Friday, May 25, 2012

Supporting humanitarian innovations

AID POLICY: Supporting humanitarian innovations

Photo: Motivation
Have wheels, can travel
LONDON, 21 May 2012 (IRIN) - A sturdy wheelchair specially designed for emergency situations; a network of local radio stations providing real-time mapping of developing crises; a compendium of ideas for getting better accountability in remotely managed programmes - they are all original ideas and all have been funded from a special pot of money created to foster new thinking in humanitarian practice.

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) was set up just over 18 months ago, with money from the UK’s Department for International Development, the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Canadian International Development Agency. It has so far given six small grants (up to US$32,000) and eight large grants (up to $238,000). Its manager, Nicolas Kroger, says what they have been trying to do is not just give grants, but also learn about innovation. “We are interested in `How do you innovate?’ and `What brought you to innovate?’ In a way the grant-making is just an excuse for the rest.”

Of course, for the applicants, it was more likely to be about the money, and the news that a new fund was open for business attracted a lot of interest. So far they have had 154 applications for the smaller grants and 570 for the larger sums. Some were from big international NGOs, but an impressive 70 percent came from local NGOs in developing countries. Disappointingly, these smaller NGOs received just one out of 14 grants given so far.

Says Kroger: “Some have really good ideas; it’s just that the way it’s pitched, it’s just not working out. It’s very hard to figure out exactly what’s supposed to be happening in the project. Or sometimes they are just trying their luck with a new donor. And some have obviously very genuine projects but they don’t fit our remit.” Now the fund is organizing a series of regional events to work with small NGOs on the quality of their proposals.

The system of large and small grants is about helping recipients with different stages of the innovation process, some of which, like identifying a problem and starting to think about solutions, don’t actually need large sums of money. Kroger says a lot of applicants did not really understand the concept. “They all tend to go for the big money,” he told IRIN, “which is a shame, and a little bit missing the point, in the sense that we see innovation as a process. It’s not just about your Eureka moment.”

Wheelchair grant

One organization which has embraced the concept is Motivation, an NGO which supports people with mobility disabilities around the world. They had identified a need for a wheelchair which could be used in emergencies like earthquakes, a chair which would be cheap, easy to transport, ready to use without needing complicated assembly, and able to cope with rough terrain. 

Sarah Sheldon, the project manager, told IRIN HIF’s way of working exactly fitted the kind of project Motivation wanted to do. They received one of the small grants, and have used it to design a chair, build the first prototypes, and get the design tested and certified by the International Standards Organization. Now they are applying for one of the larger grants to trial and improve the chair and develop training and support materials for those who will use it.

“The way they [HIF] have of splitting up the funding is really useful,” says Sheldon. “They don’t have to commit to funding something which at the beginning is an unknown quantity, and we don’t have to design the whole project in one go; we can refine our plans as we go along.” 

Radio project in CAR

Another bright idea being tested out with a HIF grant is an Internews project in the Central African Republic (CAR). They are working with a network of 11 community radio stations in remote areas. Every day, journalists in the capital make calls to each of these stations. With the news they receive they compile a daily shared bulletin which they distribute back to the local radio stations, transferring audio files by mobile phone. Meanwhile, the information is also used by the humanitarian community in Bangui to plot incidents such as disease outbreaks, refugee inflows and attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army

Two months into the project Internews’s director for humanitarian information projects, Jacobo Quintanilla, is excited by how well it is going. 

''We see innovation as a process. It’s not just about your Eureka moment''
“We had spent a lot of time looking for funding. International donors are very interested in the whole concept of innovation but this kind of project is still a hard sell in some ways. Donors need to understand that communication is aid. Now the humanitarians are getting information in real time from areas which otherwise they wouldn’t have access to, and we hope that will help them make faster and smarter decisions. And if we are able to demonstrate success in CAR, with all its communications and security difficulties, it can only get better.”

Buying time

In some cases what HIF can do is buy time for busy humanitarian workers to stand back and examine what they are doing and how they are doing it. Paul Byars is a PhD research student at Edinburgh University and a water engineer who has worked in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Now, in association with Concern, he is in Sierra Leone’s Tonkolili District, trying to understand what happens to water projects hastily implemented in post-conflict situations, and how and why they so often fail. 

Mangroves reduce disaster risk, boost income options

Mangroves reduce disaster risk, boost income options in Vietnam

Community members plant mangroves in Vietnam's rural Thanh Hoa province. Photo: Srabani Roy/Asia Foundation
By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
HANOI, Vietnam (AlertNet) – Memories of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Damrey, which struck coastal areas of northern and eastern Vietnam in 2005, are still fresh in Pham Thi Tuyen’s mind.
“The cyclone was (the most) powerful, dreadful and cataclysmic event I had ever witnessed in my life,” recalls the 37-year-old rice paddy farmer.
But Tuyen and other residents of rural Thanh Hoa province feel more confident about withstanding future storms, thanks to a project that takes advantage of the coastal protection offered by mangrove forests.
In the hours before Typhoon Damrey hit in September 2005, with winds of 100 km per hour (60 miles per hour), nearly 300,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas of Thanh Hoa and Nam Dinh provinces.
“We had no choice but to flee for our lives to higher ground, leaving behind everything, including our cattle,” recalled Pham, who lives in the remote coastal community of Da Loc, in eastern Thanh Hoa province, about 175 km (110 miles) south of Hanoi, the capital.
A storm surge ripped apart 3.7 km (2.3 miles) of dykes in front of her village and inundated most of the district’s coastal communities, including agricultural fields, fruit orchards and cattle farms.
But in Da Loc community, one protective dyke, 1.7 km (1 mile) in length, survived the cyclone because it was buffered by thick mangrove forest.
“This was when we realised how stubbornly the mangroves can withstand tropical cyclones like Damrey,” said Vu Xuan Ngoc, a 33-year old fish farmer. “This was a key lesson nature taught us.”
Following Typhoon Damrey and an increasing number of cyclones that have affected Vietnam in the last five years, a number of international non-governmental organisations have begun working in disaster-prone coastal areas of Vietnam, building on evidence that mangroves can play a crucial role in reducing the destruction from cyclones.
A wave’s energy can be reduced by 75 percent if it passes through 200 metres of mangrove forest, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme.
CARE International, a non-governmental organisation working in Vietnam, has launched a project to help Da Loc and other adjoining communes re-establish mangrove forests as “living storm barriers”, said Nguyen Viet Nghi, a senior official at the organisation’s Vietnam project office.
Quoting from a project report, Nguyen said that in Hau Loc district, where Da Loc is situated, the area of coastal land which has mangrove coverage has increased from 15 hectares (37 acres) to more than 250 hectares (620 acres).
The mangrove strip is now nearly 3 km (2 miles) long and 700 metres wide, with more than 2,000 plants per hectare. More than 6,000 people in the six project areas of Thanh Hoa province, along with a further 2,300 people in adjoining project areas, are now better protected against the effects of flooding as a result of the mangroves.
Da Loc is one of six coastal communities of Thanh Hoa province considered highly vulnerable to frequent storm surges, sea level rise, intrusion of salt water and drought, all of which are expected to become more serious threats as a result of changes in the climate and an increase in extreme weather events.
According to the Southern Institute for Water Resources Research in Vietnam, Vietnam has witnessed a 0.5 to 0.7 degrees Celsius rise in temperature over the past 50 years.
The institute says that rainfall has become more erratic and has increased by 10 percent in the northern part of the country, and that the sea level has risen by 20 cm (8 inches) over the same 50-year period, with an anticipated increase of a further 100 cm (39 inches) by 2100.
According to Nguyen, the rapid establishment of the mangrove plantations is due to the active participation of local communities. Members of the six communes in Hau Loc district collectively run mangrove nurseries, selecting and sourcing seeds recommended for the area’s varied local conditions, which can include muddy soils or sandy seabed.
Community members also prepare and plant the mangroves in the new areas. For example, where CARE has provided training, the community has taken responsibility for sustaining the mangrove plantations.
“Experiences in Vietnam’s coastal communes show the value and advantages of (communities) sharing control over key decisions and resources,” said Rolf Herno, CARE International’s coordinator for adaptation learning projects in Africa.
This enables communities to be powerful actors in the fight against poverty and adaptation to climate change,” he added.
Farming is the major source of income for coastal communities such as Da Loc. Nevertheless, the mangrove forests are offering communities an opportunity to diversify their livelihoods and increase the number of ways they are able to earn an income.
The project has incorporated plans to help residents diversify their income sources, in recognition of the fact that people in coastal areas need different livelihood options to help them build up long-term resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Food Security Means Water Too

This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.
As G-8 leaders hold their lengthy discussions about the challenges facing the world, they can reach out to the glass in front of them for a refreshing sip of water. What a luxury! In most places in the world, a sip of water could cause diarrhea or other water-born illness. A bottle of clean water could cost the equivalent of a day's wage.
Reading the latest research about water scarcity in the Middle East, where ANERA works, I was dismayed by statistics that reveal a harsh reality facing one of the world's most arid regions. Experts predict the available water supply in 2050 will be half what it is today for a population that is growing by an average 3 percent a year. And yet, more than 70 percent of scarce water resources are used for agriculture.
The challenge of providing clean water is exacerbated by natural and man-made conditions on and under the ground: desertification, encroaching sea water, natural evaporation, wasteful management, pollution from agriculture run-off -- to name a few. Nonprofit development and humanitarian organizations can do a lot but it takes political will on the part of governments around the globe to find and implement solutions.
The UN children's agency UNICEF estimates that 95 percent of Gaza's groundwater, for example, is unfit to drink. The unclean water poses enormous health risks and increases the financial burden for poor families who have to purchase their water trucked into their communities.
When talking about their commitment to food security, G-8 leaders must not ignore the importance of water to sustaining agricultural development and nourishing the world's ever-growing population with clean water. Water shortages, security experts warn, could destabilize governments no longer able to produce enough food, provide clean drinking water or generate energy.
Water knows no boundaries but competition between neighbors over access and distribution of the precious resource raises tensions and the threat of conflict. Relations often have been strained between Turkey, Iraq and Syria over sharing waters of the Euphrates River. Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians compete over what flows from dwindling Jordan and Yarmuk rivers.

Open Data and Mapping for Disasters and Development

Open Data and Mapping for Disasters and Development

This post is a summary of one that appeared on the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Site and was originally authored by Christina Irene.

"Openness is critical for inclusive development and a thriving civil society"

The above words from Suzanne Kindervatter of InterAction underscored the theme running through a unique gathering at World Bank headquarters in Washington on May 3, 2012. Almost 200 people from more than 70 organizations met for a half-day workshop on free and open source geographic information system―better known as GIS―mapping tools. Mapping experts and development professionals came together under the newly launched “GFDRR Innovation Series” –that brings together individuals and organizations that work on similar issues.

Opening the World’s Data

A key message throughout the day was the need to open data.   Suzanne Kindervatter, Vice President, Strategic Impact, InterAction;(pictured right) stated, At its heart, mapping is about openness. Openness is critical for inclusive development and a thriving civil society. In order for citizens to shape their own development, they need information on development activities, and spending by donors, as well as what their own governments are doing”.

The Value of Participation

In addition to ensuring that data is open, it is also critical that citizens be given the opportunity to participate in its creation. Presenters discussed the tools and engagement strategies from a number of community mapping projects taking place in Haiti, Tanzania, Kenya, and Indonesia. Abby Baca of the World Bank described how, as part of GFDRR'sOpen Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI), the World Bank has partnered;with the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR), the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) , to include citizen-created data in the disaster risk management process. The project has worked with communities to collect valuable structural information on nearly 200,000 buildings in Indonesia ― information that will be used in contingency planning and risk assessment to make the city safer from floods and other natural hazards.
Kate Chapman of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team led a practical workshop on the use of OpenStreetMap, teaching attendees how they themselves could add data to the map and then download it for use in their own projects.  The importance of involving communities in the process of collecting map data was a consistent theme throughout the day.

The Power of Maps

Speaker after speaker made it clear that mapping has the power to protect and save lives. Perhaps nowhere has this become more apparent than in assessing and managing risk.“The disaster risk management (DRM) community and the mapping communityhave a very special relationship,” pointed out Francis  Ghesquiere, Manager DRM Practice Group and Head of the GFDRR Secretariat. “A lot of the advances we’ve made in DRM come from a better understanding of risk, using a number of innovative techniques.  The mapping community has played an important role in helping us to identify 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Global Food Crisis: Sector Results Profile

Global Food Crisis: Sector Results Profile

Available in: ???????FrançaisEspañol
Bank Efforts to Offset Price Shocks Reach Nearly 40 Million People in 44 Countries
The Global Food Crisis Response: Bank Efforts to Offset Price Shocks Reach Nearly 40 Million People in 47 Countries.


The World Bank responded to the food price crisis of early 2008 through the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP), which mixes fast-track funding from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA) with trust fund grants to address the immediate food crisis, while encouraging agricultural systems to build resilience for the future. GFRP resources have currently financed operations amounting to over US$1.5 billion, reaching 40 million vulnerable people in 47 countries, mostly in Africa.

Full Brief—5 Pages
The Global Food Crisis Response: A Quick Response, But Long-Term Solutions—PDF, April 2012


In 2008, sudden and strong staple food price increases eroded household purchasing power, reduced calorie intake and nutrition, and pushed more people into poverty and hunger, making it even harder to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. The 2011 food price spike alone resulted in an estimated net increase of about 44 million more people in poverty in the short run. Changes in wages and farmers’ supply response reduce the negative impact of higher food prices on extreme poverty, but none of these long-term reductions is large enough to offset the initial large negative impact on poverty in the short run. These poor are added to the 1.2 billion people already living below the extreme poverty line of US$1.25 a day.


An era of food crises reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s seemed to return in 2008, requiring methods of delivering aid and support quickly. This led the World Bank to create the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP). In 2008, its immediate efforts included boosting social protection, bolstering affected countries’ fiscal capacities, and maintaining short- and medium-term food production, with grant resources targeted to the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

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Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development Programme

Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development Programme (3-3)

Rio+20 offers the world a unique chance to advance the sustainable development agenda. The conference has three main objectives: to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development, to assess progress and gaps in implementation of agreed commitments, and to address new and emerging challenges. The two themes of the Conference are a green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development.

Mapping Zones of Inundation Risk

One of the keys to improve climate resilience is to strengthen the knowledge management system of countries. UNESCO is fostering research on “Preparedness for Flood Risk Reduction through Mapping and Assessing Risk and Management Options and Building Capacity in Lal Bakaiya Watershed, Nepal”. The project is developing multi hazard maps to better identify flood hazards, and assess vulnerability and climate change risks. The study is also trying to identify and assess structural and non-structural mitigation measures and adaptation options, including strategies to build capacities of key stakeholders through awareness raising, training, networking and institutional strengthening. It is being implemented under the HKH-FRIEND Initiative, with ICIMOD co-funding.

* Education for Disaster Risk Reduction
The disasters in Haiti and Pakistan in 2010 have shown the need for education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels. Indeed, education in disaster risk reduction strategies can save lives and prevent injuries should a hazardous event occur; prevent interruptions to the provision of education, or ensure its swift resumption in the event of an interruption. It also develops a resilient population that is able to reduce the economic, social and cultural consequences.
UNESCO gives policy advice and technical assistance in restoring education systems in post-disaster situations. It is active in advocacy, networking and participation in interagency activities, to make sure that educational needs are addressed in post-disaster settings. It is actively involved in post-disaster programmes.
The Myanmar Education Recovery Programme (MERP) enhances the resilience of the education sector by focusing on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Emergency Preparedness. In order to help the country’s catastrophe contingency plans, UNESCO, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education, has produced a comprehensive multi-stakeholder capacity-building package on
Disaster Risk Reduction in Education which includes a focus on the impacts of climate change. In 2010, over two thousand educators from affected townships in Myanmar participated in training on DRR in education. Furthermore, over one hundred teacher trainers from 20 teacher training institutes in Myanmar received similar training. As a result, over 400 000 students in affected areas have benefited from educational content focused on disaster preparedness.

Tsunami Early Warning Systems

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
(IOC) provides the intergovernmental coordination of tsunami early warning and mitigation systems at both global and regional levels. Overall more than 400 sea level stations are reporting real-time observations through the IOC Sea Level Station Monitoring Facility (up from 25 stations at the end of 2006). The number of seismic stations that deliver data in real time has increased from about 350 in 2004 to more than 1200 today. While lives have been saved by the existing operational tsunami warning systems, the earthquake and tsunami off Tohoku in Japan on 11 March 2011 once more demonstrated that communities living close to potentially tsunamigenic zones should step up their efforts to develop awareness, preparedness and mitigation measures. Development of the tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and North East Atlantic and Mediterranean and Connected Seas are making steady progress. Three tsunami information centres are currently in operation with a fourth to be established.
Four regional systems for global early warning are being established with the support of UNESCO-IOC.
When Japan was hit by an earthquake in March 2011, a tsunami alert was issued 3 minutes after thanks to the Pacific Tsunami Warning System set up by the IOC.
When Japan was hit by an earthquake in March 2011, a tsunami alert was issued 3 minutes after thanks to the Pacific Tsunami Warning System set up by the IOC.

A Tsunami Warning System in the Indian Ocean

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake of 26 December 2004 triggered a basin-wide Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in eleven countries – over 30,000 of them in Sri Lanka, some 1600 kilometres away from the epicentre in Indonesia.
The Indian Ocean tsunami warning system, set up by UNESCO-IOC, became fully operational in October 2011.

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App depicts impact of climate change on planet

An aerial view of a base station monitoring weather and climate change is seen on the Chacaltaya mountain, which is 5300 m (17,388 ft) above sea level, located about 45 km (28 miles) north of La Paz April 16, 2012. REUTERS/David Mercado

Whether it is melting glaciers, coastal erosion or drying lakes, a new app displays the impact of climate change on the planet by using before and after satellite images.
Called Fragile Earth, the app for iPhone and iPad shows how our planet is impacted by global warming by featuring more than 70 sites such the receding Muir Glacier in Alaska, the impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the draining of the Mesopotamia Marshes in Iraq.
"We don't necessarily put an opinion on it," said Jethro Lennox, head of publishing at Collins Geo, a division of Harper Collins UK which created the app. "We're just trying to visually portray some of the geographical features and changes around the world."
The app also shows the impact of natural disasters including the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan and the tsunami in Japan, and how mining, deforestation and dam building have changed areas of the planet.
Users of the app slide birds-eye photographs depicting before and after states of environmental changes.
"When you're looking at the earth changing, it's almost surprising and it shows how amazing the place is," said Lennox. "For years glaciers have been retreating and advancing, and we don't really know exactly why this is taking place. But the rate of some of these changes is amazing."

Expert talks about new flood risk guide

 "Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century" has just been published by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. 

UNISDR was at the Geneva launch and got a short interview with one of the guide's lead authors, Abhas K. Jha, who leads the World Bank programme for disaster risk management in east Asia and the Pacific. 

"If I had to capture the whole guidebook into one sentence I would say 'get the balance right.' Often policymakers err on the side of structural measures -- hard-engineered structures like dams and dykes. They are valuable, but do not solve the problem on their own," said Mr. Jha. 

"There should be a balance between concrete-in-the ground, bio-engineering like mangrove plantation and coastal strengthening, and non-structural measures like early warning systems and better land-use planning." 

Media companies can now be more accountable and transparent, thanks to new guidance

Media companies can now be more accountable and transparent, thanks to new guidance
04 May 2012
​Editorial independence, a journalist’s freedom of expression, and the responsibility a video game creator takes for influencing the mind of a player can now be reported by media companies, thanks to new guidance being launched today (Friday 4 May 2012) at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Press Freedom Day International conference. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines for media companies will help increase transparency and accountability in the media.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental element of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an important sustainability issue. Today’s new guidance – GRI’s Media Sector Supplement – will enable media companies to report their performance. This includes the role of freedom of expression in the company’s values and operations, the effect of financial contributions from governments, and the way the company manages staff in areas where freedom of expression is limited.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework. The GRI Guidelines enable all organizations worldwide, of any size or sector, to report their economic, environmental and social performance. The Media Sector Supplement is a tailored version of the Guidelines, for organizations in the media sector. It enables media companies to be transparent about their activities and performance, and the effect their content has on the audience.

Ernst Ligteringen, Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative, said: “As distributors of news and content, media companies can shape the way the public thinks about issues like climate change or labor conditions. Coverage bias resulting from ownership and advertising has arguably left the public largely unaware of the real consequences of the way we are living on this planet. It’s time for media companies to join the thousands of other organizations that are reporting their sustainability performance and being accountable for their actions.”

Media companies, including television, movie and video game creators, also have a responsibility for the impact and influence their content has on people. This impact and influence is referred to as the ‘brainprint’ of content.

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