Resilience | Blogs

  • Climate Crisis. The New Reality.


    June 10th, 2019

    Beating drought with ingenuity, Turkana.

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

    But poor people are the most vulnerable and hardest hit.

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

                 Farmer herding camels, Turkana

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

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

                Nogoroko from the village Lomokori

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

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

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

                       Theresa sat with her children

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

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

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

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

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

    To find out more, click here.

                                                                                  Theresa’s sister showing her clean plates

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  • Practical Action for the New Planetary Reality


    May 30th, 2019

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

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

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

    Cyclone Idai destruction, Zimbabwe

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

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

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

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

    Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Looking Ahead

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

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

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

    Waste picker, Bangladesh

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

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

    Sharing to multiply

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

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

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

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

    We can all do something more

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

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

     

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Striding Ahead – The Story of How the Livestock Business Centre is Changing Lives


    February 26th, 2019

    Livestock as an important segment of the agricultural sector of Bangladesh has seen an exponentially growing demand. Its prospects as a driver of substantial and sustainable socio-economic change are very promising, however, there remains a lot of room for improvement. There has been a dearth of knowledge with regard to the livestock sector, leading to unaddressed gaps. There is a lack of service and quality inputs for the rural farmers, affordable distribution network and absence of private companies’ business hubs in the community level. That is where the Livestock Business Centre (LBC) comes in. The LBC performs a facilitative role, with the underlying objective of working towards benefitting the rural poor farmers. It has been designed to address all the unmet knowledge needs of the farmers, with a goal of commercialization of rural livestock products and relevant services and inputs. It also ensures affordable output supply for the rural poor farmers, which is contributing to market access and income increase of the rural producers, value chain actors and other market players.

    Practical Action Consulting (PAC), in collaboration with a microfinance institute (MFI) established the Livestock Business Centre in Faridpur Sadr, which is an independent rural enterprise providing one-stop solution to farmers, with the vision of establishing a viable business model for products and services surrounding and including rural livestock products. This business aims towards a multi-pronged benefit approach for the producer community, for the traders as well as for the consumers. The objective of this project is to improve the supply chain by establishing rural business centre and distributions network and farmer groups and market-led production systems. 

    Many have made remarkable strides ahead benefiting from LBC. Stories of some have been brought to light.

    Sharifa Syed was a member of the Asha Committee when she heard about the Livestock Business Centre. She heard about the benefits of LBC and realized it was here to help. Inherently, she would face difficulty availing medical services for her cows. Quality feed was not readily available. Since LBC seemed like a welcome solution, she expressed her interest in availing the services of LBC. She first took a loan and bought one cow. Then she bought another a few months later. She then sold both the cows for a significant profit. After that, she never had to look back. She then repaid her loan to LBC and bought land with the rest of the money. She cultivated all sorts of vegetables, starting from cucumber, eggplant, gourd to onion, chili etc and made a huge profit from there as well. She invested some of her profit on renovating her house and the rest on her children’s education and household expenses. Riding on her initial success, she continued taking loans from LBC. She started from scratch and achieved resilience leveraging on the benefits of LBC. She now keeps busy all day tending her cows or working in the field. She boasted that her husband consults her for every major decision and her standing in her family and the society at large, has been cemented.

    Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have always been each other’s support throughout. They have been in the cattle rearing business for very long. When they first heard about the services LBC provided, they realized it tapped into a lot of their problem areas. They inherently faced some issues, particularly availing medical services for their cows. The local veterinary professional would not always be within reach. Additionally, availing medical services was a costly affair. It costed them BDT. 1000 to BDT. 1200, often as high as BDT. 2000. With LBC, medical services were now within their grasp, with just a phone call, and at zero costs. Things have become a lot easier for them since LBC happened. They collectively made the highest profit margin they ever made. In a very calculative move, they invested the profit in buying land and a trailer for cultivation, which led to greater profits for them. They can now support their children and cater to their needs with this safety net in place. The couple also hosts the LBC collection meeting in their courtyard, where all the cow rearers socialize, apart from talking about business. Surjo Banu and Billal Sheikh have set a wonderful example of how two partners have crafted a better life for themselves systematically, taking assistance from LBC.

    Afzal Hossain reaped the benefits of the LBC to the fullest with this timely planning. He sold the cow that he bought for a very lucrative profit for Eid, just a few months ago. He then systematically invested his profit to achieve a greater level of financial stability. He bought land with this profit and is looking to cultivate onions, which is particularly profitable in this time of the year. He estimates to earn an aggregate return of BDT. 4 lac through his clever investments, multiplying his initial investment by manifolds. He believes this was only possible because he had LBC’s support. LBC has made things a lot simpler for him. With living expenses increasing every day, he was having a hard time making ends meet with the profits he was making earlier. An underlying issue he had been facing was availing medical services for his cows. Not only would it be difficult to manage veterinary services, but it was also costly. The fee would range from BDT. 1500 to BDT. 2000. For cow rearers like Afzal, this kind of cash was not always readily available. If the fee of the vets was not ensured, they simply would not come, leading to catastrophic ramifications for the cow rearers. But Afzal feels the vets of LBC are one of their own. The vets are at his service any time the need arises, which has lifted a huge burden off his chest. With the convenience that LBC has brought, Afzal could diversify his income sources and become a more resilient individual.

    Abdul Kalam was sceptical about LBC at first but after hearing how his neighbours were benefitted through the service, he decided to try his luck. He previously had a bitter experience availing financial aid from the government microfinance scheme. The loan given then was a very meagre amount, not enough to meet his needs. Because of poor governance prevalent within the system, he also had to give away a huge portion of that loan as a bribe, ultimately not leaving enough for himself. He first took a loan from LBC and bought a cow. He then bought a second. He sold both his cows for a handsome profit, but he did not stop right there. With the huge profit he made, he cleared his loans and invested on land. He has been working relentlessly in the field to reap more profits. He was fortunate to have his wife Anowara by his side throughout. While he worked in the field, she would stay at home and tend the cows. Kalam wholeheartedly acknowledged his wife’s contribution. Leveraging on her enterprising spirit, he diversified his investment on goat, chicken, and turkey rearing. As a token of his appreciation, he made her a pair of gold earrings from the profits. Abdul Kalam and Anowara Kalam have a happy and prosperous life now. Because they are now more resilient, they hope to continue their youngest daughter’s education without restrictions. Abdul Kalam not only acknowledged his wife’s contribution, but he was equally thankful to LBC which gave him the footing to take up more ventures.

    It was evident from Naznin Akhter’s smile that things have been going in her favour. Naznin’s husband has a booming onion cultivation business, but she wanted to do something on her own and create an identity apart from her husband. Having heard about the benefits of LBC, she decided to avail the services. She bought a cow with her loan. When inspecting the feed provided by LBC, she found that it was of a much higher quality than local feed. She was also particularly impressed by the promptness of the medical services. Her effort in tending her cow yielded positive results for her, and she sold it for BDT. 3 lac 60 thousand, making a huge profit. With the additional income in hand, she was now able to contribute financially to her family as well. Some of the profit was invested in onion cultivation and the rest on her familial expenses. But Naznin made sure most of the investment went towards ensuring a better life for her daughters. Both of her daughters were students in the Faridpur Polytechnic Institute. Her oldest was receiving a degree in Civil Services and the youngest in Computer Studies. It would cost them around BDT. 6000 for their commute every month, which was now mostly covered from the profits made. Naznin wanted to set an example for her daughters, and she is proud to have done so. She believes because of the advises she received from LBC she now knows a lot more than what she had previously known. She can now transfer her knowledge and skill to her friends and acquaintances and help empower them. She is now very confident about her capabilities and is looking to buy two more cows in the coming months with support from LBC.

     

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  • Moulding bricks, rebuilding settlements


    January 18th, 2019

    When we reached Deurali Interlocking Block Udyog, a small enterprise making compressed stabilised earth bricks (CSEB), Simon Tamang was working alongside five workers. He was watering a stack of CSEBs while the workers were winding up the day’s work after moulding around 500 bricks.

    Simon Tamang cleans the earth bricks making machine.

    There is an increasing demand of these environmentally friendly compressed earth bricks, made from local materials sand and soil mixed with cement. Pointing to the stack under a pomelo tree, Simon said, “All are sold, already booked.

     

     

    Fuelling the reconstruction drive
    The enterprise, since its start in July 2017, has produced around 70,000 bricks. Twenty five one-storeyed buildings have already been built nearby with the earth bricks produced by Simon’s enterprise. And enterprises like Simon’s, supported by the UK aid funded Supply Chain of Construction Materials in Earthquake Affected Districts project, are helping the reconstruction drive in Nuwakot district.

    As you enter Nuwakot, you’ll come across reminders of devastation caused by the Big Earthquake three years ago. When the earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015 and the aftershock hit again on 12 May, 51% of the population of Nuwakot were affected. The temblors killed 1,000 people and injured over 1,000 more. Many people lost their homes or businesses. Over 70,000 buildings were damaged. City suburbs, where many families live, were hardest hit.

    Sharing the benefits of CSEBs
    Trained by the project, Simon has turned into an incorrigible optimist. He leaves no stone unturned to market the earth bricks at public events. He shares the benefits of building with earth bricks over fired bricks. He even teaches how to make walls from the earth bricks.

    A house built with earth bricks.

    If CSEBs are also used for big constructions like schools and community halls, people will accept them more wholeheartedly,” he said. “The village representatives are supporting me on this. It costs 20-25% less to make a house with CSEBs than with fired bricks and it takes less time as well.

     

     

    Increasing demand of CSEBs
    The Government of Nepal has disbursed earthquake reconstruction cash grants to people whose houses were damaged by the earthquake. Simon is confident that 150 families will soon have new homes built using his earth bricks.

    In addition, they will need kitchens,” he added. “People working as migrant workers in the Gulf and other countries will also build houses. As they are making roads everywhere, there will be more houses along the roads and for all the construction, they will need CSEBs.”

    Women in reconstruction
    While we were talking with Simon, his wife Tanu Maya offered us tea and joined the conversation. She is the proprietor of the enterprise and keeps the financial record. She also helps Simon run the business. On an average the couple earns NRs 50,000 (around £ 350) as net profit in a month.

    Tanu Maya helps transport the earth bricks.

    Women in Nepalese society are often discouraged from undertaking skilled manual work. Tanu Maya restricts herself to less skilled jobs of curing and transporting the bricks. She hasn’t tried making the bricks.

    In nearby Shanti Bazaar, five women entrepreneurs have overcome these cultural obstacles to form a successful business. Yankee, Dhanmaya, Aitmaya, Yangjee and Purchung formed their brick-making business after they lost their homes in the 2015 earthquake and shifted to the internally displaced people’s camp in Shanti Bazaar. Now they work together on all aspects of the business, including making the bricks. The enterprise has been so successful, they have been able to hire additional labour.

    The women entrepreneurs run the earth brick making business on their own.

    We started this enterprise to build our own houses,” said Yankee. “After that we will continue making bricks since the demand is on the rise.” The group intends to build 29 houses for themselves and sell bricks to build further around 300 houses in the surrounding.

    While the CSEB enterprises are generating employment, they are also motivating others to start an enterprise of their own. Simon shared his plight of working for a supply company in Qatar for four years where he had to shuttle between 26 different companies in the scorching heat.

    Working in foreign company is good only till you are strong,” he quipped. “There will be at least someone by your side here when you’re dying.

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  • What next for Climate Change?


    December 3rd, 2018

    Today, at the climate conference Sir David Attenborough didn’t mince his words when he said that civilisation will collapse if humanity doesn’t take action on global warming. He had obviously read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5oC which documents the dire state of the global planetary system, something that has been picked up by mainstream media as a warning that we have 12 years left to save planet earth.

    “Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years, Climate Change”

    Here in Katowice I can understand why he made such an impassioned plea. It really has been 24 years since the first gathering of climate negotiators took place following the ratification of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  And yes it has been three years since the Paris Agreement was signed heralding a new era in climate action and global optimism. However, since Paris a lot has changed and not only has the development environment become more contested, but also the consequences of global warming have become more evident. It is now clear that it’s not only the poorest and most vulnerable who will face the dire consequences of unbridled climate change, but also the people living in the developed world as testified by the recent forest fires that have overnight swept away people’s homes and their communities.

    So what are the key issues on the table and why is the Katowice climate COP so important?  The Paris Agreement which enters into force next year, heralds a new era of global action to tackle climate change. The Paris Agreement outlines in separate articles clear action on Mitigation, Adaptation and Loss and Damage and provides guidance on the global cooperation required to provide the finance, capacity building and technology needed to deliver the agreement.

    Thus the Katowice COP is the forum at which the rules for the Paris Agreement will be agreed.  The great thing about these rules is that they are applied to all countries equally regardless of their contribution or otherwise to the problem in the first place. But equally the rules need to recognise that not all countries have the systems and processes in place to monitor their contribution to tackle climate change from the outset and therefore the rules will recognise different capacities to implement and be applied accordingly. This flexibility creates an incentive for developed countries to support developing countries put these systems in place enabling genuine global contribution to tackle the problem.

    Secondly, following the publication of the dire warnings contained in the IPCC report this COP is an opportunity to ramp up ambition. It is clear that under current commitments the planet is on track for at least 3oC of warming. Importantly the IPCC report highlights just how much worse things will get with each increase in global temperatures so as Sir David Attenborough pointed out today, now is a great time to review existing promises and for each country to increase their commitments, to ramp up their ambition.

    Finally, nothing happens without political will and the resources required. So this COP is a great opportunity for world leaders to make the commitments necessary for the green transition and for developed countries to commit the resources, technology and skills to support the developing countries accelerate action to adapt to changing climates and start to deliver the support necessary to address Loss and Damage.

    It is worthwhile to remember that the brunt of climate change will be felt first and hardest by the people least responsible for the problem in the first place. So isn’t it right that the developed world should step up to the plate and help their transition to a more resilient and sustainable future? Surely such a transition would have dividends for us all? As these new consumers of products would reinvigorate stalling global markets, their future security would reduce the drivers for migration and displacement, and the sense of global community will reignite the fires of global cooperation and reciprocity.

    So will Katowice a city in the heart of the Polish coal industry deliver a successful outcome? A lot has changed in the last few weeks following the publication of the IPCC report. I am hopeful that the planetary elder statesmen of Europe, India and China will step into the void created by the absence of the US and nurture the negotiations onto the path necessary for a successful outcome, watch this space.

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