A Marsh Arab’s story

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


My name is Faris and I am of the Ferayghāt people, one of the tribal groupings of the Maʻdān, that is the Marsh Arabs as you say, neutrally, in English. Sadly, the word Maʻdān is now often used in Iraq as a slight, aimed to inflict hurt and belittle. But I am proud of who I am, where I come from, and I will keep my memories of those former marshlands, now burnt to a crisp and virtually uninhabitable.

So much for my past: where I lived, happily and less so, throughout my childhood and as a young adult. Today, though, I “stay” in Fife, Scotland. I am a refugee, forced to leave my homeland far behind me, gone but never forgotten.

I am getting to know the local culture here, ways of living, speaking – e.g. “stay” rather than “live” – and song. I love music, and also humour – without being able to laugh at life I don’t know how I would’ve kept going through these last, painful, years. “It started up in Fife, and ended up in tears” sing an Edinburgh band, that national capital located far closer to me now than Baghdad was before my long journey. In truth, for me the tears have never been far away, whether in the lands of my birth and upbringing, or now here, in Fife.

Climate change is an important part of the story, but does not encompass the whole. Upstream dams, both in Iraq and beyond, have denied my marshlands of water. My parents told me that for many decades our homeland was drained on purpose, in a vain attempt to reclaim farmland and, later, in active persecution. But it was the ever-rising temperatures that finally killed off those marshlands, and the attempts that were made to breath new life into them. What marshland can survive the torching heat that I, myself a hardened son of the soil, was forced to flee from?

Old Bridge at Guardbridge (Credit)

My faith keeps me strong, and I constantly give thanks to Allah in my prayers for leading me to this, odd to me, place of refuge. Is it a coincidence or is divine providence that I have gone from one place of Eden to another? My homeland, you see, is known as the original Jannāt `Adni, or Garden of Eden, spoken of in the Holy Quran and also in holy books of the Jews and Christians alike. Now, the river Eden flows through the town of Guardbridge, the town I must now call home. I am still trying to do so; “it started up in Fife, and ended up in tears”, my tears that is. The Eden never leaves Fife, will I stay here forever too? Or return, like river water to the sea, to Iraq one day too?

Even amongst my tears, and my yearnings, I find this Eden here, and Eden there, coincidence funny and somehow comforting – as perhaps I am meant to do? Allah moves in unknowable ways, and I am thankful for all His blessings. Allahu Akbar.

I would never have guessed, let alone known that I would end up in Scotland. Not least since, until recently, I was unaware that such a country existed! In Iraq, people talk of England and the English, or the British, but not really Scotland or the Scots. Yet the Scots are truly a welcoming people and I have been treated with great hospitality since my arrival; hospitality is proud trait of the Ferayghāt people, and one that we mark as a sign of civility.

Scotland has had it tough in recent years, and for some of the same reasons as Iraq. In common between us, the price of our crude oil has collapsed, swamped by new supplies and discoveries made possible by new technologies, and undermined by the steady switch to electric vehicles. Scotland has also accepted many tens of thousands of climate refugees, its cities swelling with new populations even as its coastline and tidal river estuaries and “firths” invade its coastline, notably (to me!) swelling the Eden and pushing up against the gardens of the town’s most exposed “sea-view” properties. This has stretched services and further rocked the finances of the, newly independent, Scottish Government. An independent Scotland is exciting, but Scots have found that independence is very tough and – dare I say it – that they weren’t really ready for just how difficult it would be to manage their own economy. That they have pulled through is due to both their our stubborn nature – a stubbornness that I have been at the wrong end of – and determination, and also due to the people that they have welcomed to their shores, the New Scots.

Yes: us immigrants are proving our economic worth, helping to pull our adoptive country back to its feet – if I may be so bold. In so doing we help ourselves and help repay Scotland’s hospitality to us. We who are from countries like Iraq where the State has barely functioned in our lifetimes, do not readily rely on any State to provide for us – instead we provide for ourselves. Perhaps that is why so many of the new enterprises are run and owned by immigrants? I myself work for a Kuwaiti in Dundee who has set up his own company supplying offshore support vessels (boats) to the North Sea petroleum industry here (which increasingly focuses on natural gas, not oil), and for the fast-growing marine energy sector too.

Even as a New Scot there is no danger that I will deny or forget my heritage from amongst the Maʻdān. Every Friday at dhur (noon) I hear the Khutbah (sermon) amongst fellow Sunni Muslims at the newly built Guardbridge mosque and I am part of a Fife-based community of Marsh Arabs immigrants which, together, maintains our traditions in this new and strange, to us, land. I am teaching Arabic as an additional source of income – Arabic is an increasingly popular language to learn amongst Scots here, who are keen to open up to, and trade with, the world rather than just rely on their historic trade links to the south, with England. That makes me proud too. I think I will be happy too. My beautiful new bride thinks so too. A native of this land, she quoted to me a verse from another Scottish band, as follows: “For the family ; For the lives of the children that we’ve planned; Let’s get married; C’mon darlin’, please take my hand”. The wedding is next month and I cannot wait.


Daniel Gilbert has comprehensive experience as a consultant for major natural resources projects in Europe, Africa and Asia, and with regards to water, mining, petroleum (the ‘extractive industries’), and solar power. Daniel is a former Knowledge Exchange Coordinator at the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science under the auspices of UNESCO, located at the University of Dundee. He holds Masters Degrees from both Dundee and Edinburgh universities and has given natural resources sector presentations at the UN in Geneva, the World Bank in Washington DC, and at a high-level UN Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The underpass

Joseph Cohn updates our visions of biblical floods.

The storm raged all night. The refugees trembled as the wind howled beneath the bridge. Soon the water rose. For two hours it roared through the underpass. Along the concrete walls black shapes writhed in the primordial darkness. The underpass became a vault of screams to echo the agony of the dying earth. By dawn the flooding had ended and thirty-three people had died.

In the morning the refugees climbed down to scavenge and search for the dead. They cleared the ground and sent the dead into the sea, and then they gathered to eat out of cold, dented cans. Afterward they rested against the walls and watched the world with mute eyes. Their figures faded into the gloom, until they were no more than shadows of anguish. No one spoke, and no children ran at play. The last child living beneath the bridge had died three weeks ago.

Around midday a wild-eyed man with long, tangled hair stood at the center of the underpass. From a ragged book he read to the refugees of prophets and dead kings and a time when the earth burned. But above all else he spoke of an empire called Babylon. Of how it fell at the height of glory, its towers and walls crumbling to the earth. The refugees heard him, but they did not listen.

A month later the underpass was silent and the people were gone. Whether they fled to some distant Elysian field or perished beneath the bridge was unknown. Their fates like their origins were lost, their existences forgotten. All was still but for the ocean. It loomed just beyond the bridge, gray and calm and ever shifting. A mercurial plain beneath whose surface lay the ruins of Babylon. A sepulcher fit to house all human folly.


Joseph Cohn [email] is a high school student from Southern California. Growing up close to the ocean, he has seen how all human activities —ranging from fishing to littering — can have harm our oceans.

Jakarta’s sinking, filthy future

Roanne van Voorst looks deeper into Jakarta’s “revitalization”.

According to the politicians working in Jakarta, Indonesia’s megacity capital, this city is turning into `the place to be’. By 2018, they promise that a city known for its slums, floods and garbage will be `100% slum free, flood free and garbage free’. It will thus be clean, modern and attractive for both inhabitants and visitors, who might especially enjoy the green running tracks that will have been developed alongside formarly clogged rivers, and the seaside residential neighbourhoods in the North, where one can shop and live in style. Ideally, Jakarta’s great transformation will be complete by 2018 (when the Asia Games take place in the city), but there may be some work left to do.

As unrealistic as these announcements may seem to people who have visited Jakarta, they should by no means be considered hollow phrases. The current generation of politicians in Jakarta don’t just talk; they are actually getting things done. Everybody who has recently visited the city will have noticed that politicians, advisors and developers are making  enormous efforts to change Jakarta’s negative image. Slums have been torn down; roads have been constructed; Dutch water experts are building a 32 km-long wall to protect the Northern coast from a rising sea;  programmes have been initiated to dredge garbage from canals; parks have been created; and run-down colonial houses are being demolished and replaced by Grande Plazas.

So the problem is not that nothing happens in Jakarta. The problem is that what is happening is of no use because none of these programs address the root causes of Jakarta’s challenges. The sad fact is that Jakarta’s future is more likely to include more, larger floods, deeper poverty for slum residents, and tides of feces flowing past seaside villas. The impacts of climate changes — more rainfall and rising sea levels — might make you think of Jakarta as `the city you definitely want to avoid’ in the future.

Let me give some context to that rather gloomy vision. Jakarta’s already serious flooding problems are caused by multiple factors, of which urban mismanagament is perhaps most important. For decades, politicians have prioritized commercial developments over public services. The lack of an effective garbage collection system means that most households dump their rubbish in the rivers. Affordable housing shortages have led the city’s poor to build their houses in the river’s flood plains. Only half of households receive piped water, so everyone else pumps groundwater. The resulting land subsidence means the city is sinking by 3 to 20 cm per year — a problematic trend even before considering the additional danger of sea  levels that are rising by 6 mm per year in Jakarta Bay. Finally, remember that falling groundwater and land elevations are damaging the city’s drainage, drinking water and sewerage systems.

The current trend towards short-term, superficial solutions might seem to be improving the city’s livability, but they are merely sweeping real problems under the carpet. These problems can be solved, but solutions demand long-term political commitments to providing piped water, sewerage, and social housing.

Building a wall to protect from sea level rise will not help if the land continues to subside. Dredging canals will not protect the city from  flooding if people continue to live where the river needs to flood and dump their garbage in canals. New villas will not provide safe and glamorous lifestyles if rising rivers dump faeces and garbage on their lawns.


marijn-smuldersRoanne van Voorst is a postdoctoral researcher at the International Institute of Social Sciences, Erasmus University, The Hague, the Netherlands. In 2014 she obtained her PhD (with distinction) at the Amsterdam Institute of Social Science Research on responses of slum dwellers in Jakarta, Indonesia to the risks of recurrent floods and evictions. She has also done research on the social effects of climate changes in Greenland. Currently Roanne is involved in the research project ”When disaster meets conflict. Disaster response of humanitarian aid and local state and non-state institutions in different conflict scenarios”.

Addendum (8 June 2017): “Understanding the allure of big infrastructure: Jakarta’s Great Garuda Sea Wall Project

Tides will tear us apart

Emma J. Myatt writes of a future when shopping times depend on the tide.*

Dear Denise,

Congratulations! I cannot believe that by the time you get this, Zane will be fourteen weeks old. I wish there was a way to get news faster – how I miss the internet. I bet you’re an amazing mother. I bet you’re like Mum with a twist, a bit more craziness, a little less planned. You didn’t say much about the birth – not sure how the hospitals are with you but here everyone’s struggling a bit – (we now only get stories in the round-up papers at the end of the week in each town) and I’ve heard about a lack of drugs/pain relief and a total shortage of midwives.

It pisses me off that everyone saw all of this coming, and did nothing. But you know all this, no point in me ranting any more.

I want to meet Zane more than anything in the whole world. I am saving like mad but it’ll still take me years – breaks my heart to think of missing all these early months. I’ll keep doing the lotto – keep everything crossed.

Jake and I are okay. The kids are fine, working hard and hoping to get into the science projects over in the Highlands. There’s been a massive investment in the projects lately and apparently the buildings are huge towering things that you can see for miles. I’ve not been up there, just too much to do here, but I’ve seen pictures. Leo is still good at maths and chemistry, and Lexi’s a physics whizz. God knows where they get it from – not me, as you know – and Jake’s still as into farming and solid earthy stuff as he ever was. I hope they get there. It’s probably the only future I trust at the moment.

We hear stories from Aus, the ships bring papers and news but I dunno how much can be trusted and anyway, by the time they get here everything’s six weeks old. I hear it’s still hot, you are still getting plagues of insects and the fires are nuts, but at least you’re getting more rain than before. I so hope I can see it for myself one day. The latest fares are around £17,500 per person. Jake and I can pull in about half this from anything we need to sell in a good quarter, but it goes, like a finger click, to pay for life and food and everything. We’re stuck, really: if we grew our own we’d survive and not need to buy but then we’d have no money at all. Despite this I’ve managed to save. I’ve £2,000 in the bank, roughly. Jake’s got some stashed in in the farm somewhere (he won’t even tell me in case I let it slip to the gangs) but realistically it’ll be years before we make it.

I miss you so much. Life here’s good in many ways; we’re still healthy and the kids can still learn. Our part of Scotland was pretty empty before as you know so the vanishing land hasn’t had too much impact as yet. But however lucky we feel compared to some, I will never ever forgive myself for not coming with you when the fares were reasonable. I should have listened to Mum. I’ll not go there, I go there every letter and it does me no good.

Has Zane got your eyes? Is he cheeky, like you were? Does he look like his auntie Lynn at all? I bet you’ll be a great mum Denny.

You asked about the house. It’s still here. The water’s about three metres from the door at the highest tides. Last time I wrote it was four, so the rising’s happening quicker than they all said. Nobody will buy it but, amazingly, the government has been good at making flood defences. We’re getting insane storms and the house just gets engulfed by waves. We’d have washed away by now if not for the New Walls they’ve given us. Basically they’re like huge sheets of plastic that have been put up all around the house – we’ve had them about two months now (did I write that we were getting them last time?) They got dug into what was the garden at low tide and they’re higher than the roof. They’re clear, so we can see through, but it’s still like living in a goldfish bowl. If the house goes, we do get compensation but I don’t dare tell you how much – it’s practically nothing. No point moving until it goes, so we’ve stored all the important stuff in the high field in the barn, and the rest is stuff we can live without. The New Walls have doors, all water tight of course, and at high tide we can’t enter or leave. It’s so, so strange. Dad would have hated it and I’m so glad he’s not here. Mum saw a little before she went to the home, but she’s not seen it like this. She’d be heartbroken about the garden so we just don’t tell her or show her pictures.

She’s not doing too well actually Den. I don’t know how much longer she’ll be here. I’m glad you got to say goodbye properly. She has no regrets, just tells me to tell you that you did the right thing. And you did. All that space you have in Australia whilst we huddle on a shrinking rock, climbing higher with every tide, losing more land every week. Estimates say we’ve lost a tenth of the habitable land in the UK. It feels like more.

But we try to stay happy. I sound upbeat, I know. It’s a habit I’ve got into for the kids’ sakes, and it’s hard to stop it.

The truth is though, we’re terrified, Denny. Every day I wake up expecting to be wet. The sea’s come faster than they said. It seems like a dream now when I think of how it was. Every morning I look outside through the weird New Walls and see the world, whitened through sea spray, the farm a little smaller. If the house goes we’ll be moved to one of the new settlements over at Cairn o’ Mount. They’re like council estates from the early 2020s – remember the ones they built during the first housing crisis? Tiny ugly practical things with hardly any space per family. They’re free, that’s about the only bonus. We’ll get allocated one as soon as we become homeless.

Maybe the rising will stop. After all, the ice has all gone, the travel rules have prevented any further air pollution. The limit on electricity will help, as will all the chem bans. But I feel it’s all too late. Like I said, we knew this was coming. Remember the conversations we used to have about ‘doomsday’? There was a guy in the papers last week saying how he felt doomsday had already come – that day when the damage done was too bad to reverse, whatever legislation we make now. I think he’s probably right but we’ve got to hope, right?

I’ll have to go. I can feel myself getting down and I don’t want to do that… in the end I’ll just end up telling you how shit it all is, and how we’re all doomed here and I’ll say again how short sighted I was not to come with you. See? I’m off already. I’ll have to go and get this to the delivery office so it’ll catch the boat on the 12th. I’ll see it all the way, in a bag, making its way to you across all those massive oceans.

Anyway, I’m not down all the time. We keep upbeat. We can still buy whisky, when the tide’s out it’s almost like old times. Ha – do you remember when the garden first got a bit soggy and we thought it was the extra rain or a diverted spring? Then that wave, that just kept on coming? I often think of those early days, when you were still here, when it was all still media hype. I often try to call backwards in time down the years to younger versions of ourselves, to tell them to do something. Nobody would have listened, though. Everyone thought they were just crazy anarchists… crazy people who wanted to cause chaos… remember Paula, and how she stomped off to London with all those petitions? Most of what she wished for has, by necessity, been banned.

I miss all of it.

I want the world back.

I want my sister back. Come home… No, don’t ever come home, it’s not good here and it’s going to get worse. The amount of people and the amount of Hill Houses just doesn’t add up. I hope I’m dead by that time.

I said I wasn’t going to get sad. I’m sorry Den.

I love you, and I love my new nephew, and I’ll keep lottoing and get the rest of us on that boat and come and join you. I can see your farm in my mind’s eye. All that space.

Give Zane a big kiss for me, little sis.

XXXXXX

Lynn.


MyattEmma J. Myatt is a full-time writer, full-time mother, chicken keeper and tutor who also runs a holiday let/writers’ retreat. She writes in every scrap of spare time she can find and has been published on line in various places and in several anthologies. She’s currently working on an anthology of her short stories.

hourofwrites* This vision was an entry in the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions. [Apologies to Joy Devision on the title — David]

Water management should adapt NOW

Ralph Pentland says we should avoid over-reacting to climate change, as the best policy would be to do what we should be doing anyway.

At the outset, I would like to point out that my own background is in water and environmental management. I do not profess to be an expert on climate – so my few remarks will be based as much on intuition as on science.

Let’s begin with the basics – assuming the climate forecasters are somewhere near the right ballpark. The hydrologic effects of climate change could include changes in annual, seasonal and extreme precipitation, evaporation and runoff. There could also be an earlier onset of soil drying in early summer, and decreases in soil moisture availability. And in a cold climate like ours in Canada, we could experience a decrease in the ratio of snowmelt to rain, and an increase in the rate of snowmelt in spring months.

These hydrologic changes would translate into a number of water resources effects – for example, effects on drought and flood magnitude and frequency; supply reliability; demand requirements; and water quality and ecosystem habitat conditions.

Since water tends to be both an environmental and an economic integrator, these water resource effects would impact on a broad range of socio-economic activities – agriculture, forestry, hydroelectricity, industry, municipalities, recreation, shipping, and so on.

It seems to me the first step in preparing for climate change should be in identifying the areas and activities that are likely to experience the most serious negative impacts of an increasing greenhouse effect. Areas where water resources are already sensitive to climatic variability will probably be most vulnerable to the impacts of future climate change. Generally speaking, such areas have few or many of the following characteristics:

* natural water deficits
* high societal demands
* high flood risk
* dependency on reliable seasonal supply
* sensitivity to lake levels
* decreasing water quality
* dependency on hydroelectricity
* sensitive natural ecosystems

Despite lingering predictive uncertainties, the implications for water resource systems are likely to include increased stress and more frequent failures. The apparent dilemma for water planners, managers and policy makers is whether to act on incomplete information, or to wait for more solid scientific support.

My own perception is that the dilemma is in fact more apparent than real, because the directions we should be moving to prepare for climate change are identical to those we should be moving anyway. Let me illustrate by way of a few examples:

  • We should begin to seriously question the real viability and sustainability of proposed irrigation systems, and make the existing ones more water efficient, with or without climate change. Climate change may force us to do it sooner.
  • We should discourage new development on flood plains and along susceptible shorelines, with or without climate change. Increasing climate variability may convince our citizens of the wisdom of that approach sooner.
  • We should broaden our arsenal of weapons for combating water quality deterioration, with or without climate change. Climate change could induce us to do it sooner.
  • We should price water and other environmental resources in such a way as to encourage their conservation – climate change may give us the incentive to do it sooner.
  • We should do less subsidizing and more taxing of environmentally damaging activities, with or without climate change. Climate change could convince our lawmakers to do it sooner.
  • Decentralized decision making, and application of user/polluter pays approaches should be practiced to the extent possible. These principles, which make sense anyway, are coming increasingly prudent with a less predictable future.
  • Some claim that most countries have less water and environmental planning capability today than they had a few decades ago. To the extent that is correct, we should reverse that trend, with or without climate change.

Some have suggested massive capital works solutions – I disagree, with one small proviso. I would take climate change scenarios into account as a secondary design consideration for projects that we are building anyway. For example, it may be possible to design water management schemes, at little or no extra cost today, in such a way that they could be modified later, if necessary, in response to a changing climate.

I do not think we should even contemplate major capital works projects at this time just to deal with potential climate trends. For example, if it doesn’t make economic sense now to further regulate the Great Lakes, we should not consider building capital works merely in anticipation of lower water supplies a few decades away – the evidence simply does not support it.

In fact, I would contend that the danger of over-reacting with structural measures is significantly greater than the danger of under-reacting. Let me elaborate by way of an admittedly far-fetched example. What would happen if two or more northern circum-polar countries were to decide simultaneously to solve their emerging drought problems by diverting some of their north-flowing rivers southwards?

Some oceanographers speculate that such an eventuality would affect arctic salinity gradients and climate circulation patterns in such a way as to actually accelerate the drying of the North American Great Plains. Whether one accepts that thesis or not, I am sure most would agree that the uncertainty alone is sufficient cause for caution.

In summary, what I am advocating is that we learn a lot more before contemplating any drastic adaptive measures, and that in the meantime, we simply do what we should be doing anyway – but that we do it much sooner and much better.

And cost should not be a serious concern. If my examples are anywhere near representative, a “sooner and better” strategy would almost surely result in long-term net savings.


PentlandRalph Pentland served as Director of the Water Planning and Management Branch in Environment Canada for 13 years, from 1978 to 1991. In that capacity, he negotiated and administered numerous Canada-U.S. and federal-provincial water Agreements, and was the primary author of the 1987 Federal Water Policy. Since 1991, he has served as a water and environmental policy consultant in many countries, and has collaborated with numerous non-governmental and academic institutions. Over the years, Ralph has co-chaired five International Joint Commission Boards and Committees. Most recently he was a member of the Government of the Northwest Territories Team negotiating bilateral water agreements in the multi-jurisdictional Mackenzie River Basin.