Empowering Women in Poor Communities & Building Resilience Against Climate Pressure

Credit: Mahila Housing Trust

By Bijal Brahmbhatt
AHMEDABAD, India, Jan 17 2020 – As global temperatures continue to rise, vulnerable populations around the world are facing increasingly complex climate risks – with ongoing droughts in Zimbabwe and floods devastating Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

From flooding and cyclones to heatwaves and droughts, the stresses and shocks inflicted by growing climate extremes are severe. And they cannot be tackled by one-track solutions, especially in resource-poor developing countries.

Instead, players in the global development space should take a more integrated approach when helping strengthen communities most at risk from climate shocks, to ensure that the interrelated challenges they face are addressed in their entirety.

For instance, in developing countries, rural poor families are often drawn to urban areas in search of better prospects, but often end up living in slums in a vicious cycle of perpetual poverty.

As well as putting greater strain on infrastructure, this displacement exposes them to unsanitary conditions – leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses and climate stresses, and often unable to work or improve their circumstances as a result.

So, for resilience-building solutions to be impactful and work for the whole community, either/or solutions will not suffice. Approaches that are either technical or social might be effective in strengthening one aspect of climate resilience – such as building flood defences, or improving access to potable water – but not more complex, interrelated issues.

It is only by integrating both social and technical approaches to resilience-building that more comprehensive, sustainable solutions can be constructed.

Developing a hybrid model is one way to achieve this, which is precisely what India-based Mahila Housing Trust has done with its mission to empower women in poor communities across South Asia to build resilience against increasing climate pressures.

Founded as an autonomous non-profit in 1994, Mahila Housing Trust has evolved into an agile social enterprise – aided in recent years by mentoring and support from the Global Resilience Partnership.

Using a combined social-technical approach to development, Mahila Housing Trust bridges the gap between poor women within high-risk contexts and mainstream institutions.

Through this hybrid model, it helps women improve their living conditions, build resilience against climate stresses and develop the leadership skills, knowledge and confidence necessary to participate in local governance.

Meanwhile, it ensures its commercial viability by training women to become agents of resilience solutions – from green energy and heat-mitigating technologies, to health interventions such as improved access to drinking water and better sanitation facilities.

The not-for-profit side of Mahila Housing Trust delivers back-end support to its empowerment and resilience-building programmes, while the enterprise side ensures the organisation and its beneficiaries are able to generate funding and income.

This hybrid model has also enabled Mahila Housing Trust to launch “Awaas Sewa” – a social enterprise dedicated to the development and implementation of innovative climate-resilient technologies.

The enterprise identifies, pilots, rates and validates new solutions, then teaches women leaders how to market them – building resilience amongst poor communities and generating a turnover at the same time.

Operating across seven cities in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, the enterprise has so far trained more than 1,500 women leaders to become “climate-saathis”, or climate partners.

In these roles, the women have conducted energy audits and helped families in more than 100 informal settlements to invest in energy-saving and climate-resilient solutions – such as heat-resistant modular roofing.

By converting this network into a sustainable enterprise, these women leaders now earn an income through promoting and selling energy-efficient, climate stress-combatting solutions – helping 27,000 others in their communities become more resilient in the process.

Plus, if women in the community need financial support to purchase and install these solutions, Mahila Housing Trust also has women-led credit cooperatives, which provides financing for climate-resilient technologies.

Yet this commercial aspect is only one small component of the organisation’s model; its sustained results so far have only been achieved through building partnerships across all different levels and sectors.

Strengthening the resilience of poor communities requires a bespoke, holistic approach that directly engages people on the ground. Maintaining a focused yet collaborative approach, Mahila Housing Trust works closely with a multidisciplinary team of partners in a united effort to improve the living conditions in poor urban communities.

With the goal of empowering women to improve their circumstances at the very heart of Mahila Housing Trust’s work, its partnerships mean the organisation can develop cross-cutting resilience solutions that address urbanisation, livelihoods and climate resilience all at once.

By adopting such an integrated approach, rather than just strengthening climate or economic resilience, development players can forge wholesale resilience amongst even the most vulnerable communities.

BIOGAS: Cow Dung Holds the Key to Nepal’s Green Economy

Nepal’s future may not be in hydropower, as most assume, but actually in the dung heap. A new industrial-scale biogas plant near Pokhara has proved that livestock and farm waste producing flammable methane gas can replace imported LPG and chemical fertiliser.

A company in Pokhara has enlarged household digesters into an industrial scale plant that uses climate-friendly technology that could ultimately be scaled nationwide to reduce Nepal’s balance of trade gap.

By Kunda Dixit
KASKI, Nepal, Jan 17 2020 – Nepal’s future may not be in hydropower, as most assume, but actually in the dung heap. A new industrial-scale biogas plant near Pokhara has proved that livestock and farm waste producing flammable methane gas can replace imported LPG and chemical fertiliser.

Over the past 30 years, Nepal has become a world leader in spreading locally-designed household biogas digesters. There are now 300,000 of them, helping reduce deforestation, improving people’s health and lifting women out of drudgery and poverty.

Now, a company in Pokhara has enlarged household digesters into an industrial scale plant that uses climate-friendly technology that could ultimately be scaled nationwide to reduce Nepal’s balance of trade gap.

Biogas has a three-fold advantage. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore climate friendly. It allows us to manage raw waste. And it can slash our import bill for LPG and chemical fertiliser

Kushal Gurung’s grandfather was in the British Army, and he also applied for recruitment but failed the eyesight test. So, he set up Gandaki Urja in Pokhara that works with wind, solar and hydropower, but he believes Nepal’s best option for sustainable growth lies in energy from waste.

“Nepal must abandon fossil fuels, but even among renewable energy sources biogas has a three-fold advantage. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore climate friendly. It allows us to manage raw waste. And it can slash our import bill for LPG and chemical fertiliser,” says Gurung. “It is a win-win-win.”

A tipper truck has just arrived from Gorkha at Gandaki Urja’s biogas plant at Kotre near Pokhara, which with its dome digester looks like a nuclear reactor. The truck tilts its container to empty 5 tons of smelly poultry waste into a pit where rotting vegetables and cow dung from a farm in Syangja are all being mixed before being fed into the 4,000 cubic meter digester that is kept inflated.

In the absence of oxygen, bacteria already in the cow dung go to work to break down the waste into methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The impurities are removed by filters to produce 200 cylinders of bio-CNG a day which are sold to big hotels and restaurants in Pokhara.

Customers pay a deposit for the cylinders and pressure regulators, and usually use up about two cylinders a day. The cost per kg for the bio-Compressed Natural Gas (bio-CNG) is the same as the state subsidised Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG). However, customers prefer the biogas because it saves them up to 30% cost because it has higher calorific value than LPG, and there is no residue that goes waste.

“So far, the customers are satisfied, and we see demand growing in the future as word spreads,” says Ashim Kayastha, Director of Gandaki Urja.

Half the plant’s revenue comes from bio-CNG and the other half from the effluent which is dried and sold as organic fertiliser. The plant can produce up to 11,000 tons of fertiliser a year and is sold to surrounding farms.

The future of bio-CNG depends on scaling up the technology since any municipality generating more than 40 tons of biodegradable waste per day could have its own biogas plant. Nepal imports 500,000 tons of chemical fertiliser a year, and if each of 100 municipalities produced 5,000 tons of organic fertiliser Nepal could slash its import bill.

This could also significantly reduce the country’s annual import of Rs33 billion worth of LPG from India which grew four-fold in the past 10 years, making up 2.5% of Nepal’s total import bill. But to scale up, industrial biogas needs the same government incentives as hydro, solar and wind power.

At the moment hydropower investors enjoy a 100% corporate tax holiday for 10 years, and 50% for the next five years. There is only 1% tax on imports of equipment for solar, wind and hydropower, there is no such provision for the equipment for industrial scale biogas. Instead, there is a tax on interest, and also VAT on bio-CNG.

 

 

“The government should look at this not only as an energy project, but at its multifaceted benefits,” says Kushal Gurung of Gandaki Urja. “There is a waste-to-energy and fertiliser angle, too. If we want to make Nepal fully organic in the next ten years, projects like these need to be prioritised.”

Gandaki Urja got a boost from an unlikely source, Business Oxygen (BO2) in Kathmandu which helps entrepreneurs running Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to scale up by injecting equity and providing technical assistance.

Says Siddhant Pandey of BO2: “We are always on the lookout for climate investments, and we realised that bio-CNG would be an incredible adaptive resilience investment. It would displace imports of LPG and fertiliser. It was going to be clean, no carbon footprint, and it made business sense because it met our internal return on investment expectation.”

The challenges are ensuring reliable sources of raw material and building knowhow for the technology within Nepal.

Says Pandey: “The Pokhara plant is a drop in the ocean, it can abe replicated in all 7 provinces. We know it is scalable, and it depends how proactive provincial governments will be.”

 

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times