Disaster risk reduction | Blogs

  • Global Platform for Risk Reduction 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Better information helps build resilience that protects


    April 23rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

    Targeted weather forecasting

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

    Finding out how to increase effectiveness

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

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

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

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  • FRMC flipping Ex-ante actions and Post ante-actions


    April 23rd, 2019

    Not only in Nepali context , around the globe in taking actions to disaster, among Ex-ante action and Post ante-actions, post disaster interventions are more observed than ex-ante actions. The updates of “core humanitarian standards” (CHS) and lack of empirical resilience measurement tools methods indicate the focus is still in post disaster interventions of relief, rescue, recovery and reconstruction, guided by CHS. Four humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are at the core of all humanitarian work. These principles provide the foundations for humanitarian action and are central in establishing and maintaining access to affected people. The gap between humanitarian aid and development is heralded and endeavor to find possible solution to narrow the gap has given rise to Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and development (LRRD) concept. (VENRO, 2006) elucidates sustainable development co-operation and relief need not be at odds with one another.

    Resilience is a central term in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Recovery from the DRR perspective is a process that results in people’s lives returning to normal; but in such a way that they will be more resilient to future disasters and impact of climate change (“bounce back better”). It is becoming a standard among UN, governmental and non-governmental organizations in recognizing DRR as an important precondition for sustainable development. It is becoming evident that the impact of hazards on lives and assets and the associated need for humanitarian response can be greatly reduced by investments in prevention, mitigation and prepared¬ness measures. Global flood resilience Programme of Zurich flood resilience alliance elucidates investment of US 1 dollar in ex-ante actions saves dollar 5 in post ante actions.

    Nepal struggles in dealing with ex-ante and post ante actions and is adjusting itself upon transformed to its federal structure with 753 local governments, 7 state governments and a federal government. It is crawling in updating its policies, strategies, plans, and acts regulations to suit the new structure it has arrived. Disaster, risk and management act ( 2017), local government planning and budgeting guideline ( 2074 BS), local government operation act ( 2074 BS), are few examples that are newly formulated and are relevant to be considered by Flood Resilience Programme in Nepal in achieving its objectives of increased in flood resilience knowledge and actions of communities, increased in flood resilience funding in local government budgeting and planning cycles and improved plans and policies at national, sub national level of governments for flood resilience.

    Usually, Nepali context entails absence of information on service levels of different facilities and ground needs on resilience prioritization in the planning process, further prioritization is influenced by direct benefit projects, resilience adaptation are least priorities in the planning and budgeting planning process. Absence of sufficient information and knowledge on flood resilience are pushed to corners in planning and budgeting by socio-political and muscle power influences in the decision makings, the power relations normally undermine the resilience needs and other needs and priorities of poor and vulnerable. To negate power relations information on the context and reality on resilience needs and measures is crucial for integrative negotiation in the dialogue process in planning and budgeting of local government. It is well accepted that development slags upon hit by disasters upon development interventions are not resilient to disasters. This further elucidates the need of climate, environment and disaster risk integration in development interventions. Yet, government planning and budgeting process lack integration of ex-ante actions in the light of insufficient information they use.
    Addressing the problems of integration flood resilience program is strategically set up to demonstrate, learn and inspire by using flood resilience measurement of communities (FRMC) tool in its approach to build flood resilience in its target communities and local government.

    Information on 44 sources of resilience, elucidated to the target communities, local governments on flood resilience and inputs in livelihood capitals as ex-ante and post-ante actions per se safe shelter houses built for flood events, dykes at possible flood entry points, culverts for flood water drainage, river training works in Karnali river from government, safe water supply for flood events, flood early warning communication from upstream to downstream, etc. have reduced the loss and damage of flood prone communities are ground demonstration and learning to be resilient from flood. These demonstration and learning evidence are being shared in FRMC result sharing events in the communities.

    The FRMC information are reviewed and graded on properties of resilience, the processed information is shared back with concerned communities where information on FRMC results are discussed in identifying the community needs to improve their source of resilience to contribute the properties of resilience (robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness and rapidity). The need identified are planned to be aligned with the upcoming local government planning and budgeting process through discussions at ward level planning process and further to be taken up at local government prioritization to be in the periodic plan of the government. Upon priorities of communities falling the periodic plan of local government and regular follow up of the implementation of priorities will contribute to the objective of increased in flood resilience knowledge and actions of communities, increased in flood resilience funding in local government budgeting and planning cycles. The implementation evidence will be further taken to contribute improved plans and policies at national, sub national level of governments for flood resilience.

     

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  • Technology builds community resilience to climate change


    April 1st, 2019

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

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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  • Innovations in Briquette Business for Clean Cooking Energy


    April 1st, 2019

    Access to clean and affordable energy is an important determinant in the livelihoods of all rural and urban people, however, only a few have access to an adequate gas supply for cooking and other productive purposes.

    Those who have not been blessed with the access to this valuable resource depend on the use of a wide range of biomass such as firewood, and agriculture residues such as jute stick, leaves, rice husk, sawdust, cow dung which are not thermally efficient and result in creating smoke in the kitchens. Moreover, the use of firewood is aggravating another major environmental crisis – deforestation. The overexploitation of wood is contributing to deforestation causing an adverse effect on the ecosystem, and the environment and climate at large. This has led to the need for an innovation that can potentially deal with these issues from an eco-friendly lens.

    The Practical Action team in Bangladesh, with support from GIZ and SREDA (Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority), have devised an intuitive innovation – the conversion of biomass into briquette, a block of compressed flammable organic material used as fuel – to address the aforementioned issues. Briquette significantly increases thermal efficiency, reduces smoke and the cost of cooking fuel, in the most reductive terms. Not only does it have a thermal efficiency higher than traditional biomass, and emit less smoke, through this innovation we have essentially transformed “waste” into a useful resource and in that, alleviated its value by manifolds. It has also made way for a solid source of livelihood where women can be involved in its backward (raw material supply) and forward (market development of finished products) production.

    Throughout the duration of this project, the team worked with several medium and large scale briquette producers and increased their technical and business management capacity and created linkage with a wide range of biomass suppliers and distributors to reach a wide range of clients i.e households, institutional and commercial. The comparative pros and cons of the use of briquettes from at least three to four different biomasses were also assessed under this intervention.

    One of the briquette producers under this intervention was Mostak Ahmed from Siddik Sanitation, a veteran in the biofuel stove manufacturing industry who has previously worked with organizations like USAID, GIZ. He wholeheartedly acknowledged Practical Action’s efforts. He said that he did not understand “efficiency” and all those big jargons, but what he understood was the satisfaction of his customers, whether their needs were met, and that was his only prime concern. He expressed that with support from Practical Action and GIZ, he could further his stride on bringing optimum utility to his customers.
    Another one of the briquette producers was Josna Begum from Kheya (Samaj Unnayan Sangstha) who appreciated how this initiative has reduced the work load of the women, by eliminating the need for them to forage for firewood, which is not only cumbersome but also poses risks. She felt that this initiative has empowered women, in that, they not only now have the opportunity to network with each other, but they can also spend a nice time with each other and share their daily woes and joys. They could venture out and develop their marketing skills, which eventually led to a multiplier effect and encouraged more women to do something on their own as well. 

    The project namely “Innovations in Briquette Business for Clean Cooking Energy” under this intervention, implemented in Rangpur and Satkhira from July 2018 to December 2019, by Practical Action, GIZ and SREDA recently concluded. A learning sharing workshop was organized on 25 March 2019 to disseminate the lessons, successes, and challenges of the project. All the beneficiaries of the project shared their experience on how this project has helped them stride ahead and that they would love to receive more support in the future as well. 

     

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  • What do Flood Resilience and Nepalese Thali have in common?

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

     

     

     

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

     

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

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  • 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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