You can’t hide from your past

I spotted this Quercus petraea growing in the depression of a conifer tree in a huge coniferous plantation in the Brecon Beacons. There isn’t an oak tree in sight, but regeneration from the old seed bank from the original woodland species is always a give away to the land’s natural habitat. It reminds me of an ecological evaluation I carried out some 29 years ago in Shropshire, which was an oak woodland, but my application of the (brand new) NVC system revealed its true identity as an ash woodland – as inter alia, the only seedlings growing were ash in soil disturbed by a large badger sett.

oak-2

Central Asia water and power

There have been some interesting articles in the media recently regarding potential conflict in Central Asia over water; linked to power generation and agricultural irrigation.

Huckbody Environmental has been involved in several aspects of this story, both in hydropower and electricity distribution and therefore has a very good insight into the issues.

A few years ago Andy Huckbody was commissioned by World Bank to undertake an HSE audit of the world’s largest hydropower project in Tajikistan, Rogun Hydropower. This lies at the heart of the water resource and power generation issue, being towards the top of the river cascade.

3 years ago Andy Huckbody was engaged by World Bank to undertake a regional EIA of the 2000km electricity power line, export and distribution system CASA http://www.casa-1000.org/ .

Will Central Asia fight over water?

  • 25 October 2016
  • From the sectionMagazine
River in Kyrgyzstan

In Central Asia, a crisis is brewing over water and electricity. The Soviet-era system in which the five countries of the region shared their resources has broken down, leaving some facing water shortages and others chronic power cuts. Instances of small-scale unrest have already occurred, but some warn this could be just the beginning.

On a freezing night in January 2009 a catastrophic power cut plunged swathes of the Tajik capital Dushanbe into darkness.

At one of the city’s maternity hospitals back-up generators failed and vital breathing equipment shut down, leaving doctors battling to keep two newborn baby girls alive.

Saymuddin Dustov, father of one of the girls, Pariso, frantically rang around friends to find an alternative power source.

For two hours, as his friends struggled to drag a 200kg (31-stone) generator up five flights of stairs in pitch darkness, Dustov sat in a cold, candlelit ward watching his daughter struggling to breathe.

“I could see that she just didn’t have enough strength to keep going,” he says.

At two in the morning, after a life lasting four hours, baby Pariso died.

She was not the only child to die in Tajikistan that winter as temperatures plunged close to the lowest levels in living memory and the country’s faltering power supply network collapsed.

The crisis was a stark demonstration that the complex network of shared power and water supplies that had served all five Central Asian republics in Soviet times was no longer working.

This system was based around a simple principle.

Three republics – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were rich in energy resources, while the other two – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – had plentiful water supplies held in huge high-altitude reservoirs. They all had to work together to ensure there was water for the crops in the spring and summer, and electricity for everyone in the winter.

Without water in the region’s two great rivers – the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya – vital crops in the downstream agricultural powerhouses would die.

Without power, life in the upstream countries would be unbearable in the freezing winters.

“The potential for disagreements always existed,” says Kazakh political scientist Rasul Jumali. “But disputes were always resolved by Moscow.”

Then in 1991 the USSR fell apart and each country was left to face its problems on its own.

“It was food security for the downstream countries versus energy security for the upstream ones,” says Moscow-based political scientist Andrei Kazantsev.

“Either one side was going to freeze in the winter, or the other side was going to be left with nothing to eat all year.”

Though they could have continued to share and co-operate – and for a few years they did – for the energy-rich downstream countries it was more profitable to sell gas and electricity to foreign buyers than to supply it to their penniless upstream neighbours.

So Uzbekistan started selling electricity to Afghanistan in 2009, and pulled out of the Central Asian supply system altogether.

Baby Pariso’s death was one of the consequences.

Another was that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan had to start using more water to generate electricity in the winter, so less reached agricultural lands in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan during the growing season.

Now all across Central Asia more and more people are finding themselves short of either power or water.

Asima Dalanbay

Asima Dalanbay: We can’t live here without water

Asima Dalanbay is one. She’s been living in southern Kazakhstan for 40 years and used to make a good living growing sugar beet. However, seven years ago – in the fateful year 2009 – the water supply from across the border in Kyrgyzstan dried up.

Now she grows what she can with water laboriously pumped from a borehole, but parched, barren fields surround her home, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Like her children and many of her neighbours, Asima is thinking of leaving.

“If this continues there is no other choice,” she says. “We can’t live here without water.”

But some parts of Kyrgyzstan also rely on water from across an international border.

Retired school teacher Kapar Toktoshev doesn’t look like the kind of person to get involved in a mass brawl, but in 2014 that’s exactly what happened.

“This is where we confronted Tajiks when they turned off the irrigation water in the summer,” he explains as we walk up a dusty road on the edge of his village high up in the mountains on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

Kapar Toktoshev

Kapar Toktoshev: The Tajiks diverted the river

“We just ran out of patience,” he says. “We threw stones at each other. The army had to intervene to keep us apart.”

Although Kyrgyzstan has plentiful water reserves, in the Soviet era the village was supplied with water from the nearest reservoir, which just happened to be in Tajikistan.

After independence in 1991 this minor fact of geography became much more important – and it didn’t help that populations on both sides of the border were growing.

“The Tajiks diverted the river to their own fields and our crops started dying,” says Toktoshev.

He shows me his own garden. It’s a bleak plot covered in dry grass and some spindly apricot trees.

“I can’t get anything to grow,” he says, echoing Asima Dalanbay in Kazakhstan. “There’s just not enough water.”

There is a clear risk of more incidents like this, but there is also the potential for political instability within any of the five countries.

Some argue that the unrest which led to the violent overthrow of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010 was partly triggered by public fury at power cuts and rising energy prices.

When Uzbekistan withdrew from the central power supply system in 2009, Kyrgyzstan had to install expensive new power lines, and the cost of electricity roughly doubled at the start of 2010 in order to pay the bill. Domestic heating costs rose even more steeply.

There have been shortages in Uzbekistan too, in the wake of the decision to sell gas and electricity to foreign buyers.

In many small towns and villages people now live with just a few hours of power a day, while gas in large areas of the country has become a distant memory.

A school teacher in the Fergana Valley recently told the BBC – despite the risk of being punished for dissent – that hardly any trees were now left in his home town, Rishtan, because of the demand for firewood.

“Even our schools don’t have fuel,” he said.

“Every day the pupils take turns to bring in firewood from home to heat the classroom. This is how our children study in winter.

“The government is selling gas to foreign countries while we – the people of Uzbekistan – have no fuel or power in winter, and are freezing.”

Bad government, corruption and human rights abuses are coupled with soaring prices and mass migration in search of work across the region.

Add into the mix the growing numbers of disaffected young men joining extremist groups, and the fact that war in Afghanistan is edging ever closer to the Uzbek and Tajik borders, and nightmare scenarios are not hard to imagine.

“No-one really knows what kind of explosion this could lead to – and when,” says Kazakh analyst Rasul Jumali.

“The most optimistic scenario is that things stay as they are,” agrees Russian analyst Andrei Kazantsev. “The most pessimistic one is complete catastrophe and the emergence of a string of failed states.”

Tajikistan's Nurek reservoir

Tajikistan’s largest hydro-electric power station, Nurek, provides two-thirds of the country’s power

For Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan the obvious solution to their chronic power problems would be to build more power stations, and both have hatched ambitious plans.

The biggest project currently on the horizon is the massive Rogun hydroelectric plant in the mountains of southern Tajikistan, which could become the highest dam in the world (335m) if investors can be found to finance it.

Its reservoir would take 16 years to fill to capacity, with obvious knock-on effects for the Amu Darya in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

But the plant would transform Tajikistan into a major regional energy supplier, and make the power cuts that cost baby Pariso her life a thing of the past.

Uzbekistan’s strong-man president, Islam Karimov, who died in September, made no secret of his objections to Rogun – and to a smaller project at Kambarata in Kyrgyzstan.

“What will happen to those who live in the downstream countries?” he asked in an angry speech in 2012.

“How much water will we have tomorrow if they build these barriers on the rivers? This could lead to regional confrontation and even war.”

Meanwhile ordinary people do what they always do and try to get by.

In the village of Tajmahal, in the mountains of eastern Tajikistan, father of four Shodmon Kholov is getting ready for the winter.

Once upon a time Shodmon and his family had 24-hour electricity to heat their home. Now they rely on more basic methods.

As I visit, the whole family is busy making briquettes out of cow dung, which they will use to keep the stove burning through the cold winter months.

“We only have two-to-three hours of electricity [per day] in winter,” says Shodmon. “We use the cow dung to keep the stove burning and the house warm. We usually need around eight briquettes in the morning and another eight in the afternoon.”

Shodmon Kholov

Cow-dung briquettes are left to dry on the wall of Shodmon Kholov’s house

Ironically, Kholov’s home is just 20 minutes’ drive from Tajikistan’s main hydroelectric power station, Nurek.

It was built in 1961 and produces two-thirds of the electricity currently consumed in the country, but this is nowhere near enough to meet demand.

Kholov is philosophical.

“With time they sort it out and we’ll have power round the clock,” he says.

But he could be in for a very long wait.

Fisheries Policy Post EU, #Brexit.

Whelk pots from recycled plastic chemical containers

Whelk pots made from recycled plastic chemical containers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During a recent visit to Swansea I was observing the juxtaposition of the expensive pleasure craft and the fishing fleet in the harbour. Gazing at the posters of “Leave” #Brexit, in many of the fishing boats came as no surprise and reminded me of my recent musings about possible changes to the UK, particulalry the fishing industry, post EU Membership. Out of many contentious areas related to UK EU Membership, the fishing industry has to be one of the most notable.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the European Union’s (EU) instrument for the management of fisheries, aimed at enhancing the sustainability of fish stocks and the economic competitiveness of the fishing industry. However, neither the living aquatic resources, nor the profits of the fishing industry have benefited from it, with 88% of the stocks being overfished and profit margins of fishermen continuously in decline.

An ideal fisheries policy should foster the sustainable use of fish stocks, provide for coherent laws and regulations that yield adequate economic incentives, and guarantee consistent enforcement of the legal framework. Furthermore, the regulation scheme should ideally be based on transparent rules rather than a discretionary political decision-making process, which may be blurred by short-term interests. None of these principles are met by the CFP, due to, inter alia, poor consideration of fish age, class and maximum economic yields.

Britain always had a strong and traditional fishing industry and it is sure to be an interesting topic to follow over the course of the next few years. There are bound to be forthcoming articles and viewpoints of this subject on the net. Here is one supporting Brexit. Fisheries Campaign

Swansea Fishing Boats

Swansea Fishing Boats

Sargassum saga continues

From my extensive coastal and marine studies during my 3 years in Sierra Leone with African Minerals, I observed and documented the huge quantities of Sargassum that washed up onto the beaches over a number of months during 2011. The unprecedented quantities (hundreds of tonnes) of this unknown algae species prompted the Sierra Leone Government, Ministry of Environment (MoE) to blame the blight on port dredging works undertaken by African Minerals. I designed and managed all the environmental research work associated with acquiring approvals to dredge the port and tidal river channel and was of course very confident this was not a consequence of the work; particularly once I had identified the species of algae. Despite this, given the rather limited knowledge of the MoE, it proved virtually impossible to convince them; however with time, the truth appeared.

It transpired I was not the only scientist documenting this phenomenon, which was widespread throughout the West Indies, Caribbean, Mexico and other ‘high value’ coastal beach resorts. I engaged with several scientist from USA and the Caribbean and I have recently been contacted to supply further photographic evidence. The link below is a very interesting presentation of the issue.

Facing the threat of Sargassum seaweed

Sargassum species

 

Tirana

I was not sure what to expect from my first visit to Tirana and am now on my 8th visit here since mid May. It is a lovely, vibrant city with a tremendous cafe and bar culture, so colourful in the summer time. It continues to change rapidly; an example being the central car park near the Stadiumi Kombetar Qemel Stafa, which has been a broken-up cobbled surface for years, characterised by cars weaving in and out of the pot holes and a rotund parking attendant and his skinny work mate, both in their sweaty vests at the height of summer. That has all changed this week, following the tarmac resurfacing and painting work and the installation of an automatic car parking barrier system. I don’t know the fate of the previous parking attendants….. the price of progress….

Beautiful rainbow over Tirana

Beautiful rainbow over Tirana

New car park

New car park

Whenever I am in a new country i always like to go to visit the markets to really see how people hussle for a living. In the posh area near my office one could be forgiven for thinking you were in a rich western city, with the traffic dominated by Mercedes AMG, BMW, Maserati and super cars, but the real truth can always be seen down the market. It has always interested me, all over the world, in the absence of formal planning, how like traders group together, so one has the fruit and veg place, the electrical and DIY etc. The veg markets are really colourful in a European context, as not nearly so vibrant as the West African markets I have been in for the last 5 years; and include a great many individual traders bringing goods grown in the home plots. These individuals extend the fringes of the more formal stalls and sell anything they have grown such as Sharon fruit, grapes and nuts and the like.

Small traders

Small traders

Whilst walking around I came across this beautiful old bridge and found it was The Tanners’ Bridge (AlbanianUra e Tabakëve) is an 18th-century Ottoman period stone footbridge located in TiranaAlbania. The bridge, built near the Tanners’ Mosque, was once part of the Saint George Road that linked Tirana with the eastern highlands. The road was the route by which livestock and produce entered the city. The bridge crossed the Lanë stream near the area where butcher shops and leather workers were located. The bridge fell into disrepair when the Lanë was diverted in the 1930s. In the 1990s the bridge was restored for use by pedestrians.

Tanner's Bridge Tirana

Tanner’s Bridge Tirana

Tambao Manganese Mine Burkina Faso

Gunmen kidnap Romanian from Burkina Faso mine near Mali border
Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Romanian security officer on Saturday from a manganese mining project in northern Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali’s lawless desert north, the company and a security source said.

The incident took place at the Tambao project, which is run by Pan African Minerals, a subsidiary of Frank Timis’s Timis Corporation. Timis is a Romanian-Australian businessman with investments in West African oil and mining operations.

“There was an attack on one of our patrols,” said Souleymane Mihin, Burkina Faso managing director for Pan African Minerals. “They kidnapped the Romanian leading the patrol. The driver was wounded in the foot. A gendarme was seriously injured.”

The Romanian foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the kidnapping of a Romanian in Burkina Faso and said a crisis cell had been set up to handle the case.

A Burkinabe security source said the five gunmen involved in the attack headed towards the nearby border with northern Mali after kidnapping the Romanian.

The incident took place early afternoon and teams had been scrambled in Burkina Faso to search for the man, he said. It was not clear where the gunmen came from.

There was no official comment from the Burkinabe government.

Omega FM, a local radio station in Burkina Faso, reported on its website that the kidnapped man also had French citizenship. The French foreign ministry said it had no information to suggest any French national was involved.

Northern Mali is still awash with Islamist gunmen, separatist rebels and criminal gangs, two years after a French military intervention scattered gunmen from the main towns they occupied and U.N. peacekeepers began deploying.

In the past, kidnapped foreigners have been taken into northern Mali’s desert zones and later exchanged for multi-million dollar ransom payments.

Underscoring insecurity in the zone, unidentified gunmen attacked the town of Boni, about 100 km north of the Burkina Faso border, killing two people, security forces in Mali said.

Mining industry sources said the kidnap in Burkina Faso could be linked to the fact that Pan African Minerals has had strained relations with the local community living around the mine.

Burkina Faso HSE

I periodically reflect on my experiences of the standards in HSE across the over 30 countries I have worked in. I recently came across a worker welding used oil drums in the middle of a diesel fuel store; oblivious to the dangers, until they were explained to him. Thought he might have been a contender for the first Burkinabe in space.

Welding in a fuel store

Burkina Faso Mining

This interesting article illustrates some of the challenges facing mining companies in developing Countries like Burkina Faso. The implementation of resettlement and sustainable livelihood development are often not straightforward, especially when one adds in the often very short life of mine for Gold mining and the need to try to actually leave a positive legacy after closure.
Huckbody Environmental is currently developing resettlement and livelihood restoration in Burkina Faso for a mining company.

Burkina Faso and the Sahel

The area of northern Burkina Faso I am currently working in is an incredible mix of transhumance, and within 20km distance of the borders with both Niger and Mali. It is therefore populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic people from several tribes, including Tuareg, Hausa, Bella and Songhai. These people have had centuries of colourful, cultural and religious interaction, which continue today as it does in many parts of the Sahel, exacerbated very recently by issues such as the Mali incursion by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, who had taken control of the region by April 2012. This has resulted in thousands of Malian refugees establishing camps inside the border in Burkina Faso. The former colonial power of France quelled this uprising in 2013 and I observed several helicopter gunships on my visits up there.
Historically the main tribal groups had some extremely interesting interactions: The Peul Fulani are a cattle herding people with heavy tattooing and facial scarification. The Peul woman are renown for having large, black tattoos over their mouths and beautiful jewellery. The Mossiare Burkina’s major ethnic group and are remarkable for their history as the only nation over the last 1000 years to not only resist the imposition of Islam but also the only nation to successfully defend themselves against the enormous empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. The Tuareg are the famous desert nomads wrapped in indigo robes and turbans who have for centuries run trans Saharan camel caravans swapping desert salt for daily necessities. The Bella tribe were originally Tuareg slaves, but even after gaining their freedom they continue their nomadic existence although to a reduced extent.

Shy

The Hausa people have a very restricted dressing code due to the fact of religious beliefs. The men are easily recognizable because of their elaborate dress which is a large flowing gown known as Babban riga and a robe called a jalabia and juanni. These large flowing gowns usually feature some elaborate embroidery designs around the neck. Men also wear colourful embroidered caps known as fula, and depending on location and occupation, may wear a Tuareg-style turban around this to veil the face (known as Alasho or Tagelmust). The women can be identified by their dressing codes in which they wear wrappers called abaya made with colourful cloth with a matching blouse, head tie and shawl.
The Hausa were famous throughout the Middle Ages, they were often characterized by their Indigo blue dressing and emblems, they traditionally rode on fine Saharan Camels and Arabian Horses.
The Tuareg (also spelled Twareg or Touareg) are a Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Traditionally, Tuareg society is hierarchical, with nobility and vassals.
Like other major ethnic groups in West Africa, the Tuareg once held slaves (éklan / Ikelan in Tamasheq, Bouzou in Hausa, Bella in Songhai). The slaves called éklan once formed a distinct social class in Tuareg society. Eklan formed distinct sub-communities; they were a class held in an inherited serf-like condition, common among societies in precolonial West Africa. There are many Bella tribal people in my study area, with whom I deal with and I find them gentle, humble and incredibly passive and subservient in nature. The women generally keep to the background, but are wonderfully colourful, with beautifully ornate, hand made head wear and jewellery.

Colourful Bella tribal women

The Tuareg language, a branch of the Berber languages, has an estimated 1.2 million speakers. About half this number is accounted for by speakers of the Eastern dialect (Tamajaq, Tawallammat). Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders, and small groups of Tuareg also live in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
A tagelmust is an indigo dyed cotton garment with the appearance of both a veil and a turban. The cloth may exceed ten meters in length. It is worn mostly by Tuareg men, but is sometimes used by men in other neighbouring ethnic groups, such as the Hausa or Songhai. In recent times, other colours have come into use, with the indigo veils saved for use on special occasions. It usually has many layers that cover the head, and it drapes down to loosely cover the neck.
The tagelmust is a very practical garment for the Sahara region, as it both covers the head and prevents the inhalation of wind borne sand. The indigo is also believed by many of the wearers to be healthy and beautiful, with a build up of indigo in the skin of the wearer being generally considered to protect the skin, and denote affluence. Because the tagelmust is often dyed by pounding in dried indigo instead of the normal process due to a lack of water, the dye often permanently leaches into the skin of the wearer. As such, the Tuareg are often referred to as the “blue men of the desert”.
Among the Tuareg, men who wear the tagelmust are called Kel Tagelmust, or “People of the Veil”. The tagelmust is worn only by adult males, and only taken off in the presence of close family. Tuareg men often find shame in showing their mouth or nose to strangers or people of a higher standing than themselves, and have been known to hide their features using their hands if a tagelmust is unavailable. The tagelmust has other cultural significance, as the manner in which it is wrapped and folded is often used to show clan and regional origin, and the darkness to which it is dyed showing the wealth of the wearer.

Tuareg and his transport

My adventure continues, as I look to develop a range of social development initiatives.
Some of the people:

Proud, but with eye problems like so many here


The kids are very poor in this village, yet colourful


Calm and colourful village folk


Smiling in the face of adversity


The class register tells a story; sizeable village but only 6 boys attend the school, no girls. Very often in Africa school attendance is influenced by many things and building a new school often makes very little difference to school attendance or educational standards in the village.

School register


The class


I like the way the machetes and swords are kept outside the meetings.

Machetes and swords collection


Giving the kids water, but making sure to collect those dreaded plastic water bags that litter half of West Africa.

Everyone needs water


Andy in a meeting; i recall all those years of shirts and ties.

Me in a meeting in a sand storm


Taking shelter at the huge Markoye market


Water delivery is an essential part of life in the Sahel; these guys are rocking with twin donkeys.

Donkey power