Blogs tagged as water

  • Still visiting Kenya

    September 25th, 2013

    I am sure that everyone reading this will be aware of the awful events still unfolding in Nairobi with over 60 people killed, and almost 200 hundred injured following attacks by an armed group.

    On Saturday I was still at home in the UK with a ticket booked for Nairobi the following day. As the first news filtered through, I began to get concerned calls from friends and relatives checking I was not already in Kenya, and asking if I felt safe to proceed with my planned trip.  My immediate answer was  – “yes of course”.  Though I did check with the local Practical Action office that they were still happy to host me.

    Having been here for three days now, and with the final stages of the hijacking not yet fully resolved, it’s impossible to understate how horrific events must have been for people involved or their relatives.  Thankfully none of our own staff were directly affected.  However, at the same time I think it’s important to recognise how much Nairobi, and Kenya is determined to “get on with business”.

    Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

    Hygiene lessons in Nakuru

    Yesterday I was in Nakuru, with two new Board members of Practical Action Kenya, and while they were keen to keep up to date with events, they were also excited to discover our work on the ground.  Here we are working in an amazing partnership with local county authorities; water companies; banks; landlords and civil society groups. Our target?  To ensure that everyone in Nakuru has access to a toilet.  While this may not sound that challenging, when you think that of the 190,000 people living in the low income areas of Nakuru, only 15% currently use a toilet today, you might begin to understand that this is quite a stretch.

    In the middle of the day I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who we helped to set up a waste collection company which cleans up low income communities and also makes him and his colleagues a small income.

    Having made the decision to come to Kenya, do I still think it was the right thing to do?  Yes, absolutely.  It has made me realise that while there is terrible news unfolding in Kenya, there are also some really positive stories.  Of course the story of Practical Action, toilets, and waste collectors won’t reach the headlines, but I do think it important that people know that there are other things going on.


    On Saturday 21st September, between 10-15 heavily armed terrorists invaded the busy Westgate mall, in upmarket Nairobi (Westlands). The mall has several food courts and on that particular day, there was a young chefs competition – which meant, that there were several children at the Mall with their mothers.  Al-Shabaab/Al Qaeda groups have claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack was conducted at midday, when the Mall is at its busiest. The official number of deaths currently stands at 68 (official figure) and several others (around 200) with varying degree of bullet/shrapnel injuries. Official reports state a minimal number of hostages are yet to be rescued. The operation is led by the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenya Police with assistance from Israeli, US and UK advisors. The terrorists have refused to negotiate – they want Kenya Defence Forces to pull out of Somalia.  On the fourth day, as Kenya enters a three day period of national mourning, we are all hoping and praying that the siege is over,  people can grieve, bury their dead, and nurse their wounds.

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  • Solar powered water pump installed in Kenya

    Over the weekend Practical Action installed a solar powered water pump in Northern Kenya (Click here for more pictures). The benefits for the community will be huge, especially for Meshack.

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack can now access clean water

    Meshack is 12 and he wants to be a teacher. However, his chances of doing so had been severely disrupted because he couldn’t get hold of clean water. Listen to a heartfelt account of a boy who has suffered greatly because of a lack of clean water:

    Find out how solar water pumps can help people like Meshack.

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  • Dying for a drink in Turkana, Kenya

    I’m writing from Practical Action’s office in Lodwar, Turkana having returned from an intense three days in the field visiting our water and sanitation projects here. I’m particularly interested in how our solar powered pumps are improving the lives of the Karamoja people who we’re working with.

    First of all, I have huge respect for these proud people. Turkana is Hot! Every day the temperatures soared above 35 degrees, and at night things cool down to a balmy 25 … The environment is harsh – dry sandy soil, a few scrubby bushes and acacia trees, very little water. The fact that they make any living at all here is testament to their toughness, determination and ingenuity. I also have to thank them for their hospitality. I slept under the stars in the chief of the Lobei Karamoja’s compound disturbed only by gunfire (once) and cockerels (lots).

    I’m dirty and dehydrated but what I’ve seen really makes think about what ‘dying for a drink’ really means.

    In Turkana there are 3 ways to die for a drink …

    1 … From the dirty contaminated water that most people are forced to drink – hand scooped holes in dry riverbeds many miles from home are the most common water source and they are shared with animals. Cholera is common here.

    2 … In the act of collecting water from 5-metre-deep pits, hand-dug in the sandy bed of a dried up river – these collapse regularly, and last week in Lorengippi 3 people died collecting water in one of these.

    3 … Or by violence – water, even dirty, contaminated water, is so precious here that people guard their access rights forcefully. I watched two women and a girl lifting water from the bottom of the pit for their goats and donkeys – all the while watched over by two warriors with loaded guns.  Come to collect water at the wrong time here and you will be risking your life.

    But things are changing in Lobei and now in Lorengipi. In October last year Practical Action, working in partnership with the people of Lobei, installed a solar pump, pipes, storage tanks and tap-stands so that now the women and girls have to walk no further than 500 metres to collect the water they need. Specially constructed troughs have been built to water the animals, meaning now that they don’t share a water source with people. Girls are now able to go to school, and in Lobei, the number of girls enrolled at the primary school exceeds that of boys for the first time. The head-teacher there is a trailblazer in many ways – one example was his kitchen garden and we saw the first ripe maize picked as we visited. So much change in so short a time.

    In Lorengippi I watched as a new solar pump was installed, storage tanks raised and tap-stand built. For this community, water is a life and death matter. Conflict over water here is common. The boarding school has existed here since the late 60s. Children board as it is too dangerous to walk back and forth. In all those 40+ years the school has never been connected to water and never had latrines. Pupils walked 3km to collect water for breakfast and again for dinner, each time risking their lives to get it, and their health by drinking it. Open defecation in the fields surrounding the school was common, and the whirlwinds and seasonal rains brought all the faecal dust back into the school. Illness was common, learning didn’t happen and exam results suffered. Now the school is connected to the solar system, water is on tap at the school and new latrines have been built for boys and girls. Small, but important changes for these children, yet dramatically impacting their future.

    I need to stop writing now, the sun is overheating my laptop and I need to get a drink before sunstroke sets in … I’m going to be thinking more carefully about where that drink comes from now.

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  • Water is life, only if it’s safe!

    The recent (2011) census in Nepal revealed that 82.78% of people have access to improved drinking water supply. The figure is satisfying as it indicates crossing the MDG target and approaching the national target of universal coverage. However, there is a big question mark in the quality aspects. Water is a good solvent; it’s often called a universal solvent as many substances are easily dissolved in. Therefore, there is always risk of water contamination. It’s thought that most people are not aware about impurities in water and just judge water with their senses like sight or smell.

    Water chocking around the tube-well

    Water chocking around the tube-well

    A survey conducted by Practical Action in six urban poor communities of mid-western Nepal (Bardiya) in 2009 showed that drinking water is contaminated  chemically (ammonia, phosphate, iron and arsenic) and biologically (presence of e-coli). Nevertheless, 89% of respondents in the survey were happy with the quality of drinking water. It was also found that 98% of people didn’t practice any water purifying methods before consumption.

    Many people in the developing world – 35% of people in Nepal (census 2011) – rely on tube wells or hand pumps for drinking water. Mostly tube wells extract water from the first aquifer or ground water up to 20 feet. It’s seen that ground water sources in such cases are easily contaminated because of the lack of appropriate management. In many cases in Bardiya, a small pond of stagnant water forms near tube wells. In such cases how can quality water be expected? Further, it is found that water handling and storage is also an issue.

    No doubt, water is life, but we need to consider both quantity and quality. Some simple steps like education on water quality, low cost household water treatment options, platform improvement for tube wells, grey water management and proper water handling can make a big difference in water quality that ultimately leads to a healthier life.

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  • It’s all in the name……or is it?

    November 14th, 2012

    Some years ago Practical Action was called Intermediate Development Technology Group – am I pleased we changed it! Moving from ITDG wasn’t a universally popular decision but calling ourselves Practical Action better describes what we do.

    Many of our projects also have titles which describe perfectly to an organisation, say like the European Commission, what the project is about, but do they tell you what a difference the work will make to someone’s life?  Take, ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’, for example. Nothing wrong with the title, it describes exactly what the project is about, but does it tell you what the project will achieve? As a fundraiser, I want to give Trustees/Administrators of Trusts and Foundations, an immediate and human sense of what a difference the project will make to people’s lives. If you don’t engage very busy people, who receive hundreds of proposals a year, in the first few words, how can you expect them to read on to learn more about what an exciting project it is that you’re pitching to them. So what did we call ‘Community Led Approaches Complementing Sustainable Service Delivery for WASH Action in Zimbabwe’ – while pondering an alternative title, a staff member who happened to be passing, suggested ‘Now Wash Your Hands….’ – genius! Familiar, short and says exactly what one of the aims of the project is. Because that’s what the project hopes to achieve – providing clean water and good quality sanitation for communities in rural Zimbabwe, but as importantly, the water supply to wash their hands after using the toilet, and the knowledge that such an action significantly reduces diseases previously spread by poor hygiene habits.

    Any suggestions for an alternative title for ‘Improving the Capacity of Sub National Risk Management Systems and Building the Resilience of Communities Vulnerable to Disaster in Peru’?

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  • Healthier homes

    November 12th, 2012

    Practical Action’s SWASHTHA project is addressing major environmental health risks, such as indoor air quality, water quality, sanitation and hygiene to create healthy homes and benefit 30,000 women and children and family members in these households.  We are working with people, mainly women and children,  from the socially excluded communities and marginalised ethnic and other caste groups in urban areas of Bharatpur, Butwal, Gularia and Tikapur municipalities.

    Helen Watson

    Most memorable moment: Two really super bits for me personally today, firstly interviewing the woman from the co-op about her life and family and also sketching at the Dalit village with a huge crowd of little children watching.

    Best person you met today:  The interviewee – she was so gracious and willing, after a little initial hesitancy, and it was great to find that life for her family had most certainly improved because of the Practical Action dairy project.

    What made you stop and think? So much! Again, being impressed by the calibre of Practical Action’s staff. Today it was Prakesh, the vet. So clear what value there is in being able to provide such professional expertise where it is needed. Good to see the mutual respect of all who are involved.

    Anything else you want to say? I had to remind myself not to romanticise the life of the villagers. On such a lovely sunny day like this, with such welcomes everywhere, it looked good.

    David Watson

    Most memorable moment:  Watching Helen and a Nepali woman totally engaged with each other while Practical Action supporters, local villagers and children milled around them.

    Best person you met today:  Pratibha Acharya, a 17 year old Nepali girl currently in school and planning to go on to college and study farm management.

    What made you stop and think?

    Anything else you want to say? Last visit to Nawalparasi library didn’t work well because we met nobody who had personally benefitted from Practical Action work or projects.

    Warwick Franklin

    Most memorable moment: The visit to the SWASTHA village and the changes to people’s lives by water, improved kitchens, and proper loos. Helen sketching by the river!

    Best person you met today:  Shanta Lama, a lady interviewed about SWASTHA  and her comment about her improved kitchen which had led to fewer arguments!

    What made you stop and think? The loss of land suffered by the farmer, Mana Badudur, at the DIPECHO site but his belief that he is no longer scared and felt safe/secure

    Judy Mallaber

    Most memorable moment:  Keshab Raj Achasoja and Ram Hazi Avyal heartily and joyously singing from the Muhabarat at the Thiskuni Community Library. Keshab co-ordinates the library’s religious programme – providing a place, musical instruments and books for those in the community wanting to celebrate their religion. He just took down a copy of the Muhabarat from the shelves and started singing and his friend joined in – infectious joy and a great picture He said, ‘Before the library we could just eat and sleep, take care of the animals, sometimes play cards. Now people come here, see all the books and magazines and know about the rest of the world.’

    Best person you met today:  Prakesh who runs the Kamadhere DFID-funded Practical Action project helping farmers with getting decent breeding stock, advice and expertise on food, help on animal health and much more. A great find for Practical Action as he trained as a vet for 5 ½ years at the only vet college in Nepal – others there went abroad to make a living, while Prakesh went to an NGO to use his skills for the community and then to Practical Action to set up and run an inspiring project with local co-operatives to produce more food and improve the livelihoods of some of the poorest.

    What made you stop and think? Two examples of harnessing the knowledge of experts to help people help themselves  1. Prakesh and his work as a vet with local farmers 2. The Practical Answers interactive session at the library – Kemal Kent Singh, agricultural technician with a local agricultural company with expertise in manure, fertilisers and plants – was the expert brought in to answer interactively by computer the latest batch of questions from the farmers.

    Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing.  All kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!

    Terry Downie

    Most memorable moment:  At Shree Kamadhenu Milk Co-operative Improved Cattle Resource Centre (phew!) the gentle pride and love shown in the way the men talked bout their cows and touched them, and talked about them.

    Best person you met today:  At the Grass Cultivation Centre, the man who explained how Napier grass is cut and gave me a root of it. Also the man who invited me to see his new house and his cows but then said actually his wife built the house. And the man who wanted me to see his 600 chickens.  

    What made you stop and think? At the Dalit village – Chainspur – I thought the cow-funding arrangements surprisingly tight and fast-moving (11 families per month enabled to buy cows) and I guess I began to grasp how much involvement there is from members of groups – co-ops, Practical Action, UKAID, Nepali, community forest user group, etc, etc – and banks, chambers of commerce etc. And at the library, Practical Answers’ support on technical queries – after local experts have been asked to solve issues raised at Community meetings.

    Anything else you want to say? Children – lots of wonderful incidents today with great children enjoying being photographed and being indulged by their families and all on the Practical Action expedition, from 6 year old Aurit who had to be in, and pose for, every photo and clearly should be a Hollywood star – to 11 and 12 year old Deepika, Gianga and Pabitra (and their nan) who already learned quite a bit of English and had lovely writing. Ll kids and families have benefitted from the projects we saw – and some of whom now have higher expectations of their future than we would have heard some years ago. When did Nepalese children learn words like ‘handshake’ and ‘high five’? Lots of laughter and smiles – great!

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  • Water problems know no gender

    During a recent conversation with Reckson Matengarufu, one of our Project Officers working on water and sanitation projects in the Gwanda District,  I was amazed with the way the community has been transformed by this project, with women now taking an active role in water and sanitation issues.

    Zimbabwe’s rural populations are largely conservative.  Men take a leading role in most activities. But, this is changing in the project’s target wards, where, in the past, women were only responsible for fetching water and taking care of household chores. It was taboo for them to be seen getting involved on issues to do with borehole repairs and maintenance as it was considered a men’s job. Now,  that migration from rural to urban areas has increased in Zimbabwe, and particularly in Gwanda where  men seek greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa, women have been left to fend for themselves.

    In a very dry environment like Gwanda, water is scarce, broken water points mean that women and girls bear the brunt of walking long distances to fetch water for daily domestic use.

    Faced with these challenges, do women really have to wait for their husbands to come back home during the holidays and service the boreholes? NO!, women in Gwanda have been empowered and are now able to carry out borehole maintenance tasks and repairs  efficiently.  Men and women can now work together for the benefit of their communities.

    Water is scare in rural Gwanda

    Mrs. Mary Mufiri (52), one of the women who has taken a new role as a pump minder is a mother of four. Her husband has been working in South Africa since 1998.

    She told me, “I am very proud of this role that I now have within the village. Before this, some of our water points had not been working for very long periods. This meant that we has to walk up to 5 kilometres to fetch water or use unprotected sources.”


    This work is a result of Practical Action Southern Africa’s three year project  “Enhancing Community Participation in Governance of Water and Sanitation Service Delivery in Rural Gwanda District” which began in August 2011, funded by the European Commission.  The project seeks to contribute towards democratising the management and governance of communal water and sanitation  infrastructure in Zimbabwe, demonstrating inclusive and replicable approaches for the delivery of basic water and sanitation services.  You can find out more about Practical Action’s water and sanitation programme here.

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  • Global Handwashing Day in Kenya

    October 15th, 2012

    What difference we made? I asked our team members and partners in Nakuru, where we are leading this with the Ministry of Public Health. They said that traditionally it used to be a high level meeting, when politicians and senior government officials come and deliver speeches. We have taken this day to the lowest income areas and involved the community. Brought new methods, technologies and approaches. It fits very well with our sanitation programme in Nakuru. We saw a very high turnout of people and a good media coverage.

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  • Living with drought in Mandera

    It has been 12 months since Northern Kenya, and Mandera County in particular, saw one of the worst droughts in 60 years.

    Thanks to your support, Practical Action was able to help thousands of poor people cope with the drought. But we need your help more than ever to ensure that the region doesn’t slip back into crisis when the next drought occurs.


    Mandera County has an area of over 25,000 square kilometres of dry land and a population of 1,025,000 people. Most of these people are pastoralists who depend on their livestock to survive.

    As we were already working in this area we expanded our services to help those most at risk.

    Impact of the 2011 drought

    Due to the failure of the rains from October to December 2010, water sources dried up and pastures diminished. Many livestock died as a result and their owners were unable to sustain their livelihoods and feed their families.

    Inadequate and inappropriate economic, social and political preparedness strategies and ineffective early warning systems left pastoralists more vulnerable to the effects of drought. Interventions only begin when the drought impacts have reached emergency levels and the biggest casualty is usually the livestock and their poor owners.

    What Practical Action did and how we did it

    With the onset of the drought, Practical Action, with support from The Brooke and The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) launched an emergency programme of work to minimize the losses of pastoralist livestock and donkeys.

    We set up a feeding and vaccination programme for sheep and goats.

    Donkey health service drives were provided to reduce worm infestations and treat opportunistic diseases that would have weakened donkeys or led them to early deaths.

    We trained donkey owners and handlers to take care of their working animals to ensure no donkey died from thirst and overworking and distributed hay and feed to over 5,000 donkeys.

    9,000 litres of diesel was provided to seven boreholes to support extension work on animal welfare at watering points. Crucially, water was also provided for villages located far away from water points. Four water troughs were rehabilitated, cracks repaired and piping done to connect it to a permanent water source.

    Together with SPANA, we launched a media campaign to highlight the plight of livestock and their poor owners at the time when governments, aid agencies and international communities were concentrating their efforts on refugees. You can see the coverage here. Following this coverage, the UK government pledged an additional £4 million to support livestock in the region.

    Without our urgent intervention and the intervention by others, the drought ravaging the region at that time could have got a lot worse.

    What is the situation now?

    Mandera County received some good short rains between October and December 2011. However, the long rains expected between March and May this year were below the normal level. A total of 54.4 mm of rainfall was recorded at Mandera meteorological station, compared to the normal rains of 100 to 150 mm. The pasture condition is normal but dry.

    The condition of livestock is fair to good. However, this is expected to deteriorate as pastures dry up and water sources diminish over the summer, which will increase stress on the animals before the onset of the short rains in October to November 2012.

    There is also low calving among cattle and camel due to the low conception rate during the last year’s drought. As a result, there is not much milk from camels and cattle.

    What do we need to do as we look ahead?

    Droughts are cyclical – they will return to the region. During every drought nearly 80% of Mandera’s population slide into an emergency situation –  losing livestock which lead to hunger, malnutrition and even death. That is why we need your help to support our work, so we can:

    •  Provide fuel subsidy for motorized water pumps running boreholes so these pumps can run 24/7 while poor pastoralists are unable to contribute to its running costs as a result of their animals losing value or dying. Support should also come in form of fast moving spare parts and expertise for water pump repairs.
    •  Introduce water/pasture saving, treatment and conservation technologies
    •  Maintain livestock food aid and animal health services to cushion the poor livestock owners from shocks that would diminish their livestock during drought.
    •  Initiate long term recovery activities such as de-silting and repairing strategic water sources, vaccinating and de-worming livestock to make them better able to stand adverse conditions, and supporting fodder producers with fuel subsidy and irrigation technologies.
    •  Advise pastoral communities to use reserve grazing land if available or to sell their livestock well before the water and pasture situation becomes critical.
    •  Rehabilitate degraded rangeland to eventually improve pasture availability.
    •  Facilitate animal health services and emergency livestock feed services along the livestock routes running between common border areas with Ethiopia and Somalia. This will help reduce economically important trans-boundary livestock diseases during the period of huge livestock influx between porous borders.
    •  Lobby for the suspension of taxes and service fees levied on livestock sellers during the emergency period to help in emergency off-take.

    Please help us to continue to support these vulnerable people in Kenya.

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  • Third European Report on Development (2011-12)

    May 24th, 2012

    This report is released recently and considered to have a major say in the development policy. This is available at;

    While, I am still reading it, but out of excitement, can’t stop myself writing this blog. Part of my excitement, is to see a number of priorities in the report which Practical Action has been asking for, piloting in our countries of work and building capacity of our partners.

    First of all, the report is asking for an integrated thinking on water, land and energy, so called – The WEL Nexus. This is at the heart of what we do, as one action in a place may have a positive or negative impact at another place, group or another time. All is interlinked.

    Second is putting forward an agenda for change, an agenda of inclusive growth. The growth which could increase livelihoods of the poor and most importantly making the private sector business model more inclusive.

    Then finally, what I really liked about the report is what it is saying on the combination of public and private sector actions. Not just leaving this to the markets to sort out. My reading and reflection continue and will update you in my next blog.

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