Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hydrology and Eastern Turkey

I met with Engin and Didire, with a non profit grassroots environmental group Doga Dernegi. I am trying to plan a trip to eastern Turkey to research dam construction on the Tigris River, and specifically the Ilusu Dam. After seeing the devastation in the Mesopotamian Marshes from combined drought and water withdrawals, knowing the inadequate results of requests by the Iraqi government for water, I wanted to come investigate the headwaters of the watershed myself. The goal of Hima Mesopotamia is to link grassroots efforts to review dam construction on the Tigris and Euphrates watershed.

At this time, Turkey has a very robust economy. Wanting to become a member of the European Union, Turkey has committed to strengthening it environmental, cultural, human rights and relatioanships with neighboring states. Ironically, part of its committment to reducing fossil fuel combustion and green house gase emissions is to increase "renewable" hydroelectric energy development. I have heard between 2600-1600 dams are proposed in Turkey. Besides the Ilusu Dam on the Tigris River, there are 28 proposals on tributaries of the Tigris. The Ilusu Dam itself would flood 313 km2 with 400 km of river (240 river miles) impacted above the dam. Ilusu is planned to produce surge current, releasing water intermittently with fairly high peaks. This means that there will be a great deal of erosion and destruction along the banks of the Tigris when peak flows are released, damaging habitat for many species.

No Environmental Impact Assessment is proposed for the Ilusu dam. Turkey is saying that the dam proposal pre-dates current international environmental and social justice agreements. The EIS would evaluate impacts on flora, fauna, water quality, Hasankeyf and other archaeological sites, and on the local people and economy. The entire watershed impacts would be evaluated and the least damaging alternative selected. This would likely be several smaller dams. It is also likely to mean compensation for local people impacted by reservoir construction and loss of agricutlural soils and tourist industry. It also means release flows from the dams could optimize conditions downstream, to optimize fish and aquatic habitat, maintain riparian and wetland habitats, and maintain equitable flows in the Tigris River for downstream users.

I have just listed at the Barcelona Conference to the lives of Iraqi people, the Marsh Arabs, and a scientific assessment of the losses of the Mesopotamian Marshes. The tragedy is already unfolding downstream, and there are losses on the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. I want to go see for myself the impacts of the dams, and possible mitigation measures that could be take to reduce impacts to nature and the local culture.

Spending time in Turkey, I am so amazed by the antiquity of cultures laying on cultres. When we took a tour of the Hippodrom, where the old chariot races were held and political parties bet on the winning team, our guide said you cannot dig anywhere in Istanbul without finding and artifact. And the artifacts. date from the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and the radically changing Turkey from WW! and being divided among European nations, WW2 and staying neutral, the great Ataturk bringing Turkey back to cohesiveness, then all the changes in the last decades.

Turkey has long been a U.S. ally, and a strategic partner in the region bordered by Iran, Iraq, Russia and ex Soviet Union nations. Now would be the time for the U.S. to implement its own environmental and social policies we use such as National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act. This is a huge deal, and the world isn't even hearing about it.

Lip service to protection of nature aside, there is no Environmental Impact Report on the results of Ilusu dam construction.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sufi Music

Last night went to a sufi dance in Istanbul. As Rumi would say, "Be a lover, a lover. Chose love that you might be the chosen one." Rumi is the founder if the Mevlevi Sufi order, a mystical brotherhood of Islam started in the early 1200's. He asks, If you fill ajug from the ocean, how much can it hold? One day's supply. Thus, just as the ocean can only fill the jug to capacity, so mevlana can only fit into words and our perception in proportion to our capacity for union with Allah, with Creator, with Great Spirit, Buddha, God. The mystical tradition experiences direct contact, love, union with Creator, and religion with its rules and regulations does not seem to be as direct or even an experience of Union at all.

The musicians came in first, a drum to call the participant to "wake up" or divine comand "be", then a flute improvisation of the soul dancing and flowing to Creators song. There were five dancers, who came in and bowed to creation. They placed a sheep skin rug on the ground, representing the divine truth in each of us. All of the black cloak, white dress with "shroud", eveything represents a death of ego much as many Buddhist ceremonies. They stand with arms cross, representing the "one" or unity with god. There were for parts to the ceremony: 1) viewing all the worlds, reaching the gradeur and majesty of God; 2) existence is dissolved within the Divine Unity; 3) lovers cleanse themselves and reach spiritual maturity; 4) reach the void or non-existence within Divine Mystery. A lone flute ends the ceremony or spiritual journy, of all who take the path of love, of all who seek the Divien within themselves.

As the dancing and ceremony began, tears flowed down my face, and I felt a Divine recognition. It was beautiful!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Mediterranean Sea in France and Spain

Images from Barcelona Spain

Istanbul July 28

I arrived in Istanbul at 4:30 this morning. A driver from Hotel Sphendon came to pick me up at the airport, and we drove in the cool blue light of the pre dawn, with a full moon. Driving into the city, the mosques all have their spirals touching the sky, and the full moon lit up history as we drove into the city. The bridge across the Bosporus Sea framed the exotic city scape in water, and eveything in the early light was clean and filled with expectations and excitement.

The days are punctuated with singing from the Blue Mosque near our hotel, then reverberating through echoes of other mosques praying throughout Istanbul. Our breakfast is on a beautiful garden, with a stone wall and vinca's and other flowers. A calico kitty gave us company and purred to our pets. There are many cats in the city, many pretty skinny. One tiny kitten looked at us but its little body seemed crumpled, not long for life, suffering. Poor little thing.

Right now it is a great thunder and lightening storm. Rain sprinkles on our window. We walked along the Bosphorus until the rain storm drove us into a restaurant for a delicious dinner of kebab and vegies. Tomorrow we will be tourists.

July 24 Spain and France

Blog 3 July 24, 2010 Spain and France
Yesterday Nadia and I and 7 Iraqi men went on a road trip in a mini-van to the French and Spanish Mediterranean coast. Dr. Adil arranged the trip, got the van, and drove. It was beautiful driving through the Mediterranean countryside, with rolling hills. They were growing sunflowers, who smiled and waved as we drove past. It looks a lot like California, with oaks and pines and many of our plants escaped from here.
The roads are much better than California. You have to go through toll booths, but they don’t tell you how to pay or what to pay. We consistently got stuck and sat with our emergency lights on, a line of impatient traffic honking behind us, until some Spanish toll keeper came to tell us what to do.
We stopped at a lovely little town in France. There is a botanist among us. And we walked and looked at the lovely streams and plants. Beautiful sycamore trees lined the banks of the stream. I bought a beautiful blouse and skirt from France on sale! After shopping, we went to the coast. The little towns have tile roofs, and are beautifully colored pinkish tan, yellow and tan. Many have the shutters and trim painted in blue. I had a salmon-cheese crepe by the sea then went for a walk on the beach. I had a feeling my step-daughter Joeanna was having her baby. Kept trying to figure my phone out and call, finally got a picture of Nolan and showed it to all the Iraqi’s. they were happy for me and congradulated Joeanna and the baby.
The following pictures are from our trip and Barcelona. The first is of Tova Fleming, myself and Dr. Nadia Fawzi in the streets of Barcelona. The second is a street in one of the lovely coastal towns, then myself looking out to the Mediterranean Sea.

Driving back, we passed castle after castle. You could imagine Don Quixote in these hills, riding through the country side. It was very beautiful, wish we could have stayed longer. It was beautiful evening light, and the hills rolled into blue in the late afternoon. We crossed crops, forests, streams and very few homes. It appeared to be mostly small farming communities, with tourism along the coast. Most of the people are in the big sprawling area of Barcelona. We had a really fun day, ending with a Pakistan restaurant in Barcelona with chicken massala!

Round Table Dialogue and WOCMES conference synthesis

Round Table Dialogue and WOCMES conference synthesis.
I asked the participants, around 20 in all, to sit in a circle so that we could see each other and talk. As soon as everyone sat in a circle, the feeling of communication and conversation deepened. Dr. Malik sat on one side, Dr. Adil on the other.
As I absorbed the following comments, the following ah ha! moments came through to me. The biggest one, after the conference and all the people I met, is that we could serve as a wheel center for grassroots efforts to join together in protection of water in the middle east. I heard the Palestinians and Israeli’s speak of the Hula wetlands, and a marsh arab culture there. In Lebanon, the Ramsar wetland there was destroyed with the Palestinians and Lebanese were refugees from Israel and Syria, and they are now implementing hima and restoring their wetlands. In Turkey, they are proposing to build 2600 new dams, many along the Black and Aegean Seas, and also the Ilusu Dam on the Tigris River. These dams are proposed as a type of renewable hydroelectric energy, to offset carbon costs from fossil fuel energy emissions.
The second is that we shall collect and tell peoples stories and perspectives, and translate these into ecological/ scientific information as well as a story of the soul through video, photography, poetry and other media.
Below are comments from people who attended the circle.
1. Dr. Nadia Fawzi stressed having a watershed approach for the entire Tigris Euphrates. She says the whole drainage needs to be evaluated, and water conservation measures implemented throughout the watershed including in Iraq. It was pointed out that many of the irrigation systems and continued drainage system implemented by Saddam were very inefficient and resulted in the loss of a lot of water. They are wasting water in Iraq with out-dated irrigation systems, and crops that are not that tolerant of higher salinities. Need to use cultivars that have been developed to withstand rising salinities.
2. It was suggested to touch the hearts and souls of people. Bruce Pavlik mentioned the Arabic poetry reading in the room next door, and to include other media than science to join people together such as poetry and art. Others in the audience recommended getting really good people to help with projects. They brought up a BBC special that is coming up. They suggested more popular media and more soulful media, not just scientific papers.
3. Someone brought up a recent meeting with oil companies and CEO’s, suggesting that we use the word nature rather than biodiversity.
4. They also suggested getting the NGO’s to talk to top level people, including the oil companies. If we had contacts, we could get funding for some of our networking and outreach
5. They stressed above all to tell peoples stories. People are interested in people. By telling people’s stories you evoke a more personal connection with the reader and an emotional response. That’s how they will support the project and will lead to more public support gurgling up to policy makers and politicians.
6. Reach out to international sustainable agriculture
7. Outreach within Iraq to people who can listen. Poverty is soul deadening. If you have no drinking water or food, you cannot care properly for your children, the marshes become irrelevant. Iraqi citizens who have jobs and professions, in parliament and middle or upper class, are in a better position to negotiate for the marshes.
8. Hima. The concept of Hima was brought up repeatedly as a concept that pre-dates Islam. It was brought up as a traditional land management tool on Arabian pasture lands. It was used for tribes to protect their lands for their community. There is a lot of poetry in Arabic around conserving and protecting your tribe and resources. It has a lot to do with protection of your tribe. For the Bedouin who moved around a lot, they would protect the water sources and leave a sign for travelers that there was water.
Someone pointed out that the Bedouin had a very harsh life in the desert. The Marsh arabs had more resources and less competition for resources, so could be softer and gentler in their interactions and behavior.

Conference on Biodiversity of Middle East, July 17

I arrived in Barcelona late on July 17. My plane was delayed from London, so arrived after midnight. I took a bus with two heavy bags to the main Plaza de Catalunya at about 1:30 in the morning. A nice Catalonian woman helped me find the bus station, warning me to keep my luggage close as there are a lot of pick pockets. There wasn’t another bus for an hour and a half, so tried to find the train station. Finally, after wandering in the dark with luggage, a police woman advised me to take a taxi. It was very expensive, but was able to get to the Villaterra campus after about 40 minutes (around 2:00 am). The driver dumped me off, exhausted, in the middle of buildings and dark. I had no idea where to go to check in, or if it was open. At this point I was frayed and scared. Some young men directed me up the hill to the hotel; I wasn’t at the hotel, but he directed me to the check in, which was open. I got into my room at 2:30 am after travelling for over 24 hours straight.
The next day my roommate Dr. Nadia Fawzi and I welcomed two other Iraqi scientists, Dr. Adil and Dr.Nadir, and Tova Fleming arrived from US. We went into Barcelona, and experienced the radical night life in this city. Women were dressed extremely feminine and sexy, with very short skirts, clingy dresses and low cut tops. Mingled among them were the Muslim women and more modest women of other cultures. People would stand dressed up in elaborate costumes as statues, with a box in front for spare change. One gimmick was to sell these loud quacking toys, so men would stand around making quacky annoying noises. Other gimmicks were these blue lighted toys that flew up into space. This area has the most pick pockets of anywhere in Europe, and one of our Iraqi colleagues had his identify and passport stolen. We went to a restaurant where they served meat that is OK for religious Muslims to eat called Hillel. The animal is slaughtered facing toward Mecca, and a prayer is said. Its throat is cut and all the blood drained out before butchering.
Sunday all the Iraqi’s arrived. It was fun, loud and boisterous. We sat around and talked about what we wanted to achieve at the conference, and that we wanted to reach as many people as possible. I wrote the session organizers and asked that we have a round table at the end of our 5 sessions on Biodiversity and the Middle East. I helped go over several scientists’ presentations, and then worked on my own. I was the introduction, Dr. Adil was the conclusion.
Tuesday July 20
My Introductory remarks ( opening act) was in the Conservation and Restoration in the Middle East: Successes, Challenges, and Methodologies.” My talk was on “Cultural and Ecological Restoration of the Al Ahwar Wetlands, Iraq”. I opened up with Traditional Resource Management, the 5,000 year cultural relationship of the Marsh Arabs and the Mesopotamian Marsh ecosystems. I discussed the devastation to the marshes under the Baathist Regime and Iran-Iraq war, where only 10% of the marshes remained and the Marsh Arabs were killed or displaced as refugees. Then in 2003-2006 during good water years the marshes were rejuvenated to around 58%. Now with drought and upstream water withdrawals, only 10-30% of marshes remain. Tragically, the Haweizeh Marshes were drained immediately upon designation as a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Convention. People who returned to the marshes now cannot make a living, as the reeds and fish are dying, and there is nowhere to care for their water buffalo.

The first Session “Impacts on Aquatic Biodiversity in Southern Iraq – Salinity and Shatt Al Arab” had the following oral presentations:
1 – Musafa Sami Faddah “Expected Genetic Fish Populations inhabiting Shatt al Arab River in Iraq De to Fluctuations in Water Salinity”
2 – Dr. Nadia Fawzi and H.T. Al-Saad “Examining the Condition of Iraq’s Water Ways and their Impact on the Water Quality of the North-Western Arabian Gulf”
3 – Nadir a Salman and M.M. Taher “Impact of Salinity Changes in Shatt Al Arab Estuary on Biodiversity of Marine Mammals of the Arabian Gulf”
4 – Dr. Malik Ali and HK. Ahmed – “The Impact of Low Fresh Water Discharge on Community Structure of Shrimps at Shatt Al Arab Estuary and Northern Arabian Gulf”
Dr. Adil Yousif Al-Handal ended this session stressing the condition of the marshes with low water flows, high salinity, and the suffering of people who cannot get clean drinking water to drink. He said that Basrah was unable to get even their small share of the Shatt Al Arab water due to towns’ upstream diverting water.
Our last session was “Biodiversity in the Mesopotamian Marshes and the Gulf”. The talks presented were:
1 – Mustafa Al-Mukhtar & K. Younis, “The Effect o Environmental Changes on Ichthyofauna in the Inland Waters of Basrah Government”
2 – Abdulridah Alwan “The Deterioration of the Aquatic Macrophytes of Southern Iraq: Al-Safay Preserve as an Example:
3 – Salman Salman, M. Abbas and A. Akaash “Distribution and Abundance of Cladocera in the Southern Iraqi Marshes”
At the end of the papers, we had a round table discussion, with participants arriving from the other talks and sessions. I will write this in the next email blog entry.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leaving for World Congress in Spain

I leave today for the World Congress on Biodiversity of the Middle East. I just found out that the 11 Iraqi scientists whom we have set up two panels with received their visa's from Spain. Our big conference participation will be next Tuesday, July 20. My student assistant and right hand woman, Tova Fleming, has been a great assistance in this process. My colleague Dr. Adil Yousif al Handel, Dr. Matthew Hall and myself helped to coordinate and put the Iraqi syposia together.

I am also starting a non profit, Hima Mesopotamia: Water and Peace in the Middle East and the web site should be up soon.