29 July 2014

Reforestation to take back the desert: Green Wall in Africa?

Years ago I heard about an effort in China to plant a forest belt along the length of the Gobi desert in China. Apparently, this project, China's Great Green Wall, is scheduled for completion by 2050. A colleague turned me onto a similar effort in Africa against the advance of the Sahara desert. The effort to establish a Great Green Wall in Africa is covered in this recent article in Science Alert. The direct and indirect advantage of such an effort is an inspiration and an example of how things are changing on the continent.

Greenbelts or greenways are a great effort with potential to revitalize and retain soils, change local climate and temperatures, refresh and store water resources, provide an economic possibility for local communities, provide habitat, allow species migrations, allow human recreation spaces; in all, a positive engineered change of the landscape with water as the key piece.

In journalist Howard French's recent novel release - China's Second Continent - he highlights the incredible economic growth numbers of 8% to 11% in many African countries. Change in economics, climate, and development all over the continent bode well for future opportunities. I am excited about these positive changes and what comes next!

Africa builds 'Great Green Wall' of trees to improve farmlands
BECKY CREW   
THURSDAY, 24 JULY 2014
Twenty African nations have banded together to build a monumental Great Green Wall of Africa - a forest of drought-resistant trees stretching across the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Stretching over a space of 9,400,00 square kilometres and covering most of North Africa, the Sahara is the largest non-polar desert in the world. And it’s getting bigger. 
According to the US’s Public Education Center website, the effects of climate change are causing the Sahara to creep into bordering countries such as Senegal, Mauritania, and Nigeria, which poses a serious threat to their farmlands and agricultural productivity. The Guardianreports that by 2025, two-thirds of Africa's arable land could be lost to the desert if nothing is done to stem its expansion. 
To mitigate this and other environmental issues affecting Africa such as land degradation, the effects of climate change, and a loss of biodiversity, Senegal is leading a 20-nation initiative known as the Great Green Wall. Most notably, this initiative involves erecting a wall of trees across the southern edge of the Sahara desert, which will be 14 km wide and 7,600 km long. When completed, it will be the largest horticultural feature in history. The initiative will also focus on establishing sustainable farming and livestock cultivation, and improving food security.
The initiative will be ongoing, and has garnered the support of several international organisations including the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, the World Bank, the African Union, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Together they have pledged $3 billion and the expertise of their botanists for its advancement.
"Examples of success [so far] include more than 50,000 acres of trees planted in Senegal,”says Ryan Schleeter at National Geographic. "Most of these are the acacia speciesSenegalia senegal, which has economic value for the commodity it produces, gum arabic. (Gum arabic is primarily used as a food additive.) A small portion of the trees are also fruit-bearing, which, when mature, will help combat the high levels of malnutrition in the country’s rural interior.”
Even more dramatic is the project’s potential social impact, says Schleeter. By providing better quality land and more opportunities to earn an income from cultivating it, the Great Green Wall will open up thousands of job opportunities to the local population.

Using Social Media for Scientific Advancement

This week I am attending a super interesting workshop at SESYNC a social and environmental science integration institute affiliated with the University of Maryland. We are discussing the size and shape of using social media for science - not only for collecting scientific data by considering humans as sensors for the world - but for creating platforms to provide an interaction with internet users.

I find that creating this blog, posting information on the Nile or Mekong dam projects has created some engaged ability as a research scientist. What I mean by this is that I have developed about 15 new direct contacts through this blog who A. provided actual data in the form of papers, reports, geospatial information, or B. gave feedback and/or support or criticism of the content of the blog.

I am left with the question: how do I better engage my readers to comment and interact with me on a given blog post? Is it a limitation of my content? Is it the reality of blogs that they are primarily a one-way relay of information out, not so much attracting information in? Is there a mechanism to ask for different or specific content you'd like to see?

If you have any suggestions, please send me a message. Or leave me a comment?

25 July 2014

Research Highlighted by College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University

My former college at Oregon State, the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, just posted an interview I gave about my PhD research on their pages. The interview process was fun and cathartic. The interviewer, a local published author Abby Metzger, did a fabulous job of cutting out my digressions and focusing the text. I got to speak mostly about my work in the field in Ethiopia, highlighting the little discussed Gumuz People who will be displaced from the Renaissance Dam, their livelihoods completely altered.


The human-water intertwine

Jennifer Veilleux in EthiopiaJennifer Veilleux in the Benishangul-Gumuz state of Ethiopia, interviewing a Gumuz woman in a village in the Blue Nile Valley.

Rivers, dams, and conflict resolution in Ethiopia

Two years ago, the online newspaper Aljazeera ran a stark headline: Almost half of humanity will face water scarcity by 2030. Similar stories have splashed the front pages of major newspapers for nearly 20 years, with many predicting global water wars as greed, power, and scarcity collide.
Jennifer Veilleux sees a different picture. The recent Ph.D. graduate in Oregon State's geography program studied human dimensions of dam development on international rivers. Her work explored the complex intertwine between people and water, and how resource sharing can serve as a platform for peace rather than conflict.
"Water is needed and shared by every sector of human society and ecosystem. It shapes the physical and human landscape," she said. "I wanted to explore how different communities of people fit in when water is shared between countries and cultures, while examining how resource use can be cooperative."
Veilleux's research took her to Ethiopia's Blue Nile, where she spent five months interviewing urban Ethiopians, as well as rural communities who will be displaced by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
The dam presents both enormous opportunities and challenges for Ethiopia. On one hand, it will provide reliable power. "Only about 40 percent of Ethiopia has electricity. When complete, the massive, 6,000 MW Renaissance Dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, expanding electricity coverage in Ethiopia and neighboring countries," Veilleux said.
It's also a source of pride for Ethiopians, who are eager to shed the perception of being a famine and donor country rather than an African leader with a middleclass economy, says Veilleux.
"Dams are really big power symbols, not just for their capacity to harness energy, but as symbols of modernity and identity," she said.
Yet, the dam means something else for the 20,000 local people who will be displaced by the project. The vast majority of these are the Gumuz people, a little-studied subsistence culture found mostly along the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia and Sudan. Local Gumuz have important traditional knowledge about the region's natural resources and depend on the Blue Nile River for livelihood and identity. The river is a vital source for water, food, and artisanal gold mining that allows for economic trade with nearby communities.
While the Ethiopian government has a comprehensive resettlement program, Veilleux's research raises many important (and unanswered) questions: What will replace gold as a new source of cash economy? How will farming change without seasonal flooding? Will malaria rates increase with a stagnant reservoir? How will it change the fish and equipment needed to catch them? How will the Gumuz stay connected to other villages when the now-navigable river becomes an expansive lake? Will moving to an urban area lead to increased social problems related to modern life, such as a loss of cultural identity?
She also made an unexpected find that went against prevailing predictions of water wars: Despite the dam's threat to uproot the Gumuz and their subsistence culture, study participants showed flexibility, resolve, and general acceptance.
"I think people had a very keen sense of being river people, meaning they are very adamant about staying near the water because it's their everything, their life. But I was surprised at how flexible they were about moving," she said.
One possible explanation is that the project may benefit the Gumuz in certain respects. "If done correctly, the Ethiopian government can greatly improve some of the challenges that the Gumuz communities face due to malnutrition, disease, or lack of access to secondary or higher education. Resource sharing will also improve the lives of Ethiopians who benefit from expanded electricity," Veilleux said.
But she cautioned that the cultural costs should not be ignored. "More attention needs to be spent on identifying the vulnerabilities and strengths of local communities, to buffer possible threats to these areas, and to make sure that the benefits outweigh the costs."
Using her qualitative data from the Gumuz people, as well as a similar comparison study in Laos on the Xayaburi Dam, Veilleux developed a Human Security Measurement Key that will help identify security vulnerabilities in complex resource-dependent systems. The key provides a platform to compare disparate data sources across multiple geographic and time scales, and has been integrated into theTransboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD), a comprehensive set of water data that aids in understanding water conflict and cooperation.