Blogs tagged as adaptation

  • A New Hope?


    December 13th, 2015

    It was almost 10pm in Paris, as a tired looking Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, said “I see no objections”, barely glancing at the rows of country delegates packing the room, then sharply banged his gavel bring the Paris Agreement to life. After more than 20 years of negotiations by 196 countries, a global climate deal had finally been sealed. On Saturday 12th December 2015, rich and poor countries alike agreed to differ, but in the process adopted 31 pages of dense, legal text which, just possibly, could set the world on a different, cleaner, safer, development path.

    History

    In recognition of climate change as a symptom of unsustainable development, the world met in Paris over the last two weeks to negotiate the text for a new global climate agreement to combat the threat of climate change and indirectly put development on a more sustainable pathway. At several moments during the last few days such an agreement appeared impossible, but finally after an extension of one day the Paris Agreement was struck.

    Agreement signedThe French delegation along with UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-Moon and Christiana Figueres celebrate the moment

    So what is in the agreement?  The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature increases to at most 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit them to 1.5°C, recognising that this would significantly reduce risks and the impact of climate change. The agreement also established a system to review each country’s emissions every five years, and conduct regular global “stocktakes” of the targets. To facilitate the process the developed countries have committed to provide $100 billion a year of finance by 2020 to support developing countries. So with a target, a longer term ambition and a mechanism to monitor and “ratchet up” ambition every five years, the basics have been put in place to reverse decades of fossil fuel dependency.

    During the closing speeches the role of civil society in the successful outcome of the deal was recognised by many of the parties attending. Civil society organisations, such as Practical Action who participated in many of the annual meetings and sub-committees, were recognised for their contribution to the debate, especially their assistance to developing country delegations. Presentations made at side panels and questions asked of country delegations help to highlight the challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable. This interaction helps to put a human face on what can become faceless negotiations. But in addition to our project experience civil society will also have a key role to play to ensure the political promises are delivered. Organisations such as Climate Tracker, that monitor governments performance in decarbonisation and reforestation using global monitoring systems, are vital to hold governments to account on their climate actions.

    Overall the Paris Agreement sets us on a new path, hopefully one that is not only more sustainable, but one that is fair, just and equitable. The global fall in oil prices may finally be bringing home the message that we need a new global system and a new economic model. The fall probably has more to do with over production, falling demand and a glut in stored capacity, than the ramifications of the agreement in Paris, but the #Keepitintheground campaign among others highlighted the risks we are taking.  Financial resources and research capacity should be focused not on fracking and identifying new fossil fuel reserves, but instead at answering the challenges of renewable energy storage and distribution, necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.

    powerforalllights

    We need to start to thinking outside the box. Our current economic structures and processes were designed by thinkers who lived over a century ago; that world no longer exists. The agreement signed on Saturday has changed this world, by establishing a finite barrier of temperature increase. This agreement must send a clear message to investors, businesses and citizens that the fossil fuel age is over. We must ensure the transition to renewable energy is made as quickly as possible, and ensure this is done in a way that does not limit the development aspirations of those less fortunate than ourselves. As our founder said over half a century ago “Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility” E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

    Increased action is needed to achieve universal energy access before 2030

     

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  • Will COP21 deliver a Paris Protocol?


    November 25th, 2015

    Have the global negotiations for a new climate agreement switched from a marathon to an egg and spoon race?

    We are now in the final leg of the marathon negotiations for a new climate agreement. At the last meeting in Bonn, the negotiators were expected to intensify their pace, but by the end of the meeting it was clear no one had sped up, if anything the pace had slowed. We are now entering the final sprint to the line. In 5 days the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Without a sprint finish it is unlikely that an effective Paris Protocol will be signed.

    Great Climate RaceThe Great Climate Race is just one example of what communities around the world are doing to tackle climate change. A fund raising run/walk to raise money for community solar power, because climate change is a race against time!

    So what are the core stumbling blocks in the way of delivering a Paris Protocol?

    The first barrier is a long standing one around whether developed and developing nations should be treated differently. The issue known as “differentiation” remains a significant hurdle. To be effective the new agreement must build on the original convention text around common but differentiated responsibilities. But it must update the text to match today’s reality and be dynamic to evolve as the world changes. Historical emissions must not be ignored, but the changing dynamics of global emissions means that the text must be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.

    The second barrier is around finance. For poor and developing nations allocating sufficient resources will be vital to deliver the agreement. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 developed countries committed to mobilise jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. A lack of clarity around these contributions, double counting of existing development assistance and the role of the private sector all continue to hinder progress in this respect.

    Egg-and-spoon raceThirdly, Loss and Damage continues to divide parties. Some countries hope to see it embedded within the heart of the agreement, while others suggested it should be removed. Lack of action to reduce emissions will lead to a greater need for adaptation. Lack of finance for adaptation will lead to accelerating Loss and Damage. The logic is clear, but still Loss and Damage fails to receive the recognition and importance it deserves.

    The Paris COP is supposed to light the way for governments to finally deliver an effective global response to the threat of climate change. However, to avoid another failed UN sponsored global conference it will be vital for politicians to put in the additional legwork to make the Paris Protocol a reality.

    We don’t just want an agreement, we need a robust agreement that delivers. Human rights, gender equality and the issue of a just transition must be central to the agreement. A human rights centred agreement offers a holistic approach that makes the connections between the economic, social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions, and links what we are doing to tackle climate change with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.  Is this too much for our children to ask for?

    Further information

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  • Knowledge for Life


    October 13th, 2015

    An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory” EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

    IDDR2015 sm

    Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) a celebration of efforts to reduce disaster risk worldwide. The theme selected by UNISDR is “Knowledge for Life”, to celebrate the contribution of local knowledge to building resilience within communities. But we must not forget that 2015 is a critical year for several other reasons.

    2015 has been a landmark year for global negotiations aimed at placing planetary wellbeing on a sustainable trajectory. In Japan in March, governments met to discuss Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and agreed the Sendai Framework for DRR[1]. In September in New York, the member states of the United Nations (UN) met to agree the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[2]. The final mile of the marathon 2015 negotiations will take place in December, when the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to deliver a global climate agreement.

    SDGs

    These processes must recognise the value that local knowledge can make to solve global problems. This is in spite of the fact that many indigenous communities are not responsible for these problems. In a recent special report[3] the causal links between climate change and extreme weather events such as heat waves, record high temperatures and heavy precipitation were documented. Inaction to tackle climate change has resulted in the greatest impact being felt by the poorest and most vulnerable.

    Today, as we examine the potential for indigenous knowledge, it is a good time to recognise the wealth of information often overlooked by established science and especially policy makers. Local indigenous knowledge has taken generations to evolve, respects local carrying capacities and is strongly linked to local culture. As a result it is seldom written down and therefore rarely interfaced with scientific based enquiry. We need to make more of the potential to link indigenous with scientific knowledge and the development of technologies is one crucial area.

    Blog IK diagram

    Transferring existing technologies will not be enough. More systemic, locally designed technologies will be required that respond to local challenges. These must integrate local knowledge and build on traditional skills. Transposing technology from elsewhere can lock in risk. For example infrastructure designed in temperate climates may not work in the tropics, materials will vary and local skills to maintain will differ. Practical Action has worked for 50 years with communities in South America, Africa and South Asia to better understand the development challenges they face, central to this work has been valuing indigenous knowledge through the evolving concept of technology justice.

    • More than 226 million people are affected by disasters every year. Over the last 40 years, most of the 3.3 million deaths caused by disasters occurred in poorer nations.
    • In 2000-2010, over 680,000 people died in earthquakes. Most of these deaths, due to poorly-built buildings, could have been prevented.
    • Only about 4% of official development assistance was invested into pre-event risk management, for every dollar spent on preparedness the returns are considerable.
    • Between 2002 and 2011, there were 4,130 recorded natural hazards, in which more than 1.117 million people perished and a minimum of US$1,195 billion was recorded in losses.

    [1] http://www.preventionweb.net/files/43291_sendaiframeworkfordrren.pdf

    [2] http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/70/L.1&Lang=E

    [3] http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srex/SREX_Full_Report.pdf

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  • Climate Smart Agriculture: making adaptation work for smallholder farmers


    April 27th, 2015

     

    The 9th Community Based Adaptation Conference  (CBA9) will take place in Kenya from the 24th to the 30th April. Practical Action is a co-sponsor of this event, and is sending speakers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the UK and Sudan. On Tuesday 28th April, Chris Henderson will be participating in a session on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’.

     

    Agriculture is fundamental to climate change adaptation in developing countries:

    • 50% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector – in the Least Developed Countries, it is 72%
    • Agriculture is dependent on biodiversity and other natural resources, and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events
    • One billion people continue to suffer from food insecurity – this is expected to rise by 15-40% by 2050 as a result of climate change
    • In developing countries, women are usually responsible for collecting fuel and water, and are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods – they will bear the greatest burdens of climate change, and have the potential to contribute to adaptation

     

    Technology choice is key in agricultural systems, and is never neutral. Which technologies are utilized in particular contexts will have social, economic and ecological impacts.

    ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is a broad term with relevance to all actors in the agricultural sector, from large-scale commercial farmers in the US to market vendors in Bangladesh. As such, it is being used to define diverse agricultural technologies and approaches, some of which are unsustainable and do not contribute to long-term food security or adaptive capacity.

    If Climate Smart Agriculture is to be useful for smallholder farmers in developing countries, it must embody the principles of Technology Justice:

     

    • It must be inclusive

    Existing production and market systems should be modified to be facilitate equitable access for smallholders to the technologies they need to reduce vulnerability and risk, capitalise on opportunities, and improve their livelihoods, resilience and well-being.

    Agro-ecology is a powerful tool for the inclusion of resource poor or otherwise marginalized farmer groups. It is knowledge-intensive rather than capital-intensive, minimizing financial outlay and the risks associated with taking loans to cover costs. By making production less expensive, agroecological approaches increase access to market systems for smallholder farmers, and in particular, women.

     

    Treadle pump agriculture technology women farmers

    Farmers in Nepal use a treadle pump to water their crops. Credit: Peter Crawford

     

    • It must support pro-poor innovation

    Agricultural innovation in response to climate change must move beyond vulnerability reduction; policies and interventions must be designed to increase the dynamic ability of communities to respond to unpredictable climate change.

    Key to appropriate innovation is user-centred design; the most effective technologies are developed in conjunction with those who will use them. Both women and men must be fully involved in the design and management of technologies and the institutions that affect their use. Knowledge and capacity-building for adaptation to climate change should integrate both scientific knowledge and the experiential, context-specific knowledge of end users.

    Investment in pro-poor innovation should focus on identifying alignment between private sector interests and development objectives for mutually beneficial relationships.

     

    • It must be sustainable

    High external input, fossil fuel-based monoculture production systems are unsustainable. Agro-ecological systems generate less greenhouse gas emissions, and the diversification of crops increases the resilience of smallholder farmers to extreme weather events and climate change.

     

    Biodiversity agriculture resilience adaptation

    Indigenous farmers in Bolivia display just a few of the 256 varieties of potato that can survive the harsh growing conditions of the high Andes. Credit: Ana Castañeda

     

    In many cases, agro-ecological production systems produce greater yields than high external input systems, particularly in unfavourable environments (e.g. here, here  and here). However, agroecology is fundamentally about optimizing production for the maximum sustainable yield. The natural resource base should nto be an after thought once the maximum yield has been attained; it is fundamental to continued food production.

     

    For further information on Practical Action’s participation at CBA9, see here

     

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  • The 9th Community-Based Adaptation Conference: ensuring adaptation works for smallholder farmers


    April 17th, 2015

    The 9th Community-Based Adaptation conference (CBA9) will take place in Nairobi, Kenya from 24-30 April, 2015. Organized by the International Institute of Environment and Development, and co-sponsored by Practical Action, the conference will bring together development practitioners to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing community-based adaptation to climate change.

    The challenge of climate change adaptation

    Climate change will exacerbate the global challenges we face: delivery of basic services, providing enough food for a growing and urbanizing population, and responding to increasing natural disasters. The impacts of climate change will be difficult to predict; however, it is clear they will be unequally distributed. The poor and the marginalized, particularly women and girls, will bear the greatest burdens.

    Women smallholder farmers community-based adaptation

    Women and girls are often more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and will bear the greatest burdens from climate change. Credit: Samuel Rendon/ Manuel Seoane

    It is vital that adaptation funding is targeted to benefit those who will find it hardest to respond. Adaptation must move beyond vulnerability reduction to building long-term adaptive capacity, empowering communities to make livelihood decisions in the face of unpredictable climate change.

    To take adaptation to scale, we must re-vision the role of the private sector. Development practitioners must facilitate equitable market access for those living in poverty, and inclusive, pro-poor technological innovation that benefits both smallholders and private investors.

    Technology choices affect communities’ adaptive capacity

    Technology choices made by farmers, planners, policy makers, research and the private sector to enable or promote agricultural adaptation to climate change are not neutral. Choices between different technologies and systems of governing these technologies have consequences for access (inclusivity), sustainable use (choices available for future generations), and resilience.

    As a sector, agriculture is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and climatic change, and in developing countries it employs over 50% of the population. Therefore, agricultural technology choices will have a huge impact on food security and economic development. If agricultural adaptation is to be beneficial for smallholder farmers in developing countries, technology choices must improve adaptive capacity and maintain the natural resource base upon which livelihoods depend.

    Key messages for CBA9

    • All actors – government, civil society, private sector – must recognise that technology choices are not neutral and have consequences for adaptive capacity, inclusivity, and sustainability
    • Communities must be re-engaged in analysis, planning and innovation in response to climate change
    • If community-based adaptation is to be effective, it must utilise both indigenous knowledge and experience and climate information and forecasts, with acknowledgement of what we do not know about the future
    • The gendered impacts of climate change and the additional burdens it will place on women and girls must be placed centre stage
    • We need to re-vision private sector involvement in community-based adaptation to take it to scale – this will require access to markets for products and inputs, and mutually beneficial relationships
    Market Bangladesh private sector community-based adaptation

    Taking community-based adaptation to scale will require access to markets for products and services. Credit: Mehrab ul Goni

    Practical Action at CBA9

    Practical Action will be sending representatives from Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru, the UK, Sudan and Zimbabwe to CBA9, who will present  a selection of Practical Action’s community-based adaptation projects from around the world (posters here, under ‘Key Publications‘). They will also facilitate several interactive learning sessions on a range of key issues, including the use of climatic information, the role of the private sector, and Climate Smart Agriculture.

    Find Practical Action at CBA9 here, and remember to follow us on Twitter! #cba9 @Jodi_Sugden @Chris_P_Hen @ColinMcQuistan

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  • Insects for food – yuk or maybe not?


    August 19th, 2014

    I’m just back from  Zimbabwe, in Gwanda I met people worried about how they will feed their family –  the rains have failed or at best been poor – so the harvest is likely to be inadequate. Many people will spend months hungry and poorly nourished.

    Yesterday was Food Revolution Day – and while I agree with Jamie Oliver that educating kids about the food they eat is vital, it wont end global hunger. With a rising global population, increased demand for meat and agricultural production hit by climate change how we all  access adequate food must be part of a global debate. We may also need to change the way we think.

    A couple of months ago now I read an article in the Guardian which argued that as we head for 9 million people on our planet we need to find a new approach to food. One of the ideas mooted alongside reducing waste and 3D printed food, was the widespread consumption of insects. My immediate reaction was ‘hurray for waste reduction’,  distrust of printed foods (why distance ourselves even further from nature) and ‘yuk!’ to insects.

    While I’ve been offered Mopane Worms in South Africa and a much recommended snack of fried Locusts in The Philippines, I’ve never been tempted – I don’t even like prawns. But maybe on reflection I’m just not open-minded enough in my choice of food.

    Food chainThe latest edition of Practical Action Publishing’s journal ‘Food Chain’  focuses on insects for food and feed. It points out that

    • Insects are traditionally consumed by more than 2 billion people worldwide;
    • There’s great diversity – about 2,000 species known to be edible;
    • Environmentally there are significant benefits over eating meat (lower emissions of greenhouse gases, low requirement for land and water etc.);
    • There is a huge opportunity for insects as animal and poultry feed (In the EU this is currently hindered by legislation);
    • They are good for you – termites for example are particularly rich in oleic acids, the same type of fat found in olive oil
    • The ‘Yuk’ factor is possible to overcome – think of worms’ lava in Tequila and Beer.

    Turns out Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, is a big fan! “When you consider the imprint of cattle and other stock on the environment you are better off with insects. Insects have a very good conversion rate from feed to meat. There is no way that we can sustain conventional livestock production environmentally if we want to meet the needs of the growing human population”.

    Rather than encouraging the unsustainable growth of a Western type diet shouldnt we be looking at more traditional foods? If 2 billion people around the world eat insects – and appear to like them – they are good for our planet, and can be good for us – Surely the question is why wouldnt we try them?

    So if you have a taste for insects I recommend ‘The Insect Cookbook – Food for a Sustainable Planet’ published by Columbia. Great recipes including Bitterbug Bites, Bugitos and Buffalo Worm Chocolate Cupcakes.

    I don’t think I’m ready for a cricket lollipop yet but if the rather indistinct protein in say my occasional ready meal was made of insect – maybe I wouldn’t mind (or more likely I wouldn’t think about it). Good for people and the environment – what is there to dislike?     insect lolipop

    Insects could be the food of the future.

     

     

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  • After the dust has settled – it’s time for hard work


    December 19th, 2013

    One month ago Warsaw was abuzz with thousands of people. Senior politicians, government representatives, development agencies, academics, civil society and the media were all engrossed in addressing what is one of the most pressing issues of our time – climate change.

    Now everyone is back home and most are probably thinking more about Christmas than how the world is going to cope with an inevitable increase in temperature that will permanently change the lives of us all.

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    A floating garden to grow crops when land is flooded

    Looking back, I went to COP 19  with an agriculture perspective, keen to identify hooks and partnerships that would strengthen the recent decision by our global group of agriculturalists to focus on adaptation by smallholder farmers. Practical Action’s specific aim is to improve agricultural policy and planning so that it builds the capacity of smallholder farmers to use their unique knowledge and resources to adapt to climate change through ‘Climate Resilient Agriculture’.

    It was disappointing that there was little discussion on agriculture during the days I was in Warsaw. A few things did become clear, however, from the people I met and the events I attended. Notably, that much still needs to be done on ‘adaptation’ in agriculture to understand what is really needed, and meant, by ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’. Practical Action can contribute to this issue and provide grounded examples relevant to policy makers based on lessons learnt by smallholder farmers and the rural poor in developing countries. In our Country and Regional offices this will mean engaging with Government and stakeholders in the National Adaptation Planning (NAPs). In the UK we should work with partner organisations to make sure our learning influences the global debates and donor policies.

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Regular drills enable communities to respond effectively when disaster strikes

    Unexpected by me, and probably many others, was that Warsaw would be able to achieve something good on ‘Loss and Damage’. This is an important issue for us because the people we are working with are being increasingly impacted by climate change. Impacts which are becoming irreversible – ‘beyond the reach of adaptation’ – and affecting people who are least to blame for the situation: e.g. extreme droughts, ever worsening floods, sea level rise and loss of fresh water. At the beginning of week 2, I signed an NGO Global Call for Action for the establishment of an ‘International Mechanism on Loss and Damage in Warsaw’.  To cut a long story short the agreement to have a mechanism for ‘Loss and Damage’ was probably the most significant achievement of COP19.

    Life may have returned to normal for those who were in Warsaw but, I for one, am committed to keeping the buzz going and starting the New Year with a renewed commitment to our work on Climate Resilient Agriculture.

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  • Power of adaptation


    December 9th, 2013

    In the last 60,000 years humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals and this allows us to figure out how to live in a wide range of environments.

    Here we argue that humans may be smarter than other creatures, but none of us is nearly smart enough to acquire all of the information necessary to survive in any single habitat. In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.

    Practical Action followed the methodology of extracting the potential power of familiarization in communities in rural areas by targeting effective members in villages to provide them with knowledge about local possible technologies to challenge poverty. In other words, to adapt with the existing limited resources to reach sustainable development by providing means of improving adaptive capacity and adaptive needs to identify and develop adaptive measures or practices tailored to the needs of the community.

    IMG_6784Back to Darfur- the source of my inspiration. If you visit Darfur and especially Shagra (G) village,  remember to look up Nadia Ibrahim Mohammed, who is 33 years old and married with two sons. Practical Action has practical initiatives that tangibly address and improve her adaptive capacity and adaptive needs.

    She was recommended by Mr. Mohammad Siddig (North Darfur’s Area Coordinator) in 2006 to be trained as a midwife then was registered as the legal midwife in the village. Later, she has become president of Women Development Association in her village and a member of Community Development Association in Shagra (A –B – G).

    In 2009 she worked with Practical Action on the project Greening Darfur. More than 14,000 women were trained by her in making  low smoke stoves and community forest management. She has been nominated to be part of the Active Citizens Programme run by British Council with aim of increasing the contribution of community leaders towards achieving sustainable development, both locally and globally.

    For a woman from poor community in a challenging environment with a minimum level of education this is impressive. Her ability to store and deliver knowledge to others is really noteworthy. Now in Shagra- G village, she is always there dealing with her communities’ problems. She is gathering real time local information to adapt the best decisions and actions with the methods of her own experience.

    My personal point of view, as we are working in a very challenging development field, is that adaptation is a word that we should dig deep inside, because all the possible solutions are hidden behind it:

    • Adaptation to poverty means we can adjust the resilience of communities to change and find solutions to poverty
    • Adaptation to limited resources means, we can direct targeted community to use them effectively to satisfy their needs
    • Adaptation to Climate Change means, we can reduce projected effects for the environment and for human life.
    • Adaptation to changing economic environment means we can set adaptation plans as better prepared for new opportunities.

    Adapting with our problems would be a more effective means of dealing with them in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities.

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  • Bangladesh Revisited


    February 5th, 2013

    Sometimes going back can spoil a good memory.

    On my first visit to Bangladesh, to Gaibandha in the north, I was taken by boat across a broad, slow moving river to islands of homes created by Practical Action and riverside communities, whose homes, livestock and sometimes lives, were being lost on a regular basis, to increasingly severe flooding.

    The project was called, ‘Disappearing Lands’, and had been funded by the Big Lottery Fund.  The team worked with the communities to identify the poorest families who were most vulnerable to the floods and created a safe island home for them by building a raised platform of earth, on which were clustered one room homes, with space for a small homestead garden, together with emergency shelters for their livestock for when the floods came.  The pleasure and pride these families took in their new homes was evident by their eagerness to show me inside.  There was room to store pots, pans, clothes and blankets and a space for the parents to sleep on one side of the room, the children on the other.

    Even in the last village I visited, completed only a few weeks before, small homestead gardens had been demarcated and the first shoots of spinach were unfolding. Seeing such obvious pleasure in their new, safe homes, was moving and was a good memory to leave with.

    That was four years ago. I’m back again in Bangladesh with Karin Reiter, Group Corporate Responsibility Manager for the Z Zurich Foundation. The Foundation has supported Practical Action’s work with communities in the district of Sirajgonj, also vulnerable to flooding , where extremely poor families have so little that even a small life shock, such as illness, is enough to destroy their ability to survive. So flooding is truly devastating.  We’re here to see how the project, V2R (Vulnerability to Resilience) is progressing and what lessons can be learned for the future.

    Using the principles and lessons learned from Gaibandha, the V2R project is taking an holistic approach.  As well as ensuring people’s homes and livestock are safe from rising water, people now have choices in the way that they can support themselves, so that they are no longer reliant on a single livelihood option, which could easily destroyed by one flood.   They are also involved in preparing plans to respond to flooding so that people know what to do in times of emergencies, such as which evacuation route to take, where the shelter areas are, and how to ensure the safety of their livestock.  And when the rising waters isolate them, they have the means, in an emergency, to transport a seriously ill person to a hospital using an ambulance boat.   

    We visited a cluster village, now home to 25 extreme poor families.  We were shown round neat rooms, with outside cooking areas, and access to clean water with tube wells.  They also have thriving businesses such weaving, crocheting and tailoring, as well as raising chicken and ducks, and the newly introduced rabbits – a sure-fire high production product!

    What struck me most forcibly is that it’s the women who are the running these businesses and their confidence and determination is inspiring.  With the money they’re making, they are paying for their children’s education, investing in their businesses and putting money by for emergencies.   

    There are still issues to be solved – how to provide affordable and sustainable energy, for example, to the communities (ensuring technology justice) – but the partnership between the Z Zurich Foundation and Practical Action is changing lives for the better for many children, women and men living beside the river in Sirajgong district, and the good memory of Bangladesh, and the impact of Practical Action’s work, remains very firmly intact!

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  • Greater climate change commitment


    November 9th, 2012

    I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Action’s European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic.

    In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh, including our ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project.

    Despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.

    In Germany, I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organised by our project partner, Germanwatch.  The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.

    It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Action’s new five-year strategy from 2012-2017.

    One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio plus 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.

    Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago, flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over 1,000 having to be evacuated from their homes.

    Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.

    To highlight the issues, I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organised by our Czech partner, Glopolis.  Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.

    So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics, leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.

    Our adaptation work in Bangladesh (promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming) was well received in both Germany and the Czech Republic. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor isn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action, with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field, is in a unique position to do both.

    Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival.  One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future.”

    The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.

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