Friday, December 19, 2008

Zimbabwe - aid appeal


Child in cholera clinic - Oxfam

I'm now in Johannesburg, South Africa, helping to publicise Oxfam's appeal to raise £4m to help those affected and suffering from the effects of a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe.



Oxfam have been working in the country, rehabilitating water sources and distributing hygiene kits. We are now trying to scale up their operation to provide help to more than a million people, in view of the seriousness of the situation.


With hyperinflation, poor harvests and food shortages all taking their toll, it is estimated that there will be over 5.1 million Zimbabweans in need of food aid by January 2009. Some people are so hungry they are eating seeds that should be planted.
Oxfam rehabilitated borehole in Kotwa

Cholera, a water-born disease, continues to rise with the latest figures from the UN showing that it has infected 18,000 people and killed about 800 with many more deaths and infections are believed to have gone unrecorded. Cholera is now affecting nine out of Zimbabwe's ten provinces and is likely to spread further if, as expected, there are more heavy rains in the next month.

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/


Thursday, December 4, 2008

BANGLADESH CLIMATE CHANGE FRONTIER STATE

video

Bangladesh - one of the poorest and most overcrowded countries in the world is also one of the most vulnerable countries to the negative impacts of climate change...here's why

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rangamati, Chittagong Hill Tracts, climate protest


Indigenous (or adivashi) communities were among people from Bangladeshs isolated south-eastern Chittagong Hill Tract Area taking part in a mass meeting to voice their concerns about climate change and the impact its having on their native forest lands.

Nearly 1,000 people, mainly indigenous groups, took part in the activity, which included local cultural performances.

Some carried banners calling for indusrialised nations to open their borders so that poor and vulnerable communities adversely affected by climatic changes and forced to move from their lands or climate refugees could find alternative and safer locations for their families.

Others held banners calling on the worlds richest countries to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions and compensate poor nations like Bangladesh. They urged financial help to allow communities to protect themselves from the negative impacts caused by rising sea levels, including unpredictable weather patterns and flash flooding.

Marginalised indigenous villagers in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas say weather patterns have become unpredictable and flash flooding has increased in recent years, causing land erosion and damaging their crops livelihoods.

People are already worried about climate change. It affects their livelihoods, said Arun Kanti Chakma, executive director of the Assistance for the Livelihood of the Origins (ALO), one of the event organizers.

Already cultivation is being affected, people are not getting good crop production because of irregular rainfall and sometimes very heavy rainfall, or no rain at all. Its become a big problem for us and people here are already among the most marginalized.

The climate change protest was organized by Oxfam and the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), an alliance of more than 150 civic groups, in the run up to the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland.



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Women wear G8 masks - call for help

They may not have heard the term "climate change", but these women workers - including those who try to make a living from breaking bricks to garment workers - who turned up at a rally in Dhaka, know all too well how changing weather patterns have been affecting their lives and those of millions of others in Bangladesh.


They donned masks representing leaders of the world's top industrialised countries - the G8 - and chanted out slogans “Protect our agriculture, protect our country, protect our lives from the damaging effects of climate change”.

In the last few years Bangladesh has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate-related problems. But changing temperatures and patterns have meant that weather-related disasters have become less predictable and harder to manage. And that makes it harder for the poorest communities to prepare or respond to increased hazards.
The activity was the last of eight major events around the country, highlighting how climate changes have affecting individual communities living in different geographical locations.
The events were organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Bangladesh will eventually become one of the most vulnerable countries on earth because of the implications of climate change”, said climate change expert, Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, of the Centre for Global Change, one of the speakers at the Dhaka event.




“The magnitude of the problem is enormous. Not only for Bangladesh, but all the people affected by climate change, it’s a clear message: unless the world leaders decide to stop emissions now, many people around the world will become climate victims and climate refugees, this is unacceptable to us.

“The need for adaptation and adaptation financing is increasing day by day”, he warned.


climate rally in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, southwestern Bangladesh



Some of the indigenous women taking part in the rally and meeting

Indigenous (or adivashi) communities were among people from Bangladesh’s isolated south-eastern Chittagong Hill Tract Area took part in a mass meeting to voice their concerns about climate change and the impact its having on their native forest lands.

Nearly 1,000 people, mainly indigenous groups, took part in the activity, which included local cultural performances.

Local cultural performances were also on display in between the speeches
Some carried banners calling for indusrialised nations to open their borders so that poor and vulnerable communities adversely affected by climatic changes and forced to move from their lands – or climate refugees – could find alternative and safer locations for their families.


Others held banners calling on the world’s richest countries to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions and compensate poor nations like Bangladesh. They urged financial help to allow communities to protect themselves from the negative impacts caused by rising sea levels, including unpredictable weather patterns and flash flooding.

Marginalised indigenous villagers in the Chittagong Hill Tract areas say weather patterns have become unpredictable and flash flooding has increased in recent years, causing land erosion and damaging their crops livelihoods.

“People are already worried about climate change. It affects their livelihoods”, said Arun Kanti Chakma, executive director of the Assistance for the Livelihood of the Origins (ALO), one of the event organizers.

“Already cultivation is being affected, people are not getting good crop production because of irregular rainfall and sometimes very heavy rainfall, or no rain at all. Its become a big problem for us – and people here are already among the most marginalized.”

The climate change protest was organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month

It’s the latest in a series of large-scale campaign activities across Bangladesh to highlight how climate change is affecting individual communities.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Climate protests and travels

I've a unique opportunity to travel around large parts of Bangladesh right now to see communities involved in rallies and hold meetings about how climatic changes are affecting their lives. Today, I was in Mymensingh, northern Bangladesh. A lovely city with lots of old buildings and mainly trishaws, rather than cars or motorbikes.

The event was very interesting, attracting around 3,000 - most of the group members of indigenous communities

Living in forested areas - which are being affected by changing weather patterns - indigenous groups are among the first to feel the impact of climate change on their natural environment.

Another problem these groups face is land-grabbing by influential, politically connected groups and individuals. One of their demands is the protection of their customary lands.


The day before, I was in Khulna, in the south-west, which is often affected by floods - often as a result of water-logging.

These activists staged a drama highlighting environmental problems in the area, particularly in the Sunderbans - the worlds large'st mangrove forests, including the loss of biodiversity.

Protest in Khulna

Bangladesh is affected by numerous floods and cyclones. But there is a drought-prone area too.
Two hundred women from indigenous (or adivashi) communities in Rajshahi, north-western Bangladesh, carried empty clay water pots to symbolically highlight the problem.



The area, which is located in the Barind Tract of the country, has experienced serious water shortages which has been exacerbated by climate change. Communities say they dont have enough water for drinking, irrigation and agriculture.

A lack of rainfall meant farmers had poor crop yields, especially winter crops, including potato. But the greatest burden falls on women villagers who are forced to travel further from their homes to collect water.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

thousands in northern Bangladesh call for climate change action

video


Nearly five thousand people took part in this very colourful rally in Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh - one of the poorest areas of the country.

its the first of a series of events happening in the country organized by Oxfam and its key partner, the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), ahead of the United Nations conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland, next month (December 1-12)

Many in the crowd wore head banners reading “Stop harming, start helping”. They are calling for richer countries, who are primarily responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, to cut their national carbon emissions. They want more help for poorer countries like Bangladesh to undertake adaptation measures to reduce their vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change.

Two elephants joined the crowd, one bearing the national flag of the United States, symbolizing the slow progress made by the world’s leading industrialized nations to take steps to reduce global warming, which was blocking the development of poor countries like Bangladesh.

Many of those joining the event live in char areas - a unique phenomenon in Bangladesh; basically these are islands of silt, or sandbars, that emerge out of river systems because of erosion. But just as they rise, they also disappear...forcing landless families who've moved onto them to live and earn what money they can from farming to move in several years time when the chars once again disappear into the water, largely due to erosion of the sandbanks.

People living on them are extremely poor and very vulnerable to flooding and heavy rainfall...often their small wooden houses are flooded and they cant farm the land for several months of the year.

Scientists have predicted that Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

Tackling the polluters





Outside a community centre in Jessore district, south-western Bangladesh, a team of art students are feverishly at work, determined to complete five large canvases. Before the morning is over, each panel will colourfully depict some of the weather-related problems that Bangladesh is currently facing, from waterlogged areas to flooding, cyclones and river erosion.







Inside the building, hundreds of other students have gathered to hear activists and environmentalists explain why Bangladesh - a low-lying, poor and densely-populated country which suffers from many weather-related problems every year - is seeing an increase in their frequency and intensity. Scientists say the phenomenon is related to global warming.



Masum Billah Hauladar, a 24-year-old from Barguna district, in south-western Bangladesh, knows first hand what that can mean. His hometown was one of the areas affected by cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh last November, killing more than three thousand and leaving millions homeless.

“I saw so many people left without proper shelter”, he said. “Many villagers are poor and uneducated. It’s our responsibility to educate them so we can help to prevent future disasters, and to get richer countries to help us in the future.”

Activities like this one in Jessore have been taking place across the country over the past five months. They’re part of a campaign by one of Bangladesh’s biggest newspapers, The Daily Jugantor, with the support of Oxfam.

Students taking part are also being asked to sign postcards, which are being sent out to ambassadors representing G8 countries based in the capital, Dhaka, with the message, “Stop Harming, Start Helping”.






Messages on the cards call on members of the world leading industrialised nations, the G8, to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and for the world’s chief polluters to provide poorer countries like Bangladesh with financial help to be able to better protect themselves against the adverse impacts of climate change.









More than 80,000 will be mailed out by the end of November. ”Many of our people are poor and illiterate”, said 22-year-old Tumpa Sangita, a highly articulate female student. “They don’t know about climate change, CFCs or greenhouses gases. But they are the people being affected now. They’re not the people creating the problem, but they are the people suffering.”






Its organisers believe that the campaign is already having a big impact. “Before, many people thought these weather disasters and changes we’re seeing were simply natural phenomena. Some even thought they happened because they were being punished for sins their communities may have committed”, said Sohrab Hasan, associate editor of The Daily Jugantor.


“But now more are realizing that’s not the case. The natural disasters have some linkages with social factors. They’re happening because of the sins of developed countries. They’re the most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and they should be ethically bound to help people in Bangladesh.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cyclone Sidr - 1 year on

Today is the one year anniversary of Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh on November 15, 2007, killing more than 3,000 people and leaving millions homeless.

Low-lying Bangladesh is often prone to weather-related disasters, like cyclones. But in recent years, due to climatic changes, the intensity, ferocity and unpredictability of weather disasters have increased.

While there has been substantial international and governmental help for those affected by the disaster, more than 1/4 million families are still without proper shelter - many living in shacks with plastic sheeting or tin to protect them against the elements.




Oxfam released a documentary, Our Home after Sidr, highlighting some of the serious problems facing those affected by the cyclone.

People like Mussamat Shaheeda, from South Hajar Bigha, Barguna district. She lost her 8 year old son and daughter, just a few months old, in the cyclone. At a news conference, she tearfully told her audience that she was still without any proper housing.




A senior government official attending the launch has said there needed to be greater efforts and coordination between the goverment and donors to help those still in need.


“We accept there is a need for additional assistance for rebuilding their houses”, said K.H. Masud Siddiqui, Director General of the Disaster Management Bureau, which is in charge of overseeing the response to emergencies in Bangladesh.

He said government officials were currently assessing the Cyclone-affected areas to identify gaps.

There are concern for families in the south-west who face a second winter without safe homes - who remain highly vulnerable to ill health, malnutrition and future disasters.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

goodbye Taiwan

Taiwan is where I learnt - and loved - salsa dancing


After more than four years, I've left Taiwan..an island that I called my home.


While it doesnt attract the tourist hordes many other places in Asia do, Taiwan is a forgotten or hidden gem. I used to say living there was like seeing a flower bloom...not all of its attractions are immediately revealed; but the longer you stay, the more you grow to appreciate the place. From stunning mountain areas, beautiful beaches, rich cultural traditions, unique aboriginal lifestyles, its a wonderful place and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to live there and get to make some really good friends.
I'll miss the place

Dhaka visit - protests

I'm currently in Dhaka, Bangladesh - my first deployment since I've left the BBC and Taiwan. I'm now working with Oxfam as a globally-travelling press officer.

I'm in Bangladesh to try to generate more media coverage for Oxfam's work - with some of the focus on climate change issues.

In the last few years, low-lying Bangladesh, already prone to cyclones and other weather-disasters, has seen an increase in the intensity and frequency of climate related problems. Changing conditions have meant weather-related disasters have become less predictable and more difficult to manage. A lack of information and resources makes it harder for the poorest communities to prepare or respond to increased hazards.

Scientists have predicted that Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming.

At the end of my first week here, I saw my first Bangladesh protest.

These people were asking for government help in Jessore and Shatkira districts in south-western Bangladesh.

Around 161,000 were affected by the flooding which hit the region in late September.

Aid groups are concerned that thousands could be at risk with many families living in temporary, makeshift shelters, because of lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

While Bangladesh is frequently affected by cyclones and storms, south-western Bangladesh has not traditionally experienced heavy flooding. But that changed in 2004 and annual flooding has left hundreds of thousands of hectares of land under water for up to six months a year. The water level this year is much higher than in previous years – a situation linked to rising sea and coastal levels.

One reason for the heavy flooding has been the silting of local rivers and the disruption of their normal flows and poorly maintained embankments built decades ago to assist flood management.
The recent floods have damaged rice crops and washed away shrimp farms in affected areas. Flood water levels are more than two feet higher than in previous years and local communities said they would not be able to cultivate any crops in the coming season, making families even more vulnerable.

Humanitarian groups, who are closely monitoring the situation, have called such cases of localised flooding “silent disasters”. They are not classified national crises and government efforts have been limited. Aid groups believe a joint advocacy strategy is essential to find a longer-term solution to mitigating similar crises in the future

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Morocco holiday



Patient readers...its been several months since I've updated this site... and a lot has happened to me in that time.

August, a holiday to Morocco.

The amazing landscape at Todra Gorge.


Desert scenery

Amazing hennaed hands
Palm trees and sandy buildings
Interior detail, King Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca Beautiful tiling


Silk threads

Lots of retail therapy Incredible souks and markets
Essaouira - the windy city Leather hides being laid out - before they're softened, dyed and dipped

Friday, July 11, 2008

Orchid Island

Fishing is key to the culture in Orchid Island

I was very excited recently to have the chance to visit Orchid Island to see a traditional boat launch.

A family clan from Donqing village on Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu in Chinese - a volcanic, mountainous island located off Taiwan's south-east coast - are preparing for the biggest celebration in their village in recent years.

This 7.5 metre-long, ten-seater traditional wooden canoe is about to be launched. It is not made from one tree, but 27 separate pieces of wood, taken from several locally grown trees; and held together by glue, wooden pins and cords.

The boat has taken months to complete. According to local traditions, only one single clan from a particular village or an extended family can build a boat.

Boat owner, 69 year old Syapen Koten said he was determined that his family should build a traditional boat. "When I saw other families, other fishing teams during the flying fish season, they all had big, wooden boats. But we only had a small boat. I felt very upset. So I decided to get my family the means to build this big boat."

"Catching flying fish and building boats are closely linked together. If there's no fishing boat, you can't catch the fish. So it is an important part of our tradition."

Wooden canoes on the island - which feature a upturned bow and stern pointing up to the sky - are elaborately carved and painted in the Tao tribe's traditional colours of red white and black. They're decorated with intricate, geometrical patterns.

Each boat is slightly different - since each clan has its own unique totem.

Fishermen will traditionally set out in the boats wearing T-strings, or loin cloths. But in recent years, fewer of the traditional boats are being made. Carving skills are being lost. And richer villagers have started to buy motorboats, rather than wooden canoes, for fishing .

Six families were involved in making the boat. But some of the knowledge of the traditional skills is passing away. This clan fear this boat may be the last they ever make. Elders are passing away. And many of the younger generation have limited knowledge of the elaborate traditional customs.

The boat owner's son, 37 year old Syaman Manidong, says while he was very honoured to take part in the ritual, he's also embarrassed, as he doesn't know how to build a boat or carve.


He's helped his relatives with the heavy lifting and tried to learn from watching them. But he believes that the government should offer more systematic help in providing some training for the young - so they can also become master craftsmen and maintain the traditions.


Building a 10-seater wooden canoe is a communal activity. It's not only time-consuming but also costly. Enough of the island's staple food, taro, needs to be planted and pigs reared well ahead of the elaborate ceremony. The island's inhabitants, who number fewer than 4,000, are mainly aboriginals - members of the Tao tribe. They migrated to the island about 800 years ago from the Batan Archipelago in the northern Philippines.

While the Tao's cultural traditions remain stronger than in many other aboriginal groups in Taiwan - because of the island's distance from the mainland - they have also suffered under the decades-old policy of Sinicisation, pursued when Taiwan was ruled as a one-party state by the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, which once governed all of China. Under the policy, children were forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, not their native tongue, in school.


The central government ordered the island's traditional houses to be demolished and "above ground" concrete housing to be built. However, there are a few remaining traditional houses left on the island, set into the hillsides, built behind coral-rock walls.


The houses are built from stone, half submerged several feet into the ground to protect them from typhoons which often hit the island.

While fish is the main source of protein for villagers, they also raise pigs and goats - which freely roam the island. Other local foods are taro and yam, or sweet potato.

There's little major development on the island, which has one gas station, a post office, bank, and a few convenience stores. There are several small hotels, and many more family-run guesthouses.

Apart from on major festivals, when the young return for the celebrations, locals say the island is made up mainly of old people and children.

Young people can only be educated up to high school level. They must go to the Taiwan mainland if they want to attend college or university. Many more go to Taiwan in search of work, as there are few job opportunities on the island.

Families try to make enough money to send their children to school on the mainland. They believe education is the key to helping the next generation get better opportunities and reversing their economic fortunes.


But sending their children to Taiwan also represents a loss in the link in passing down traditions orally between the generations.


It's the first time the clan will have launched a traditional wooden boat in 30 years. And elaborate rituals need to be followed.

The day before the boat is launched, villagers will arrive throughout the day with gifts of taro - which then will be place in a huge mound inside the boat, covering it completely. Taro leaves will then be carefully placed on top.

On the eve of the boat launch, the clan invite special guests to join them. The elderly male guests are dressed in their finest costumes - including silver helmets and other decorations.
They are ceremoniously welcomed, and sit down to join in singing with the boat owners. The group will sing songs describing the building of the boat, its beauty, as well as their wishes for the future safety of its crew and good fishing catches.


The Tao believe boats possess a soul. That's why before it can be launched, spirits need to be pacified; and evil spirits scared away, or exorcised.


The launch ceremony will include a rite of driving the devils away. Villagers in the clan, old and young, will clench their fists, try to keep their eyes widely opened and shout out loud to scare the bad spirits.

On the day of the boat launch, pigs are slaughtered, intended as a symbolic sacrifice. More than forty pigs will be killed for this ceremony; the meat then roasted and distributed to guests.

A pig can cost more than $100 - a large amount for villagers - but the show of generosity is a sign of the family's prestige and social standing.

The boat is finally about to be launched.
Despite non-stop heavy rain, thousands of people have crowded around the boat and harbour to watch the spectacle.After two days of ceremonial ritual, there's applause and loud cheers as the boat is put out to sea. It will sail and return to the shore several times. High-spirited young villagers splash each other in mock-fights as they swim into the ocean.The boat launch is a powerful reminder that despite worries about the island's future, traditional ceremonies can still powerfully unite islanders and make them feel proud about their rich culture.The ocean and fishing - especially flying fish, also known as skipjack, is central to the Tao culture.


The flying fish season normally begins in March; and traditionally would last until September. But falling fish stocks - blamed on overfishing by mainland Taiwanese fishermen who use motorboats and the impact of global warming - has meant that this year's catch season ended in early June.

The Tao people believe the flying fish is a gift from heaven. And there are many rituals and taboos surrounding the catching and eating of the fish. There are special fish types to be eaten only by the elders, by men and the women. Different fishing methods are observed during different months, to ensure that the fish stocks are sustainably harvested. The tribe believe they should only catch what they can eat.




Fish is hung up and dried at the end of the fishing season - and eaten during the lean winter months



The island's rich traditions and rugged scenery - including excellent diving and snorkeling spots - are a big draw for tourists.


Around 70,000 come to the island every year. Some enterprising islanders have set up small shops and galleries showcasing local crafts and giving them some extra income.

But many elderly villagers resent the tourist arrivals - especially being the subject of snap-happy tourists, many of whom care little about respecting local traditions.


Villagers worry about the impact tourists will have on the young generation. They warn that if outsiders pay scant respect to Orchid Island's traditions and rituals, it will make young children also feel that their traditions are regarded as worthless by outsiders, and not worth observing themselves.

Another big worry for the island is the legacy of this innocuous looking building, whose sign reads "Lanyu (Orchid Island) Storage Site." The building stores potentially hazardous material - nearly 98,000 barrels of low grade nuclear waste taken from Taiwan's three nuclear plants.

The site began operating in 1982; but stopped accepting additional nuclear waste in 1996. Villagers were originally told that the building would be used as a fish cannery, with its own port facilities and that it would provide much-needed employment..Only much later did they discover its true purpose.


The government has said the nuclear waste dump will shut down by 2016 - and the waste will move to another site on Taiwan's main island. There have been protests over the plant since the late 1980s; with villagers reporting mutated fish, claiming increasing cancer rates and contaminated soil.


But removal of the plant, run by the state-owned Taipower, will also mean a loss of income for many islanders; and for the local village government.