Urban | Blogs

  • The change we want to see for urban slum dwellers


    September 25th, 2018

    Last week the World Bank released an update of its ‘What a Waste’ report. It highlights how over 90% of waste in low-income countries is openly dumped or burned. This affects everyone, but impacts poor people the most. Rubbish is rarely effectively collected in their neighbourhoods. It causes pollution (including 5% of global climate change emissions), acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other diseases and blocks toilets and drains. It can exacerbate the impacts of flooding. Landslides of waste dumps have buried homes. The situation is only likely to get worse as the combination of urbanization and population growth, together with growing consumption, will lead to a 70% increase in global waste in the next 30 years.

    The release of this report coincides with the meeting of our global leadership team, and with re-vitalising of a crucial internal hub drawn from expert staff from across the world, to provide greater leadership and collaboration in our actions.

    Practical Action has been focusing on supporting urban poor communities for nearly 20 years in our programmes in Africa and South Asia. Our teams on the ground have witnessed these changes first hand, and have built up expertise over time on how to work effectively in these contexts with multiple stakeholders: helping slum communities to ensure their voices are heard, and local authorities to be better able to respond.

    Our work over the last few years has focused on basic services: water, sanitation, hygiene and solid waste management. This is because we know that improvements in these issues makes a dramatic difference to the day-to-day realities of women and men. It helps them live healthier lives, less burdened by the struggle of inadequate services and unpleasant, dangerous conditions. It helps restore dignity and ensure they feel included as part of the city. But also it can be a ‘gateway’ to helping them go on to solve other problems they face. We know that there are challenges for urban Local Authorities, who can be poorly staffed and resourced, struggle with effective community engagement, and lack knowledge of the latest appropriate technologies, financing mechanisms or ideas for partnerships.

    On the positive side, the existing informal sector already plays a huge role in delivering essential services in sanitation, water supply and rubbish collection and recycling (as work by WIEGO shows). The World Bank report suggests there are 15 million informal waste pickers in the world, and that if supported to organize this work can be transformed to provide decent livelihoods and support municipalities in delivering a good service. They can be at the heart of the circular economy, and models of green and inclusive growth.

    Practical Action’s work has strong, concrete evidence:

    Linking our areas of work

    Practical Action is also increasingly trying to see the links between different areas of our work – for example linking our work on solid waste management with energy (biogas technologies), or with our work on improving soil organic matter (composting of faecal sludge and kitchen waste).

    In our global strategy, we remain committed to improving the lives of urban poor communities. We are aiming to support the achievement of the SDG goals of universal access to these services in the towns and cities we are working in across Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

    Our unique approach works with existing systems and stakeholders, puts poor people at the heart of everything we do, and identifies how the right kinds of technologies can be part of positive change. In a fast-changing world, we need to be agile to respond as these challenges grow. We need to find new ways to walk with some of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities through engaging positively with the private sector, and inspiring local authorities and national departments to be pro-poor in their thinking, actions and financing.

    Internally we are committed to doing even more to promote peer-to-peer learning to challenge and inspire staff as they discuss compelling stories, exchange learning, plan together, and gather our evidence to engage effectively in national and international policy dialogues.

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  • My kind of Heroes … the unsung WASHeroes of Gulariya

    “An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”

    – Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

    My kind of Heroes is a long remaining B(ack)LOGS gathered while visiting field during the implementation of Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. I got to know them after seeing them – the characters, their tone of voice, and the setting that presents an opportunity to day dream of La La Land. The conversations, the twists and the plots got into unnatural accounts of highs and lows and I felt like a small novice boy boasting and jumping around with their practices, learning and wisdom gathered as true knowledge to share among others.

     

    The Mask of Zorro

    My hero, a down-to-earth family man, when puts on a home-made mask containing the spirit of the sanitation, he becomes a natural and confident leader which allows him to lead a team at a plastic recycling facility. Under the mask, he can explain the various processes of faecal sludge treatment plant components. He easily explains the sludge drying bed, what it does and how it functions.

    The sludge drying bed separates solid and liquid part using sand and gravel layers, solid part gets dried in top of sand and liquid part goes to the tank (anaerobic baffled reactor),” he says in a very confident manner.

     

     

    Wonder Woman

    My hero, is full of doubt about the plan, what to do with very unusable plastics. But she pushes on, when others would have quit, to keep on segregation of plastic which do not have value for transaction.

    My hero wrestles with her own portrait to stop being a hero, still in her best shining moment in the current circumstances.

     

     

     

    The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

    My hero, a normal man became an entrepreneur by chance and dived deep into biosand filter business after acquiring basic construction technique. He started his own business named “Kritag Raj Biosand Filter Industry”.

    My hero, presents a cheerful character and there is a charm hiding under his rough exterior, full of joys and hard work.

     

     

    The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

    My hero is full of contradiction where she operates an inclusive public  toilet facility. She was assigned to operate the facility by her husband after he signed an agreement with the municipality office.

    My hero, being a housewife, was forced by circumstances to a change while being afraid initially, but now can boast around on her work.

     

     

    The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

    My hero, an experience mason started working at the age of thirteen. He started his own entrepreneurship of ring construction after receiving knowledge of sanitation business in couple of trainings. He had had his doubts on the plan thay may not work. But he kept pushing on providing rings for toilet construction and has helped his own municipality become open defecation free.

    My hero, got recognition from the municipality and his children feel proud of the work he has done.

     

    So tell me about your hero … who he/she is?

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  • World Water Week 2018: highlights from an urban WASH fanatic

    Practical Action Publishing was in the forefront for us this year at World Water Week in Stockholm. The event is a key point in the WASH calendar with 3,700 delegates over a packed week of discussion and learning.

    Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

    Our exhibition stand was a reflection of the depth and breadth of Practical Action’s engagement in water and sanitation issues across the organisation. We featured a range of Practical Action Publishing materials from manuals, to experience-sharing books, to more weighty academic texts. We included materials from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and our Urban WASH and Waste programme. We were joined by Nazmul Chowdhury from Bangladesh, whose attendance was sponsored by the Securing Water for Food programme, featuring our work on sandbar cropping. I was delighted that the opening plenary featured aQysta and their river-powered irrigation pump which we helped pilot in Nepal under our energy programme.

    The materials we featured and the team of staff were a small illustration of the ‘One Practical Action’ we are aiming for in our global strategy.

     

    New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

    Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

    Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment. Written by Kevin Taylor, a world expert with many decades of experience and described as, “one of the most pragmatic and experienced engineers I have ever encountered” by a key adviser from the World Bank. His book is set to become THE go-to text for people designing the details of appropriate, low-cost treatment plants, and was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank.

    Scaling up Community Led Total Sanitation: From Village to Nation, by Kamal Kar, a founding father of the CLTS movement. He charts what he sees as the next stage for the movement as we move to SDG 6 and the global elimination of open defecation. The book will be available from January 2019.

    Associated with this, we featured and promoted Innovations for Urban Sanitation: Adapting Community-led Approaches written with the CLTS Knowledge Hub at Sussex University and PLAN International, and drawing on innovative experiences from Practical Action’s work in Kenya and Nepal. It is a guide for practitioners wanting to adapt CLTS methods to work in urban contexts.

    All of these books are or will be available FREE to DOWNLOAD in perpetuity. The World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have ordered 1,800 copies of the Faecal Sludge book for distribution through their networks globally. And they can be purchased at very reasonable rates.

    As our content development manager Clare Tawney pointed out, the Faecal Sludge book is an illustration of what Publishing aims for in all our work: to provide high quality materials useful to practitioners as much as academics, widely available and distributed, for free or at affordable prices.

    Our promotional push including on social media resulted in a spike in page hits and downloads. My twitter account @lucykstevens had 13,500 impressions, 21 new followers and 57 re-tweets.

    Insights for Urban WASH programming

    While the conference was very diverse, I was following strands and networking with like-minded organisations on global trends in the WASH sector: learning about the state of play on approaches, financing and policy. I was reflecting on the contribution our own projects and programmes make to this, and the extent to which the needs of the urban poor are being addressed. I spent an intense three days listening, discussing, contributing and networking with old friends and new: partners, funders and policy-makers.

    My personal highlights

    1. My week started with a ‘Morning of Systems’ hearing from the partners from ‘Agenda for Change’. This set the tone for the week as the WASH sector seeks to move from delivering taps and toilets to changing the official, government-led systems and capacities which will see these things delivered ‘for everyone for ever’.
    2. Reflections from DFID’s policy team that the tide is turning. Policy-makers have heard and understood the urgency of addressing the needs of the urban poor, and there may even be a danger of forgetting the needs of rural communities. The AfDB is launching a new Africa Urban Infrastructure Fund, and AMCOW includes ‘safely managed’ sanitation which they understand as dealing with on-site urban sanitation in their strategy to 2030. The question remains (as stressed by SWA chief Catarina de Albuquerque) how to make the best use of available resources.
    3. Insights into the continuing fragmentation and dysfunction of parts of the system. From Uganda we heard how well civil society has been organised, but that connections are still not always made between Ministries. In many countries responsibilities for sanitation are still separate from water, and those for sewered sanitation separate from on-site sanitation. Cases where on-site sanitation is taken on as the mandate of a city-level utility are celebrated as a rare exception.
    4. The hilarious interference of pathogens (willing participants kitted out in bright t-shirts) at WSUP’s session on faecal pathways, reminding us of the routes to exposure (the sanipath tool is useful) and the importance of multi-pronged strategies to reducing this, including the on-going role of good hand and food hygiene.
    5. The growing confidence and maturity of container-based sanitation service providers, with good cross-learning happening. We need to think more seriously about how these services could be part of a diverse range of options available to households.
    6. WSUP’s useful framework for the enabling environment for urban sanitation which helped to crystallise much of the good work Practical Action is already doing in this area.

    What was missing?

    • Very limited discussion on hygiene. Few sessions featuring it in the search function of the app.
    • A disappointingly low level of discussion on gender issues in the mainstream sessions. There seems to have been almost no attempt to understand what the gender issues might be in pit emptying and faecal sludge treatment services, and it rarely comes up in discussions.

    There remains much for us to do as Practical Action and at times I felt frustrated by our lack of resource, profile and global reach compared to other larger or more specialist organisations.

    However, I left the conference feeling encouraged that the work we are doing is in tune with current debates in the WASH sector. I will now be better able to guide our future programmes, and help our project teams discuss their work in ways which chime with current thinking. Our work is not at a huge scale, but it is innovate, linked well to existing systems and service providers, and adds new insights to the body of practice globally.

     

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  • … and it (FSTP) is working …


    July 5th, 2018

    CW

    This is not a normal garden but a constructed wetland with Canna lily and Phragmites karka — components of a decentralized faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) at Gulariya municipality in mid-west Nepal. They help treat the faecal sludge and keep the environment clean and unpolluted.

    FSTP is a series of treatment process to reduce the pollution levels from faecal sludge. In this treatment series, the first step is to separate the liquids from the solids, treat both liquid and solid seperately where recovery of nutrients and reuse of treated wastewater is done as possible. (Read more)

    Background

    Safa and Swastha Gulariya project, successfully completed by Practical Action two years ago, initiated the “beyond toilets” approach by constructing a 3 cubic metres per day capacity faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) to treat the faecal sludge from pits and septic tanks connected with toilets. Gulariya Municipality also joined hands with the project by procuring a 4 cubic metres capacity cesspool vehicle using its own internal resources.

    The project was able to achieve 100% toilet coverage in Gulariya Municipality with construction of 11,000 new toilets. Also, five communities were declared total sanitation communities.

    Pictures: (L) FSTP under construction

    (R) Cesspool vehicle of Gulariya municipality

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Read more:

    Gulariya Municipality declared “Open Defecation Free”

    More than a toilet

    Inclusive toilet – an example of inclusive public sanitation business

    FSM in Gulariya Municipality – An arduous journey

    After the project completion, Gulariya Municipality was supported to develop a business plan for sustainable operation and maintenance of the FSTP system. The municipality has planned to operate the FSTP system along with solid waste management (SWM) in the same premises. This has helped the municipality to showcase the integrated model for management of solid waste as well as liquid waste. The premises was developed as a solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) facility.

    Pictures: (L) Completed FSTP with composting plant and (R) sorting of recyclable plastics

    Looking back study

    A year after the project completion, an assessment study was carried out to assess the health impact of improved sanitation and environmental sanitation related activities carried out by Safa and Swastha Gulariya project. The specific objective was to ascertain the changes from the project intervention of open defecation free (ODF) and total sanitation on i) incidence and impact of water borne diseases in ODF and total sanitation communities of targeted peoples, and ii) impact on health due to i) sanitation improvement (ODF) and ii) integrated WASH (total sanitation). An abstract of this assessment can be assessed at WECC37.

    The 1% requirement

    The data collected during the assessment period showed 1.1% equivalent to 1 household had no access to toilet. The main reason behind this was the filling of pit connected to the toilet and the family reverting back to the practice of open defecation as they did not have the service of mechanised emptying of pits after they get filled up.

    This 1% shows the importance of faecal sludge management for mechanical emptying of pits and septic tanks in the municipality to sustain the long gained behaviour change to construct and use toilets in the home rather than practising open defecation.

     

    What is happening now?

    The Gulariya FSTP is under operation now and the municipality is providing the on-demand service for emptying service. Cracked sludge cakes and liquid percolating out through collection system is showing the sludge drying beds are working in order. The main function of sludge drying beds is to retain the solid part on top and let the liquid (waste water) percolate to anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR) for further treatment.

    Pictures: Sludge drying beds (L and M) and wastewater coming out of sludge drying bed (R)

    And finally the treated wastewater from ABR is further treated using constructed wetland with horizontal flow bed planted with Canna lily and Phragmites karka.

    Picture: Horizontal flow sub-surface constructed wetland

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  • FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


    March 28th, 2018

    Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

    Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

    The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

    The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

    The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

    A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

    Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

    The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

    The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

    The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

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  • World Urban Forum 9: The good, the same-old, the hopeful, the shocking…

    The World Urban Forum (WUF9) is a major conference run every two years by UN-Habitat. This year it took place in the city of Kuala Lumpur from 7-13 February 2018.

    The last time this global community came together was in October 2016 to negotiate the ‘New Urban Agenda’ – the global urban agreement endorsed by the UN General Assembly about the future of the world’s cities. It was meant to give a steer to how all 17 Sustainable Development Goals should be implemented in cities.

    WUF9 was therefore an opportunity to take stock ahead of the more formal process of SDG reviews that will take place later this year, which will include a review of SDG Goal 11 on cities.

    Practical Action has long been involved in questions of good urban development, speaking from our experience of 20 years or so of working with urban slum communities on building materials, livelihoods, participatory planning and access to basic services. Our current strategy reinforces our commitment to supporting urban informal and slum communities with access to water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management. We have had representation at almost all of such conferences since they began in 2002.

    Uttam Saha, Lucy Stevens and Hasin Jahan at the Bangladesh Exhibition Stand at WUF9

    This time, we were a team of four: I was there from the global policy perspective and to fulfil our role as a lead partner of the World Urban Campaign. Three team members came from Bangladesh including our Country Director Hasin Jahan on the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh’s Urban Development Division. The delegation included the Minister of Housing and representatives from academia, women’s groups, and NGOs. They had an exhibition stand and two events where we had an opportunity to talk about our work.

    So what were my impressions? Of course, with such a large event with over 25,000 participants registered and hundreds of sessions over 7 days, we could only scratch the surface, but these are a few reflections:

    The good

    • UN-Habitat has a good track record of taking multi-stakeholder participation seriously, and this was again the case. Slum dweller representatives talked freely and openly with Ministers: academics, professionals and planners shared their views without an overt sense of hierarchy getting in the way.
    • We were able to form new partnerships and re-energise old ones. For example, we talked with PLAN International colleagues who are very keen to trial some examples of our composting work in Bangladesh. And in Kenya, we have made a link with UN-Habitat’s energy team on issues of waste-to-energy, with an invitation to participate in an up-coming workshop.
    • Our sessions allowed us to showcase our work on Faecal Sludge Management both in the context of secondary towns and for the displaced Rohingya community. They helped us to cement our relationship with key government actors and other partners.

    The Same-old Same-old

    The New Urban Agenda was supposed to be a turning point, setting a new direction for good development in urban areas. It contains excellent wording about e.g.: policies to prevent “arbitrary forced evictions”, “recognizing the contribution of the working poor in the informal economy”, and allowing “all inhabitants, whether living in formal or informal settlements, to lead decent, dignified and rewarding lives and to achieve their full human potential“.

    However, I was left feeling that it has not had an impact. It is not providing a challenge to ‘business as usual’ for example:

    • The vision for cities expressed by those in authority, or sometimes by technocrats, is too often about glass, steel and highways, but people are rarely present in their vision. Certainly not people who provide services to the city, like recycling its waste, or feeding its office workers, or cleaning its homes. Slums and their resident are still talked about as a problem that other people need to solve – dismissing the people and their ability to be part of and lead their own solutions.
    • Federations of the urban poor represented by SDI (and also outside SDI), still have a struggle to make their voices heard at the local level with their municipalities

      Just outside the conference venue

    • Data collected at the global level (for example on WASH) still does not reflect carefully collected community enumerations despite continuing evidence that these numbers consistently underestimate urban poverty
    • The Special Session on Access to Basic Services seemed old-fashioned, with too much emphasis on city-wide master-planning and not enough on the latest thinking on markets-based approaches, and how to incorporate the formal and informal private sector.

    The Hopeful

    • UN-Habitat has drifted somewhat since Habitat III. It has not take the leadership it should have on SDG discussions, for example. However, a new Executive Director, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif  has taken up her position (just 3 weeks ago). She comes from being Mayor of Penang City in Malaysia for the last 7 years, so hopefully she has the skills to get things done, and to show the leadership the organisation so desperately needs. She is a champion of gender-responsive and participatory planning and budgeting.
    • Similarly the World Urban Campaign remains a growing and committed multi-stakeholder group: a project of UN-Habitat, with a collective aim of campaigning to raise issues of The City We Need. The group felt re-energised and with a clearer direction.

    The shocking

    Perhaps I shouldn’t be shocked. but it was still horrifying to hear about the times when poorer, less powerful city residents are deprived of their homes and their livelihoods. And sometimes this is done in the name of ‘climate resilience’ if people are living on land that is prone to flooding for example (whether or not that flooding may actually caused by man-made actions further up the chain…).

    In my view, the best cities are those with vibrancy, local colour, life and mixing on the streets, safe public spaces that can be used by all for a variety of purposes, bringing together a diversity of people. Cities are their people as much as their physical fabric. It’s similar to Practical Action’s approach to technology: putting people at the heart of the solution. That is what we will continue to push for across all our areas of work, including our programmes in urban slums.

     

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  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

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  • Trade-offs and choices: realities in urban sanitation projects

    Development charities don’t often talk about the difficulties; about the delays and frustrations. They will tell you of the awful situation people faced, and then “ta dah” here’s our solution. Why? Because we don’t want to apportion blame or appear somehow incompetent. But shouldn’t we try to look at the underlying difficulties: alert others, adjust our programming and try to make the system work better? Isn’t there value in being a little more transparent about the difficulties?

    My visit to 3 small towns in India’s Odisha State brought these issues home to me. We have been working there to improve the sanitation situation through a range of technology options, new social and community engagement structures, new partnerships with pit emptiers, and constructing treatment plants for the safe final disposal of the contents of pit latrines and septic tanks.

    We have faced pressures for swift action on the construction of physical infrastructure. This links to the Swachh Bharat Mission – a flagship program of the national government, aiming to make the nation open defecation free by 2019 (the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Ghandi) and to eliminate the practice of manual scavenging. Although it is ultimately the responsibility of municipalities to build and maintain water and sanitation infrastructures in the city, NGOs and civil society can support the process, and work in partnership to help achieve the government’s goals. As a result, NGOs like Practical Action have been given tight targets or deadlines to deliver on their activities. We have been asked to complete all infrastructures within a year. At the same time, the approvals process continues to be slow.

    In two of the towns, the focus of our attention has been on the successful completion of some ground-breaking pieces of infrastructure (in particular faecal sludge treatment plants which will be among the first in the state). If they can be shown to work successfully, they could be a trigger for others to follow, and for the municipalities themselves (who in this case see themselves as integral partners in the exercise) to champion the work. Dealing effectively and safely with faecal sludge is a fast-emerging issue which will only become a higher priority as the Swachh Bharat Mission moves fast on the construction of new toilets.

    Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

    As a result, it has been an incredibly busy and complex time for the team of Practical Action and our local partner organisations. Some of the barriers they have had to overcome have included;

    • The need for approvals for construction, both to secure land and then for designs to be approved. For different types of infrastructure this has involved a whole range of different agencies at different levels, and can be extremely complex and time-consuming.
    • The lack of structure and clear plans at the municipal level for city-wide sanitation or waste management have meant decisions need to be taken from first principles each time.
    • Frequent changes of officials are common, but in some cases key municipal staff have changed 5 or 6 times over 12-18 months. A huge amount of time has to be invested in re-starting these relationships and ensuring understanding and commitments
    • Political pressures towards rapid completion of infrastructure, has squeezed the time available for adequate planning and engagement of all stakeholders in agreeing roles and responsibilities for system operation
    • The need for close interaction with government schemes which shape the available solutions, and which technologies are acceptable. For example, local rules apply to the quality of toilets that can be constructed, what subsidies are available under Swachh Bharat and how the up-front costs can be financed.

    With the Chairperson and Chief Officer, Dhenkanal

    What we have learned is that there are trade-offs and difficult choices to be made. For example:

    • To make any progress at all, especially in the early days of a relationship with a municipality, infrastructure may need to be delivered quickly, squeezing the time available for ideal amounts of planning and engagement with all stakeholders
    • Pressures of time, local regulations and common practices, used to try to ensure good quality construction can counter intentions to use labourers from the local community, or community engagement in other aspects of construction (such as procurement, quality checking, or keeping track of materials)
    • Pressures to start with things that are more within our own control, and which look impressive, ahead of less visible things that might in fact make the greatest difference to slum dwellers. Working on these may have to wait a little until we have built up trust.

    Taking an optimistic view, the pressure to complete construction, for example of the faecal sludge treatment plants, early on in the project (after one year of a two year project for example), does at least give us more time to work on getting the systems right and to monitor operation. In fact, this will ideally require longer than the year we have left to ensure all the hiccups in operation are addressed and resolved. The biggest challenges in the sanitation sector are all about sustained use, operation and maintenance. Community structures are in place to ensure their voices are heard in decision-making, but the detail of O&M still needs to be worked out.

    Community discussion on sanitation

    The World Urban Campaign’s vision is for the #cityweneed. A vision in which all residents have the opportunity for safe, healthy, and productive lives. Building on this, the New Urban Agenda endorsed by the UN General Assembly at the Habitat III conference in Quito in 2016 commits governments to urban development which ‘leaves no-one behind… providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services”. It promotes approaches which are “participatory, promote civic engagement, and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants”.

    New Urban Agenda

    Achieving this as the direction for the achievement of SDG11 and in fact of all the SDGS in cities, will require pioneers, leadership and expertise. Demonstration of what is possible will help turn the tide on rampant inequalities and entrenched power bases. At the same time, the path can be full of obstacles both practical and political.

    • We need to learn, share and influence others to overcome these to achieve results in the best interests of the poorest residents.
    • We need to build trust in new ways of doing things so we can work in ways closer to the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

    There is a need for trust-building everywhere and increased capacity. Peer learning can be a powerful means of developing that, and it is something we hope to be able to foster more of over time in our programme in Odisha: between municipalities, between slum dwellers, between groups of informal workers.

    At Practical Action we will continue to learn and share our experiences, including the challenges. Watch this space!

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  • Systematic engagement of stakeholders can improve the sanitation situations in Dhenkanal Municipality


    November 20th, 2017

    Written by Ganesh Parida, Senior Project Officer, Project Nirmal

    Dhenkanal Municipality, is a small town in the state of Odisha, India. Witha a total area of 30.92 Sq. km and it spreads over 23 municipal Wards. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of the town is 67,414, out of which 34,864 males and 32,550 females. About 11,105 Scheduled Caste and 4095 Scheduled Tribe population live in the town. The town is having 14908 households. There are 17 notified slums in the city. Dhenkanal city, the district headquarters has a cluster of temples, archaeological remains, and a medieval fort. The majority of this district is covered with dense forest and a long range of hills, which are home to elephants and tigers.

    If we will analyse the sanitation aspects of the city, about 68% of the non-slum HHs and about 16% of slum HHs in the town have access to toilets and the remaining 32% non-slum & 84% slum HHs are practicing open defecation in the open field, river bank, alongside ponds, drains or roadside.
    People without access to individual toilets rely either on public toilets or resort to open defecation. There are public toilets, but toilets are ill-maintained, local people are not using regularly due to a deficiency in proper O&M from the service provider.

    The sanitation facilities in schools and other institutions are also inadequacies and maintenances of these facilities are always questionable. There is no sewerage system in Dhenkanal Municipality. As a result majority of sewage flows through open drain. There are no treatment systems for faecal sludge in Dhenkanal Municipality at present. Disposal of septage is causing serious problems in the Municipality. The collected sludge is disposed of in low lands, open fields, water bodies and drains. There are manual scavengers in the city working informally without any proper personal protection equipment like gloves, eye protection wear, boots and protective clothes.

    About 20 MT of solid waste is currently being generated per day in the city. The major source of solid waste generation in the city is street sweeping followed by households, vegetable market, fruit market, hotels, restaurants, institutions, hospital, fish and meat shops etc. There is a designated dumping yard in Ward No-8 for the disposal of solid waste but not for the treatment.

    Again if we will see the sanitation service delivery system in the city, the Municipality has many challenges to handle the above-said issues due to inadequate infrastructures and facilities.
    With this background, Project Nirmal has been associated with the Municipality since 2015 to improve the sanitation service delivery systems focusing on faecal sludge management. The overall vision is the demonstration of sustainable sanitation service delivery for small towns leading to increased coverage of households and institutions through enabling institutional and financial arrangements and increased private sector participation.

    To make the program effective and sustainable, engagement of the key stakeholders are highly essential starting from community to state level. Different forums have been constituted at the State, district, city and the community levels to ensure the participation of various stakeholders and their contribution towards the implementation of the project.

    Slum Sanitation Committee (SSC) has been set up in each slum to facilitate community mobilization, community monitoring of the sanitation activities, demand generation and preparation of planning at the slum and Ward level. 18 Slum Sanitation Committees are facilitating the community processes at slum level.

    Ward Sanitation Committee (WSC) has been formed under the chairmanship of the Ward Councilor to facilitate in the identification of sanitation issues, demand generation, monitor sanitation service delivery and planning processes at the ward level. 23 Ward Sanitation Committees are actively involved in marginalizing the sanitation-related issues at ward level.
    City Sanitation Task Force (CSTF) under the Chairmanship of the Chairperson of the Municipality has been formed to monitor and extend hands-on support in terms of awareness generation, ensure City Sanitation and service delivery system.

    District Coordination Committee (DCC) under the chairmanship of the Collector and District Magistrate of Dhenkanal Municipality has been formed to oversee, review, monitor and guide the project implementation at the district level.

    Project Steering Committee (PSC) as an apex body of the project has been constituted at the state level under the chairmanship of the Commissioner-cum-Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Development Department, Government of Odisha, to advise, oversee, monitor, review and guide the implementation of Project Nirmal in Dhenkanal Municipalities.

    The major initiative is to establish a Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) to address the issue of treating the liquid waste from the toilet pits. The CSTF and DCC have proactively made it possible to allow the required size of land for the construction of the FSTP and necessary supports extended to the Project for early execution of the construction activity. The construction of the FSTP is going on at Dhenkanal Municipality. It is proposed to complete it by end of this year and commissioned in the beginning of next year which would address the safe disposal of liquid waste from the toilet pits. Hope, this would improve the sanitation profile of the city.

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  • Toilet trouble in the slums of Odisha


    July 21st, 2017

    Last week I travelled to Choudwar in the state of Odisha, India to visit a project being funded by H&M Foundation.  We took along with us two influential fashion and beauty vloggers Dress Like a Mum and Ms Rosie Bea to show them the realities of a life without adequate sanitation.

    The women and children that we met in the community are forced to relieve themselves in an open field, exposed to prying eyes.  They risk sexual assault as well as snake bites and contracting malaria from mosquitoes. If this wasn’t bad enough, women who are on their periods have absolutely no privacy.

    But all that is about to change. With funding from the H&M Foundation, we will be building toilets, a faecal sludge treatment plant and rainwater harvesting systems to change the lives of the women and children that we met (and the men too!).

    I spoke to a few people today about my recent trip to India (including a woman who stopped me in the street to say she enjoyed my photos (thank you again) It was such an honour to be invited to work with @practical_action & @hmfoundation – to actually see direct results and to meet the wonderful people who will benefit from the life changing projects they are working on. The things I saw, people I meet and places we visited will stay with me for life, at times I felt like I was inside a TV program – it was unreal, humbling and inspiring. Thanks for all your kind words, support and for following my trip – videos to follow next week x And big thanks to @practical_action for all that you do for the world ❤️ #dresslikeamuminindia #india #practicalactionindia #practicalaction #hm #hmfoundation

    A post shared by Zoë de Pass (@dresslikeamum) on

    It was fantastic to open Zoe and Rosie’s eyes to these issues, to help them understand the problems that people are facing and how we are going to work together to fix them.

    We were given such a warm welcome, particularly when we arrived laden with make-up for the teenagers in the community. We lost count of the number of fingernails that were painted and blue eye shadow that was applied!

    Working with ‘social influencers’ like Zoe and Rosie is a new thing for us but is really helping us to reach new audiences with our work. We’ll be back in November once the toilets are under construction – watch this space!

    Watch Rosie’s video about the visit

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