Blogs tagged as Reducing vulnerability

  • Technologies for bringing back roofs over the heads of earthquake victims


    March 23rd, 2017

    Simple technologies can bring down the cost of house construction and enable the poor earthquake victims build their houses within their means.

    Chhabilal Acharya’s house reduced to a pile of rubbles in less than a minute when the powerful earthquake stuck his village in Laharepauwa Rasuwa on 25th April 2015. His poultry farm, his major source of income, wasn’t spared either. Acharya (62) and his daughter narrowly escaped from the collapsing house.

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    Chhabilal explaining how he escaped from the collapsing house

    He had built the house in 1995.

    “I gave up even the smallest indulgences in life to save money for the house,“ he said.

    It took him five years to save money for the house as his job at Lagtang National Park would pay very nominal.

    He has been living in a temporary shelter since the earthquake. With his poultry farm gone, his family is scarping by on his meagre pension of $101 a month.

    Government of Nepal has decided to provide $2778 grant to affected households for building house in three instalments. The house should be compliant to the government approved designs to secure the grant. Chhabilal has received the first tranche ($ 500) of the grant. However, he is yet to start building the house.

    “The money is not enough even to prepare ground for foundation and I have no other means to supplement the grant“ he mentioned.

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Chhabilal inside his temporary shelter

    Building simple 3-room brick masonry house costs more than $5000 in his village. Stone masonry buildings are equally expensive as the stones are not available locally.

    Chhabilal is planning to take loan from a local money lender by mortgaging all his land at half the value to top on the grant.

    Banks don’t accept farm land in the village as collateral. Hence, for people like Chhabilal who don’t have any other fixed assets, the local money lenders are the only resort for the loan. The money lenders rip them off with the exorbitant interest rate.

    “If my son does well in life, he will be able to pay the loan and release the land,“ Chhabilal said with misty eyes. He knows he may never get the land back as his son is just 16 years old now.

    Two hundred and forty two households in Laharepuawa lost their houses in the devastating earthquake. Only 11 households who are well to do or have family members abroad have built their houses so far. Rest are facing the impossible choice, roof over the head or the land that feed them, like Chhabilal.

    However, simple technologies can save them from this predicament and help them rebuild their house within their means.

    Cement Stabilised Earth Block (CSEB) is one of such simple technologies. It is a very good alternative to bricks. It can be prepared from a simple mixture of local soil, sand and cement (10%). It costs almost three times less than the brick. Besides, it requires less labour and cement mortar to build a house with CSEB. And, it provides better earthquake resistance as the blocks are interlocking. A CSEB compacting machine costs around $ 7000 including installation and all the accessories. The machine can produce up to 450 blocks per day. The pictures below shows the CSEB production at Kalikasthan, Rasuwa. The enterprise was set up with the support of Practical Action.IMG_1508

    IMG_1511

    Another technology which can save cost is a simple stone cutting machine. It can reduce cost of through stones and corner stones, which are mandatory inthe government, approved stone masonry buildings, by 2 to 3 times. A labour can prepare maximum 6 corner/through stones in a day manually whereas as the machine can produce up to 200 pieces of corner stones.

    A simple one story house requires more than 150 corners/through stones, which approximately costs $300, if prepared manually. However, with the machine, the cost can be reduced to $100. The stone cutting machine costs only about $1200.

    Stone cutting Machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle Rasuwa

    Stone cutting machine set up with the help of Practical Action at Bhorle, Rasuwa

    Practical Action has been promoting the technologies in Nuwakot and Rasuwa districts through a DFID funded project in a small scale.

    It is an irony that better-off households are better poised to receive the government housing grant as they can fully comply with the government standards. Poor households, who are solely dependent on the grant, are at the risk of losing it as the grant is not enough to build government design compliant house. The technologies can avert the risk by reducing the cost of building house.

    Likewise, the technologies can  provide alternative livelihood opportunities to the people in the earthquake affected districts as they can be promoted as the local enterprises. Hence, larger diffusion of such technologies is across the earthquake affected  districts is important not only for accelerating reconstruction but also improving livelihood.

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  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 


    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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  • An interview with Nazmul Islam Chowdhury


    January 12th, 2017

    The Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal has been a major success, raising an incredible £1 million from people just like you.  This was then matched pound for pound by the UK Government.

    Almost every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh to swell, resulting in devastating floods.  They wash away fertile land and destroy homes and livelihoods.  Families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.  Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede; the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops.  It’s a simple solution that is truly changing lives, thanks to your support.

    "A small dream is now a big dream" Nazmul Chowdhury

    Nazmul Islam Chowdhury is the Head of the Extreme Poverty Programme in Bangladesh and manages the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  Nazmul came up with the idea of using the barren land in this way many years ago and has gone on to develop and implement the solution in communities across Bangaldesh.  Below he explains just why this project is so important.

    “Firstly, I want to say thank you so much for everyone’s generous support of Practical Action and the Pumpkins Against Poverty project.  You are helping to reach thousands of people.

    “When I initially came up with the idea of sandbar cropping, I thought something is better than nothing, but we have been able to develop and improve the project. It now has a huge impact on the ground and there is potential to bring this innovation to other countries. The pumpkin is like a magic golden ball; it is a solution for food security, vitamin A deficiency, income and gender equality.

    “I have many stories from the people the project helps but there is one that sticks in my mind. In 2009, When I was visiting a community in Rangpur, I was interviewing a farmer when I heard a girl crying. She was only around three years old. Her cries interrupted the interview and I asked her mother what was wrong. She said she was crying because she was hungry and she had no food to feed her. I was shocked and thought, how can I help? I still think about that girl now. We must do something to help these families.

    “I always tell my children, imagine that you have no food at home and you are hungry. You should always try to help the people that need it.”

    Thank you to everyone who has supported the Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal. You are helping thousands of people to lift themselves out of poverty, for good.

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  • Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events


    October 13th, 2016

    On International Day for Disaster Reduction, Hurricane Matthew is a timely reminder of the consequences of inaction on climate change. Changing climates exacerbated by years of ineffective development generates risk for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the climate change problem.

    We have all seen the news of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrecked on the Caribbean. Matthew, which spawned late in the hurricane season, first struck Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba before turning its attention to the more prepared population in the south eastern United States, and despite diminishing in intensity it has still caused massive devastation and resulted in huge losses.

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    So what was so special about Hurricane Matthew? Matthew was a multiple record-breaking weather event. Matthew first became a Category 3 (major hurricane) on September 30, and maintained that status for a remarkable period of time. Making it the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean. Not only did Hurricane Matthew end a nine-year streak without an Atlantic basin category 5 hurricane, it did so at an unusually far south latitude. Its rapid intensification was not forecast by any model, highlighting the need to revise our models based upon climate uncertainty and recognition that warming is making storms more intense and less predictable. Matthew along with the developing storm Nicole both showed very rapid rates of escalation, totally unexpected for storms so late in the season.

     

    Impacts in the USA and Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

    Impacts in the Haiti and USA following Hurricane Matthew

    We need to start thinking seriously about reversing climate change and we need to start preparing for the worst. This is why Disaster Risk Reduction is vital. Preparedness and response should be a last resort, we must focus on preventing disasters before they happen. We have got to get better at assessing risk and we have got to stop building things in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Despite uncertainty about the consequences of climate change one thing we do know is that sea levels are rising. We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges so why do we continue to build houses and critical infrastructure on the coast and alongside rivers? This is placing lives and assets in harm’s way.

    Sea level rise 1992 to 2016

    While we fail to act effectively on climate change the world will continue to warm, with more moisture in the atmosphere and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that won’t have significant implications for our disaster risk, whoever we are and wherever we live.

    http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2016/10/07/hurricane-matthew-and-climate-change-what-we-know-so-far/
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?mr=1
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  • Can you trust technology to provide protection from flooding?


    June 30th, 2016

    Practical Action has been working with a number of different partners in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance[1] to explore the factors that build the resilience of communities in developing countries to the threat of floods. One of the features of flood prone communities is the fact that these communities are often fully aware of the risk, but some economic or social benefit leads to them discounting the risk to live in the at risk location.

    We are now entering the monsoon season and once again the flood protection and early warning systems will be tested. Is it right to trust in technology alone? The story of what happened in Nepal during the monsoon season of 2014 is a timely reminder, when several communities along the Babai River learned the hard way of the problem of discounting risk and relying on technology.

    Nepal Monsoon 2016Rainfall maps for June 2016 the start of the Monsoon

    In mid-August 2014, three days of torrential monsoon rainfall led to the widespread floods in Western Nepal. The floods killed 222 people and had a major impact on 120,000 others, damaging infrastructure and property and displacing households[2]. The communities along the Babai River were particularly badly affected whereas neighbouring communities on the Karnali River were not. We have learned some interesting insights into how two apparently similar situations impacted the local people in very different ways.

    Trust in Early Warning System

    The communities along the Babai River had just been provided with a brand new flood early warning system. This system copied a system installed by Practical Action on the Karnali river but had only just been installed and had therefore not been tested in a flood. Unexpected and extreme rainfall in the catchment led to a rapid rise in the river. The rapid rise in the waters resulted in the gauge reader abandoning the gauge station to find safety on higher ground, unfortunately in an area with limited cell phone coverage. The gauge reader was finally able to contact the authorities but the river was already above danger levels and floodwaters had engulfed villages downstream of the gauge. Unfortunately, the communication chain via radio had not been practiced. The police did not know who to contact next, leading to delays. The local government office finally received the gauge reader’s warning, but did not understand its implications. Ultimately, sirens in Bardiya only sounded to indicate warning levels had been reached, but the sirens did not sound to communicate danger levels.

    Guage Reader Mrs Gurung (Chaisapani)The Early Warning station on the neighbouring Karnali River

    Trust in River Protection measures

    The warnings that did reach communities along the Babai River were not well heeded. Those who thought they were not in the path of the flood judging, by previous experience, did not move to safety. For others, it had been over six years since the last large flood and they were sceptical that significant flooding was imminent. In addition they thought that the new irrigation canal constructed upstream would siphon flood water away from their community. Others believed that the river protection measures recently installed along the river banks would protect them. But this trust was flawed. Floodwaters flowed from unexpected places due to embankment failures; due to floodwaters being transported via irrigation canals; and due recent constructions blocking, disrupting and shifting flows. In addition the theft of large stones from the embankments weakened them when otherwise they may have prevailed.

    River bank protectionLow tech embankment being constructed to protect communities

    The installation of physical capital in the form of early warning systems and the construction of flood barriers are only part of the solution. People’s perceptions of flood risk are greatly influenced by their knowledge of the cause of floods[3]. For a holistic approach to flood resilience building it is vital to build social and human capacities as well as physical. Increasing the knowledge of citizens about the causes of flooding will increase flood risk awareness, and it is particularly important to target individuals who are unaware of or ignore the high risk exposure they face. In addition the underlying foundations of resilience depend on respect for the natural capital the foundation upon which the flood events unfolds. Finally in poor community’s access to financial capital will be required to implement protection and preparedness measures and to ensure an adequate and robust social safety net is in place to provide for people when things go wrong.

    [1] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/partnerships-drr/zurich-flood-resilience-alliance

    [2] https://www.zurich.com/_/media/dbe/corporate/docs/corporate-responsibility/risk-nexus-karnali-river-floods-nepal-july-2015.pdf?la=en

    [3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2009WR007743/full

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  • Technology Justice is critical to reduce risk for the poorest


    February 7th, 2016

    Technology can greatly enhance the ability of disaster-affected communities to reduce their risk thus preventing natural hazards turning into human disasters.

    Technology has driven our development. Key technological innovations have heralded revolutions in the way we interact with the environment, but this drive for development has now started to threaten our future. Many scientists are proposing that we have now entered a new epoch “The Anthropocene”. This started when human activities began to have a significant impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Climate change is a symptom of the anthropocene, as unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels threatens the future viability of this planet as a home for us and future generations.

    technology

    The consequences of this global imbalance is felt most by those who are least responsible for causing the problem in the first place. Climate change threatens to deprive poor people of their livelihoods, damage infrastructure, lower productivity and ignite social tensions. The response to climate change will consume resources that could otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and can wipe out years of development in seconds. Humanitarian assistance often arrives too late, when loss and damage has already occurred. Practical Action believes that the goal of development should be to create sustainable wellbeing for all, wellbeing that is resilient and not easily eroded by external shocks and stresses. We must not rely on humanitarian response alone. Communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of changing climate should be prioritised for action and under the Paris agreement technology will be central to how the global community responds to climate change. But the way in which technology is accessed, innovated and used is critical to the effectiveness of this response, especially for communities who face extreme or recurrent natural hazards.

    Technologies exist that have the potential to reduce the exposure of poor and vulnerable populations around the world, but technologies are either not rolled out or are not functioning to provide communities with usable information about their risk. Technologies can manifest in different ways to alter community risk. Technology is central to monitoring risk exposure and technology is central to support people to respond to risk. But poor communities continue to be hit by regular disasters with no advance warning. What are the underlying conditions that create this disconnect between technology and vulnerability?

    technology tramsformation

    It is clear that access to technology and its benefits are not equally shared. The current innovation system is not working. Without change, it will continue to drive injustice, inequality and lead to avoidable damage and destruction. It is time to overhaul how technology and its innovation are governed, in order to ensure the wellbeing of all people and the planet.

    Technology Justice Call to Action

    Be part of a movement for Technology Justice. Check out our call and be part of the change!

    • http://www.anthropocene.info/
    • http://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

     

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  • Merry Christmas, goodbye and thank you!


    December 15th, 2015

    At the end of December I’ve chosen to leave Practical Action after 15 years. For me it’s time for a new challenge and I’ll start 2016 full of the spirit of adventure – news of any challenging opportunities gratefully received. I’m excited to explore what next.

    But I leave too with great hope and great sadness.

    Hope because of the transformation I’ve seen in the lives of people who work together with Practical Action across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Because of the brilliance of our education work which is helping European citizens think differently about technology, poverty, and our world. We need to work for a changed world together.

    And because of our work at Practical Action on knowledge – maximising the impact of everything we do, and helping others share their learning through podcasts, answering enquiries on a one to one basis often face to face, our call centre serving farmers and fisherfolk in Bangladesh, web based info in Peru….. and so much more. I first came to know Practical Action through Practical Action Publishing and remain a huge fan. Today our work on knowledge – sharing rather than hoarding – helps millions of people each year. It’s just amazing!

    I not only hope, but know, Practical Action will continue to make a difference in our world – providing practical solutions to poverty, working together with communities, sharing learning and respecting the finite nature of our planet.

    But I also feel sadness.

    Sadness because I leave a great group of people – committed individually and as a global organisation to helping communities escape poverty. Their passion, hard work, dedication to inclusive development is just amazing.  I will miss all of the Practical Action teams for different reasons – but the golden thread throughout is their commitment.

    Sadness too because I’ve had some great times – I remember listening to two amazing children in a remote village in Bangladesh talk not only about Practical Action but their aspirations for their lives, laughing with women in Zimbabwe building a micro hydro who when I tried to help discovered how weak I am, and the posher things too – talking at conferences, meetings with our Patron, HRH, The Prince of Wales, exploring ideas and work with big business, even being forced to give impromptu speeches in various parts of the world. I’ll miss lots of things I’ve got to do with Practical Action – it’s been challenging, exciting and fun.

    But my biggest sadness is that we haven’t achieved what we set out to do – the lives of many people are better, access to energy for poverty reduction is now firmly on the global agenda, and indoor air pollution ‘Smoke – The killer in the Kitchen’ (the first Practical Action campaign I led – together with the brilliant team) is recognised as a major health hazard  – but technology – which could help so many people and issues, is still is developed primarily to meet the wants of the rich not the needs of all and our planet.  I am not in any way arguing that technology is all that’s needed to change our world but technology is a lever, a way of making a difference in a big way – people talk about systemic change (big picture, the long term). Technology can be a driver of systemic change – a different approach to technology, one that focused on the big challenges in our world would be soooo exciting!

    One of the things I like about Practical Action is that we work with the pragmatic, the possible, the now, but we also dream of bigger change – a world where technology is used to help end poverty and protect our planet.

    Whatever I do next I will continue painting a picture of the exciting and different way our world could be.

    And finally in what’s turned out to be a much longer piece than I imagined – I want to say goodbye to our supporters – you have inspired, challenged, enthused and humbled me, and you are brilliant!

    Have a wonderful Christmas.  And I hope we all – around the world – have a brilliant and peaceful 2016.

    Margaretdarfur boy with goats

     

    Ps The picture is of a boy in Darfur, Sudan where I saw some of the most amazing work Practical Action was doing in the middle of conflict, and through our work trying to lessen conflict. Reminded me that change is possible.

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  • COP21 Paris update


    December 8th, 2015

    Week 2 Day 2; UN Climate Change Conference, are we there yet?

    With 48 hours left to reach agreement on the text for a climate change agreement the atmosphere in Paris is mixed with some believing an agreement will be reached, while many are worried that it will not be robust enough to deliver. The negotiations started on a high note with 150 heads of state making bold statements outlining the urgency of action and the potential threat if we fail to tackle climate change. Many leaders highlighted the importance of international cooperation and the need to stand by the poorest and most vulnerable as they face the consequences of changing climates.

    DC NS

    David Cameron made an opening address and Nicola Sturgeon spoke at a side event on Scotland’s commitments

    The numerous side events supported by parties and observers have highlighted the consequences of inaction on climate change.  We have heard from poor people in coastal areas whose livelihoods have been disrupted by powerful cyclones and fish stocks decimated by ocean acidification. In the negotiations the small island states have eloquently reported on the migration challenge they face as sea level rise threatens their land.  Poor farmers from Africa, Asia and Latin America have taken to the podium to speak about the loss of their crops due to failure of rains or harvests decimated by unknown outbreaks of pests and diseases. The 5th report of the IPCC documents the scientific basis for climate change, unfortunately this report also highlights that we are not all equally impacted, that not everyone has access to the resources and services to respond when disaster strikes.

    So given the recognised urgency and apparent political will why is an agreement at risk?  Key challenges remain around differentiation, finance and means of implementation.  Differentiation is recognition that not everyone is equally responsible for the mess we are in. If we take historical emissions into account the developed world is responsible for at least 60% of global emissions. The recent economic development in nations such as China and India is adding to the global carbon budget, so what is needed now is a mechanism whereby some nations reduce emissions quickly to provide enough carbon space for developing economies to eradicate extreme poverty and meet their development potential. To resolve differentiation needs equity to allocate fair shares of the carbon budget.  For countries that have used their carbon budget in the past they will have less in the future and vice-versa. This would allow every country to know their limits and thus develop clear targets on mitigation – developed or developing – in their national development plans.

    Finance is potentially the biggest hurdle to an agreement by Friday. The historic failure of the developed economies to meet previous promises and lack of clarity on future promised finance threaten to derail an agreement. If the leaders were honest about international cooperation the developed world need to be clear on its commitment to help those who are not to blame for the present climate problem. One simple way to achieve this goal would be to cancel subsidies to fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency tells us that to keep to 2oC target – as agreed in Copenhagen – we need to keep 2/3 of all know fossil fuels in the ground.  So why do we continue to invest billions to identify new fossil fuel deposits and why are we wasting money on fracking?

    Dollar Bill

    Means of implementation includes the legal mechanism, how the agreement will be monitored and enforced and the issue of loss and damage. The agreement needs to describe a process that delivers the finance and support necessary so that we stay on track. In particular the agreement must have checks and balances to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

     

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  • Climate change – the last call?


    December 6th, 2015

    Not a history lesson but a reminder of the urgency of moving from talk to practical action.

    In 1972 a group of scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a highly respected US university) published a report ‘The last call’.  In it they argued that the planets resources were finite and we were getting close to the limit.  We could slow down, change course, find a new pattern to our existence slowly or continue as now eventually leading to catastrophic change.

    Whichever way change was coming.

    A few months ago I sat in the House of Commons and watched a film about the report and what followed. The Club of Rome published a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’ which sold 30 million copies. President Carter embraced the idea and talked to the American people about change. But President Reagan who followed revoked the idea, insisting growth was good, growth was essential to the American way of life.

    Forty plus years on it was a history lesson. But in some ways the Carter – Reagan tension continues played out on a bigger, now global scale.

    Change is happening.

    flooding in BangladeshFor many poor communities catastrophic change is already happening with the increased frequency and strength of cyclones, more flooding, more drought. In Ethiopia they are facing the worst drought for 30 years. In Zimbabwe when I was there earlier this year I heard people talking about changes in rainfall patterns that were devastating harvests.

    In the UK this weekend in the North of England and Scotland we’re experiencing severe flooding. And over the past decade in the UK we’ve seen record breaking rainfall (and our records go back to 1879). It’s impossible to link any individual severe weather event with climate change – but these increases in the severity of rain i.e. harder, more intense rainfall, tie in with the predicted impacts.

    The reality is that poorest and therefore most vulnerable people – whether in the developing world or in the UK – feel the impact of climate change first and hardest . We need to take action.

    The Time for Change is now.

    The perceived tension between protecting our planet and economic growth continues to polarise the climate change debate. But if we grow in a way that destroys our ability to inhabit our planet – how does that make sense?

    As world leaders gather in Paris for the UNFCCC meeting I read in the press that there’s optimism a deal can be agreed – not enough to keep warming below the vital limit of 2 degrees but a step in the right direction.

    I also read that we may have hit a peak in emissions.

    And that renewable energy is now outperforming fossil fuels.

    Maybe change is starting?

    But for change to happen it needs to move beyond political agreement

    Agreement in Paris will be a first step in the right direction. But even if there is agreement the ‘devil will be in the detail.’  Fine words are relatively easy but implementation more difficult – and sometimes easy to ignore, or just too difficult to make happen.

    So sadly to repeat the words of MIT 43 years ago – change is coming, it will happen, we can plan or we can have it forced upon us but the days of choice are getting shorter and the human stakes much higher.

    I believe that if we care about poverty reduction, about people and our planet, we will make immediate, deep and binding change happen now. And plan so that what I hope will be the amazing rhetoric of the UNFCCC conference, the great agreement becomes experienced reality.

    This next week is a time of opportunity – lets hope our world leaders step up and make change happen.

     

     

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