company, the Z Zurich Foundation, IFRC, Practical Action, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

    The alliance have developed a measurement framework and corresponding tools in an attempt to measure flood resilience in communities in developed and developing countries around the world.

    Communities are struggling to come to terms with resilience what allocation of their limited resources will build resilience?

    The tool involves measuring the degree to which communities are endowed with the five capitals, described in the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF). These capitals characterize community assets and the complementary capacities that sustain and improve communities’ wellbeing. Theoretically, by tracking the capitals pre- and post-event, it is possible to observe how development, disasters, and risk management activities within the community are eroding or supporting wellbeing. Having time series information means the five capitals could be measured after a hazard event to assess how they were impacted or utilized to cope and recover. A grounded set of metrics could help to guide the exploration of potential sources of resilience and test their effect on outcomes in order to contribute further evidence to our understanding of resilience.

    The complexity of resilience leads to a huge diversity of elements which can be measured, and raises a number of questions about process and outputs:

    • At what stage is measurement appropriate?
    • Do we measure resilience ex ante during a state of normality which means a focus on ability to manage risk, or only ex post, which means a focus on ability to cope and recover?
    • Can we give an absolute value to a state of resilience or only one that is relative to a baseline or benchmark?

    In light of these challenges, we are looking for ways to explore the interdependencies among the capitals themselves, and between the capitals and other elements of the framework. It will be important to measure the capitals but also to understand the relationships among them, such as how social assets, or the wider governance context frame access to particular resources which may appear plentiful in the wider community but are inaccessible for a large portion of the population due to social barriers. We are aware that the mere existence of an asset does not necessarily imply that it is being used effectively to manage risk or enhance wellbeing. Conversely, the lack of an asset may be indicative of vulnerability, which raises further questions around the weighting of the measurements. By adopting a standardized approach, we are hoping to learn more about resilience, and how this knowledge can be applied in practice to enhance resilient wellbeing.

    We are currently testing the tool in a number of communities in different countries that have varying livelihoods and asset bases and face different flood typographies. This will help to test and refine the tool, and provide learning on the methods and processes. Representation of the results of the measurement tool for two different communities, is captured below.

    Although they score differently, one with strengths in the social and natural capitals (red) while the other (green) in the human and physical capitals which community will be more resilient to a flood event? This is something we are starting to unpack as we investigate the results coming from the community measurements.

    Further reading:

    • http://www.measuringresilience.org/pdfs/ODI_report.pdf
    • https://www.zurich.com/en/corporate-responsibility/flood-resilience/measuring-flood-resilience
    • https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/resilience/measuring-resilience
    • http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/13279/1/Development%20and%20testing%20of%20a%20community%20flood%20resilience%20measurement%20tool.pdf
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