Blogs tagged as #BAD2014

  • Practical Action’s unsung heroes

    October 16th, 2015

    Heroes come in many forms, and each individual will have their own definition of a hero. Some may think it’s a soldier fighting for their country; a firefighter entering a burning building; or the crew of a lifeboat launching into rough seas – heroes who risk their lives for others.

    toiletBut there is another type of hero – the unsung hero! Someone whose daily life may seem pretty unremarkable but who help to change the lives of thousands of people by one simple act – being a Practical Action supporter.

    It’s hard to believe in the 21st Century that people still have no access to basic services such as clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, have no electricity and still cook over open fires, are undernourished, and cope with the devastation of natural disasters. Our supporters are helping to change this. By supporting the work of Practical Action our unsung heroes make a difference to people living in extreme poverty in the developing world.

    Last year our supporters enabled us to change the lives of 1.2 million people. They helped to improve access to water and sanitation services for over 240,000 people; give 200,000 people access to sustainable electricity services; help 650,000 people improve their food security and livelihoods; and reduce the risk of disaster to 60,000 people – changes that could not happen without their support.

    This remarkable group of people are our heroes!  Their one small but beautiful act of generosity enables Practical Action to make a huge impact on the lives of millions of people. Without them our work wouldn’t be possible.

    To our many supporters we say a huge ‘Thank you’ – you really are amazing people and our unsung heroes!

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  • Climate change is real!

    November 28th, 2014

    Climate change and variability is a very worrying subject for me and I hope for many others as well who understand its negative impacts on human and animal life. We have observed this through the changes in rainfall, temperature and wind patterns among the major climate indicators. On average daily temperatures have risen significantly and our rainfall comes late and often inadequate.

    Climate change does not take effect overnight; it is a long-term change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. This may vary from one region to another. Some call Climate Change global warming. The questions that come to my mind are; Who or what is the cause? Who or what can stop this development and how? Currently, most pointers are pointing to the continued rise in carbon dioxide levels from our fossil fuel burning as the main driver of global warming. What does this mean to you and me? Scientists point to the emergence of industrialisation as the major cause of this climate challenge and among the main actor is MAN. Within our context in Southern Africa we are an agro dependent population where our livelihoods and source of income comes from. Women are in the majority of this population and they are responsible for the agriculture output of the economy.

    For me it means that I have a role to play, it means I can contribute even in small way in the way and manner that I live starting by taking care of the environment around me. Some of the thoughtless actions of our daily choices results in suffering of other if we are not careful and this will cause a huge gulf of inequality between the benefactors and those sidelined. If we can all start by changing our life-styles and contribute in small ways the aggregate effort will result in amazing results and lessen the gap of inequality. It’s these small actions that may seem unimportant now that will make a huge difference and impact in the future as we do them, we adapt easily to Climate Change. When we anticipate Climate Change’s adverse effects, we are in a better position to take appropriate action in order to minimize the damage it can bring about hence we can take advantage of opportunities that may arise where ever we are. This is likely to save money and lives in the long run while eradicating the issue of who suffers most – inequality!

    Planting tomatoes in Himalaya, ZimbabweGlobalization of the industrial system has also contributed to global warming causing extensive fragmentation and degradation of ecosystems which in turn resulted in the destruction of vast habitats of indigenous plants and animals across the planet. This has brought about mass global extinction of species.

    Some of the adaptation measures that we can take advantage of include using scarce water resources more efficiently, developing drought-tolerant crops, engaging or assisting in re-afforestation initiatives, ensuring that our immediate environment is clean and taking care to practice proper recommended waste disposal methods as well as using less of plastic whenever we can among other things. The list is in exhaustive but with these few pointers, we can go a long way in not only adapting but also in terms of resilience. If we can start somewhere now, we have potential to serve ourselves and generations to come a lot of heartache. We have to act quickly to help those around us adapt now!

    It is increasingly realized that mitigation and adaptation should not be pursued independent of each other but as complementary. This has resulted in the recent calls for the integration of adaptation into mitigation strategies. This together with other initiatives then becomes a building block to resilience which is our capacity to mitigate or diminish impacts of Climate Change or adapt/respond to change. The differences in our capacities to adapt of respond if ignored may cause a hug gap of inequality especially between developed and non-developed communities. Resilience signifies the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances and surprises. It can mean the ability to reorganise so as to retain the same essential function, structure and identity. Resilience is an inherent quality of all healthy living systems. It is a state of dynamic equilibrium which enables systems to grow and evolve while keeping their coherence. Achieving resilience means learning to understand the natural laws of our living systems so that we work with Nature rather than against her.

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  • A day with Kanchan

    October 17th, 2014

    I was waiting for the traffic jam to end at Teku, Kathmandu. On the sidewalk near the road, I saw a girl in school uniform on her way to school while I patiently waited on my scooter. I could not figure out why she looked so familiar – where had I seen her earlier? This 13/14 year old dark complexioned girl, with neat but unironed school uniform – where could have I met her? While my thoughts were occupied with these questions the traffic in front of me started moving – I quickly started my scooter and moved forward. But the girl was still on my mind – just then I realised where I had met her.

    Her memory took be back to Christmas Day last year – 25 December 2013, which was exactly when I had met her. I remember everything vividly.

    The Flashback …

    Kanchan in front of her house

    The girl I saw on the road was Kanchan Kumari Poddar, now 15. I remember visiting her home – a two roomed structure with one door and no windows (yes, not even a single window). The house was dark even in the day time. The door – only ventilation and the source of light for the entire house opened to a small passage where there was a heap of waste plastics. On the left side was a small room which was almost entirely filled by a bed and a table with a small television set. Straight ahead was another room, half of which was a kitchen with an area to cook and do dishes, there was a bed on a corner.

    A total of nine people shared these two rooms.

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan with her six sisters

    Kanchan is the eldest among the total of seven children of her parents – all of whom are girls. Being the eldest, Kanchan is burdened with lots of responsibilities. Her parents work as Informal Waste Workers (IWWs) who are mostly busy collecting waste at different parts of the city.

    That day, I had spent quite some time with Kanchan at her home and neighbourhood. I was there to click her pictures (as a part of my work) and observe how she spends her day. She was busy taking care of her sisters, doing household chores and then studying if she got free from all that.

    She was a fourth grader when I met her. Kanchan used to be a waste picker like her parents and had started going to school only a few years ago when a project called PRISM started supporting her education. The project was being implemented by Practical Action to improve the lives of informal waste workers in Kathmandu valley. She had shared that she finds it hard to keep up with other students as she barely gets any time to study at home. But she sure was glad that she was finally going to school, which seemed like a distant dream in the past.

    For Kanchan’s mother, keeping all of her daughters properly fed was a priority – education was a luxury.

    The Change in the scene …

    After my work was over, I went straight to a movie theatre from there, where I attended a charity movie show. After the movie was over, I and a bunch of my friends went to Thamel – which welcomed us with a massive traffic jam. It seemed like a lot of young people- especially teenagers had gathered around Thamel to celebrate Christmas. It was about 10 pm. I was so overwhelmed to see such a large number of people gathered there. We went to a restaurant where we had booked a table, but that had already been occupied. So we went hopping from one place to another – and quite amazingly each and every restaurant, pub, and eatery at Thamel was packed. We had to come quite far across to a place which was at the end of Thamel to finally find a place to accommodate ourselves.

    While I could see the youngsters – clad in branded clothes, drinking imported liquors, enjoying international food – I could not stop thinking about Kanchan. That evening, I somehow felt guilty being a part of that crowd. While the colourful lights from a Christmas tree in the restaurant was being flashed in my eyes – all I could think of was the darkness inside Kanchan’s house.

    Has the rich-poor gap gone too wide? Probably, the world is full of inequalities – something that we have to live with and probably it will take a while for this to change.

    At present …

    But I choose not to lose hope – and also I feel glad that my work lets me play a small role to lessen this inequality.

    It’s been almost a year now that I first met Kanchan. The PRISM project is now over which means the financial support for her education must have stopped – but she still is in school. Thus, I would like to believe that, Kanchan will have a brighter future and life will not be as hard for her as it was for her parents. With her education to support her, I just hope that Kanchan will have a life with opportunities – not just inequalities.


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  • “Innovation” on low cost faecal sludge collection and transportation

    October 17th, 2014

    Safe management of faecal sludge is a big challenge for Bangladesh. Only Dhaka City has sewerage facilities for about 22% of the city, which is insignificant compared to the whole country.

    To manage this sludge, people mainly depend on an unsafe manual process which is bad for the environment. Sweepers mainly use traditional equipment like a bucket and rope to collect the sludge from the pit and dump into the nearby open water body, drain, or on open land which is harmful for their health and for others.

    vacutag3Most cities and towns have no management system for sewerage due to a lack of capacity, awareness and willingness.  One type of modern pit emptying equipment available in the market is Vacutag which is very much costly not only for the municipality but also for the private entrepreneur and sweeper.

    The MAWTS Vacutag is very expensive and loan providing institutions both public and private are not interested enough to provide financial support to entrepreneurs for providing this service as a business. In this context, we have developed a low cost 1300 liter capacity mechanized covered van  through our metal development center at Faridpur for sludge transportation to the treatment site and a submersible pump for sludge collection. The cost is around 180,000 Bangladesh Taka (£1454) for the mechanized van and 55000 Bangladesh Taka  (£444) for the submersible pump.

    This is being tested in the field by Practical Action

    Collected from: Dipok Chandra Roy, Programme Manager, Urban Services Programme

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  • Giving voices to slum dwellers – a step towards reducing inequality

    October 17th, 2014

    The rapid urbanisation over the past decade does not go unnoticed in a developing country like Nepal.  As a result of fact, it not only brings economic instability but also a reasonable rise in slums and squatter settlements which needs a proper attention.  By 2030, about 3 billion people will need proper housing and access to water and sanitation systems, states UN-Habitat.  According to a study conducted in 2008 by the United Nations, 47 settlements were identified on the banks of different rivers in the Kathmandu Valley with a precarious living condition which were prone to landslides and flood.  The majority of people living in slums are mostly affected by a decade long conflict which forced them to flee their homes and enter the city hoping for a better job opportunity. While rest of Kathmanduites live in concrete houses, the slum dwellers have to spend their entire lives in shanties along the ever-bad-smelling river sides. And they have nowhere to go, to put forth their voices. They have no access to the facilities provided by the municipality like drinking water connection. That’s a case of sheer inequality.

    iud2On the occasion of World Habitat Day, a one day national workshop on “Voices from slums” was organised jointly by Ministry of Urban Development, UN-Habitat and Lumanti in Jawalakhel on 10 October 2014.  Representatives from different slum/ squatter areas, municipalities and government offices participated in the workshop. The objective of the workshop was to give a platform for the slum dwellers to voice their experiences, knowledge and ideas on improving their living conditions.  “In Nepal, the voices of slums are often unheard by the municipalities and the government officials, hence the workshop aims to serve as a bridge between slum dwellers and the concerned parties,” said Mr. Padma Sundar Joshi, Habitat Program Manager- UN Habitat.

    In addition, Practical Action is also actively involved in promoting systems of decentralised urban governance in Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities through “Delivering Decentralisation- Slum Dwellers’ Access to Decision-making for Pro-poor Infrastructure Services”.  The project aims to empower slum dwellers so that they are engaged effectively in decision-making and delivering improved urban services.  The cases of Butwal and Bharatpur municipalities are also not different from that of Kathmandu slum dwellers.  The slum/ squatter areas are on the river banks and on the foot of a hill which can be easily struck by natural disasters, such as landslides and floods.

    “Slum dwellers who are from marginalised community cannot afford to buy land and also the ones who are living in squatters have not received any legal land certificates,” claimed Ms. Durga Shakya, a representative for Butwal slum dwellers.  Ms. Shakya urged the government to take an immediate action on the issue.  Likewise, Mr. Binod G.C, a representative for Bharatpur slum dwellers shared, “In 2011, the government distributed a temporary land certificate to some of us and more than 50 percent are yet to receive the certificates.  On top of that, with the temporary land certificates, we are unable to apply for loans and credits from banks.”  Mr. G.C voiced his frustration and sought justice from the government.

    In spite of the burgeoning urbanisation, ensuring a proper living condition, water and sanitation is one’s rights.  Therefore, if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, it is “Our” responsibility too.  I pledge we all join hands together and listen to their voices.  I hope the voices of slums will be heard and justice be served.  It will be a major step towards reducing the inequality faced by them. Hallelujah!

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  • Choices of working women

    October 17th, 2014

    I’m a working mother. I choose to work because I love what I do.

    However I do feel under pressure to create the perfect life work balance and I do feel I’m being judged when people ask how many days a week I work and how long after having my baby did I return to work. I’m lucky, I have a great support system and my partner is very hands on. But has anyone asked my partner these questions? No. Does he feel pressure to make sure he is spending enough time with our child compared to furthering his career? I doubt it. Would he have the same considerations if he was offered his perfect job somewhere a bit further from home? Of course not.

    Society now deems it perfectly acceptable for women to work after having a baby but we are still expected to also run the home, cook the dinner, look after and be there for the children in a superwoman type role. The end result is a lot of very tired multi-taskers who may feel like they are spreading themselves too thinly! It’s hard to be a career woman and I imagine this is probably why there aren’t enough women CEO’s and board members in the UK. On the whole women do have to choose between career and home, men don’t. The number of dads and grandparents that are taking on the primary care of children is on the rise but there is still a stigma attached to working career mums.  So much so that Facebook and Apple felt the need to come up with a solution – they will pay for women to freeze their eggs so they can climb the career ladder and then have children.  Really?

    Collecting firewoodBut what about women who have no choice but to work long arduous hours just to feed their family and provide a roof over their heads.  We’re told that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own only 1% of the means of production. In remote Zimbabwean villages women farm day after day with their children strapped to their backs, and walk miles to the nearest water source for washing, drinking and watering the crops, whilst the men work away in South Africa. In Sudan women walk miles and miles over dangerous terrain, risking rape and violence, just to collect sparse firewood.  That’s then used for cooking on stoves that pollute the air so much it is slowly killing them and their family. And in Bangladesh women spend hours growing crops and looking after livestock only for the monsoon floods to wipe the crops, animals and their home away, year after year. This is an inequality.

    The good news is that my employer, Practical Action, is working closely with these women in a variety of ways such as; introducing irrigation, crop rotation, more resilient seeds, smoke and wood free cook stoves, flood resistant crops and early weather warning systems to help them to improve their lives.  But there are millions more who need our help to overcome the inequalities of their life. Find out how you can help.

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  • What is Technology Justice?

    October 16th, 2014

    Technology is a broad term and covers a broad spectrum of aspects of our daily personal and business life.

    Repairing a borehole in Gwanda, ZimbabweFor me, this is a rights based issue, where depending on what one is trying to address, everyone should also be able to determine what technology best works for you and when.  Inequality becomes an issue if people do not have this right or even the knowledge of what ‘technology justice’ is.

    In order to bridge this gap people need to have sufficent knowledge to make appropriate choices for themselves.  This then becomes their art, craft or skill and how this technology is applied in everyday life to improve livelihoods.

    While it is a diverse subject and covers a lot of aspects from personal to business issues, without technology life would be very dismal.   From some of the very basic things that may be considered less important by others such as indoor plumbing, access to clean water, electricity, things which are key either in a home or business environment to things like internet access,  state of the art medical facilities, communication models, transport systems etc.

    Technology is good as long as it does not bring about technological process that results in the depletion of natural resources and for me this is where the inequality becomes an issue.  When others are deprived of natural resources as a result of someone else’s use of a certain technology, then that technology is no longer good.  We need technology that does not impact negatively on other people’s lives either directly or indirectly.  If this is the case then there is justice and makes life so much easier if well-done and well-developed.

    In summary, technology has the potential to create a high standard of living and improve livelihoods.   When everything has been said and done, I feel that Technology Justices ensures that it is every person’s right to choose and to have access to basic needs and need or service being the operative word here starting from an individual perspective to a commercial one.  Clean water, energy access and shelter are some of the things that come to mind.

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  • Life can be changed by access to energy and water

    October 16th, 2014

    In Zimbabwe 37% of households have access to grid  electricity of which 83% are in urban areas and 13% are in rural areas, these are mainly schools, growth points, business centers and mission stations.  There is significant  inequality  between  urban and  rural access to electricity. Most rural households depend on traditional fuels for their energy needs, resulting in deforestation and hazardous indoor pollution.

    Mashaba Solar Mini-Grid, Gwanda, Zimbabwe

    In rural Zimbabwe the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. Having seen this Practical Action is promoting the use of decentralized renewable energy schemes (off-grid) which have potential to meet the social and economic energy demands of the rural population in a sustainable manner. In electricity, off-grid can be stand-alone systems (SHS) or mini-grids typically to provide a smaller community with electricity. Off-grid electrification is an approach suited to communities with little access to electricity, due to scattered or distant populations such as Mashaba – Gwanda, Zimbabwe.

    The ‘Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC)’ project will be implemented in Gwanda in Matebeland South in an effort to meet the key energy needs for the targeted communities. Mashaba is a rural area about 140km from Gwanda Town and has no access to grid electricity, which is 15km away. The area is an agro based region which is highly dependent on irrigation agriculture which currently uses diesel irrigation pumps which are expensive and dirty. The area has two irrigation schemes (Mankonkoni and Rustlers Gorge) with a total of 56 ha irrigable land and there is potential of adding another 60 ha irrigation scheme (Sebasa). There are business centers, a clinic, and a school which all need energy.

    The Mashaba solar mini-grid is an exciting project that has the potential to greatly improve the socio-economic status of Mashaba communities. This will go some way in redressing the inequalities of rural energy access.

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  • Access to information reduces inequality

    October 16th, 2014

    It is very common to hear the word “inequality” as development professionals start discussions – be it a two-person dialogue or a conference with dozens. I have witnessed many of them ever since I started my professional career. People talk about poor services to a certain group of population, weak linkages with other better-off populations, inappropriate policies, negligence of the government bodies, etc. when we get into the world of Inequality. Each time, I question myself – what actually is the root cause? What makes community “A” better-off than community “B”?

    If somebody asks me -“When do you feel that you are empowered, equal to others, and fairly treated?”. Without thinking twice – I would reply “when I have access to all of the information I require”.  It is definite – information on the existence of resources opens way out for you to enjoy the resources. This might not be true in all of the situations – but to most of them – “Access to Information” is something significant that resolves issues related to inequality.

    Social map prepared by local people in Chitwan, Nepal.

    Social map prepared by local people in Chitwan, Nepal.

    Development sector, by now, has well understood that the trickle-down model of service delivery is no more functioning. It is the people who actually need to identify and prioritise their needs. Wouldn’t it be an ideal context when people in need are informed that resource allocation is made for them, they have right to enjoy these resources, are able to develop their own practical plans? What if they are trained well enough to push relevant authorities in materialising their plans?

    Well, here is an example of a proactive and informed society which no longer wants to be disadvantaged compared to the others. At Practical Action, this is exactly what we are doing through our project “Delivering Decentralisation: Slum dwellers’ access to decision making for pro-poor infrastructure services” since 2006. We aim to build the capacity of 70,000 slum dwellers and associated local authorities in decision making to plan, deliver and sustain community-led services in selected urban and peri-urban areas of Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka by 2016. By the end of the project, we expect that the slum dwellers in 6 towns and 78 slums in three countries are able to work closely with the local authorities and other stakeholders, and participate in decision making process; their services are prioritised, their income is boosted and the environment in which they live in is enhanced. We envision this situation to be possible as we strongly bring forward our approach of enhanced Access to Information.

    The networks and linkages we create are the major sources of information. Sincerely, I feel more confident when I know, when I am aware and when I am informed. I wouldn’t claim unless I know that I have the right to claim; and unless I claim, I don’t get – others will. As it is said – money attracts money, information attracts information too! It is the principle source of empowerment and should be strictly considered if we want to lessen inequality and create a JUST society!!

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  • Education should be the right of everyone

    October 16th, 2014

    In England our children often start nursery at 3 years of age, legally they have to be at ‘proper’ school by the age they are 5. I remember my daughter’s first day at ‘proper school’ her pinafore dress nearly sweeping the pavement as she toddled along book bag in hand. I felt extremely proud but nervous too, questions whizzing around in my mind, what happens if she hates it? She might be bullied? My mind was put at ease though as the only thing we had to contend with was the odd tummy ache and a grazed knee.

    hand washing at school, NepalIn the UK we are lucky enough to have a choice of schools and still have the right to appeal if our children don’t receive a place in the school of our choice. We conveniently lived right over the road from the village school, we literally rolled out of bed in the morning and there we were. For some children around the world their journey to school can involve a trek of several miles in all extremes of weather, they also run the risk of being kidnapped, blown up, raped or shot.  The story of Malala Yousafzai and her campaign for girl’s education that we are so familiar with really brings this reality home to us.

    My daughter’s school was bright and welcoming, with cosy classrooms equipped with books and electronic whiteboards. However, in remote areas around the globe lessons can be held virtually in the dark if the school has no form of power. It can be extremely difficult hiring teachers at schools with no electricity; understandably they prefer better equipped schools in the cities.

    To make matters worse  the school may have no toilet facilities, so children have to go to the toilet out in the open.  This is not only degrading but is a health hazard and can be harmful to the environment. With the lack of hand washing facilities children often become sick and miss valuable time at school. When the older girls have their period there are no sanitary facilities and they have to stay at home which further impacts on their studies.

    On the bright side, where toilets and hand washing facilities have been built there has been a real impact on absenteeism. The children are enthusiastic about their new facilities and pass the information on to their parents some who have in turn built their own latrines and follow good hand washing hygiene thus improving the well-being of the whole family. Practical Action works with communities to help this happen.

    The global injustice is that there are still an estimated 57 million children around the world that don’t even have a school to go to. How will these communities ever work their way out of poverty with no access to education?

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