É com muito gosto que vamos inaugurar a nossa casa do mel com o nosso querido mestre e amigo Harald Hafner!

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Human poo & pee causes more death, malnutrition and economic problems than any other single issue; yet like animal manure, can be a source of nutrients that can build health soils, regenerate landscapes.  This is the first of a few blogs where I'll explore consequences of terrible sanitation, better treatment options some of the radical new approaches to changing habit and practices that work, and some that really don't.

When there's no toilets in a community people "go" in the open, behind bushes, buildings, wherever they can find.  If you visit lots of villages you soon get that whiff of exposed poo, and if you spend a bit of time with that community you get to understand what happens when people are in such close and regular contact with their "wastes", from the high levels of diarrhoea and a host of other water borne diseases they live with (and pay for in money for medicines and visits to distant clinics).





It's clear: dirty, unsafe water is almost always a result of contamination from faeces and sewage.  And this continues to be one of the biggest causes for under-5 mortality, especially where there are no toilets.  This has to be fixed.

This UNICEF poster I saw last week on a wall in Sindh pretty much says
it all.  Surely it's not rocket science, and yet getting people to change
these habits and practices is one of the most challenging I have come across.
In Pakistan alone, it's estimated that around 93,000 people die per year from poor sanitation and related diseases - that's more than all the civilian deaths from earthquakes and floods in the country over the last decade.

I have seen this in countless villages and urban areas across Pakistan but also Liberia and other countries. Globally the numbers are staggering: some 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation; 1 billion still defecate in the open - both of these are estimated to cause almost a million unnecessary deaths a year.

Emerging evidence is also proving that lack of sanitation could be one of the leading drivers of malnutrition globally.  This powerful story in the New York Times explains it better than most, explaining how constant infection in the gut prevents children from absorbing nutrients  - regardless of how much food or money they have access to. This causes chronic stunting whereby the body and the brain fail to reach their optimal potential, a process that can't be reversed; stunted children thus  can't function academically, economically on a par with their peers. The implications this has on Governments in poor countries is staggering: address water, sanitation and hygiene or half your people will be half as productive and smart as they could be.

This gets me thinking about recent trends from donors / banks to promote cash transfers (dubbed "social protection" or social safety nets).  Billions of dollars are spent this way, and there's strong evidence to support that it works in some settings.  But if water and sanitation aren't addressed in parallel... then these underlying drivers of vulnerability will just remain in place.

Other studies have looked at the economic costs of this shitty situation. In Pakistan it is estimated that poor sanitation costs the country some $5.7 billion annually in economic losses; while in India, which has the highest numbers of malnourished children in the world the losses are equal to a dizzying $54 billion - per year!

Thinking back to my time In Liberia, during the peak of conflict in 2003 (managing health agency MERLIN's emergency response), when half a million people fleeing the rebel attack poured over to "our" side of the city, as the country's biggest cholera epidemic in years was killing far more than the bullets and bombs.  We set up a lot of cholera treatment units, water tanks, toilets, and saved many lives, for sure, but had there been adequate treatment in place already, I'm starting to think it could have reduced so much mortality.  Note to self: find out how much of cholera-endemic Liberia remains without adequate sanitation and get writing to the Government!

But it's not just OD, it's also the scourge of untreated sewerage which seeps out of semi-urban and urban communities across Pakistan (and in so much of the world).  This stinky sludge ends up contaminating our fresh water sources, killing off other plant and fish life, creating weird natural imbalances like algae blooms which when they die give off some other toxic liquid waste which is also really harmful, potentially lethal to fish, birds and humans.

So all in all, human waste is equal to untold suffering, disease, pollution and contamination for people and other forms of life.  But - this is only the case if you don't treat it properly, if your systems for treatment isn't designed with full treatment in mind, or if it's only partially complete, which seems to be the case pretty much everywhere in the world I go.

Pit Latrines and treatment options

So... what are the options?  Well first, it helps to understand the basics of the biology at play. Let's take an example of a pit latrine, it will hold the liquid and solids together in an underwater state which means that oxygen can't get in, so it's anaerobic.  A multitude of harmful bacteria live in this state, which also produces loads of methane, and uric acid (from the pee) all of which smell bad.  So if you step into one of these pit latrines you will want to get out as soon as possible.  Really not ideal, but in an emergency, better than nothing when there are thousands of people living in a small area, and open defecation would be really dangerous for public health.

The alternative in this case is a compost toilet, which prevents the waste from becoming anaerobic by adding sawdust, straw, leaves or any dry thing (rich in carbon, crunched up cardboard will do). This absorbs a lot of the liquid and allows for little bits of air (thus oxygen) to get in and around the pile, which thus remains aerobic.  A completely different, thermophyllic process kicks in whereby in heats up, pretty much like a compost heap. These are unique "heat-loving" bacteria which exist in any composting process; over time they reduce these natural processes eliminate the harmful germs and bacteria: they "treat" our wastes, making it safe.  Moreover, it transforms it into a a really rich source of nutrients for plant growth.  One of the best books, brimming with resources to understand all this is the humanure handbook.

In other words: The problem and source of so much disease and suffering has the potential to be a great resource for regenerating a denuded garden, tree planting, and so much positive growth.


Pour flush toilets and sewage treatment    

The other types of toilets are the pour flush ones that most people living in cities or richer countries use every day.  Squat plate or sit-on-top they both hold a bit of water to receive your delivery, then water is added and it disappears, through a U-bend into a septic tank where it sits in that same anaerobic environment discussed above.  Millions of naturally occurring anaerobic tolerant bacteria in the tank consume the solids, changing it over time from solid to less dense and then floating scum, which then rise and leave the tank as more waste arrives.

Now, here's the gross and deeply unsettling part: septic tanks only partially treat this sewage.  It is still highly contaminated and is known to be one of the largest sources of ground-water contamination.  Bacteria, viruses, parasites (including worms and protozoans) are the types of pathogens in sewage waste and run-off from septic tanks.  The bacteria can cause numerous diseases including typhoid, dysentery, gastroenteritis, cholera; the viruses meanwhile include such infamous horrors as polio, hepatitis A, viral gastroenteritis.

Example 1: A latrine + septic tank built by a humanitarian organisation
in a village in Sindh, Pakistan following floods. Good intentions,
but potentially dire consequences as the overflowing septic tank has
created a perfect environment for dangerous bacteria and viruses. 



Here are a few examples... 





















Example 2: raw sewerage running through a semi-urban
area of  Jacobabad, Pakistan.  These channels
are often blocked with garbage and overflow into the street.
Next stop: the nearest irrigation canal.


Example 3. Another overflowing latrine (Punjab)
another aid project, this time a good example
of the algae bloom, causing very hazardous
toxins.  Is this any better than open defecation?


















I have hundreds of examples; the point is that a septic tank alone does not treat the sewerage waste.  Most designs recommend a soak-away pit. This is basically a hole in the ground filled with some gravel where the septic water seeps into, through a perforated pipe, or just straight into the gravelly hole.  And then, into the ground, maybe into the ground-water, we don't really know.  I've heard it said that soil acts as an excellent filter, but there's little research to show what happens when hundreds of households seep their waste-water into the same soil, it eventually builds up, and leads to contamination of ground water.

Built by IDEP in Bali, this constructed wetland is only about
18 months old and is seriously flourishing.
The water at the end of it smelled fresh.
The trees were growing at a phenomenal rate
So, treatment options for septic tank waste-water? I have found nothing better than constructed wetlands that allow plants to absorb the nutrients, to literally transform the harmful pathogens into plant growth.  There are quite a few different ways of doing this, which would (and do) fill entire books, but I have seen some excellent results here, by IDEP in Bali. See picture, left.

These are gravel-filled sealed tanks, into which water-tolerant plants are set. There is no soil, only gravel.  The roots transform the nutrients from the sewage waste (nitrogen, ammonia and urea) into plant growth.  The roots oxygenate the water.

Constructed wetland by IDEP, at
Ulluwatu in Bali. 






















Ecological treatment of wastes can go up to large scale - as shown here.
 Thanks to Florence Cattin for this photo and for so much valuable advice on the theory and practice of waste water gardens. 

There are other wetland system too, like Jay and Clara Abrahams of biologic design, who build "wetland ecosystem treatment or WET systems".  These too are remarkable and I have visited many of their installations in England.  Jay points out these WET systems are not simple horizontal or vertical flow reedbeds; instead the WET systems use soil as the purification medium, not gravel as do conventional reedbed treatment systems.


A small portion of a WET system in the South of England, mid-winter.
from a quiet large institution, this treated
all sewage and grey-water wastes.  
During our visits Jay points out that the bacteria in sewage is relatively vulnerable when it leaves its septic tank and that if you have created a viable ecosystem in an un-lined wetland, studded with hundreds of grasses, bushes and trees, the proliferation of much stronger  bacteria devour these  "new kids on the block".

The waste flows from one pond to the other through the soil banks that separate each.  The extensive root networks and living soils provide a living filtration process.  Fish and ducks can be introduced.  Larger, older systems are like forests, attracting birds and enabling the return of biodiversity and health to the overall environment.  Moreover, these systems promote rapid growth of high value species which can earn the owner serious money. In this case willow is planted which is harvested and sold locally.

Lastly, there's biogas.  Human manure has less potential energy than that of cows, but it is still an organic material and will produce methane. It's such an obvious way to get energy from waste, but I doubt it would perform very well if the sewage weren't combined with other wastes, like sawdust and chopped up food waste, from kitchens or fruit markets.  We installed such a system in our home, described in this blog, but we haven't lived there enough since then to really learn from it.  But there is copious evidence already out there; we are well passed proof of concept.  Check this 2 minute video for one. Crucially, we now know that biogas digesters are very effective at treating harmful pathogens, though not completely, so care should be taken of the slurry emerging as a bi-product.  Again, not a problem if properly designed at the beginning.  

In Conclusion
It's clear that ecological systems can treat our sewage waste if we allow it to: the problem becomes an opportunity - and part of a solution for another problem.  We need to start making these links.

It need not cost much more than we are currently spending, if we adopt the right designs, for which we need more testing, experimentation and research.  Last week I joined a team from IDEP Bali who were teaching local NGOs in Pakistan how to build basic constructed wetlands - so we can start to learn from these results soon.
joao pedro goncalves on May 22nd, 2015

Andrea on May 11th, 2015

 

Hey Mum! We remodelled the rabbit shed for you :)

rabbit shed destroyers

 

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magnus wolfe murray on May 7th, 2015
In this blog I discuss earth-bag construction as an option for shelter recovery in Nepal. I start off with a quick overview of how the humanitarian coordination is going with the relevant links to access this info for those people unfamiliar with the system.  So skip down a bit if you want to get straight to the earthbag issues, links, etc.
An earth bag school under construction in Nepal, before the
earthquake. This one, a school, built by the local community with design and
training help from Edge of Seven, others shown below.
Critical points are: these are extremely earthquake resilient, energy efficient
and require a fraction of the logistics of importing bricks and cement up the damaged roads, etc. 



The incredibly powerful earthquake which struck Nepal on 25th of April this year has killed over 7,500 people and injured at least twice as many.  Latest reports are indicating that over 255,000 houses have been destroyed, with another 215,000 "damaged".  Humanitarian coordination is already up and running and huge amounts of data and information is being placed online and updated regularly. The relevant entry point is here.

The suffering and loss reported by the media and humanitarian agencies has been immense, unbearable for those families worst affected. Save the Children and UNDAC report 

"In Sindhupalchok, the level of damage significantly increases higher up the valley. Families live outside their homes under makeshift shelters of old tents, plastics, bed sheets, corrugated iron, and boards. Observations in villages showed that almost all houses made of stone and mud plaster are completely destroyed"

It reminds me of news, around ten years ago of the earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan, which was actually slightly less intense than the one in Nepal (7.6 and 7.8 respectively, on the richter scale), but claimed more than 80,000 lives.  At least, thus far, mortality in Nepal has been lower, by a a huge margin.

The main sectors in the UN Flash appeal
including target numbers of beneficiaries. 
The UN, in collaboration with local Government and the NGO community has moved quickly to put together a "flash appeal" which is requesting $415m for immediate funding for only the next 3 months (April to July) for critical areas like shelter, water&sanitation, education, logistics support protection, food security, etc.

So there are lots of areas to deal with and to the extent possible the local Government NGOs (and a whole range of “civil society” actors will be leading the response).  These appeals and the consequent scaling up of UN and international NGOs try, to a large extent, to support these local efforts, rather than overwhelm things with outsiders and foreign stuff.

With over a quarter of a million houses damaged, there's a massive shelter and housing challenge - that has to be addressed ASAP before the winter - indeed before the monsoon rainy season which can start as early as June and go through September.

I’m going to focus on shelter options in this post, because of the mighty damage the shelter cluster has reported. There are a few factors to consider here:

  • People need immediate (emergency) shelter now if they have lost their home and are sleeping out in the open or with friends and family.  
  • For those families who remain in or near their villages reconstruction and recovery starts right away.  The concept of there being phases: emergency shelter, followed by some transitional affair, then “build back safer” durable and “earthquake compliant” shelter is not very close to their reality – or affordable.   
  • There will not be enough money. The UN has already asked for almost half a billion USD – for the first three months alone! (OK most of it for food and cash vouchers), but how much money do you think the donor community has to spare?  (Don’t forget that the latest appeal to support Lebanon is for $2.2 bn, which doesn't include the needs inside Syria, Jordan, Yemen; let alone South Sudan, Ebola recovery and so on).  So: whatever is done has to be extremely good value (read: low cost and robust).  Or chose to support only a small percentage of the total caseload with a full price (all signing all dancing) reconstruction package.
  • News update as of 8th May, the UN says it's only received about 5% of it's $415m appeal (that's around $22m).  This usually happens at the beginning of an appeal, but 5% is really low, so,  as I said, money is going to be tight.
So I’ve had a look at the draft Nepal Shelter Clusterstrategy which basically recommends:

  • Immediate life-saving shelter interventions such as tarpaulins, basic tools and fixings for damaged homes for displaced people, along with the appropriate non-food items. (And the shelter cluster provides a pretty cool info sheet on how to strap down your tarp in the best way possible).
  • Cash for the "most vulnerable" families (which in itself can be challenging to decide as so many have lost their homes and are vulnerable) to address urgent needs.  Actually, I think that cash right now would be really useful and appropriate - assuming shops and markets are around.  Much better than donating a tent or cooking sets, which cost a lot of money plus serious transport costs and hassle.  People know what they need and they know how to get ahold of it, if they have money. However, I've also heard that building materials are really hard to buy right now and to transport to the more isolated areas.  Moreover, cash alone doesn't pay for critical water and sanitation work to be done.  
The shelter cluster strategy goes on to talk about other really relevant issues on supporting local Government with quake resistant building approaches and other points more relevant to the recovery phase.  Worth reading and getting involved with the cluster if you're part of the response. 

So, what are the options now? As we’ve seen the emergency phase is about tents, tarps n’ tools, or cash.  But how well will these really suit the coming monsoon and winter?

One friend wrote to ask about the suitability of bamboo thatch with tarps. These are not bad, certainly could do for the next few months to stay dry, keep the rain out, etc. assuming the roof eaves are long enough to keep the rain off the walls. But the problem is that these kind of shelters aren't going to be very warm in the winter, they just don't have the insulation. But for an emergency solution to get people over the coming monsoon season it is what the majority of aid agencies are doing right now.

I heard from another colleague that it’s really difficult to buy or access materials out in the more remote areas; there’s not a lot of salvageable wood from the rubble and roofing sheets are damaged.

In which case - a really excellent resource - for anyone working with bamboo and tarps is this "reciproboo" system, developed by Shaun Halbert, which uses smart but really simple geometry to greatly reduce the amount of bamboo or sticks needed per shelter.

Locals are saying that it gets cold and wet pretty soon – so insulation and heating are really vital.  So… what to do?

The solution, I believe, is earth-bags.  These are basically 50 kg rice or fertiliser bags that are filled with any dirt you happen to be standing on, and stacked with attention to levels, etc. to make walls.  Door and window frames are inserted as the walls go up.  Ditto openings for a chimney.

Earth bag shelter built in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake by
Cal Earth Pakistan - see link and reference below. 
Here it gets interesting: the building can be designed to be round, and the roof made from the same materials in a dome structure.  Quite handy where you don’t have enough roofing material or money (or in some cases like in Pakistan, California, Europe or Iran, you like the dome design, it’s an aesthetic advantage).  Oh, and good to mention: these can be some of the most earthquake compliant low cost buildings you can make. The pictures here show lots of good examples. 

Could this work in Nepal? Well it turns out quite a number have already been built there over the years by a few different agencies. I got in touch with some of them and have already heard back from First Step Himalaya, a New Zealand outfit which worked with a local community to build a school.  As you can see from this recent TV news slot, this building survived the earthquake just fine.

First Step replied to me yesterday to say that their local teams are operational now, that they have a new relief fund set up and are doing what they can like so many local groups. The challenge might be taking it to scale: how many people can First Step train to build these kind of structures quickly and properly in the next few months?

There are other groups who know how to do this however, including an old friend from Karachi, Shahid Malik Shahid has set up this really useful site with loads of links.


Earthbag building in Mexico.
Souce: here
It's nice to see that earthbags have been used all over the world, so they can be adapted to the social or cultural factors relevant within your community. Check this one on the right from Mexico, makes for really nice light and angles within.  And it's amazing to think that no "normal" roofing materials were needed at all, like wood, steel, concrete, etc.



Meanwhile, I’d like to know if there are other designs and material choices that would offer such good value for money at this time – when money is so scare and need so enormous.  

Here's some more information about the disaster:

Some of the really useful information managemnet data coming out of the shetler cluster in Khatmandu. This is a poor quality snapshot - go check out their website and links to all their docs here

Another interesting one showing numbers of shelter items distributed so far, by who.
Source: as above (Shelter cluster Nepal)

Focus area of the earthquake and worst-affected districts


A breakdown of requested funds per sector from the UN flash appeal 

And some pictures I took in Kathmandu back in 2013, when a bunch of us went on the renowned "earthquake walk" through town...



Serious structural cracks already seen on this building.  It would be a miracle if it remained standing

lots of bizarre looking tall and thin structures like this
have been built over the last ten years. I don't know
how well they handled the earthquake, as many of the buldings
around them appear really vulnerable.  


Andrea on May 4th, 2015

This is part of a series of posts where we ask one of our visitors to say a few words about their stay. Dominik and Matic wrote this note to the lady who runs our local bar in Unhais o Velho.
 
 
Olá Dona Céu, (Scroll down for English)

Vamos embora amanhã, por isso queriamos agradecer por todos os cafés que você nos serviu, todos os pães e outros presentes que você nos deu, mas principalmente para a boa energia e felicidade que você traz para a aldeia e os seus visitantes.

Com seu sorriso caloroso, você é a mão amiga que as pessoas precisam, bem como a ligação entre os moradores. Esperamos que um dia destes volteremos para o seu cafe para vê-la novamente, e espero que nós falaremos Português para que possamos ter um conversa.

Obrigado por tudo, Dominik & Matic 

Tia Ceu
Hello,

We’re leaving tomorrow, so we want to thank you for all the coffees you’ve made for us, all the bread rolls and other gifts you’ve given us, but mostly for the good energy and happiness you bring to the village and it’s visitors.

With your warm smile, you’re the helping hand that people need, as well as the connection between villagers. We hope that one day we’ll return to the bar to see you again, and hopefully we’ll speak Portuguese so we can have a chat.

Thanks for everything, Dominik & Matic

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magnus wolfe murray on May 3rd, 2015
Wonderful and remarkable how Balinese women prepare each day little blessings, today an ocean cleansing ceremony,  the beach completely filled with local families playing in the powerful surf. While the wave riding addicts among us ride the planetary blessings:)

magnus wolfe murray on May 3rd, 2015
magnus wolfe murray on April 28th, 2015
Last month I went to Northern Lebanon, on a short mission with CARE International, to help them figure out a strategy to deal with the dire housing problems faced by Syrian refugees.  To short cut to this presentation (more pictures than words, go here).  Almost immediately I was blown away by the scale of the crisis in Lebanon: a country of just over 4.2 million people is hosting almost 1.5 million refugees.  That's around a third of the population! Meaning that Lebanon now has the highest per capital concentration of refugees in the world.

Tripoli, looking East over the mountains towards Syria

Imagine Britain or France taking in 20 million people, and the kind of impact that would have on public services that people often complain aren't good enough as it is.  Well, it's not really any different for Lebanon, except that their public services have been in worse shape than those in rich European countries.  Talking of Europe, it appears that the entire EU block has offered asylum to a grand total of 134,000 Syrian refugees, so around 10% that Lebanon has taken.  Yet the population difference  is so great it means that Europe is offering refuge to 1,000 times fewer refugees compared to Lebanon.




And let's not forget Lebanon's 15 year civil war, ending in 1990 - not that long ago.  In fact it's quite incredible that the country seems relatively "normal" and quite organised, considering the deep sectarian and political divides that burned the country for so long.  Or that over 300,000 Palestinian refugees live here, some for generations, others recently displaced again from Syrian, who have built entire urban neighbourhoods of their own (called "camps"), supported by UNRWA, an agency created specifically for this community, but constantly in financial crisis.

But Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest city, with a rich history dating back to almost 1,500 years BC as an important trading and education centre, has been embroiled in what some call a "spill-over" of the Syrian conflict.  As usual, it's complicated, but in essence Tripoli is home to what some call the most conservative Sunni Muslims, which continue to enjoy Saudi Arabian funding, and some Shia Allawite Muslims, aligned to the Syrian regime, but resident in Tripoli and Northern Lebanon for generations.

 Meanwhile, I kept hearing that the Government in Beirut has marginalised Tripoli for years which has led to economic decline, unemployment and failing public services.  A recent UN study found that 77% of local residents are economically "deprived" (aka: the poverty line) and 35% have miserable accommodation (OK they used different language but that's the gist).

Here I'm checking out roofing options to stop the constant
leaking in the dwelling of refugees below. With Ahmad
Al-Ayyoubi of LRC
So it is this precarious social eggshell that the 180,000 or so Syrian refugees in Tripoli and surrounding areas found themselves. (For more info see this enormous information bank on the refugee crisis in Lebanon.    I heard from a lot of people how welcoming local communities had been at first. Empathy is a powerful emotion and I think it's universal.  But after a while, it wears thin, especially if the new guests are putting additional strain on things that matter to everyone, like spaces in classrooms and clinics (refugees are supported, to some degree, by the UN to access both these public services).  But also jobs: Syrians traditionally take low paid work like moving stuff in markets, construction, agriculture.  But with there being so little other work around I heard from some locals their feeling of being "smothered", needing to find work themselves, and struggling.  And food, power, rent is EXPENSIVE in Lebanon...

The vast majority of refugees in Lebanon rent a place to live, that's just the norm. There are quite a few small informal settlements around, but not really in or around Tripoli, where most rent really basic flats in overcrowded blocks. Refugees pay between $200 and $400 a month which sometimes includes electricity and water, but not always.  We visited quite a few such places and they were pretty basic, though they did include small kitchens and toilet.  Actually I was quite impressed at the extensive sewerage piping network that has been built, often retrofitted to temporary shacks. OK, there's no such thing as sewage treatment: it all flows into the closest water course which is of course completely contaminated, as will be the ocean where it all ends up.  But still, compared to the open sewers across South Asia...

In a typical damp refugee dwelling, costing $200 a month, with
Rayan El-Fawal, project coordinator of Lebanon Relief Council
one of CARE's partner NGOs.
CARE had already partnered up with a local NGO called the Lebanon Relief Council (LRC) to do a survey of accommodation standards. They found lots of examples of really bad conditions, like damp - in some cases leaking down the walls, lack of windows and gaps at the top of walls where mice and rats entered.  On my visits I noticed really dodgy wiring, lack of ventilation, insulation, heating facilities. Overall, really unhealthy and depressing places to live.  But what choice do they have? Risk death on the Mediterranean to reach Fortress Europe? Go home and be incarcerated by the Regime?


We also heard from quite a lot of refugees how they can't afford to send their children to school - despite international donors providing upwards of $60m so far to support local schools to accommodate some refugee kids (to pay registration fees, staff, etc.).  But even so Syrians have found it really hard, stigmatised and academically challenged as subjects are taught in English and French in Lebanon, rather than Arabic they were used to back home.  Some reports indicated a 70% drop out rate while in some areas of the country it works better.  Of the refugees I met, about half said they couldn't afford the fees for schools or hadn't been accepted into the UN/NGO school support programme.  And when you meet kids who have no choice but to spend all day at home - a dingy room with nothing to do, is when the desperation of the situation really hits home.

Widad Sharan and her three children from Homs in Syria.
Hiba Daher, her daughter, far left, is 13 (my daughter Kira's age!) is polite, intelligent, really friendly - hasn't been to school since leaving Syria in 2013. Her siblings neither.  

I asked if anyone within the Syrian community had organised some kind of community school, within these very rooms, or outside, or wherever.  After all there must be teachers among the refugees and other adults who can teach kids literacy and maths and all that.  Apparantly not, so far anyway.  Why? because any adult who isn't home looking after kids has to be out trying to find work - to pay for rent and food and living.

Ahmad Al-Ayyoubi, Chief of LRC, chatting with one of the
most academically inspired kids I've ever seen.
She was thrilled with the attention and the time he gave her
and it just shows how much difference some kind of
community education project could make.  Also really
appreciated how Ahmad took the time in our meeting
to just hang out with her, rather than getting involved
in the chatter; shows real humanity and confidence.
Right there, in that room we had a big discussion on the potential for a project to support this kind of community education (it may well be happening in other parts of the country, but that means little to Hiba, her siblings and so many like her in Tripoli).  Friends from LRC said they could find some young people from the local community to volunteer, some teaching materials could be bought, or donated by UNICEF, which leads on education in emergencies, but the most important impact would be just engaging with these kids - doing something positive, keeping up with some classes and having a bit of fun.

Our mission was not education however, it was shelter, or rather proposing a strategy for housing. But soon enough I realised that it's wrong to separate out the accommodation woes from all the other ills of local society.


Local hero - this serious dude had dedicated countless hours
to fixing problems in loads of refugee homes. A refugee
himself and a talented handyman, he could be linked up with
a mixed team of Lebanese & Syrian tradesmen to undertake
the most pressing maintenance problems in their community.
For refugees and locals alike.  
Outside every home piles of garbage litter the streets, no doubt causing public health problems (and outstanding rodent territory). Meanwhile huge areas between the concrete blocks were denuded and destitute, where community farms or gardens or play-parks could be erected.

Together with Daniel Delati, my Tripoli guide and programme coordinator at CARE who had recruited me for this job, we realised that this was much more an integrated strategy.  We needed to re-frame this problem as one of social stability for the entire area.  We'd visited quite a few Lebanese families living in equally dire accommodation across the city. Meanwhile refugee and locals alike suffered from the lack of any kind of meaningful and sustained employment.  We had to find donors that would support a kind of social-economic recovery programme for the entire area.  In fact given the recent "troubles" between Sunni and Shia communities, one could argue that investment in livelihoods, business, public services and urban regeneration could mitigate future conflict.  And the refugee community could be part of this regeneration. Much better than focusing entirely on the refugees and ignoring the equally needy local people who had already done so much to host these war-affected people.

A typical scene in Tripoli, garbage and a wasted opportunity for community
farm or gardens.  
Looking at the city with my "green" or environmental design lens I saw countless opportunities for urban farming, household gardens, waste management (Daniel knows a company in Beirut that processes waste plastic into new products, who could be urged to start a plant in Tripoli?).









For solar lighting in the often black-out neighbourhoods. For a new industry of lime-based building materials, given that the entire country appears to be built on limestone.  For ecological treatment of sewage through constructed wetlands and smart design - a practice barely understood by the global WASH community, local Governments or donors anywhere, but with potential to re-green denuded cities and landscapes and to generate new and sustained income streams.  Yes it means thinking quite far out of the box, and challenging quite a lot of preset models and ideas, but these are desperate times and fairly radical solutions are needed.

Almost a garden. With the right design help these people
could direct their grey water (or even post septic-tank water)
into constructed wetlands (for black water) and gardens for
grey water.  

Opportunities for employment exist, that's for sure.  But there are certainly challenges too.  For example the Lebanese Government has come out with increasingly draconian regulations on the rights of Syrians to work - or rather that they are not allowed to work. In fact to stay in Lebanon, officially, every Syrian must pay $200 a year and sign a declaration that they will not work, or face detention.  I think every Government anywhere would have to do the same thing, given the pressure from voters and taxpayers on jobs; many local municipal Governments have shown enormous flexibility and understanding anyway and have not enforced these regulations.  But to move forward, the international community will have to negotiate shared benefits of new investment in economic regeneration.

A presentation on the strategy I drafted for CARE is given here.

For now, the international community has one of its finest humanitarian leaders running the show on behalf of the UN - the indomitable Ross Mountain, now the UN Humanitarian Coordinator (who I first encountered in 2004 doing a stirling job in post-war Liberia).  Ross appears to have quickly grasped the need to address the fragility of the crisis as can be seen in this really well drafted Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (this link takes you to the 8 page brochure and highlights).   In fact I'll leave you with a quote from this document, this appeal for a little over $2bn, to address this crisis.  I suppose it's fair to assume that if we fail to support Lebanon in this hour of need, the consequent crisis could cost much more, and it would be a humanitarian nightmare without precedent.

The number of poor currently in Lebanon has risen by nearly two-thirds since 2011, and Lebanese unemployment has doubled. Children and youth are most affected after four years of economic hardship and limited access to essential services. Lebanese national health, education and infrastructure services are overstretched and a third of Lebanon’s young labour force cannot find work. For many of the poorest and most vulnerable communities, including displaced Syrian families and Lebanon’s long-term Palestine refugees, daily life is increasingly dominated by poverty and debt, fewer cooked meals, rising waste and pollution, long queues at health centers, over-full classrooms, disease outbreaks, falling water quality, and increased competition for work. 
(LCRP, Dec. 2014)

And some more photos from the trip in Tripoli:


Urban sprawl. Overlooking the river, this must have been
a splendid vista back in the day of the Ottomans, or the Persian
empire or further back.

It's amazing how there's almost nothing left of the old
architecture left, perhaps giving way to more profitable
buildings (more people = more money)

Looks like a typica refugee rented property
but could just as well be a Lebanese family in there. 

Near the old souk, market area, signs of the vernacular
architecture, mostly from Ottoman period, which lasted
about 500 years. 

Part of the old market (souk).  Now there's only one shop there, selling locally made soap.
Nice, but where are the other traders? How could such a place buzz with business for over a thousands years, then nothing... Lebanon now imports around 90% of its food, invests almost nothing in agriculture development, or new businesses, maybe that's why.  Or has globalisation got something to do with it? 

A self-build, on some rented land.  A refugee family from
just outside Damascus.  Quite nice inside too, and delicious
coffee.. The point is they are used to quite high standards,
came from a paid job, was able to sell property before leaving,
has a brother working in the Gulf.  Not all families are
completely destitute, we need to remember that. 
Perfect spot for a raised bed garden!

Follow the trees: look where things want to grow.  Right where
we thrown our garbage.  With a small investment and some training
this whole area could be a garden of abundance and productivity.
Space left for social gatherings and playing.
Instead only the rats play here and the kids stay at home.
 And everyone pays a fortune for
imported vegetables and fruits.  
a

Passion fruit vines anyone?
Vertical garden heaven right here, yet nobody plants anything - why?  


Those sewerage connections I spoke about
earlier. It would make it easy to tap into this
nutrient-rich waste that could fertilise some
small urban forestry project. Or not, we could
just let it pour un-treated bacteriological contamination
into the communal water course.
Yeh, that sounds like a much better idea...

The kitchen - bathroom set up in a rented property 

The infamous garages - upgraded from mechanics workshops or shops to rent out to refugee families. Miserable, dark, cold and unventilated.  

Diesel-fed heating stoves.
First time I've seen these.  Quite impressive
despite the use of the fossil fuels. These
people said that 2 litres keeps it hot for
about 24 hours! wow. UNHCR
has distributed them to many "most vulnerable"
refugees, but huge gaps remain.  

Local kids, well Lebanese - Egyptian, but local


Daniel Delati, from CARE in Lebanon, from the US at one point, but also from Tripoli and a passionate citizen he is, with so much hope, passion for the city history and optimism for the future.  A great asset for CARE, and a superb guide to local cuisine too!

How the fossils fall.  Plastic waste below a block. The inevitable
result of a dysfunctional city waste management system.  

The scars of war in Tebennay district of Tripoli
where things are slowly returning to some kind
of normality (albeit with well armed military checkpoints
on most corners). 

Tebennay locals




Andrea on April 26th, 2015

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Jeroen took a course on beekeeping organised by the local beekeepers co-operative some time ago, when we originally purchased our hives. I’ve never had any training in beekeeping though, so I was thrilled when The Hive offered another Introduction to Beekeeping Workshop. The Hive are a local cultural co-operative focussing on sustainable education.

Apiculturist Kev talked our small group through some theory and showed us the necessary equipment, then we suited up and braved the weather to take a look at some operational hives up on the hillside nearby. Bees buzzing all around is a tremendous feeling and I enjoyed the session immensely.

Then back to The Hive for a delicious lunch and chat. Many thanks to the Hive team and Kev for a superb day.

 

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