News & Analysis
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Immigrant and Refugee: Baker’s cabinet pick raises eyebrows

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

By Maria Sacchetti | November 13, 2014

 

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash has led a city of immigrants for 14 years. And when controversy erupted, community leaders say Ash did not flinch.

He cleared permits for immigrants-rights marches, and greeted the demonstrators when they paraded past City Hall. He stood by the City Council when it declared Chelsea a sanctuary city for immigrants. And he welcomed immigrant children to the city during a national crisis last summer when some mayors sought to turn them away.

But this week, the towering Democrat raised eyebrows by agreeing to serve as secretary of housing and economic development for Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican who opposes illegal immigration.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

“I don’t get it,” said Gladys Vega, the executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, who berated Baker for his immigration policies at a campaign stop in August. “It was like, wow.”

Ash, 53, the son of a single mother, grew up in Chelsea’s subsidized housing and is Baker’s first Cabinet pick. To some, Ash’s appointment was seen as an overture to the Democrats after Baker’s narrow victory Nov. 4.

But Ash’s selection is also a curiosity in a city with the highest proportion of immigrants in Massachusetts, nearly 45 percent, triple the state average. The vast majority are not US citizens, but a mix of immigrants from Somalia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere, some here legally and others illegally.

Baker opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and backed the federal Secure Communities program to detect criminals here illegally, even as the mayors of Boston and Somerville curtailed it in their cities, saying it was also ensnaring immigrants stopped for minor traffic violations.

Baker also favors barring illegal immigrants from state public housing, in keeping with federal law, and has pointed out that a ban would not apply retroactively, so people would not be evicted. The plan has won support in the Democrat-led state Legislature, but advocates for immigrants successfully lobbied to eliminate the restrictions.

Ash declined to comment on Baker’s immigration policies when reached by phone Wednesday, but called the Cabinet post “a great opportunity.”

“I’m looking forward to serving with the governor,” Ash said. “I’m sure that the governor will do great things for the Commonwealth.”

Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said Ash and Baker did not discuss specific policy before the appointment but that Ash would carry out Baker’s initiatives, including on housing policy and immigration.

“There are no litmus tests when it comes to finding great people to join Governor-elect Baker and Jay is eager to follow through on all of Baker’s initiatives including the alignment of housing policy with federal standards,” Buckley said.

Supporters say Baker has shown flexibility on immigration issues, and was willing to welcome immigrant children to Massachusetts last summer. He has also pledged to continue in-state tuition for immigrant children with temporary legal residency since 2012, known as Dreamers.

Some say Ash’s appointment transcends immigration issues, and reflects Ash’s skills as a tireless yet practical manager eager to see results.

During his tenure as city manager, Chelsea built several new hotels, a major Market Basket supermarket, and 2,000 housing units.

“I just think Jay will approach things with respect and dignity for all human beings and a realistic world view,” said Molly Baldwin, chief executive and founder of Roca, a nonprofit in Chelsea that works with high risk youth and young adults. “If we can have a lot more of that in government that’s a good thing.”

Roy Avellaneda, a former Chelsea city councilor whose Argentine parents were once undocumented, said Ash’s skills transcend immigration issues and could improve cities similar to Chelsea statewide.

“You won’t find a bigger advocate” for affordable housing, Avellaneda said. “You’ve got to look at the position he’s appointed to. That’s right up his alley.”

Vega, head of the Chelsea Collaborative, remained skeptical. She felt it was inappropriate of Ash to join Baker in a campaign stop in Chelsea last August, a city that has championed immigrant rights.

“I think that he should have said no,” Vega said of Ash’s decision to work for Baker. “The only thing that gives me hope is that his heart [Ash] was very loyal to immigrants.”

The same month Ash welcomed Baker in Chelsea, he also welcomed immigrant children who arrived in the country this summer, while the Lynn mayor criticized the surge of children for straining budgets for health care and schools.

“When the mayor of Lynn was saying no, Jay was saying yes,” Vega said, and added, “He said the City of Chelsea’s open for anyone who wants to come. We don’t care about your immigration status.”

“Maybe he’ll educate Baker,” she said. “Who knows?”

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

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Development, Afghanistan: Afghan malnutrition – the search for solutions

JALALABAD, 11 November 2014 (IRIN) – Abdullah’s wails of pain are punctuated only by his rasping cough. His arms bound to his body, he is five months old but weighs just 3.2kg, lighter than some newborns. In the next bed, three-month old Shukoria looks withered and worn, her face wrinkled and pained.

Both are suffering from malnutrition, which affects more than 40 percent of Afghan children, killing thousands every year and leaving millions with permanent disabilities.

“Malnutrition is the main reason for deaths of children under five in this province,” Homayoun Zaheer, head of the Jalalabad hospital, said, pointing to the children.

A government-backed report highlighted the extent of malnutrition in the country, yet experts say efforts to tackle the problem are hampered by cultural norms, shrinking health budgets and the short-term nature of aid donations.

Slow starters

While Afghan malnutrition rates have long been high, until recently they had, many aid workers agree, been something of a hidden problem as there was – and still is – a lack of evidence about the scale of the problem.

The issue was therefore often neglected when aid was doled out. Since 2007 the country has been the world’s leading recipient of development assistance as a percentage of its national income, with US$6.2 billion in 2012 alone. Yet that spending has focused on governance and security, and while new health infrastructure has been created, the extent of malnutrition has received little study.

Franck Abeille, country director at Action Against Hunger (known by its French acronym ACF) said that in the early years after the 2001 US-led invasion there was little focus on malnutrition. “ACF, for example, hardly worked on nutrition from 2003 up until 2006-07,” he said.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey – the first in the country since 2004 – released late last year, showed that over 40 percent of Afghan children under the age of five suffered from permanent stunting as a result of malnutrition, while 9.5 percent of children suffered from wasting.

The number of children with severe acute malnutrition had more than tripled from 98,900 in 2003 to 362,317, while the estimated number of pregnant and lactating women requiring nutrition interventions had nearly doubled to 246,283. Acute malnutrition typically kills more quickly than chronic malnutrition, which is the world’s leading cause of preventable mental disability.

Budget issues

The survey, coming alongside other new evidence, has helped prompt both the Afghan government and the UN to commit to focusing their resources on malnutrition, with the problem to be designated one of the three key priorities of the forthcoming Common Humanitarian Action Plan for 2015.

Yet the drive comes at a time when health resources are being squeezed. Under the country’s Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) healthcare system, international NGOs act as contractors to take on the basic provision of health services in a given district. As the Afghan government has faced financial cutbacks the BPHS budget has decreased, undermining malnutrition outreach programmes. In one province, the monthly budget per patient for all services dropped from 7 euros up to 2013 to 4.7 euros per patient per year in 2014, according to a report from ACF.

“The contract has a set amount of money per patient and the nutrition amount is too small to be useful as it doesn’t allow for any outreach work to take place,” Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the country. “So essentially nutrition has been ignored within the health system.”

Towards solutions

While all sides now agree on the severity of the malnutrition crisis, the solutions are less agreed upon.

Claude Jibidar, country director at the World Food Programme, said that one route he was pushing for is to fortify wheat – the staple of the Afghan diet – potentially with government subsidies.

“A lot of the micronutrient deficiencies would be immediately dealt with,” Jibidar said. “You fortify with a pack of minerals and vitamins [dealing with] anaemia, iron, vitamin A and vitamin D deficiencies.”

“To address the causes of malnutrition. the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“People say it has an effect on the price – I am told it would cost about $4-5 dollars additionally per kilo. Even if it is 10 times that the benefit is worth it,” he added.

Yet such a scheme, while potentially making older Afghans healthier, would only have a limited impact on the youngest.

Hamza Atim, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator for Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gar – in the contested Helmand Province where acute malnutrition is among the highest in the country – pointed out that many Afghan communities do not have a culture of breastfeeding their newly-born children.

Abeille pointed out that this can lead to stunting. “When a child is born, the first milk from the mother. is really the first thing the baby needs,” he said.

“We treat children who are acutely malnourished in hospital – but this is only addressing the symptoms of malnutrition,” Atim said. “If you need to address the causes you need to do a lot of things but the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“Breastfeeding will stop children from getting a lot of illnesses. But this has gone on for generations, so it is a hard sell to address.”

In Jalalabad, Zaheer said they had launched education schemes for the local population, including group sessions in which mothers are taught about health schemes, but admitted many women, particularly those in rural areas, cannot afford to come every week. “Poverty is the key issue here. Poverty and ignorance – it can be a vicious cycle,” he said.

Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator, agreed that more education schemes are needed. “The highest rates of malnutrition correlate to the highest rates of female illiteracy and lack of female education.”

From humanitarian to development

A shift in attitudes on malnutrition may also help. While emergency humanitarian actors have prioritized acute malnutrition, development agencies are needed.

“You have figures for acute malnutrition that are above emergency levels – which is why we treat it as a humanitarian issue – but there are also major issues of stunting, which is largely a development issue,” Bowden said.

Abeille echoed a number of other actors calling for long-term development funding to tackle the root causes of malnutrition.

“When you meet donors they say: ‘one year is perfect, let’s move forward.’ When you suggest three or four years they say: ‘I am not sure we can find the funds.’ So next year we come back with the same problem.”

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On the Media: The Globe rolls out red carpet for documentary film

Original article found on: Poynter

Published Oct. 24, 2014 1:25 pm

This year, editors at The Boston Globe noticed that they shared something important with Hollywood’s biggest night: three directors, all trained at nearby Harvard University, each got Oscar nods for documentary filmmaking.

That got the paper’s attention. Globe editors had known for awhile that New England was a hotbed for documentarians, with big names like Ken Burns and Errol Morris calling the region home. The arts staff, under film editor Janice Page, had long discussed expanding the paper’s coverage of documentary filmmaking; now they had a newspeg.

Now, a few months later, The Boston Globe is rolling out a red carpet of its own for the region’s filmmakers and cinephiles. On Thursday, the paper announced GlobeDocs, a bid to celebrate the city’s nonfiction film scene. The initiative, headed up by Page, will include a series of free screenings (at least one every month) at independent theaters throughout Boston that will include panel discussions with filmmakers and industry experts. The paper is currently working to identify advertisers to sponsor the screenings, said Boston Globe CEO Mike Sheehan.

In an effort to become a hub for the film community, The Globe is also planning to put on a film festival sometime in 2015 and has begun a fund “to support up-and-coming filmmakers,” according to a release announcing GlobeDocs.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, the paper was already beefing up its documentary coverage. Earlier this month, The Globe began devoting a full page of its Sunday arts section to nonfiction film. The paper brought aboard Peter Keough, the former film editor of the now-defunct Boston Phoenix, to anchor the section; he writes a weekly roundup of the region’s documentary news called “Doc Talk” and asks a prominent movie-lover for recommendations in a feature called “Documania.”

Close watchers of The Globe will notice this isn’t the first time the paper has invested in specialized coverage of the city. This year, the paper rolled out two standalone sites — BetaBoston and Crux — to chronicle the startup and Catholic communities, respectively. In June, the paper added a Friday print section, “Capital,” dedicated exclusively to politics coverage. And there will likely be more specialized verticals to follow, Sheehan said.

And as with the other new initiatives, The Globe is planning to kick off GlobeDocs with a live event — in this case, a screening of “The Irish Pub,” featuring a discussion with director Alex Fegan moderated by Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. This echoes other launch events held for verticals like Crux and Capital.

The business thinking behind these live meetups — from next year’s film festival to events the paper’s has been putting on for years — is to position The Globe to become a convener of the community in addition to its chronicler, Sheehan said. The events, which build and showcase the verticals’ respective audiences, have the potential to indirectly drive revenue by making them more attractive to advertisers.

“Newspapers were traditionally experienced in someone’s hand, something someone read,” Sheehan said. “At their best today, newspapers are something that bring people together.”

Original article found on: Poynter

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On the Media: Controlled chaos – As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?

Original article found on: NiemanLab

By LIAM ANDREW Oct. 29, 2014

Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
Documentary film and journalism are, in many ways, rooted in the same traditions. Though focus on narrative often differentiates film from traditional journalism, it helps to remember that the earliest films were straightforward recordings of real life, such as trains pulling into stations.

Decades after L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, journalists like Edward R. Murrow made activist films that helped shape the documentary’s focus on social issues, while 1960s direct cinema filmmakers played with a journalistic sense of objectivity and realism.

Today, more and more documentaries are finding news publishers to be the ideal platforms for their work — especially interactive documentaries, like those mapped by Docubase. Meanwhile, journalism schools increasingly offer courses in software development and multimedia production. As both practices migrate into the digital space, they have a lot to learn from one another.

odlmitlogoTo further explore this convergence, earlier this month MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and the MacArthur Foundation hosted a daylong event called “The New Reality.”1 Participants represented old stalwarts with large audiences like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Frontline, younger upstarts like Vox and Storyful, documentary fixtures from Tribeca and Sundance, and a range of academics studying digital journalism and interactive media. The goal was to explore the synergies and fissures at the crossroads of interactive documentary and digital journalism; here’s a brief overview of what was discussed, what remains unsolved, and what went unsaid.

The forms and platforms are converging
Journalists and filmmakers are increasingly using the same tools to tell stories, and they’re releasing them on the same platforms. Two panels at “The New Reality” — “Documentary Forms and Processes” and “Technologies in a Changing Media Landscape” — focused on these issues. Recurring examples of this technical merging were the many docs released by news entities, such as Katerina Cizek’s Highrise project produced by the National Film Board of Canada and published with the Times.

News organizations already have a built-in audience with stakes in social issues, an ideal springboard for a documentary filmmaker. In addition, entities like the Times and the Guardian have rich archives and technological firepower, allowing filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of their form.

At the outset, Frontline’s Raney Aronson, a panelist, asked when a documentary should be interactive instead of linear. Panelists explored the tension between immersion and play, and the balance of experimentation with cohesion; web-native documentaries can take endless forms, each with endless capacity, but nobody wants to see a sprawling, sloppy product. The interactive form often requires the viewer to be an active and interested participant in the topic.

Cizek mentioned her favorite line, “I came for the technology, I stayed for the story,” but many storytellers are looking for a broader audience than activists and doc enthusiasts.

The unique form of each interactive doc also makes critical comparison and audience literacy difficult. Most agreed that projects should start with the story and build the form around it, but templates can serve as shortcuts to start developing a language for interactive features. Gabriel Dance of The Marshall Project called each story “a beautiful delicate flower…there is no template, there is no tool,” and AIR’s Sue Schardt stressed that it’s important to find the language before the funding models.

But too much experimentation may also keep the field from legitimizing. Some documentaries, like 18 Days in Egypt or Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo‘s Sandy Storyline, are about process and participation too; how can we judge these works critically? How will they be assessed for potential funding? And do they have a place in the newsroom, as CUNY’s new social journalism master’s degree might suggest?

There was also more practical discussion around technologies and platforms, and the challenge of balancing readymade templates and customized tools and code. Standardizing forms would also mean standardizing technologies and frameworks, which would streamline the process and reduce costs, but risk some of the creative experimentation. For now, storytellers are limited by the small screens of mobile devices and minimal capacity for interaction; the most exciting content-sharing platforms are too complex for mass audiences and commercial viability. Having conceded to Facebook and YouTube as the primary interaction and communication platforms, the trick might be to build tools that creatively remix them, though APIs may be unstable and engineers would end up taking on editorial responsibilities.

Audiences, participants, and publics are in transition
Journalists and documentarians have always cared about the impact of their work, but now they can see, measure, and interact with it. Digital metrics have changed what constitutes a successful project, which increasingly contributes to choices made by the creators (and some argued that it certainly should). Moreover, the web has created new opportunities for crowdsourced and participatory works — journalists use their audience to land scoops, source data, and fund projects. At MIT, the depth of potential audience interaction was discussed on panels such as “Rethinking Participation: What Can We Learn from Documentaries?” and “Audience Engagement & Impact.”

But “the audience” and “the public” are two very different groups, as the Times’ Lexi Mainland pointed out. Times readers represent a limited demographic, and will only be able to contribute to a small subset of the paper’s journalism; this is even more true for the niche audiences at small startups and trade journals. Tapping into the web’s communication channels without falling into the audience bubble will be crucial as storytellers hunt for stories worth telling, and presenting them compellingly.

Some panelists claimed to have a clear picture of their audience, but none have a solid grasp on impact. This is unsurprising, given that even the audience turns out to be slippery — public institutions are there to serve the public, of course, but their viewership and donors must be a priority. Older demographics still reach for TV and traditional forms, while digital and interactive viewers will skew younger. We can measure some behaviors, but they’re continuously shifting. For example, panelist Kamal Sinclair of Sundance pointed out that, while nobody expected millennials to sit and watch a 45-minute video on mobile, Vice has proven that they will.

What does that mean for the definition of a “successful” video project, as compared to a few years ago? Panelist and Rutgers professor Philip Napoli suggested that time spent was a dangerous measure of quality, too, calling attention “the last bottleneck” for the media world. There was general agreement that while metrics for documentary skew towards qualitative and personal impact measurement, journalism skews more towards the quantitative and aggregative. A blurring of these lines seems healthy as the forms collide.

Another concern around audience was the necessity of closing the feedback loop with creators. Participant and USC professor Henry Jenkins championed networked “circulation” over traditional top-down “distribution,” saying it would afford a better afterlife to projects and inform newsroom processes and practices.

The traditions, standards, and institutions remain divergent
Finally, a panel called “Journalistic Standards in Transition” focused on the balance between aesthetics and ethics in documentary and in journalism. For better or worse, journalism is a more codified institution than documentary, with its own degrees and standards about what journalism “is” or should be. Documentary is a more ramshackle affair, with its share of festivals and awards but less unified and established conventions.

The panel started with Aronson asking panelists to define journalism, which set the tone for complex questions: how do you deal with bias or media with an agenda, like an ISIS propaganda video? How many cameras need to be present to “verify” an event? Is it wrong for journalists to manipulate footage, even to add sound effects or music?

The current trend towards advocacy journalism can borrow ideas from documentary, but Jason Spingarn-Koff of the Times’ Op-Docs reiterated the need for fact-checking in order to maintain journalistic rigor. “We shouldn’t make everyone adhere to being journalists, but we do have journalistic standards at the Times,” he says.

But outside the Times, the line grows ever blurrier — there is no journalism, only “acts of journalism,” as Jeff Howe said, reiterating a line of Jay Rosen’s. Some journalistic outfits, like the Center for Investigative Reporting, are making graphic novels and rap videos; Ariane Wu asked when this stopped being journalism and became something more like art. On the one hand, this is a question of semantics, but on the other hand, the question has major consequences for how nonfiction video and interactive projects get made, structured and funded.

Another major differenceC9B80531-DF6B-4262-9788-BE27D63D6C4E is that, while docs can take years to create, news is inherently fast-paced. Longform works emerge between these time scales, of course, and can be crucial for bringing the public’s attention to complex story arcs; this type of storytelling helps the audience place newsworthy events in the context of larger historical phenomena. Interactive features might have form and marketing challenges, but they can play a crucial role in balancing the time scale of the news cycle.

What’s next — and what’s missing
While a few participants expressed relief at avoiding state-of-the-industry and revenue model discussions, such conversation was sometimes unavoidable. Beyond lamenting the lack of platform innovation in a crowded market, Larry Birnbaum of Narrative Science reminded attendees that advertisers lurk just around the corner of every new media innovation: there are people with much more money and much clearer goals who are eager for these tools and forms to be developed.

Looking further into the future, new platforms will mean new responsibilities for storytellers. Oculus Rift was cited as an example of a technology that raises the stakes, as do 3-D and tactile media. These platforms, like any others, have the potential to manipulate viewers and spread propaganda, but Birnbaum suggested that while computers can provide us with live data, immersive graphics and interactivity, they are still very far away from the higher-level field of complex storytelling.

Overall, “storytelling” was the word of the day. Participants preferred to self-identify as “storytellers” and “story-makers” rather than the platform-stereotyped “journalist” or “filmmaker.” It’s also telling that while everyone wants to be a storyteller, no one wants to be maligned as a “content creator.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Cizek spoke of “the people formerly known as subjects,” a phrase that resonated with many. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether we haven’t replaced “subjects” with “users,” a term that comes from the tech industry, which has fashioned better techniques for understanding its audience than the journalism or media industries. There could have been, I think, more discussion of these terms and who owns their histories.

Caught between advertisers and aggregators, journalists are not as in control of their message as much as storytellers typically like to be. In the age of the attention economy, gaining eyeballs often means producing work that triggers an emotional response, new ground for traditionalists. Is this journalism or documentary? Birnbaum, and others, called it loosely controlled chaos.

“Live with it,” he said. “It’s a haphazard field.”

Original article found on: NiemanLab

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Afghanistan: Climate change – Afghans on the front line

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

By Joe Dyke

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Naim Korbon is rebuilding his home after devastating floods (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, 4 November 2014 (IRIN) – In northern Afghanistan, the residents don’t often use the phrase – most don’t even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change. As a new UN report warns that “irreversible” climate change is affecting more people than ever, these Afghans are on the front line.

Naim Korbon says he is 90 years old, though he admits he does not really know. Either way he is too old to be carrying cement. Yet in the northern Afghan village of Rozi Bay in Balkh Province, he and his extended family are rebuilding their homes.

Earlier this year his life’s work was destroyed as vicious floods cascaded through the area. It was, local experts say, the worst to hit the region in 42 years. Nearly half of the village was swept away, including Korbon’s home. All down his street buildings – many of them over 50 years old – are slumped; roofs sliding off, surrounded by piles of debris. “We will rebuild it all better than before,” Korbon said, picking up his shovel.

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

Floods are not the only weather making the residents’ lives harder. In the nearby village of Baghacha Khan Mula local representative Abdul Jalote Mufakar pointed at the barren earth with a sense of resignation. “In recent years, there are no crops. Only almonds grow any more,” he said.

This pattern of long droughts, poor harvests and flash floods has been a growing trend for the people of northern Afghanistan, with experts largely in agreement that the climate is becoming more extreme. A new report identified Afghanistan as one of 11 countries globally at extreme risk of both climate change and food insecurity.

One trend is for late, harsh cold snaps that can mean snow and sleet hit just as crops and fruits are blossoming, killing the produce. “Every year the cold season comes later and stays later,” Mufakar says.

Such cold snaps also help make the floods more intense, Andrew Scanlon, country director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), explained: “If you are getting late snow it is warmer and melts faster. If you get snow up to April, it is not very consolidated and it melts in May; whereas if you get snow in February or March it packs and lasts all the way through until August.”

High risks

Scanlon estimates that since 1982 temperatures in northern Afghanistan have risen about 0.8 degrees per decade, though he accepts that the data is not reliable enough to know for certain.

These changes have coincided with, and partly led to, increasing poverty for the residents in Balkh. In the 1970s, the average Tajik family (the majority ethnic grouping in the area) in northern Afghanistan had 100 goats, one cow and two oxen, according to a report by the NGO Action Against Hunger. Today, it is seven goats and less than one cow or ox per family.

“Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies.” While three decades of war has been the primary driver of this gradual slide into poverty, the changing climate has also played a role. “Most people here are farmers. In the past we used to have a lot of livestock but after several years of drought, we had to eat the animals,” Mufakar explains.

Mohibullah Niazi, senior shelter technical officer at the north Afghanistan branch of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says the climate may have reached a tipping point.

“People are experiencing flash flooding, river flooding, landslides [and] avalanches in [the past] three years, [the likes of which] they had not experienced in past 56 years.

Adapt or die

Adjusting to such a situation requires radical thinking. Scanlon said there was a push from the UN, civil society, NGOs and local Afghan groups to encourage the nascent Afghan government towards a larger programme of what is called watershed management.

This would include more schemes to protect individual towns like Khulm in Balkh Province. The town has been spared some of the worst flooding in recent years following the creation of a watershed project designed by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Three dams harvest the rain and floodwater, while two reservoirs feed a drip irrigation system – helping water 150 hectares of land planted with trees. This also leads to more stable earth, reducing the risk of flooding.

Other adaptation mechanisms are being employed as well. To reduce the flood risks, houses built to government standards are required to have stronger foundations, while expensive burnt bricks are used wherever possible to reduce the risk of collapse.

A March 2014 Afghan government planning document seen by IRIN also highlights the need for farmers to shift the crops they produce.

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

“Whilst certain crop species may actually benefit from carbon enrichment and increased temperatures (e.g. wheat, which may experience an expansion of its growing season), it is likely that the increase in intensity and duration of both droughts and floods will significantly decrease the productivity of most species,” the document said.

Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies. The US government has spent $7.6 billion in the past 13 years trying to tackle poppies, which form the basis of heroin, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Yet in recent years there has been a resurgence in cultivation, partly as poppies require less water than other crops.

“More water intensive staple crops will become less attractive to farmers, with a likely increase in the attractiveness of those that are more drought hardy, including opium poppy,” Niazi said.

Part of the issue is that villages like Rozi Bay cannot do it alone. Most areas affected by flooding are downstream, but the problems start far higher at the source of the rivers. “People start to do protection work in the lower catchments to protect the [populations] but you have to really start way back up in Badakhshan where the problems are emanating from,” said Scanlon, referring to the northern mountainous province.

Scanlon said that only in recent years have the reporting mechanisms in the country been strong enough to start to build up the country’s meteorological data, enabling better understanding of environmental change. UNEP, along with the Afghan government and other partners, is in the process of establishing a national environment data center. This, he said, is beginning to enable them to develop a bigger picture of the challenges with the aim of establishing better early-warning systems among others. “We need to embrace complexity and then come up with solutions for complex situations,” he said.

While he was careful not to talk about specific towns, Scanlon suggested that a debate needs to be had about whether it is feasible to keep rebuilding in areas that are likely to see yet more extreme weather in the coming years. It could, he posits, be better to move communities on to higher regions rather than continue to invest in rebuilding those in flood-prone ones.

But in a region where attachment to land is incredibly high, any such moves are likely to face fierce resistance. Mufakar tells a cautionary tale of one man who left his village after the floods to seek a new life in the state capital Mazar-i-Sharif. “When I see him now he just cries – before he had land, now he has nothing,” he said.

And back in Rozi Bay, Korbon, too, has little time for such pessimism in the face of climate change. Pointing to newly built foundations and burnt bricks, he is confident the problem is dealt with for good.

“We borrowed more [than the NGO gave us] so we only have to do this once, never again,” he said. The meteorologists may not be so sure.

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

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