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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.
    (more…)

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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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  • Better information helps build resilience that protects


    April 23rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

    Targeted weather forecasting

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

    Finding out how to increase effectiveness

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

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

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

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


    April 23rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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  • BICAS – strongly connected with people’s life in Karnali


    April 15th, 2019

    This was my first trip to Karnali, a region yet to be explored, where I observed several interventions made by the BICAS project and met with a number of community people and civil society organisations who were benefitted from the interventions. The interventions ranges from gravity goods ropeway to solar water lifting, goat breed improvement to agriculture commercialisation, improved water mills to micro-enterprises and capacity building of CSOs to linkages with local government. Most of the initiatives were new to me as a staff from Finance.

    Babulal Regmi at the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    When we arrived in Galje, Kalikot a farmer a Babulal Regmi, was excited to show his vegetable farm where we could observe many farm activities going on. Vegetable farming in this area was not practised earlier. With the small irrigation scheme supported by BICAS project, he was able to irrigate around 25 ropanies (3.14 hectare) of land which belong to 14 farmers in the same group. The cabbage produced in his small patch of the land was just sold for NPR 10,000 (1 USD = NPR 110). In the same plot he used to produce paddy and could hardly earn NPR 2,500. This was simply an example of how people are increasing income by changing their farming practices. Mr. Regmi was happily serving as a barefoot agro-vet and helping fellow farmers and earning an additional income in return.

    Mr. Regmi and one of the farmer members were in a hurry to go to the nearby market to get the vegetable seeds for the next round of vegetable farming. Both of them were excited to share the future plan of the farmers’ group as they learned during training. His kids are grown up pursuing higher education with the contribution of the increased income which was not possible without BICAS project, he proudly said.

    Lift irrigation system in Jumla District. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Tila River has been flowing since centuries alongside of their villages but they had to depend upon monsoon to plant their crops. It was their far dream to plant seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables. The grid electricity connection can be achieved only in next generation. Now, the faces of farmers are brightening as they have lift irrigation system run by solar power from the Tila River in Jumla District. Nara Bahadur Rawat, a resident of Ranka, Jumla was in hurry to show the reservoir tank constructed for irrigation. They have started to grow seasonal/ off-seasonal vegetables and irrigate apple orchards which are one of their main income sources in this area. At first they didn’t believe that this technology would work and change their lives. Now it has turned into reality, thanks to BICAS project, they said. We met the representatives of local government and came to know that they have allocated funds to replicate this technology in other areas which made us gratified.

    Gaukala Budha is happy to have hybrid baby goats. Photo: Practical Action/ Upendra Shrestha

    Finally on the last day of the trip, we managed to observe BICAS project’s support in goat breed and shed improvement. We saw a lady, Gaukala Budha, coming towards us smiling. She wanted to show us the Boer buck (breeding buck) but she was regretting that as the buck is now adult she could not bring it to us. While trying, the buck hit on her right arm and she was feeling the pain, but was still happy to explain how the Boer buck support has changed in her income. The Boer buck, supported by the project is now adult and providing breeding service to goats of fellow villagers. She showed five small hybrid baby goats, crossed with the local breeds which were growing very fast compared to the local breeds. Within a year of service, there are already 13 hybrid baby goats in the village. Gaukala is receiving service charge from the villagers either in cash or equivalent grains.  She is happy to have hybrid baby goats and to provide such service to the villager which has provided her extra income.

    Gaukala also showed us the improved goat shed supported by BICAS. Her smiling face was telling us that BICAS project came up with unexpected boon for the smallholders farmers like Mrs. Budha in Karnali.

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  • A warm and thoughtful breakfast with the WASH ladies!


    April 12th, 2019

    I never thought that I would so enjoy such a charming breakfast and chit-chat with women from different corners of the world at the ‘Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Principles’ workshop in Khulna, Bangladesh. That morning, 2nd April took me by surprise! I met more than twenty beautiful faces working for the WASH sector in different capacities and roles who joined the conversation, bringing a wealth of thoughts and courage, breaking the silence.

    The conversation began with Alyse from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She introduced herself by saying how everyone had childhood dreams and over the years discovered themselves  as a grown up women in diverse roles. I had no idea that the conversation would be so interesting. A range of inspiring characters appeared, including the world class political leader who influenced the idiom – the sky’s the limit!

    Many women referred to their father as their dream icon. As an engineer, a quick mental calculation told me that around 40% mentioned that they wanted to be like their ‘fathers’. They portrayed their fathers as independent individuals, change makers, decision makers, or charismatic characters from their own perspectives and context, explaining why they wanted to follow their footsteps.

    I was surprised not to hear a single story from a woman wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps and asked myself why. Perhaps the traditional role of a mother doesn’t appeal to us – to be a blind follower rather than the glorious ‘father figure’, perhaps we were more attracted  to be an ‘achiever’ in our life.  This is just my assumption, I really don’t have the answer.

    Their enlightening stories continued, reflecting their lifestyle and work and I was mesmerised listening to them. They shared their aspirations and experiences along with their learning curves. The journey of one woman really touched me. She became a councillor, and as the wife of an official of the same municipality, overcame stereotyping and social stigma.

    Equal sharing of inherited property emerged as one of the critical issues for women’s empowerment, coupled with the state’s role in it. No one raised issues such as excessive workload, the capacity gap, extra support required to perform better and there were literally no complaints or frustrations. I personally knew that at least three of the participants are single mothers as well as performing very well in their professional and personal life. It made me proud seeing that all are making ‘efforts’ in a real sense, not ‘excuses’.

    While witnessing the inspiring stories, I recalled the time back in 1998 when I joined ITN-BUET as a Technology Specialist. At that time, the engineering curriculum contained neither low-cost water supply and sanitation technology nor gender aspects. The first formal effort was made in the book, “Water Supply & Sanitation Rural and Low Income Urban Communities” by Professor Feroze Ahmed and Prof Mujibur Rahman.  They introduced a light touch on gender awareness in Chapter 4 with deliberate effort, and with support from a Dutch woman, Ineka Vann Hoff from IHE Delft. I’m indebted to her for landing the first blow of gender thoughts on me.

    I have been working in the WASH sector for over twenty years. I have found myself talking about sh*t in front of hundreds of men, with a feeling of isolation on many occasions for many years. This scenario has changed over the years. Women everywhere are taking over leadership positions, even though globally amongst the total number of WASH professionals they don’t exceed 10% yet. We should encourage more girls in this sector and at the same time, girls should be able to carve their own way to create a brighter future, utilising the available opportunities to the full. Conscious efforts to raise voices and bring thoughtful arguments, take challenges and use opportunities for professional engagement will definitely take a girl in the right direction.

    I have one wish at the end! Maybe twenty years down the line, at another breakfast meeting, people will be stating their dream personalities to be their brave mother, sister or mentor from the WASH sector, the real trendsetters of the globe.

    With acknowledgments to SNV, Practical Action, ITN-BUET and BMGF

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  • Dignifying Lives of Women in Waste Management: Challenges and Way forward


    April 10th, 2019

    Earlier in March at the 2019 UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) I was able to share some initial insights about the gender issues facing women in Bangladesh who earn a living from solid waste management – in collecting rubbish from households and streets or in the recycling or reuse.

    As the urban population of Bangladesh continues to rise, and to rise at rates faster than the rest of South Asia, the challenge of dealing with ever-growing volumes of solid waste is also increasing as well as concerns on the safety and well-being of waste workers who are often on the front-line of providing much needed services to households and communities. Only around 55% of generated waste is ever collected. Currently roles are divided with:

    • Municipalities provide staff who sweep streets. They also provide large communal skips or bins for people to dispose of waste, which they empty and transport to a disposal site
    • NGOs, CBOs or sometimes private companies provide a patchy service of household collection, taking the rubbish to the communal collection points.
    • Informal sector businesses and individuals also make money by picking waste, sorting it, and selling it on to be recycled.

    Gendered roles in the solid waste system

    Women and men play different roles in this system. Women’s participation tends to be limited to jobs at the lower level of the chain including sweeping streets, apartments, markets, offices, and health centers; collection of mixed wastes and supporting their male partners to carry and dispose of waste in the bins/transfer stations. A few women are pick recyclable waste from bins, and help to sort and process wastes at plastic and organic waste recycling companies. As a result, women on average earn half that of men in the sector.

    Working conditions are poor, and women face particular risks

    Both men and women mostly earn money as day labourers. They often lack protective equipment and many suffer illness or injury, but being unable to work means not being paid. They are also not part of insurance or savings schemes. Harassment by employers and law enforcement agencies and disrespect from communities are a regular part of their life. It is hard for them to move into other professions because they are viewed as ‘untouchables’ by others in the community.

    Women face particular risks. Street sweeping or cleaning of shops and offices often takes place at night or the early morning, and working in the dark leaves them vulnerable to harassment or abuse. They often lack access to toilets while they are working, and have not place to rest for a break. This can be even more difficult during menstruation or pregnancy when they may continue to have to deal with heavy workloads.

    Women’s discrimination is overlooked

    These poor working conditions and inequalities for women remain overlooked. This is partly because women have low bargaining power as they participate and engage less in policy, planning, programming and decision-making by national departments, municipalities, recycling companies or other employers.

    The government developed its 3R strategy (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in 2010 and mentioned ‘gender transformative approaches’). However, when it comes to implementation, women’s issues have hardly been addressed at all; neither by national departments, development partners, cites and municipalities or NGOs working in the sector. There has been extremely weak or no co-ordination between organisations involved in women’s rights or labour rights, and the waste management sector. We are hopeful that the recently formed National Task Force might take up these issues and promote better co-ordination. It is being headed by the Additional Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (MLGRD&C).

    Practical Action’s work in solid waste management: a new commitment to addressing gender inequalities

    Practical Action has been involved for more than a decade in designing and piloting integrated sustainable waste management scheme in different municipalities of Bangladesh, helping to extend waste services to urban poor communities. Recently we have committed ourselves to doing more to recognise and address gender inequalities.

    Our work takes a systemic approach looking right across the chain from waste generation, separation at household level, up to its collection, transportation and disposal or recycling/re-use. We work with the existing informal sector, both women and men, to help them establish themselves as entrepreneurs, and have a formal space to engage with municipalities. We also support them to improve their relationships with larger recycling companies. We have often done this through performance-based service-level agreements between waste co-operatives and municipalities.

    To get to this point requires a lot of work: assessing the current informal system and presenting the untold stories to municipalities to help them see the financial and service opportunity better engagement offers. Specialized facilitation and soft skills together with convincing facts encourages the municipalities to extend cooperation towards engagement and partnership with business cooperatives of informal workers.

    Informal workers are organised, mobilized and supported to form business organizations where women’s participation is strongly considered both in numbers and positions in the committees. A few cooperatives are exclusively for women who are mostly street sweepers and particularly vulnerable in various ways. Entrepreneurial skills are well taken care of so that members of the cooperatives independently can assess local markets and based on that they can improve their businesses.

    Education and exposure to appropriate technologies are organised specially for women which can significantly reduce physical labor and improve working conditions. Occupational health, hygiene and safety education and knowledge is provided together with on job work and follow up continues until this becomes established practice and habits.

    Practical Action supports municipalities to set up multi stakeholder platforms including representatives from women cooperatives, urban poor communities, NGOs/CSOs, private recycling companies, business organisations and other government organisations for inclusive and integrated waste management planning. Through these platforms, informal workers can advocate for increased annual allocations from municipal budgets, better health and safety provision, and to access a share of the budget allocated to gender concerns. The participation and engagement of women is emphasized in leading campaigns and movements for awareness raising, behavior and practice changes towards safe disposal of wastes.

    Private sector partnerships are encouraged to bring new investment and business skill in establishing treatment plants to recycle organic waste into fertilizer and biogas which creates green jobs and employments (mostly for women) in sorting/separation, processing, quality inspection and packaging, supply and distribution in local and national markets. We are also discussing with Bangladesh Bank and their partners who operate green and other subsidized financial schemes to extend loans to women led entrepreneurs for running the business of waste collection and recycling.

    Taking our learning to key decision-makers

    There are few organisations in Bangladesh who are considering gender inequalities in waste management. Whatever we are learning on the ground, will be captured and shared with key national departments (Local Government Engineering Department -LGED, Sustainable Renewable Energy Development Authority – SREDA, Department of Environment – DoE, Department of Public Health Engineering – DPHE) for inclusion in national 3R, WASH and municipal development programmes.

    Our initial learning was recently shared in a parallel event at the UN CSW63 conference titled Dignifying lives and empowering women in waste management together with International Labour Oroganisation – ILO and Women in Informal Employments – Globalising and Organising- WIEGO who also work and speak globally for social and economic empowerment of informal women and men waste workers to realise decent jobs and secure their work rights.

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  • Technology builds community resilience to climate change


    April 1st, 2019

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

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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

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

    © TICmbay/United Purpose

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  • Innovations in Briquette Business for Clean Cooking Energy


    April 1st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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