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  • Talking shit at FSM4 Conference – Feedback on our sanitation work in Bangladesh

    Talking about shit for a week in India — a fascinating context to present our sanitation work! India, a country that has undertaken a huge and ambitious national scale clean-up campaign (‘Swachh Bharat’ /’Clean India Mission’), hosted the LOGO4th_faecal_sludge_management_conference4th Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) Conference in Chennai this February. In total, 1,100 practitioners, governments and private sector representatives from all over the world participated in the conference. This was a truly unique sharing and visibility opportunity for our organisation. As a result, we ran out of our latest Technology Justice paper on Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) on the second day of the conference!

     

    During the FSM4 conference, we shared lessons from the preliminary operation of the business model we are implementing in Faridpur, Bangladesh, as part of the ‘Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for Sustainable Sludge Management Services’ project  (Gates Foundation – DFID funding). We also provided the community of practice with some key insights on the relevance of business modelling and market-based solutions in FSM, and received some excellent feedback from the participants, because we were addressed the following issues:

    Why working on FSM — The dreadful economic and health costs of poor sanitation

    The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program estimates the economic costs of poor sanitation in Bangladesh to be USD 4.2 billion each year. This was equivalent to 6.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s GNP in 2007! This shows that the health impacts dwarf the economic costs. In Bangladesh, open defecation has remarkably decreased to only 1 per cent (from 34 per cent in 1990). However, in most secondary towns, like Faridpur, there are no sewers. Residents rely on on-site sanitation, combined with unsafe FSM practices. In addition, 90 per cent of the sludge in Faridpur was not safely emptied or transported when we first assessed the situation in 2014. The absence of drainage or emptying facilities in the low-income settlements results in overflowing toilets, which simply leads to the problem of open defecation reoccurring! This is the main reason why we developed our programme in Bangladesh. This project now mixes hardware (e.g. treatment plant) and software solutions (e.g. private entrepreneurs and municipality partnership around FSM business).

    A national FSM framework to fill the legal vacuum in Bangladesh

    Bangladesh FSM NetworkThe health and economic risks presented above are what we call a “second-generation sanitation challenge”. Bangladesh has achieved 99 per cent access to sanitation. However, the key challenge now is: how can both, public and private sector actors, safely manage all the sludge that is contained in these new on-site systems.  Practical Action and ITN-BUET (our partner University) work on developing viable business models for the problem. In addition, we have been developing a National Institutional and Regulatory Framework for FSM. This was inexistent in Bangladesh but is now being approved. This framework will significantly clarify roles for the municipalities in charge. It is now complemented by the strategic policy advocacy and knowledge dissemination; role played by the newly created National FSM Network, including I/NGOs, CSOs, government, private sector and industries. Practical Action was a key founder of this network.

    Lessons and highlights from the FSM4 Conference:

    • Awareness raising and demand generation are the key to kick-start new FSM businesses.Street Drama, World Toilet Day

      • Early indications show, that pit-emptiers in Faridpur are now seeing an increase in demand. As a result, faecal waste is now safely disposed at the treatment plant. While some projects have tended to underestimate activities such as street drama, cycling events, cleanliness drives, quiz contests and cycle rallies. These have proven to be the central drivers of a progressive increase in revenue from pit-emptying. Further, they create a sense of ownership and environmental awareness. Increased demand for a trustworthy service demonstrates good potential for uptake of such models.
    • A cross-subsidised tariff system is required to attain a responsive service in these cities.
      • Income that pit-emptiers get from fees cannot fully cover the cost of collecting, transporting, treating and disposing the sludge. This is why business models explore the possibilities to have other sources of revenues; such as a smart subsidy from the Municipality, and sales of co-compost from sludge in medium-long term.
    FSM Business Model
    • Taking a system’s approach helps seeing the bigger picture and to forsee interconnected issues. 
      • Looking at FSM as a system (i.e. including all stakeholders, rules, norms beyond the mere service chain household-to-treatment plant) allowed the project team to see hidden strengths and blockages that would only have been uncovered later on. By doing so, the Faridpur project could:
        • Build on the informal sector as an existing and relatively efficient service provider and
        • Understand conflictive incentives in providing pit-emptying services.
    • Practical Action is good at facilitating participatory and inclusive design of partnerships between Municipalities and the private sector, e.g. between FaridpurMunicipality, formalised pit-emptiers, and a treatment plant operator. Years of collaboration with municipalities have helped to build trust, and therefore, to facilitate the design of such business models that are flexible, modular and adaptable to how demand for pit-emptying evolves over time.

    Outstanding questions and food for thought:Preliminary operation of the FSM business model, Faridpur, Bangladesh

    • The multi- stakeholder’s steering committee, set up in Faridpur Municipality to oversee the performance of the service, will play a key role in rolling out and scaling up the service – is it possible to use this model in other Water & Sanitation projects to ensure ownership and to take this approach to scale?
    • We should have a better understanding of pro-poor sanitation services in our projects. Our projects are focusing on scale and profitability, however the question of the affordability of emptying services for the poorest in Faridpur was raised by our peers.
    • Could we not complement our systems and business approach with a “Rights-Based Approach”? Human rights based approaches (HRBAs) are successfully used to build citizens’ capacity to claim this basic right to the Government.

     

    More information about why our Sanitation work matters: Watch our Bangladesh Director Hasin Jahan’s TED Talk.

     

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  • Promoting inclusive urban growth


    January 3rd, 2017

    Stories of urban cleaners society in Bangladesh

    by Md. A. Halim Miah, Makfie Farah, Uttam Kumar Saha and Hasin Jahan

    History reveals that there were a special group of people who, unlike other artisans like smiths and weavers, worked at cleaning sewerage and drainage system in the old urban civilizations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. They were mostly enslaved. We are now under the charter of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights where every man has equal rights to choose their profession and lead a decent life with dignity and equality.

    Urban cleaner is a caste or class?

    FSMAs well as that Indus civilization as we also had a thousand year old urban centre named Pundra nagar. That city had also had a ‘cleaner class’, a special artisan community culturally called ‘Harijan’.

    Among the society of cleaners in Bangladesh there are broadly two communities based on their religious identity – a Hindu or Harijan community and a Muslim sweeper community.

    In the Hindu religious system society is segregated into a caste system of four professional groups. The Harijan community is one of these. Mahatma Gandhi, a famous Indian political leader renowned for his non-violence movement and social reform, worked for the rights of those human groups who did not have minimum dignity as human beings.  He tried to bring them in the main stream Hindu society by giving them a new name. He called them Harijan (hari means most honourable) and that was officially declared as ‘scheduled’.

    There is no social stratification in Islam but in practice lower status communes exist in  society who are exploited in many ways due to their low status profession like ‘Kulu’ (traditionally oil producer), ‘Jhula’ (weavers) and ‘Hajam (circumcision).  As today many people from rural peasants society have moved away from their land and traditional livelihoods due to natural disasters and are forced to take shelter in urban and peri-urban areas. These poor people, who do not have skills that fit with the urban economy, are  engaging in this type of lower skills based employment. They face economic, social, and cultural marginalization.

    Political economy of cleaners

    participationAvailable statistics show that there are around 150,000 Harijan in Bangladesh.  If we include Muslim cleaners in this profession then the number is higher and is gradually increasing with urbanization.  There are around 532 urban centres in Bangladesh representing 35% of the population and contributing 80% of national GDP (MHHDC, 2014). Experts suggest that rapid urbanisation will mean that this number will reach 50% by 2030.

    Each day 13,333 MT of urban waste is generated – per capita this is ½ kg per day. This study was conducted in 2005 when there were 512 urban centres and the total urban population was around 25%.  This increased to 35% in 2016 so waste generation today could be around 20,000 MT per day.

    For a liveable city and healthy urbanization we need improved and modernized cleaning services and a professional group with skills and adequate logistics. We can not expect these improvements immediately, but need a priority plan to take the country and our economy to the stage of middle income countries where per capita gross national income starts from  US$1,026 to $ 12,475.

    How do we expect to do this when we ignore around two million people whose services are required daily to foster our urban economy and production? Are they being exploited? Is their work less economically valuable than that of other artisans among the urban classes? We cannot afford to ignore the cost of negligence of proper sanitation cleanliness.

    A study ‘The Human Waste’, conducted by Water Aid and Tearfund shows that  in developing countries 80% of disease is due to poor sanitation. People suffering from water borne diseases occupy half of the world’s hospital beds. Poor sanitation causes an increased burden of disease, numbers in hospital, a daily work loss, lower participation of children in school and the long term effect on health from anaemia and stunted growth.

    The report also reveals that school sanitation programs increase the enrolment of girls annually by 11%. My 12 year old daughter was admitted to a new school after her graduation from class five to six. In the beginning she reported to me that her school toilets were not cleaned properly so she did not want to continue at that school. She repeatedly reported this to her class teachers and she is now fine with her present school. So we can see how the social and economic value of this cleaning works!

    Why are cleaners not a development priority?

    The Bangladesh constitution confirms equal rights for every citizen under the article 19(1) “the state will attempt  to ensure equal; opportunities for all the citizens” and also article 20(1) where every citizens rights are agreed with same value  regardless of their caste, class, religion and sex. But in practice what we see is that communities like cleaners are deprived in many ways of equal access to basic citizen services.

    A recent study conducted by Professor Ainoon Naher and Abu Ala Mahmud Hasan among the harijan of northern Bangladesh (HEKS/EPER, 2016) shows that, “In general, the common feeling among the Dalit is that they have always been looked down upon by the mainstream/dominant groups who tend to avoid Dalit in public spaces”. It also reveals that Dalit women are the ‘marginalized among the marginalized’.

    Social safety nets are a major instrument of the Bangladesh government to reduce poverty and hunger. The allocation of safety nets is mostly rural biased with safety net packages more than three times higher in rural areas compare to urban (House Hold Income and Expenditure Survey , 2010, Pp. 72, BBS).  Girls from extreme poor communities who live in urban slums are not entitled to school stipend program as metropolitan cities are excluded from that safety net policy.

    The Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) network Bangladesh organized a national convention of pit emptiers on 7th December 2016 in Dhaka. Around 92 pit emptiers from 20 municipalities attended. It was an exceptional day for the development workers as well as for these most marginalized people. They identified plenty of eye awakening issues (revealed in the table below) about what we need to know if we really want to change the world

    Table:  Extent of deprivation of cleaners

    Health & SecurityEquityDignityFair income
    “We want equal attention in health care centres when we become sick”“We want to play together with all the children”

    “We are avoided in social events even though we attend we are humiliated”“What we earn monthly that is enough for twenty days and rest of the days we have to live with borrow from informal money lenders with high interest of repayment”

    What is the solution?

    Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary of the United Nations commented that ‘No- one left behind’ is the underlying moral code of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. He  emphasized that people who are hardest to reach should be given priority.  Practical Action Bangladesh have implemented a four year (2012-2016) multi-country (Bangladesh, Nepal & Sri Lanka) project named Integrated Urban Development ( IUD2) that focused on participatory planning for inclusive urban governance.

    The findings of this project are encouraging for development thinkers and policy makers. It followed a participatory approach to include urban cleaners in the development process with a drive to demonstrate pro poor urban governance.  Narratives from project beneficiaries show that they were enlightened by understanding the democratic process and how to identify problems and solutions through a participatory planning process. “We can arrange election in our SIC reformation, exercise and enjoy democracy”,  said Rumpa Begum, Slum Improvement Committee, Faridpur.

    We learned that to create an enabling environment for interaction between two classes of people (elite and proletariat) governance improvement is essential. At the same time a focus on improving skills and reducing health and safety risks is important for transforming any economic sector.

    Customized gulpher for emptying pitIn the history of human society the dominant class has always controlled advanced technology. So creating access to technology for this class can make change happen. I found this to be true for the cleaners’ community of the Faridpur municipality. At the beginning of this year Urban and Energy Service Program of Practical Action, Bangladesh organized an impact review and learning workshop. One of the main stakeholders of this program was city /municipality government. Anisur Rahman Chowdhury, an honourable counsellor of the Faridpur Municipality, who commented in one of the learning sessions on Practical Action’s engagement in the development of his city:

    “Earlier I myself never give space to stand my side any mathor (Cleaner) but when I found that they are now use machines for emptying pit. They do not get down into inside of the pit. I found there is no any bad smell with their body. They are doing like other mechanic or civil engineering works. So I sit with them in a same table at tea stall”.

    I think this is the way to change social perspectives and change the lives of the most disadvantaged communities in any country.  This has also been recommended by Mr. ABM Khurshed Alam, Chairman of the National Skills Development Council to make available modern tools and machinery which could change their status. He also suggested for arranging certificate course for increasing skills of the people of this profession.

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  • Bidding adieu to 2016 : 10 best examples of practical solutions from India


    December 30th, 2016

    With a number of challenges on the field and off the field, the team in India has managed to deliver some good sustainable practical solutions in last couple of years. Moving ahead for an eventful 2017 and with added challenges and milestones, I thought of ending the year with looking back at the sustainable practical solutions we have served so far.

    Development is a process as we all know and in Practical Action the biggest learning so far I have got is how to make this process a sustainable one. Here I have documented 10 different projects and interventions which have been sustainable or aiming at sustainability delivering practical solutions.

    1. ACCESS cook stoves

    1 (2)

    Access Grameen Mahila Udyog, in Koraput which is nurtured by Practical Action has been instrumental in manufacturing and marketing of improved cook stoves. The cook stoves generate less smoke, save fuel and time.

    It has contributed to less carbon emission and has resulted in healthier living environment in rural tribal houses.

    2. SOURA RATH (Solar Power Cart)

    2 (1)

    Practical Action India developed a portable solar-powered cart (Mobile Solar Energy System) that provides energy for 72 hours to power mobile phones, laptops, lights and water pumps. The cart can serve up to a capacity of 5KW and can be used during the post-disaster emergency and is easy to be relocated from one place to another.

    This model is applauded by Government of Odisha and is now being showcased at the Solar Park for public. We strongly feel this can add value to the cyclone shelter houses if used appropriately

    3. SUNOLO SAKHI 

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    Young girls and women in 60 slums of Bhubaneswar have formed Sakhi Clubs and spreading the knowledge on menstrual hygiene among other girls and peers. Our innovative radio Programme ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ has broken the taboo and enabled a conducive environment for discussion on menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls. The first ever radio show on menstrual hygiene Sunolo Sakhi is instrumental in bringing about change in the menstrual hygiene practices and behaviour of these young girls resulting in better health.

    The comprehensive programme Sunolo Sakhi is also providing Audio book for visually challenged and video book for hearing and speech impaired girls in the State.

    4.  COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE 

    9 (3)

    Community led water management has helped this tribal village Sundertaila in Nayagarh district to be self-sufficient in getting clean drinking water. Not only practical solutions but introducing user friendly and sustainable technology options at the last mile and serving them with basic needs is something what Practical Action tries to invest in its program efforts.

    5. SMRE

    4 (2)

    18 years old Sunil Tadingi of Badamanjari is now a successful entrepreneur and continues education in Semiliguda College. Despite all odds he is able to mark this achievement as his village is now electrified with the help of a self-sustained micro hydro power generation unit.

    Badamanjari has set an example in Koraput district by generating around 40KW electricity to provide light to all the households of the village and people are able to watch TV and use fans as well. Rice hauler and turmeric processing units are also running with additional energy generated, as a result creating entrepreneurs like Sunil.

    6. Small wind energy systems (SWES)

    5 (5)

    60 poor families in Kalahandi district of Odisha once deprived of access to electricity are electrified now. The wind and solar hybrid system by Practical Action has solved the basic energy need of the villagers with street lights, home lighting and fans.

    Kamalaguda and Tijmali, these two villages are on the top of the hills where it was a day dream for getting electricity to fight with the night. Now, the villagers are capacitated to manage the systems by themselves without any external support.

    7. PROJECT NIRMAL

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    At the backdrop of poor sanitation facilities in small and medium cities of Odisha, ‘Project Nirmal’ supports two fast growing urban hubs like Dhenkanal and Angul municipalities with a pilot intervention for appropriate & sustainable city wide sanitation service.

    Project Nirmal aims at benefitting both the municipalities to set up Faecal Sludge Management systems by establishing treatment plants to treat the faecal sludge

    8. Safe and Healthy Environment for Children of Waste Workers

    8 (2)

    “I felt very happy the moment I received the Identity Card from the Dept. of Labour and Employment, Govt. of Odisha” Says Salima Bibi a 25 year old informal waste worker from a Slum near Dumduma under Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC).

    Many informal waste workers in the state are being formalised and now accessing and availing their legitimate citizen rights.

    9. LITRE OF LIGHT 

    3 (12)

    Light comes from water bottles. Litre of Light is an open source technology which has been successfully experimented in 120 households in the slums of Bhubaneswar. It has now lessened the use of electric light during day time.

    Small children can even study and men and women can do delicate cloth weaving and other productive activities during day time with the light provided by these solar water bulbs.

    10. Safe and Healthy Environment for Children of Waste Workers
    10 (3)

    117 children of informal waste workers have been enrolled in schools in one day and are continuing their schooling; they were engaged in rag picking or related works previously.

    While working with alternative energy, Practical Action focuses on advocating and influencing the society for a step ahead towards meaningful development

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  • Knowledge is Power; #LetsdoPeriodTalk


    December 22nd, 2016

    Written by Pratikshya Priyadarshini

    A hot, sunny afternoon in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar does not evoke the imagery of a drab, lazy life that it typically must. One can hear the din from a distance, hard rubber balls hitting against wooden bats, followed closely by the voices of young boys appealing instinctively to an invisible umpire. As we walk along the dusty paths, the roads wider than the adjacent houses, a number of young girls flock to us, greeting us with coy smiles. Young and old women, sitting on verandas, welcome us with pleasantries and call out to their daughters, “The Sakhi Club Didis are here!” We stop in front of a small pakka house, the purple paint shining brightly in the slanting afternoon sun while the rice lights from Diwali night hanging down the roof wait for the evening to be lit. 15 year old Sailaja comes out of the little door, wiping her hands and wearing an infectious smile on her face as she briskly lays down the mats for us to sit down. She then speaks to us about the Sunalo Sakhi program and her participation in it.

    Sailaja

    K. Sailaja Reddy, 15years old, Sikharchandi Cluster 2 Slum, Bhubaneswar

    Sailaja was 13 years old when she first got her periods. Anxious and fearful, she informed her mother about it. She knew very little about menstruation before the onset of her menarche. In fact, even after she got her periods, she had very little knowledge about the process and had harbored a number of misconceptions that she had begotten from her previous generations. She recalls that when she got her periods for the first time, she was isolated from everyone and kept inside her house owing to the customary practices of her culture. Moreover, she was placed under a number of restrictions by her family in terms of moving and playing, interacting with boys and men and speaking openly about periods. Sailaja had been using cloth to prevent staining back then. She was facing a number of difficulties in keeping herself clean since she had to wash the cloth on her own and dry it. It used to be inconvenient during the monsoons and winter as there would be no sunlight and the cloth wouldn’t dry up. Add to that, she was not even aware of the health repercussions that using unhygienic methods like cloth instead of sanitary napkins might bring about. Sailaja tells us that when the CCWD and Practical Action program ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ started in her community, a lot of young girls and women were reluctant to go and join the meetings. With the constant efforts of the community mobilizers, the Sakhi Club was created in the area as a forum for dissemination of knowledge and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene and related issues. A number of women and girls started actively participating in the programme. The community mobilizers used a number of strategies like audio visual screening, radio podcasts, visual charts, action learning, songs and dance in order to educate the participants about the various facts related to menstruation. They discussed the scientific reasons behind menstruation and busted many myths regarding periods. They also discussed various health issues pertaining to menstruation, ways to maintain hygiene during periods and practices to be followed for proper healthcare during adolescence. Gradually, the girls who were initially reluctant began to open up and started discussing their own menstrual problems with the community mobilizers who tried their best to clarify their queries. Sailaja herself was facing problems with her menstrual cycle. Her menstrual blood was thick and clotted which caused her severe abdominal pain and nausea. She spoke about it to the expert doctor on the radio programme ‘Sunalo Sakhi’ and the doctor advised her to drink 4-5 liters of water every day. She followed the doctor’s advice and noticed changes within a few days.

    Exif_JPEG_420

    Sakhi Club Meetings in the Slums by ‘Sunolo Sakhi’

    Today the Sikharchandi Sakhi Club has 32 members. All of them, including Sailaja have switched to sanitary pads instead of cloth. Sailaja now changes her pads 3-4 times per day and disposes the used pads by either burning or burying them. She monitors her periods using a calendar. She uses the methods suggested by the community mobilizers like hot water press and ajwain water consumption to handle her abdominal aches during periods. Her problem with blood clot has also been completely resolved. She tells us that the conversation regarding menstruation has changed a lot at her home and in her community with most women now speaking openly about it and discarding the taboos and myths in favour of factual understanding. All the girls in the area now go to school during their periods while they were earlier stopped by their families. Sailaja now exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet and takes care of her health. She promises that she will keep spreading the message of the club among her younger friends and urge them to not be fearful or reluctant, to take care of their health and hygiene as well as to listen to the Sunalo Sakhi programme by Practical Answers on Radio Choklate so that their issues can be addressed.

    (Ms Pratikshya Priyadarshini, Student of TISS, Mumbai interned with Practical Answers and was engaged in Sunolo Sakhi project)

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  • Habitat III: The buzz word is “implementation” – but will anything really change?


    Quito, Ecuador, Quito | October 17th, 2016

    Quito Habitat IIIThis week in Quito, the UN Secretary General and delegations from around the world are gathering for the Habitat III conference, and to sign up to the “New Urban Agenda”. This is the first all-UN meeting since the SDGs were agreed and the Paris Climate Agreement was signed. It is a once-in-twenty years opportunity for all member states to agree to a more sustainable, equitable, resilient future for the world’s cities and urban spaces.

    Practical Action is here, speaking at events, and as a member of the General Assembly of Partners, and the World Urban Campaign. We are talking about a greater voice for slum dwellers and the informal sector based on our urban water, sanitation and waste management work. A team from our Latin America office are here talking about the great work we do on disaster risk reduction in urban contexts in general, and as part of the Zurich flood resilience alliance.

    Unlike many UN negotiations, the debate here is less about agreeing the fine details of the text, and more about what will follow. The buzz word everywhere is about ‘implementation’. We need to move from discussion to putting this new agreement into practice on the ground. And the need for that is enormous. The world’s urban populations continue to grow, and with it urban inequalities and the number people living in dire poverty is also growing. People continue to settle on lands which are at risk of natural disasters. And at the same time, evictions of slum dwellers continue, sometimes in the name of development.

    facilitators-raju_origThis stunning set of photographs taken by women slum dwellers as part of a PhD project we are jointly supporting with the Bartlett Centre, UCL, shows some of the daily struggles of accessing water in Kathmandu.

    The Habitat III process is calling for ‘implementation’ and Practical Action among many others is already implementing work in the spirit of the New Urban Agenda: making space for the voices of slum dwellers and informal workers, ensuring they can live with dignity and without fear in safer, cleaner environments. We were already doing this, and will continue to do this.

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    Home in a slum in Faridpur, proud of their community

    So what added value with having a global agreement bring? Past agreements of this sort provided some added leverage for a few years, and then were largely forgotten, having very little influence. First, it is only if this agreement can be tied both to the SDGs and to global accountability mechanisms that it will really have some traction. Second, it needs to be localised and made real not at the level of national governments, but for local authorities and city leaders.

    The agreement requires a report on progress to the UN General Assembly every four years, feeding into the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as a way of ensuring coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals. But will this really be enough to ensure progress? So for all the excitement of a global agreement being signed this week, this is surely just the start. Much work remains to be done to lock-in the good words and turn them into something meaningful.

    Practical Action at Habitat III

    Tuesday 18th: 8-10am, National Library CSO Stakeholder Roundtable

    Tuesday 18th: 8-9am R7 Building Inclusive and Resilient Cities for the urban poor to withstand natural disasters. Practical Action Peru DRR lead Pedro Ferradas talking about our experiences of DRR and reducing vulnerabilities.

    Wednesday 19th: 9:30-10:30 R12 Practical Action side event: Slum Dwellers, youth, city-wide planning and accelerating urban service delivery together with DPU and World Vision International.

    Video of Lucy speaking about the issues that matter to Practical Action as part of the World Urban Campaign.

     

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  • ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, let’s do the #PeriodTalk


    September 27th, 2016

    Written by Aurosmita Acharya, Journalist, DNA, India

    ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, literally meaning ‘Sisters, let’s listen’, was broadcast for the first time this year on February 6 on a community radio station in Bhubaneswar.

    Aiming to spread awareness and bust taboos, especially in slum areas, the radio show has been designed by a UK-based NGO ‘ Practical Action’ to take the first steps in educate people about menstrual hygiene.

    Scheduled to be taken forward with the help of city-based FM stations , the initiative that was launched in January is set to be expanded in its second phase. Girls and young women in slums are encouraged to discuss their issues during ‘Live Phone-in discussions’ and dispel all the myths that have been associated with menstruation with the help of an Adolescent Hygiene Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra.

    ‘Most families are shy discussing menstruation matters’mens auro1

    “When it comes to menstrual hygiene very few women and girls know about the proper hygiene practices. In a city like Bhubaneswar, a handful of urban girls are aware about it,” explains Ananta Prasad, Communications Officer, “In such a situation, we were more concerned about our slum communities. So, we designed this programme for adolescent girls and young women in the slums, who are mostly daily wage workers or students.”

    Speaking about the importance of such a programme in slum areas, Adolescent Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra further adds saying, “Most families are shy discussing menstruation issues. So, they tend to practice wrong and baseless customs. In rural or slum areas, people do not conceive menstruation as a normal bodily phenomenon and hence girls are looked down upon.”

    Explaining further she adds, “Male counterpart, many a times, make fun of periods or do not realise the difficulties that a girl goes through during this time of the month. Besides, girls or young women in these areas are seen to be following unhygienic practices that lead to infection and other diseases. Hence, the need for such a programme arises.”

    ‘Sakhi Clubs have been formed to enable change’

    Within a span of five months, the programme has gained a lot of popularity in the slums and has been receiving calls from young girls and ladies in the age group of 18 yrs to 35 yrs.

    At present, the NGO has been able to socially mobilise 15 slums in Bhubaneswar via audio podcasting, mobile film screenings, and focused group discussions and through knowledge materials. To enable a change in the mindset, Sakhi-Radio clubs have been formed where young girls and women are encouraged to listen to the aired show during the weekend and discuss on the same.

    Regular film screenings, focused group discussions, individual counselling, audio pod casting, radio listeners club are the medium of interaction and knowledge sharing means adopted under the project. The live radio show has helped immensely in initiating a change, according to the organisers. The show is scheduled to be aired once a week for duration of an hour, with the local FM radio partner.

    Interestingly, the programme intends to reach the visually impaired, hearing and speech impaired as well through audio and visual books. The audio books would socially mobilise the visually impaired while the visual books which would make use of sign language would create an awareness on menstrual hygiene amongst those who are hearing and speech impaired, informed Ananta.

    This article was first published here by the journalist from DNA.

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  • Faecal Sludge Management in Odisha; The new sanitation challenge

    Healthy communities are the outcome of effective sanitation practices. Life and livelihood of people largely depends on their health and hence, sanitation holds a major role in it. Thinking beyond toilet, it’s time to ponder about treatment of the human waste and reuse it for the betterment of environment and a healthy life.

    As per the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP 2011) India contributes to 58 per cent of the world’s population defecating in the open. And according to last census in 2011, an overwhelming 1.7 lakh households (48.33%) or 8.5 lakh people in the slums of Odisha defecate in the open.

    It is noted that, if 1 truck of sludge is exposed unsafely then it is equivalent to 5000 people defecating in open. In this context, if we go by the mission of toilet for all, there will be a huge amount of scarcity of water and also the faecal sludge will be the next problem we will have to face.

    Looking at the smart approach of our urban planners and urban development practitioners, now it is highly essential for all urban settlements to come up with solution to deal with faecal sludge. Having proper disposal and a well-planned faecal sludge management is highly needed and should be given much importance in the current context. What if we achieve the objectives of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and we achieve hundred percent toilets in the state and country. And we do not have a sludge management policy which will lead the disposal of solid sludge into our river bodies and also open field. What are we aiming at!!! From open defecation to mass defecation, where are we heading?? Are building toilets will solve the problems or will create a new sanitation challenge??

    Let’s look beyond, while addressing a problem also let’s also address the broader sanitation challenges ahead. According to report by Odisha Water Supply and sewerage board, out of the 60 Lakh people staying in 23 Urban local bodies, 31 percent approx. are defecating in open and among people using toilets, only 49 percent households have septic tanks.

    This is again sad, that only 2 per cent liquid waste are treated in the state and 98 per cent either percolates to ground water or adjoining water bodies through surface drains without treatment. Waters from Rivers such as Brahmani, Daya, Kathajori can hardly be used for further drinking water purpose. Discharge from insanitary latrines, sewage flowing in drains, effluent from septic tanks, septage, and rampant open defecation are polluting the environment and having adverse health impacts to all of us residing in the state. At present no ULB other than Puri has any sewerage system inside the urban limits. This is shocking and we need to act upon it immediately.

    Here, comes the solution. The Faecal Sludge Management and treatment is the need of the hour. The untreated human waste what we call faecal sludge needs to be treated. Be it household level or institutional level, it needs to be treated and an appropriate system needs to be in place if we want healthy life and healthy community.

    There are few things which can major take away for an effective FSM policy and management. Decentralized FSM can be a good demonstration on these public utilities and Possibility to introduce decentralized FSM in newly developing areas, public institutions like schools, universities, hospitals, apartment etc is something which needs to be addressed by planning bodies. A conducive environment for private sector and the promotion of PPP model in FSM Private Sectors will create more scope for funding opportunity for infrastructural development. Onsite sanitation solutions seemed necessary to disseminate with sanitation stakeholders for their possible promotion.

    If we look at the government initiatives, now Septage management in nine cities / towns of the State (Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Baripada, Balasore, Bhadrak and Puri has been included under ‘AMRUT’ launched by GoI. The draft DPRs for septage treatment facility in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Baripada has been prepared by OWSSB. Pre-requisite measures like land identification and acquisition are in progress. In order to regulate construction, cleaning, maintenance, treatment and disposal of septage in urban areas, government has formulated the Odisha Urban Septage Management Guideline 2016. Government has taken steps for procurement of 86 nos of 3KL Cesspool Emptier for 57 ULBs. All these information has been shared by OWSSB in public domain but still there is a long way to go.  There has been experiments faecal sludge treatment in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Philipines, Argentina, Ghana and Brazil etc. Even in India there have been few experiments in Bangalore. But no urban local body has come up with a proper plan of action for the same. However, in Odisha the state government has partnered with few philanthropic organisations and there has been two pilot projects of faecal sludge management are happening in Dhenkanal and Angul Municipality. If these proved efficient use of faecal sludge then Odisha can be the pioneer in setting up a system for disposal of human excreta.

    Further to add on, the amount of water being wasted in toilet, if the faecal sludge treatment is not combined with waste water management then, in coming days, there will be a huge scarcity of water. This may also lead to dearth of drinking water, which may break the nerves of any government creating challenge for the urban governance.  When a comprehensive sanitation plan is being developed, faecal sludge management must be integral part of every sanitation plan, which builds on on-site sanitation facilities. Sludge management is an indispensable part of the maintenance of these facilities. However, in reality sludge management is often neglected in sanitation planning because the need for it is less apparent than it is for the provision of water supply or toilet facilities. Even when a sanitation plan foresees a component for sludge management, its implementation is often impaired for the same reasons. Sanitation planners and decision-makers must recognize the importance of sludge management.

    As we have seen the adverse impacts of human excreta causing harm to human health and hygiene now, its time we must be proactive. With the campaigns of building toilets we must be tighten our belt for proper disposal mechanism. On the eve of toilet day, the urban sanitation planners must look at the mechanism of proper faecal sludge management.

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  • Thousands of students improve hygiene practices in Bangladesh


    August 25th, 2016

    Alamgir Chowdhury, Coordinator-Training, Energy & Urban Services Programme, Practical Action Bangladesh

    Nearly 70,000 students (Girls: 38,593 and Boys: 31,167)  in 6 sub-districts of Dhaka and Sylhet are enjoying good health and regularly attending classes.  The CATS (Community Approaches to Total Sanitation) project of UNICEF and Practical Action has helped to establish improved hygiene practices in those areas. Teachers and students are working together to bring changes to peoples’ ways of thinking.  People are now enjoying an open defecation free life leading to a healthier living environment and better public health.

    handwashing CAT projectUNICEF and Practical Action, Bangladesh have been working on the jointly designed CATS project since October 2014 in 500 communities and 200 schools in 34 unions of 6 sub districts of Dhaka and Sylhet. The aim of the project is to sustainably improve sanitation and promote hygiene behaviour change in these communities.

    Though most schools in those areas have access to water and sanitation facilities, over half these water sources were not working and many of the latrines were in poor sanitary condition and unusable. The project has rehabilitated or installed general hand washing facilities in the schools. It also rehabilitated or reconstructed existing sanitation, toilet and water facilities in the schools.

    In total the project established

    • 100 sanitation/toilet facilities
    • 200 hand washing corners
    • 70 menstrual hygiene corners

    Teachers and students have been involved in different learning programmes, workshops, and idea exchanges. This participatory approach led to the School Led Total Sanitation approach, which has increased demand for appropriate and well maintained, sustainable facilities and the scaling-up of the mass hand washing activities among the users.

    raising awareness This also incorporated another approach, Fit for School, which focuses on sanitation facilities according to the individual needs of each school.  Key messages of good practice have been spread through School Brigades and Councils, which are very effective in promoting school level sanitation programmes. School brigades are responsible for hygiene monitoring in schools and also participate in district and national level sanitation and hygiene competitions in the form of debates, drawings, poems and songs.

    Teachers have facilitated one hygiene session each week for students along with their regular curriculum. Students have also participated in a popular hygiene role-play called Robi-Rani. Teachers also encourage students to participate and observe Sanitation Month, World Water Day, World Environment Day and Menstrual Day which focus on the importance of improved hygiene practice.

    These initiatives have improved hand washing and toilet use practice among students. Other personal hygiene practices like nail cutting, hair combing, and tooth brushing and menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls have been developed among the students. The school management committee members and teachers have developed a mechanism with student’s brigades for the operation and maintenance of wash facilities for proper monitoring and sustainability. The result is remarkable. Student absence rates have dropped significantly as students rarely suffer from water borne diseases like, dysentery, diarrhoea, cholera and various skin infections.  Regular attendance has improved students overall performance.

    The project has initiated different types of training sessions and events for school awareness. Examples include training of trainers on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practice and the operation and maintenance of sanitation facilities for teachers, students and school council members. The project team have also organised student council meetings and facilitated an action plan on WASH with students, and assisted the schools with relevant materials.

    The student council use a weekly assembly to increase knowledge and practice of hand washing before and after meals, monitoring the progress of using latrine hygienically and hand washing after toilet use. The student brigades now regularly monitor hand washing practice in schools, look after the hygiene  of the toilets.  The student brigades, teachers and SMC members have also facilitated hand washing activities in the schools on different occasions for sustaining hand washing practice among the students.

    There have been several programmes on “the effect of ODF and Hand Washing”. Six debate competitions were organised and several art competitions to inspire the students on the long-term effects of total school led sanitation. Representatives from district administration, the primary education department and the school authorities attended these programmes to encourage students. These activities have encouraged other schools in the adjacent areas to improve sanitation and hygiene practices among the school students and communities.

    The CATS project has changed the lives of thousands of students of these two hundred schools in Bangladesh. The project has proved that improved hygiene practice is directly related to increased school attendance and better performance by the students. Although most of the students of these schools belong to poorer families in the communities, the school led total sanitation approach has not only changed the students’ hygiene behaviour but is also reflected in the overall improved hygiene practices of these communities.

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  • Innovative online monitoring of WASH in Bangladesh


    July 28th, 2016

    If you are busy in the office, travelling, at home or wherever you are in the world you can watch great achievements! In a remote area of Bangladesh just 5 seconds ago a female leader put an update online with GPS location and engaging photographs about a hand washing device installed this morning. This is not a dream. In the cloud we are regularly updating the progress of the field activities of  the Community Approaches to Total Sanitation Project, (GoB-UNICEF-CATS ) part of the Energy and Urban Services Programme of Practical Action, Bangladesh.

    online monitoringThe online monitoring system using a smart phone app and a dashboard has made the monitoring activities on WASH in the project areas of Bangladesh much easier. Manually operated monitoring systems were time consuming, and a burden for project staff. They used to be burdened with questionnaires, writing materials, cameras, GPS machine, internet modem and computer or laptop. Data entry from hard copy to computer and sometimes hard disk was painful. With online monitoring the monitors just carry an Android mobile and everything else is in the cloud (on a satellite or server).

    More than 210 representatives of different stakeholder groups were trained on mobile based online monitoring by Practical Action. These included government departments concerned with public health engineering, and education, sub-district administration, local elected representatives, male and female community representatives and partner NGO staff.  They learned how to operate the mobile apps for the online monitoring process in project areas as well as the reporting system. Following the training they formed a Joint Monitoring Team at Union and sub-district level and immediately started monitoring in the 500 communities of 34 Unions in 6 sub-districts of Dhaka and Sylhet Division.

    The Union teams conducted household and community level monitoring and the sub-district level teams verified the monitoring data with field visits and checked data on the online dashboard. 1500 heads of household (randomly selected from the 500 communities) responded to the household level result monitoring and more than 7,000 representatives from the communities participated in community level monitoring. All the data was collected through apps and sent from the field using Android mobile.

    The data focused on four indicators:

    1. New latrine installations
    2. Un-improved to improved latrine
    3. Hand washing device installation
    4. ODF (Open Defecation Free) declaration and certification.

    Those engaged in online monitoring had not previously used Android mobiles before this training.   Now they are successfully performing online monitoring as a result of this high quality hands on training. The community welcomed the online system because they already depend on mobile phone based services to exchanges messages, transfer money, and pay mobile phone, gas and electric bills.

    The implementation of this system was not completely challenge free. In some areas It was difficult to engage government staff because they were busy with administrative work and post-election activities. And in some remote areas the phone network was poor and it was necessary to spend additional time sending monitoring data from the field areas.

    What is remarkable is that in this initiative a large number of people can now operate mobile online monitoring when most are representatives of the stakeholders, including direct project beneficiaries. This will contribute to the sustainability of the project achievements and add value to our WASH work.

    The project has received support from the Government of Bangladesh, UKAID and UNICEF.  Practical Action, Bangladesh have been implementing this project with field programme support of local NGOs UST, SPACE, CDS and OMUS.

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  • 10 reasons why Practical Action is the best organisation I have worked in so far


    July 13th, 2016

    Since, I started my professional work life on 1 April 2010, I have served 8 different organisations in just 6 years and freelanced for numbers of other organisations voluntarily and also as consultants before. I clearly remember 13 July 2015, the day I had joined Practical Action, it was just like any other organisation I had served before. However, I had started my journey with a small road accident on the way to my office, which keeps the date full of memories for me.

    A new organisation with a complete new team of people, I had not thought of being very comfortable but the people here made work life so easy, my conscience forced me to pen down this article. This is my return to each and every employee of Practical Action family for making it happen.

    In India, people are skeptical about those who work with NGOs. I have faced so many situations where I feel people do not welcome the fact that I work in an NGO. When it comes to marriage proposals or parents, let me be very honest, the development sector is not something most people/parents look at. Such ironies apart, I made up my mind to mention 10 reasons why I love Practical Action more than my previous employers, however I have served in media houses, corporates and NGOs earlier. As I am celebrating my one year completion in the organisation, this is my return gift to the people around.

    1. Small is Beautiful : A theory worth working for

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    The organisation believes in the famous theory of the founder EF Schumacher i.e ‘Small is Beautiful’. Even in work, I experienced this is so beneficial to start with small and then expand. Most of our projects are actually small and having the best impact but with a bigger future prospective. This organisation inherits this principle within you.

    1. Witnessing Technology Justice

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    21st Century while experiencing the all technological advancements this organisation continues to prove how Technology is being used for poor communities and challenging social disparities. A small villager in Badamanjari village of Koraput is experiencing electricity where the grid is still a dream. The smile in their face will make your day. #TechnologyJustice

    1. Experiencing innovations

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    Innovations are the key to Practical Action’s work. Though we are new in our operations in India, some innovations are unique indeed. The Small Wind and Energy System in Kalahandi providing electricity from both Solar and Wind through a hybrid system is definitely an innovation. The other country offices have so many innovations and I experience them through in-house communication. These innovations inspire me to think out of the box.

    1. A liberal organisation

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    The organisation is liberal in terms of work culture. You get lots of encouragement during work and also fun elements are added. The organisation gives scope to reflect on your mistakes and also your successes. It gives much scope for self-assessment. The regular Monday meetings keep me updated about all others work and I self-asses my week’s achievements and short comings if any.

    1. No hierarchy

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    I was surprised and glad when I had got a personalised mail from our the then CEO Simon welcoming me the day I joined. Though I work under my line manager, matrix manager and senior manager I still never felt a strict hierarchy imposing on me. All my managers are so supportive and have given me the scope to grow and work with a free hand. (PS : Not trying to impress my managers, my appraisal is already done)

    1. Too much to learn

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    This is something I love the most about the organisation. In our India Office, though a small team, we have experts from different areas. Working with my WASH team, Energy officer, Monitoring, the Admin I get to learn a lot of things. Even, I get to learn from the finance team about managing the finance in project management. If I talk about communication, my mates in Nepal, UK and other country offices are so well equipped with knowledge, I have learned a lot during the whole year. I thank them all for making my stay here with full of learning.

    1. Travelling is an integral part of my work

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    Oh yes! If you personally know me, then I am sure, you would have guessed how happy I am when I travel. And the organisation gives me scope to travel. Though these are official trips but, I get to learn from projects, people, and places. In a span of one year, I have had 11 trips to different project locations and out of which 4 are out of the state and one is out of country perhaps my first foreign trip to Bangladesh.  All such work travels basically give me exposure to new work and let me document things both visually and in print.

    1. I get umpteen opportunities to click humans and write stories

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    Well, I am a born story teller, which I believe and try to create more stories. This happens when i meet people, I click them and write stories. Stories of change and stories of technology justice, this has made me a frequent blogger. I hope to create more such stories in both visuals and words for you all.

    1. It allows and approves my creativity

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    This is one organisation, which has allowed and actually approved my creative thinking. Some projects have actually taken shape with my creativity and value addition from my managers and other team mates. Even in other events, I had given free-hand to think rethink and create some magic.

    1. I love my team

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    I love my team, each of them. They get me some delicious food every day at the lunch table. I am like the finisher if something is left from the lunch boxes. The foodie in me loves them for making myself little fat. Jokes apart, being the youngest member of the team, I have been pampered, being scolded when I deserved that, being guided which happens quite often and being taught with lessons which have made me a better professional and a far better person.

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