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  • Mock flood drill at the advent of monsoon


    July 11th, 2019

    Monsoon has approached and flood can occur anytime, which requires actions based on different community contexts, with available flood early warning systems entailing interrelated components of Flood risk knowledge, Risk monitoring, Communication and dissemination of risk information, and Response.

    As an institutionalization process 5th June (world environment day) is marked as the advent of monsoon and mock flood exercise day. This year in the lower Karnali basin (Nepal part) where we work; 53 community disaster management committees (CDMC) and associated community people participated in the mock flood drill. The mock flood exercise tests the effectiveness of interrelated flood warning system components, particularly monitoring, communication and response, and the capacity of different actors and community members to take coordinated action to avoid losses by using early warning information during real flood events.

    The mock flood scenarios were created by department of hydrology and meteorology (DHM) – DHM displayed mock flood information in its web page, coordinated and communicated to national emergency operation centre, district emergency operation center, chief district officer, and security forces. “Ncell” the private company providing mobile network service disseminated the mock flood information via SMS to communities and local government representatives.

    Mock flood message from Department of Hydrology and Meteorology

    I was observant at a community of which the CDMC is the steering body for a mock exercise. The Nangapur community has a CDMC comprising 34 members, having different roles within the CDMC outlined as search and rescue task force (5 members), First Aid support task force (5 members), Flood early warning communication task force (5 members), women volunteers (10 members). It was impressive to observe the actions of CDMC and community people. Nangapur CDMC shared the exercise plan with the relevant authorities and organisations accordingly Mayor of Rajapur municipality was one of the esteemed invitees.

    As a part of mock flood exercise the CDMC had its meeting and reinforce the roles assigned to different task forces. At 8:00 in the morning a mock message from the gauge station ( Chisapani) and District Emergency operation Center (DEOC) was received by the CDMC. The message indicated that the flood level in the monitoring gauge station is increasing towards warning level. This information interpretation is that a damaging flood is likely to occur. CDMC early warning team focal person made a call to Chisapani station on the information they received and confirmed it was from the upstream gauge station. Immediately after confirming the message from gauge station, CDMC organised an emergency meeting of CDMC and task forces to check on their preparation.

    Early warning task force members were active an started informing the community by blowing (sirens) and using speakers to be alert about the coming flood and commanded to start storing belongings, which have to be left at home in a safe place, requested to select things to be moved to a safe location – the emergency safe shelter. Inform family members and prepare livestock for transfer to a safe place. Wait for further updates of the flood situation that will be provided by the relevant task force members. The same message was disseminated by the volunteers of the task force by displaying blue flag and making door to door visits.

    After receiving the second message from the Chisapani  station and upon its confirmation, task forces search and rescue, emergency shelter management and first aid took their position to fulfill their responsibilities. Volunteers were prepared with required equipment to support/rescue the most vulnerable, (e.g. the elderly,  children, etc.)

    Another task force started blowing warning siren for one minute the first time, and then stopped for one minute followed by another one minute of blowing the siren. This alerts the volunteers that the flood has reached warning level so they can rush to inform the relevant communities accordingly. In this community more than one siren was blown at different places, with messages that people should be ready to move and prepared to be evacuated to the safe shelter. Requesting people to check whether the movable items and belongings are ready and things to be left behind have been placed safely.

    After receiving the third message and its confirmation, siren was blown continuously for two minutes and stopped for half a minute. Then again it was blown for another two minutes and stopped for half a minute. This was repeated four times. The task forces search and rescue, first aid task force and volunteers were in actions as assigned.

    The EWS task force volunteers were commanding the order to evacuate to a safe place through the designated safe route. Volunteers were visiting door-to-door and using speakers reminding people what to do and how to do it. Search and rescue task force volunteers were assisting the most vulnerable people (who were identified and located in advance). Volunteers were consoling community to be patient and requesting them to follow their guidance to move calmly to safe place and support others in the evacuation. The volunteers were cautious to ensure the communication has reached to the most vulnerable houses, individuals and community and were ensuring people in need of rescue are rescued in time. At the same time other members of the CDMC were communicating flood updates disseminate updates to other communities (particularly downstream) through phone calls and SMS.

    Accompanied by volunteers people arrived at the safe shelter with their belongings (boxes, sitting materials on heads), sheep, goats, ox were brought and tied to raise areas. People were getting into the safe shelter following instructions of the CDMC members. People were brought in stretchers, some were being first aided, and elderly people, lactating women and children were brought in with care by the task force members.

    Elderly woman assisted

    Shelter task forces in coordination with the CDMC counted the head to ensure everyone has arrived and no one is left behind. The CDMC task force members were asking if anything is to be placed safely back home, and assuring that the task force will do for them.

    Staging of successful mock flood drill does indicate the pre-requisites of FEWS are in place in the communities we work with.

     

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  • Impactful partnerships for inclusive energy access at scale


    July 1st, 2019

    The renewable energy market has grown rapidly in recent years, with vast and successful national programs and initiatives reaching upper poverty quintiles. However, big areas of energy poverty remain in remote communities and hard-to-reach areas.

    Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF)
    Last week, I was at the Asia Clean Energy Forum 2019 (ACEF) in Manila, one of the Asia’s premier networking and knowledge-sharing events dedicated to clean energy and energy access in Asia. The theme for ACEF 2019 was “Partnering for Impact”, with five cross-sectoral thematic tracks: Energy and Livable Cities, Energy and Water Sustainability, Energy and Rural Poverty Alleviation, Energy and Innovative Finance and Clean Energy Trends and Directions.

    Presenting PPEO 2018 at ACEF 2019

    What was different this year?
    The forum provided additional networking opportunities to discuss new and innovative ideas with young entrepreneurs/start-ups. A dedicated networking reception was organised to encourage women participants to meet each other. Thirty-six per cent of participants were women as compared to 18% last year, showing a relevant growth in female participation. A dedicated app was helpful to connect with the most relevant participants from the scattered huge mass. So much liked ACEF bags were missing; instead, we were given the green gift by offsetting our ACEF travel-related carbon footprint! My carbon footprint was neutral while attending this year’s Forum!

    Trending energy topics at the ACEF
    The topics covered a broad range of the achievement and challenges in renewable energy access, energy efficiency, artificial intelligence for energy load management and electric vehicles (EVs). EVs are going to help reducing pollution in the cities and be a huge collective battery by absorbing the surplus power that some countries are going to generate in the coming years. However, there were concerns that some countries would just be shifting emissions rather than omitting emissions in case of carbon intensive grid. I also believe that other important area of focus in the coming years is definitely going to be electricity use for cooling and heating. This will help people to have access to cooling fans, refrigeration and other forms of cooling that can protect food, vaccines and overall public health. And in terms of key actors, evolution of MFIs in energy access space was recognised promising in many of the business cases presented as they have great potential to reach the last mile. They could widen their scope to energy efficiency as well.

    The India case: a successful example?
    Energy sector reform in India was presented as a successful example in reaching every household. However, it was prominent that quality and reliability issues have not allowed consumers to think beyond lighting. Fossil fuel subsidy reform or increased fossil fuel taxation in many states of India has been able to leverage the private sector investment. India and Indonesia each saved $15 bn in 2014-15 through subsidy reform.

    PPEO 18 presentation: Nepal and India
    I presented India and Nepal case from our PPEO 2018. While there were many discussions on how private sector led innovative business models helped reduce dependence on subsidies, there was a realisation for the need of public investment if we want “no one to be left behind”.

    Jennifer Holmgren, CEO at Lanza tech said, “Winning slowly is the same as losing.” Of course, we cannot afford slow progress. Practical Action will definitely continue to build impactful partnerships to accelerate clean energy goals.
    Here is a link of presentations for this year together with 2018.

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  • Rebuilding dreams, rebuilding hopes – a melancholic reflection


    June 25th, 2019

    Almost 200 kilometres west from Kathmandu lies a small village called Rainas in Lamjung district. It is one of the villages which was hard hit by the 2015 earthquake. 83 year old Sape Damai lives with his 86 year old blind wife, Dalli Damai in a small temporary shelter in Rainas-8, Lamjung. They have been through thick and thin and are still going strong. All of their seven kids died during birth. “We were cursed, none of our kids survived,” says Mr. Damai as he wiped his tears. Nonetheless, the couple has nothing against their misfortune, “we were destined to deal with these problems, which I gracefully accept it,” says Mr. Damai with a hesitant smile on his face. Mr. Damai was in the field during the earthquake. As soon as he felt the shake, he rushed to his house and saw his house crumbled right before his eyes. His wife was sitting right in front of the house, not knowing what was going on. “Everything just happened in such a short span of time, I helplessly watched my house collapse right in front of my eyes,” shares Mr. Damai.


    Pic: The love birds (Sape Damai and Dalli Damai) in front of their temporary shelter

    Life can be so cruel sometimes but with the right company and attitude one can still move mountains. This was the case with this power couple. Both of them are in the twilight years, yet they bear no grievances or complaints. While I was sitting there talking to them, Mr. Damai slowly pulled his wife’s shawl that was hanging low and adjusted on her shoulder. It was the sweetest thing ever. Forget about the fairy tales, their affection was as pure as it can get.

    The next stop for me was at Bharati, Dhorde-1, Lamjung, where a 63 year old Nanda Kumari Giri lives by herself. Her husband passed away some 26 years ago. “Even though I was a widow I was blessed with two sons and one daughter. They were my source of motivation. I never felt alone but all of a sudden things changed,” Ms. Giri said with a trembling voice. There was a long pause and she just could not continue. I too sat there without saying a word. After sometime I asked her if she had any siblings. She wiped her tears and said, “I do but they are far away, they are in Syangja.” Then she asked where I was from. I told her, “Pokhara.” She looked at me with those brooding eyes and said, “Oh, so we are from almost the same area,” with a brittle smile. I just shook my head and smiled back to her. She kept looking at me for a while and said that I resemble her older son. I could tell that she has been longing to see her son for quite some time now. Her older son was recruited by the Nepal Police during the Maoist insurgency. He used to send her money every now and then but later he got sick and had to quit the police force. Since then, he has not been able to send money. “I understand that he also has his own family to support, so he might not have enough money to send it to me,” says Ms. Giri to console herself. Whatsoever, she does not have anything against her son. More tragic was to follow after her eldest son’s injury.


    Pic: Nanda Kumari Giri in front of her rundown house

    She got bed-ridden for almost five years. She just could not get out of the bed. Her daughter and younger son had to do everything for her; from spoon feeding to taking her to the bathroom. Since they could not diagnose the problem, she had to be admitted to a bigger hospital in Chitwan. They prescribed her some medicines and told her to watch her diet. She was having severe vitamin deficiency and was malnourished. The doctors strictly advised her to eat nutritious meals. “It was a miracle by the grace of god, I never thought I would be able to walk but slowly I regained my energy and power,” smiles Ms. Giri. Just when things started to take shape, another tragedy struck. Her daughter eloped with some stranger but things did not work out. So, within a month she came back home but again she ran away with another man. Right after that, her younger son also got married and shifted to another place with his wife. “During mela, I used to save my food and bring it home to my son. I even sold my last piece of earring just so that he could appear for the SLC entrance exam. I thought I could lean on to my son during my old age but everything went in vain,” says Ms. Giri as she wipes her tears off. In the end, she was left alone in a desolate house which was struck by the earthquake.

    More than 600,000 houses were destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. Four years down the line, people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri are still forced to live in either a temporary shelter or a run-down house. Four thousand rupees received as an old age pension is the only source of income which is hardly enough to feed them, rebuilding a house is a far cry. Practical Action’s “Leave No One Behind” (LNOB) project funded by the UKAid is helping people like Sape Damai and Nanda Kumari Giri rebuild their houses. The main objective of LNOB project is to support 1500 marginalised and vulnerable households from Makwanpur and Lamjung districts to build resilient houses addressing the barriers to housing reconstruction and enabling them to access government’s cash grant support.

    Likewise, 200 kilometres east from Lamjung, lies another small village called Takuwa in Makwanpur district. The story of 13 year old Santosh Neupane is also woeful. His dad left for India when he was a small kid and never returned. His mom remarried and left him with his baby sister. Their house was also destroyed by the earthquake, so he and his sister had to move in to his uncle’s house after the earthquake. I was briefed by one of the field mobilisers about Santosh’s story, so I was keen to meet with him in person.

    It was a hot sunny afternoon in Takuwa, I could feel the sweat rolling down my spine, as I waited for Santosh at his uncle’s house. As I was having a chat with his uncle, he pointed me towards Santosh and said, “Oh, finally he’s here.”  I saw Santosh coming from the other side in a sluggish pace. He had a bandage wrapped around his wrist. I introduced myself and offered him a seat next to me. He hesitantly sat next to me. Sweat was running down his forehead, his eyes looked wan and tired. When I asked him what happened to his wrist, without looking at me, he said, “I sprained my wrist while playing football,” in a hushed tone. Bingo! That was an ice-breaker for me. We share the same passion, I said it to myself. Then I shared my football experiences with him and he got really excited. At first, he hardly spoke but after some time, he slowly opened up. I told him I did my ankle multiple times and also my ACL while playing football and he just gave me a smirk. Finally, I guess I made him smile.


    Pic: Santosh Neupane struggling to smile with his sprained wrist

    The story of Santosh is nothing similar compared to the rest of the kids his age. He wakes up around six in the morning, prepares breakfast, feeds his baby sister and helps her get ready for school. In the meantime, he also gets himself ready for school. After school, he comes back home, prepares snacks for his sister and they sit down together to do their school assignments. After they are done with the assignments, his sister goes out to play while he goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner. “Most of the times, as soon as I go to bed, I pass out immediately,” says Santosh. While the rest of the kids his age are busy playing with their toys, Santosh is obliged to baby-sit his little sister. When asked about his future aspirations, he just smiled and said, “I want to be a footballer.” Whereas, for his sister, he wants her to be a teacher and help the kids in his village with their studies. That was the most humble answer I have ever heard.

    The financial contribution of Practical Action might seem very minimal but I am sure a big change starts small. Nonetheless, the role of Practical Action should not be undermined. It is helping to bridge the gap between the earthquake victims and the government. I just cannot wait to see those houses being rebuilt and the smile restored on the faces of Sape Damai, Nanda Kumari Giri and Santosh Neupane. Hoping for more of an ecstatic, rhapsodic reflection the next time around!

     

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  • DAIRY – Empowering women


    June 12th, 2019

    Few months back, I was visiting one of the project sites where we are supporting smallholder dairy farmers, particularly in better production techniques, access to improved breeds, improved extension services, and inclusive value chain development. During the trip I came across many smallholder dairy farmers – each one of them had a story to tell. One of them was Mina Bohora (39) from Madhyabindu Municipality – 4 of Chitwan District in Province 3.

    Mina with her cows.

    Mina, Treasurer of Panch Pandav Sahakari – a milk cooperative, has a herd of three cows and she sells 35 litres of milk every day to the cooperative. The cooperative collects 1,400 litres milk per day and supplies to the state owned Dairy Development Corporation (DDC). The cooperative also provides loan to farmers to purchase cattle with 14% interest rate. Mina, the sole breadwinner of the all women family of five daughters and an old mother-in-law, is now a role model for other smallholder farmers. However, it was not so few months back.

    Mina could not continue her study after eighth grade as she got married at an early age. Time passed by but when Mina alone had to take care of the whole family, life became miserable she thought of going abroad as a remittance earner. (Due to limited employment opportunity, lack of skill, assets and knowledge, youth in Nepal are attracted to going abroad mainly in the Middle East countries as migrant workers.) It was not easy for Mina to leave her all women family as she was the only bread winner. So, she changed her decision to go abroad and started looking for opportunities within her village.

    Operating feed mixing tool.

    Mina decided to rear cattle seeing other smallholder farmers making income by selling milk. She somehow managed some money to purchase two cows. She invested Nepali rupees 70 thousand for a Holstein cross and 40 thousand for a local breed. As he had never done cattle farming earlier she was not aware about the diseases, feed, cow sheds and other requirements to manage the farm. She was very happy after getting the cows and started dreaming a good future for her children. But within few years both the cows died because of a disease (mastitis). Mina cried over the losses and thought that was the end of her dream.

    Fortunately, before suffering from the disease, both the cows had given birth to a healthy calf each. Mina overcame the sorrow and provided her full effort in raising the two calves. She took advice from the fellow farmers and local veterinary clinic about the diseases and feed. The calves are now fully grown cows and somehow Mina managed to add one more cow. These three cows gave 25 litres milk per day but she was not satisfied with the kind of service and advice she was receiving. She was sure that there must be a way to increase the milk production from her cows.

    Mina now has better knowledge and says only feeding straw and grass is not adequate for better production.

    I am investing 7-8 thousand rupees per month in taking care of the cattle. With the increased income I am planning to send my 2 daughters who just completed the secondary school exam to a good college.

    Happy Mina with milk can.

    There were altogether 30 participants in these training out of which more than 40 per cent were women. Mina was selected as one of the leader farmers among the trainees.  As a leader farmer she is now guiding her fellow cattle farmers on disease management, feed mixing with minerals and vitamins, and sanitation and hygiene to prevent the diseases. Supported by the project, Mina is using a feed mixing tool for demonstration, fellow farmers are keen to learn about the tools, and even ready to purchase them as it saves feed mixing time and drudgery drastically. The saved time is used for other productive purposes or to get good rest. Mina also has some land where she has planted fodder, maize, mustard and paddy. Fodder, mustard and maize has helped her a lot in making her own feed for the cows. It has drastically reduced expenditure in the feed.

    With better access to knowledge and technology, and enhanced skills, now Mina is a confident and successful cattle farmer. Empowered by the project interventions, she not only decides the matters of the milk cooperative but also advises and shares her success mantra with other smallholder farmers.

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  • Climate Crisis. The New Reality.


    June 10th, 2019

    Beating drought with ingenuity, Turkana.

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

    But poor people are the most vulnerable and hardest hit.

    In Turkana, Kenya, devastating droughts are becoming ever more frequent. It’s down to climate change. Rivers have dried up and there’s not enough clean water. This has a disastrous impact on lives and livelihoods of 855,000 people.

                 Farmer herding camels, Turkana

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

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

                Nogoroko from the village Lomokori

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

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

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

                       Theresa sat with her children

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

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

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

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

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

    To find out more, click here.

                                                                                  Theresa’s sister showing her clean plates

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  • Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019: It’s Time for Action


    May 29th, 2019

    One Vision Creating Countless Hope.

    Entrepreneur Lily Akhter.

    From a destitute victim of river erosion to a successful entrepreneur, it’s not been an easy path for Lily Akhter (58). After losing everything from river deterioration in 2003, Lily and her husband with their 6 children started their new life in Baitul Aman slum, Faridpur municipality. Her husband’s earnings were not sufficient enough to feed 8 people a day which persuaded her to earn for her family.

    Lily got the idea of the sanitary napkin business from the Delivering Decentralisation project, implemented by Practical Action Bangladesh in association with Faridpur Municipality and local NGOs. This project worked towards institutionalising the participation of slum dwellers in municipal planning and budgeting the uptake of infrastructure technologies with the systems that are appropriate, affordable and maintainable for the long term. Here she received skills training on production, quality assurance and market promotion of sanitary napkins. With very few materials and machinery to start with (swing machine, plastic packaging), she produced her first sanitary napkins, which she sold only to her nearby community. She encouraged the neighbouring women of her community to learn this new earning skill and to get involved with her business. Seeing this innovative business in 2012, the 2nd Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP) of Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED), extended cooperation to provide advanced skill training and financial support to expand her business on low cost sanitary napkins ‘APARAJITA’.

    This product is helping numbers of adolescent girls and adult women to have the appropriate sanitary materials for safe and hygienic management of menstruation. This practice of using sanitary napkins amongst the adolescent girl and women progressively reduces the malpractices around menstruation and saves them from severe health crises. She sells her products to neighbouring communities at cheap prices and at the market rate to adjacent hospitals, private clinics and medicine pharmacies. To meet the necessary expenses and remuneration of assistant women workers, she got BDT 10,000 in her hand every month and financial restoration of her family who now have a strong stand. Along with her own financial well-being, she’s created job opportunities for 16 poor unemployed women in her neighbourhood. The popularity of APARAJITA napkins are increasing because of good feedback from the customers.

    Globally, more than half of adolescent girls and women are currently of menstrual age all around the world. Many of them haven’t got access to menstrual hygiene products either, due to limited availability or excessive cost. Recently on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019, Lily received an award (3rd prize) and a certificate signed by the Minister from Ministry of Local Government Rural Development and Cooperatives, the Chief Engineer of LGED and from LGED’s urban sector development programmes for her outstanding contribution in self-reliant entrepreneurship. This award has profoundly inspired her to widen her business at a larger scale outside of Faridpur and to help numerous girls and women to have a safe menstruation and diminish the social taboos and stigmas around menstrual hygiene management. She has been selected for a visit to Mysore, India to learn from the My Radha programme which is a flagship initiative of the Indian Government for women in economic empowerment.

    Currently Bangladesh’s Government are preparing a National Strategy for Menstrual Hygiene Management and the impact will only be observed when it is operations are set in stone.  To get this radical action of our Government operational, we need to stand by hundreds of Lily Akhter to make their vision actionable.

     

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  • Pumpkin Commerce for Fighting Poverty and Hunger


    May 29th, 2019

    Uttam Kumar Saha is a Strategic Lead of Urban and Energy for Practical Action in Bangladesh.

    I went to the northern Char areas in Rangpur last week along with the Agriculture team to facilitate the field visit with the Secretary, Ministry of Commerce. Char is the transitional, infertile sandy land, which generally goes under water for six months of the year and is always considered as one of the biggest poverty prone hot spot in Bangladesh.

    What I saw, heard and learned from my first visit, it couldn’t stop me from sharing my feelings. Hundreds of framers, including many women, gathered to meet the Secretary and share their decade long learning and the changes it has brought to their lives by growing pumpkins in Char.

    Women told me that they have sent their children to college and universities or abroad to work. They have also improved housing quality for a healthier life. I was very excited to learn the transformation stories especially from women farmers starting from a dilemma to believing in the technology. They have access to land and input support; knowledge and skill on farming for production, storage, packaging, marketing locally and nationally. In some cases they even export to Malaysia and other countries. Farmers did not leave the practice to grow pumpkins after the withdrawal of project support and most of them are continuing it as business’s or livelihood options.

    This is a great example to showcase how small technologies can bring a big change for millions of people. Despite many improvements, fair price and net profit are still a big concern for sustaining this innovative riverbed farming, which recently got space in the National Agriculture Policy. The secretary advised to move differently.  He shared the example of the French fry by KFC, which is a well-known fast food company in the world. A French fry is nothing more than frying processed potato in hot oil. Technologies they use and the values they add to prepare a French fry from a potato are simple but the cost is 25 times higher than a traditional potato. Time has come for Pumpkin farmers to learn valued ideas for commercialisation, product diversification and processing. Equally they need to explore the export market.

    What I realised is that Practical Action still need to continue working with these farmers and adopt systemic and private sector led marketing approaches to make the changes more visible, tangible and sustainable. We need to bring proactive and responsive export logistic firms and private businessmen, who have willingness, experience and capacity to invest in the pumpkin value chain.  We need to mobilise farmers to work collectively, preferably as a company or a business cooperative. And link with private sector as suppliers, subcontractors and even shareholders. We also need to demonstrate and develop mechanisation skill of farmers for lowering the cost for production and to reduce physical labour especially for women. A strong advocacy component is required to influence local and national stakeholders for an increased allocated budget to provide subsidised input and financial services to these landless farmers. Development of rural infrastructures like irrigation, storage and road by the Government can make it accessible and available to the business cooperatives of pumpkin farmers.

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  • Learning from failure: the untold story


    May 21st, 2019

    Absorbing failure and learning from it is not always easy. Building on failure is even more challenging and requires great strength of character. This Practical Action story has remained untold for a decade because looking at failure positively is not something we typically do.

    I’m taking this opportunity of sharing our faecal sludge management (FSM) journey – a story of how failure made us rethink a problem and develop a more ingenious solution that put addressing people’s fears and concerns at the centre. It took failure to make us see this. But from this small pilot project that failed, big transformational change is happening.

    Open defecation in Bangladesh has rapidly reduced over a decade and a half. A sanitation movement took place in Bangladesh where national Government and local Government Institutes, I/NGOs, the private sector and most importantly communities, participated with joint ownership. This social mobilisation resulted in the installation of millions of toilets, reducing open defecation. But we didn’t think much about faecal waste management. This resulted in another development challenge. Hence, the second generation sanitation problem evolved as ‘faecal sludge management’.

    In Bangladesh around 24 metric tons of faecal waste is generated every day in urban areas where two types of sanitation system exist. One is the ‘off-site’ system – a conventional sewerage network with a treatment facility. There is only one such system in Bangladesh situated in the outskirts of Dhaka city, in Pagla, which covers roughly a quarter of Dhaka city. The rest of Dhaka city and the urban areas of the entire country have on-site systems. These mostly consist of septic tanks with or without soak wells and pits connected to individual or community managed toilets. With the exception of a few municipalities, there are no treatment facilities. This poses a threat because of the increasing volume of faecal waste. Only around 7% of the total faecal waste is treated at Pagla treatment plant and the small number of FSM plants established very recently in a few municipalities.

    Usually septic tanks/pits are emptied manually using buckets and ropes. This is discharged into a nearby open drain manually in an unhygienic and primitive way. Sadly, in many cases the outlets of the septic tanks or toilets are connected to nearby public drains or storm sewers and remain out of sight as an invisible problem. This is a much less discussed issue and people often do not know where their sludge is going and the impact it has. The occasional spell of consciousness strikes when this invisible problem becomes visible by creating nuisance due to overflowing septic tanks.

    The first FSM plant in Faridpur

    Practical Action had long been active in the sanitation sector and was concerned about the potential threats of environmental pollution and public hazard of faecal sludge. To address the issue, Practical Action piloted the first ever FSM plant at Faridpur in Bangladesh back in 2008.

    When it started operation, it was soon realised that the elevation was too high and it was too difficult to lift the sludge. To correct that technical glitch an approach road with a ramp was planned to make the operation easier.  We continued to monitor the performance of the plant.

    Sadly, Practical Action had to shut down this plant not due to any technical fault but because of protests from the community. People were under the impression that the place would smell bad and that the value of their land, property and rent would depreciate due to the placement of such a plant. The issue reached such heights that it went as far as the then Minister and the plant had to be shut down within 7 days of operation.

    Participatory approach is key

    We realised that our site selection was not done with proper consultation with the community.  We really didn’t try to understand the socio-political implications of this plant and the concerns of the people. We did not make adequate effort for local and political buy-in as we had underestimated the significance of community engagement.

    In our professional life, in many cases, we often design projects considering the ideal scenario. Often people’s views, needs, expectations even emotions are ignored. We tend to go to them with prescribed solutions assuming ‘our thoughts’ are ‘their thoughts’ or even superior. We remain more accountable to ‘donors’ than ‘communities’ who should be the central attention of our work.

    Faridpur gets its FSM plant

    Learning from this failure, our subsequent approach became more participatory, inclusive and engaging. Eventually, after negotiations with the municipality, the Mayor of Faridpur was kind enough to allocate another tiny piece of land. But by the time we acquired the new land, the project period was almost over and the money had been depleted. With the remaining money, more research was initiated to sustain our FSM initiative in a consortium with WaterAid. Practical Action regained its strength after a successful demonstration of FSM.  Then following a global bidding process, we won a project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to provide city-wide FSM services to the citizens of Faridpur.

    It is nine years since the construction of the first plant and Practical Action has now successfully established a large scale FSM plant in the same city- Faridpur. The new plant started operation in 2017 offering citywide services. Practical Action gave the utmost importance to the citizens and rolled out a city wide communication campaign to convince all segments of the local population. It ensured adequate political buy-in and local engagement where citizens and authorities were brought under the same platform to make them mutually accountable.

    Don’t underestimate the strength of the community

    So this is what we learned from our failure: the strength of community is enormous, and that community is the key. If the planning is not done with proper community engagement, no intervention can be sustainable. Political will is essentially very important. Without political and local buy-in working in municipalities is not sustainable. The failure which remained as a monument, in reality added a star in our learning curve, giving us the strength not to give up but to build on failure.

    We need to accept that in our work failures may come and albeit not-so-desirable, we should harness their hidden benefits.

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  • Bridging the sustainable energy gap for smallholders in West Africa


    May 8th, 2019

    In West Africa, demand for food and processed food is increasing mainly due to demographic pressure  while smallholder farmers and processors face difficulties to respond to this demand. Producing and processing more could be facilitated thanks to sustainable and affordable energy.

    However, access to energy is still limited in West Africa, in particular in rural areas, where 9 out of 15 countries have rural electrification rates below 19% and policies for energy access are focused on the satisfaction of the household (domestic) demand. There is a gap in covering specific energy needs for agricultural value chains. To address this challenge, Practical Action through the project “Renewable Energy for Agricultural Livelihoods in West Africa – REAL” is engaging stakeholders for a nexus thinking to lift barriers that hinder access to adequate affordable and sustainable energy services that can be used for agricultural productive uses.
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  • Fashion comes at a price


    May 7th, 2019

    The impact of the fashion industry on water resources in Bangladesh

    Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporting country in the world. Around 80% of the country’s earnings come from the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, which contributes 16% to the country’s GDP. A total of 4.4 million people work directly in the fashion industry, providing support to more than 40 million indirectly for their livelihood.

    The concentration of the fashion industries is high around the river banks surrounding Dhaka due to easy access to the capital city via waterways and the availability of essential amenities. Industries generate significant amount of wastewater and discharge them into the surface water without proper treatment, polluting the river eco-system. The effluent contains pollutants including salts, dyes and bleaches, heavy metals, chromium etc. Over the last twenty years, surface water quality in and around Dhaka has significantly deteriorated due to unregulated industrial expansion. Water pollution is creating stress in domestic water use as well.

    According to the ranking of National Water Security Index, Bangladesh stands at the 5th lowest. The major reason for that is the deterioration of water quality in rivers and waterbodies due to the discharge of inadequately treated industrial wastewater, unregulated groundwater abstraction and saline  intrusion.

    Photo by Sarah Beckhoff

    An analysis of industrial water use in Bangladesh in 2015, showed that a total of 11,000 industries are operating currently in Bangladesh, of which more than half originate from the fashion industries. Typically, water for industrial use mostly comes from groundwater abstraction. The result of unregulated groundwater abstraction is causing the depletion of groundwater aquifers. With the growth of fashion industries, the demand for water is also increasing. In 2014, estimated water demand was around 4,000 million litres a day. This will increase by 250% by 2030, of which 98% is expected to come from groundwater. Average groundwater depletion in Dhaka city is 3m/year and at some places it led to a ‘water mining situation’, which means water will not be replenished in the aquifer for hundreds of years. Unregulated water abstraction may cause irreversible damage in different parts of the country.

    The fashion industry creates livelihood opportunities for millions of people but at the same time, these industries are polluting natural resources – water in particular. We simply cannot ignore the significant financial contributions of the industry and its influence on the socio-economic dynamics of the country. The question now is how to strike a balance between the positive and negative impacts. The easiest solution could be understanding the causes of pollution and minimizing the impacts on the environment and people.

    Minimizing water use

    There are water-efficient technologies and products which can minimize water use. We need to invest more on research and development. With the forecast increase in the need of water for industry, we need to plan ahead the investment required for future water security towards saving the environment. Often effluent treatment plants are too complicated and expensive. Context specific effluent treatment systems could be designed and operated to suit local conditions. We can promote the reuse and recycling of water and wastewater from the fashion industry. A simple example could be harvesting rainwater and recycling water within industry premises.

    Tackling plastic pollution

    Another issue is that packaging plastic impedes the natural flow of water and aggravates water pollution. The time has come to handle plastic pollution globally. We need to find alternatives but more importantly we need to consciously recycle plastic products now. Technologies are available for recycling to a large extent, if not for all sorts of plastic. However, the very simple issue is that recycled plastic products are always costlier than new plastic. Therefore, to promote plastic recycling, it is essential to change the mind-set, understand the financial implications and adopt a conducive policy environment to make it happen.

    The fashion industry needs to revisit its investment paradigm and operational approach to reduce its adverse effects on the environment and become a trendsetter for the globe.

    Acknowledgement: This presentation was made on invitation from Drip by Drip  at an event FASHION FOR WATER in Berlin on the occasion of the World Water Day, 22 March 2019

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