mardi 26 juillet 2011

Beauty and suffering side by side

Every year, thousands of mzungos travel across the globe and meet in a wildlife park that stretches across Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai Mara (Kenyan park) and the Serengeti (Tanzanian) provide the mzungos with crucial habitat in their annual pilgrimage. "The Great Mzungo Migration" occurs in July and August when other animals like wildebeast and zebra migrate, which attract the mighty mzungo. In the grasslands of the Serengeti, the mzungo can be spotted on its own as it searches for prey. Once it has found a large enough animal, however, mzungos congregate in groups as large as 20 to consume the hunted. It doesn't stay long though, as it quickly grows tired of the animal and goes off alone in search of more animals.

OK, that was a joke. Mzungo in Swahili means white person. I did go to Maasai Mara this weekend and I was a part of the "Great Mzungo Migration." There is a real "Great Migration" that happens every July and August. Millions of wildebeast and zebra travel north into the Maasai Mara as they search for green pastures. They are accompanied by smaller numbers of other herbivores: zebra, gazelle, giraffes, elephants, several types of antelope and others. This moveable feast attracts predators: lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and more. And mzungos.

It was amazing to see. The East African Savannah is a vast landscape. It reminds me a bit of grasslands in the American West, but there are larger hills, greener pastures, trees and rivers/streams. It's a fairly diverse ecosystem as there are plains with tall grass that stretch as far as the eye can see with only a lonely acacia tree or two dotting the horizon. Large hills, covered by trees and jagged rock formations, erupt out of these plains. In the river valleys, green grass grows and large trees and bushes form dense thickets.

The landscape itself would be enough, but the grass also attracts millions of animals that are new to the mzungo. We saw thousands and thousands and thousands of wildebeast. At the end of the three day trip, we drove out of the park past a herd 100,000-500,000. Honestly, I have NO way of conceptualizing numbers that big so I don't know how many animals there were. While wildebeast and zebra are impressive for their numbers, other herbivores attract for different reasons. I think that giraffes were my favorite. We were lucky enough to be quite close to a pair of young male giraffes that were "necking." Males compete by swinging their long necks against one another, often slamming their horns against the opponent's neck. In rare occasions, the horns pierce the neck, causing death. In the tame necking that we saw, the giraffes mostly danced for position with each other. They liked to be side to side, facing opposite directions, which created amazing symmetry between their long necks. Elephants are also high on my list. They leisurely wander the plains solo or in groups as large as 15 (well at least 15 was the largest that we saw). We saw a mother and juvenile bathing in a small water hole. The adults are too large to lay down, so the mother showered herself with the cool, muddy water, which doubles as protection against insects. The juvenile laid fully in the water, clearly enjoying the bath. There are far too many other herbivores to describe, but different species of antelope (especially impalas and gazelle) stand out as particularly beautiful. Birds too are attractive and brightly colored, when you can spot them.

The predators are also spectacular. There was a pride of lions that had made a den not 10 feet from the road. Obviously, this attracted lots of mzungos. One group of mzungos, in their haste to capture the king of the jungle, dropped a camera case in front of a lone male lion. They convinced their driver to reach outside of his car and recover the case. It's no joke that the mzungo migration is just as fascinating as the migration of the other animals. Cheetahs, I think, were my favorite predator. They are strong and graceful. We saw three as they crouched and began a hunt. Two hours later, we saw them feasting on a gazelle. After eating, the male and female pair laid down facing one another. They licked each others' faces for a good ten minutes, cleaning. It was an intimate moment. Leopards are much rarer and harder to spot. We only saw one as it slept high in a tree.

The Mzungo Migration plays an important role in this ecosystem. On the one hand, the hundreds of vans in the park at any one time tear up the grass. Dirt roads crisscross the Savannah, but mzungos drive off the roads in search of better pictures. However, without the tourists, it's possible that this protected area would not exist. Tourism is a significant source of income for Kenya; without foreign money coming in, the land would be more valuable as agricultural or pastoral land. In the States, we had a very similar ecosystem that was filled with millions of herbivores (buffalo, deer, antelope, bison, hunted by a multitude of predators. Now it's mostly farmland. Would these parks be protected without tourist money? Important caveat: indigenous people lived for millions of years in the African Savannah, preserving it without the "help" of tourist money.

So it was a great great weekend. I had a wonderful time with my friends as well. Being in such a beautiful place inspires singing and laughing in the mighty mzungo. There are lots of pictures that will hopefully be posted soon to picassa and/or facebook. However, I don't think that pictures or my words come close to capturing the feeling of the Mara.

.....Back in Nairobi, we're confronted with images from Eastern Kenya of a humanitarian crisis. It's the worst drought in 60 years, affecting 3.5 million people (in Kenya alone). Kenya borders Somalia to the East, so the area is full of Somali refugees, escaping worse conditions. They congregate in Dadaab, a camp built for 75,000 people. However, 500,000 people are in the camp now, with 10,000 new people entering every day. I think I had been desensitized to pictures of starving African children, but living in the same country as this disaster makes it much more real. It is an absolute tragedy that I have hardly seen covered in Western media. It's so strange to be living in a country where there is so much wealth, both Kenyan and foreign owned, and so much desperate poverty. Surreal to go on a safari in Maasai Mara, carefree and full of joy, while millions suffer and die. The World Food Programme mission to Kenya and Somalia is based out of the UN in Nairobi, so some of my colleagues are involved in getting food aid to Dadaab. They're doing their best to alleviate the suffering, but the structural causes of the famine are not going away.

East Africa/the Horn of Africa is an environmentally marginal place. Since 1989, conflict and war have torn Somalia apart; there is no resolution to this conflict in site. As long as Somalia remains unstable, Somalis will flee to camps in Kenya. While food aid to starving millions is a moral imperative, it is not without unintended consequences. MOST of the food aid given to Somalia in 1989 and 1990 was stolen by gangsters and warlords. Aid was sold for weapons and directly led to civil war. Read The Road to Hell to learn more.

It's impossible to say that any one severe weather event is CAUSED by climate change. BUT, this is exactly the sort of event that climate change has been predicted to make more likely. The Horn of Africa is home to millions of people who depend on the land. Drought, famine and the conflict they inevitably cause will get worse as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere get higher. Climate change is seen as this thing happening in the distant future, but it is affecting people now. It will get worse. From food aid to climate change, the tragedy unfolding in Somalia and Kenya has our fingerprints all over it.

mercredi 20 juillet 2011

Lame Post Pt II

Writing here has been much harder than Morocco because I spend 40 hours a week in front of a computer, researching forests and climate change. Even during my free time I'm having many fewer interactions with locals and so I'm learning less about culture.

This weekend a group of friends and I went to Lake Nakuru, a major tourist destination. We were put off by the ridiculous park fees so instead went to a smaller lake a few miles down the road. There were thousands of flamingos, storks, and pelicans. A flock of flamingos flying across the lake is a spectacular site...keep an eye on facebook for when my friends post pics.

The only land animals were cows, sheep, goats, and humans. The lake was surrounded by small villages that supported themselves on small-scale farming, herding animals, and charging tourists a small fee for entry. There were half a dozen small boys that followed us down to the lake and made flamingo feather flowers (say that three times fast).

Another part of my life is the amazing places I've lived in. After living with Rose and Dan, I moved in with a SAIS colleague, and we housesitted for embassy staff on leave. I've already mentioned the ridiculous security at their house. Another noteworthy feature was the giant projector and ninentdo wii, which consumed many hours of my time. We're now housesitting a new house. At this house I have my OWN BUILDING to sleep in. There is also a cook and someone who does laundry/cleans up. We ate pumpkin pie last night.

We were chatting with the houseowner last night (he doesn't leave for another week) and he was talking about all the different perks of working for the embassy. House paid for. Cook. Househelp. Kids tuition paid for. The embassy will ship 7,000 lbs of your stuff (more for people with families) from the states to wherever. You can also order anything online and the embassy pays for the shipping. You can, for example, order a used car from Japan and the embassy will ship it for you. Naturally, with all this money and nothing to spend it on, our house is well-stocked with every American convenience/consumer product that you can imagine. It's amazing how easy it is to live in Kenya without having any contact with anything Kenyan.

My work is going well. I've finished the first draft of my paper and am waiting for feedback. It's hard to believe, but I only have 3+ weeks of work left. The summer has flown by! This weekend I think I'm going to Maasai Maara, a massive conservation area. At this time of year, there is the "Great Migration," where millions of wildebeasts are on the move, predators in tow. Should be great!

Hope all is well.

mercredi 13 juillet 2011

Lame post

I wasn't able to write anything this week, so instead I'm posting the intro to the paper I'm writing. Lame, I know. Everything great here; I did a nice hike up a volcano this weekend. Hopefully going to Lake Nakuru on Saturday.

The recognition of forests’ importance to global health, biodiversity, climate, and economic productivity has made protecting them a priority. Deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector. Conserving forests is a necessary and cost-effective way of mitigating climate change. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) attempts to create a market price for forest carbon, creating incentives for countries to reduce deforestation rates. REDD+ includes conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks through reforestation and afforestation. Sequestering carbon in forests is a service that forest countries provide to the global community; REDD+ is the mechanism to reward the provision of this service. REDD+ is designed as a performance-based payment; although REDD+ funds are currently being used to build capacity and support REDD+ readiness, the bulk of the payments will be transferred upon provision of forest conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
UNEP recognizes the important role that forests play in livelihood creation in many developing countries. Asking forest-dependent people to reduce deforestation rates for the sake of the global community would be unfair. Furthermore, UNEP believes that without addressing the root causes of deforestation, efforts to conserve forests would be ultimately unsuccessful. If REDD+ funds are not used wisely, unsustainable pressure on forests will remain. Therefore, REDD+ is meant to be the catalyst to spur the average annual investment of the $40 billion required to halve deforestation by 2030 and the transformation to a green economy that is less dependent on forests. The recognition that forest degradation is rooted in political economic factors means that REDD+ efforts will not succeed if only Ministers of Environment are involved as economic transformation demands the active participation of several branches of government.
Smart development and forest conservation go hand in hand; the Green Economy report predicts that protection of forests will increase carbon storage by 28% and increase formal employment from forests to 30 million, versus 25 million under a business as usual scenario. Environmental concerns and forest conservation of forests are normally seen as a hindrance to economic growth, but the growing appreciation for the services that natural capital provide has shown that conservation and sustainable growth are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, it is important to note that carbon-neutral management of forests does not preclude forest-dependent people from maintaining their traditional lifestyles. Instead, REDD+ endeavors to improve capacity so that forests are managed sustainably and to ensure that a greater proportion of forest profits are captured by forest-dependent people so that natural capital stock can be maintained.
In the first section, this paper will discuss the importance of providing policy makers with metrics that allow them to appropriately value forests. In addition to carbon sequestration, forests provide a number of ecosystem services - multiple benefits - that contribute to economic growth, public health, and other important outputs. The lack of appropriate valuation of ecosystem services is a major contributor to the overexploitation of natural capital. Second, the paper will consider the relationship between development and forest conservation, using the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) as a framework for discussion. The paper will build upon the EKC to develop a theoretical model of forest economies to analyze the drivers of deforestation and policies to conserve natural capital. Third, the case study of Indonesia will be used to discuss the political economy of forests. Wealth distribution, poverty, power structures, governance, and institutions all play an important role in driving deforestation. Finally, transformative economic change can only take place through the innovation of new systems. Economic transformation will require substantial investments and policy changes, which REDD+ is meant to catalyze. The forest economy model will be used to predict potential scenarios and allow policy makers to decide which actions are most appropriate for their local conditions. Although there are no cookie cutter solutions that the paper suggests for global implementation, transformation to a green economy may include: investment in innovation (education, intellectual property rights and interactive learning systems), decentralizing regulation of forests through community managed forests, and cautious investment in agricultural intensification.

mercredi 6 juillet 2011

Security in Nairobi

The purpose of this post is NOT to scare my parents, I swear. Really I'm just trying to describe what I think is a defining feature of the city.

A lot of time and effort has been put into dividing wealthy Nairobians (Nairobi-ites?) from everyone else. I'm housesitting for a US embassy. The house is far from the main road, with a security guard at the entrance to the neighborhood. Houses are surrounded by high walls, hedges and electric fences. When you get to my street, there is a gate guarded by two guards. After making it past them, I get to my house, which is surrounded by walls topped by electric fences. Our front door is similar to the door of a bank vault. Four different bolts go deep into the door frame. Once INSIDE OUR HOUSE, there is one final security measure. Upon going up the stairs, there is a metal gate known as a safe haven. The idea that is if a criminal breaks into the house at night, he/she won't be able to reach the bedrooms. Every time I've heard someone discuss the housing they live in, the security features are always the first thing they mention.

Most every biggish store has security guards. The grocery store is guarded by men with machine guns. Getting into the UN (where I work) involves going through lots of security. With my pass, I can get past the guards and open the revolving metal gates to get inside the compound. Cars are checked for bombs before entering the compound. Every new employee at the UN has to sit through a security briefing discussing safe behavior in Nairobi. Additionally, the UN is already located in a very wealthy, isolated neighborhood (Gigiri) that is separated from the rest of Nairobi by a small forest. The US Embassy is in the same neighborhood and, between the thousands of employees who work at the two organizations, Gigiri is its own small city, cut off from the rest of Nairobi.

All of this adds up to a lot of barriers between the wealthy and everyone else. There are lots of wealthy Kenyans and other people of color on my side of the fence, but the vast majority of people on the other side of the fence are Africans. I think it's a class thing, not a racial thing, but the correlation between race and class creates a racial divide. There are many other reminders of the class and color divides (all the gardeners, maids, drivers and laborers are black), but I think the security aspect is the most obvious on a daily basis.

But Nairobi isn't called "Nairobbery" for nothing. A lot of these security measures are probably necessary as poorly guarded homes are broken into. With 40% unemployment in Kenya, there are a lot of poor people with few options for making a living. Pickpocketing and mugging do happen. Two other UN interns that I know have had their phones stolen in just the month that I've been here. There are some parts of the city I would never go alone - Kibera, at 1 million people, is one of the largest slums in the world. And walking anywhere after 9 or 10 pm is a bad idea.


My work is going well; making a lot of progress on my paper. In my Morocco blog I had a similar habit of only discussing the negative aspects of the place...despite the posts on security and transport I really really like it here. Having an amazing time!