Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!

 

Posted by Frank va Steenbergen and Martin van Beusekom
June 26, 2013

This is a man in a boat on the Marib Lake in Yemen. The man is a researcher in aquaponics. His name is Dr Emad al-Sakkaf. Aquaponics is the science of using closed water systems for the production of food and fish. Aquaponics systems use only a fraction of other food water systems. Although  they are age-old, modern aquaponic systems hold enormous promise for local food supply in water-short regions, including Yemen.

Dr. Emad ventures on the Lake to take water samples with a rubber boat, finding out what fish species could work to accelerate the closed food systems.  Now Marib Lake is in the heart of one of Yemen’s troublesome tribal regions. Lo and behold his water sampling is picked by a spy drone and, as the local story goes, the live images are transmitted to a central control room in the US. 

Shoot down this man in the boat? This question by the control room transmitted to the surveillance centre in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Frantic telephone queries are made to the Marib tribe and the credentials of the men in the boat are established – this is just a person doing some research.

Happy ending – no Dr Emad Emad Al-Sakkaf is shot down that day.

So here is the ridiculous world in which we have come to live courtesy of, among others, the current ‘we want change’ Obama Administration. Someone taking water samples is under vigilance from the world’s self-appointed super power and its enormous security industry. He risks being shot merely for doing research in an unusual place. All our resources are misdirected.

Thanks to the brave acts of Ed Snowden, the PRISM and Tempora programs are being unearthed and the enormous size of the US and UK security industry is becoming clear as well. All showing that there is not even a thin line between state security agencies and private companies doing their business – with all accountability gone overboard as individuals can job-hop between agency and company, all under the guise of secrecy. 

It is Blackwater repeated. Booz Allen Hamilton- the private spy contractor and Edward Snowden’s last employer- has 25,000 staff and a turn-over of USD 6 Billion. This is phenomenal. They undertake all types of weird activities – “transforming cyber security in the Middle East” (check their website!). Who asked for this?

Then in another article in the Guardian it was revealed that 850,000 staff members of the National Security Agency and the private contractors in the US have access to Tempora. 850,000: absolutely mind-boggling!

Here is an economy gone totally out of control. The amount of resources devoted to the senseless business of providing unsought protection and vigilance is beyond belief. We are brain-washed about terrorism threats, but there is ample evidence that the security industry masterminds some of the incidents and media amplifies them. This is what it takes to sustain their business model.

We have a world where Big Brother has come to live with us. In fact, one wonders to what extent our friendly social media are not part of the security industry and their revenue models and algoritmic prowess depends on a combined Orwellian pact  (Recommended reading: The New Digital Age by Google CEOs Schmidt and Cohen) quite mum on internet spying and email snooping even if we all know it is going on.

What all this makes me wonder – and this is not a rhetoric question but a genuine plea:

Why do we set aside so much public money in a senseless business sector as the security industry – that adds nothing to our well-being and contributes zero towards meeting the world’s biggest challenges of extreme poverty and overstretched resources? Why can’t we channel similar amounts of energy, talent and financial resources towards things that are global public goods – such as better water management, climate smart agriculture or even aquaponics? Or education, combating poor people’s diseases or providing safe drinking water systems? Why do we end up with the small crumbs and are the millennium development goals just a sideshow to the dirty business of Booz Allen Hamilton and the like? Can we not direct all this unsought surveillance towards tailoring better education, or controlling pollution, or preventing the degradation of land and water resources? Can we not have algorithms for this and generate jobs and green business?  Can anybody answer: Kerry, Cameron, Schmidt, Cohen?

Lets spare a wish for the ‘men in the boat’ – risking their lives for a better world, be they Dr Emad Emad Al-Sakkaf or Edward Snowden-- equally lost at sea. Let us hope we can collectively change the odds.

  • Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting in Arid Urban Areas: The Case of Sana'a, Yemen

    Posted by Martin van Beusekom and Linda NavisJune 18, 2013 Water shortage is key problem for the citizens of Yemen’s capital Sanaá. Annual rainfall averages 200 mm and normally does not exceed 250mm. Of that, the fraction that is effective rainfall is even lower. As the water precipitates through short intense showers, it is diverted though urban and semi-urban wadi systems (multifunctional ro...

    Read more

  • Turning Farm Waste into Food: The Hi-tech and the Low-tech

    Posted by Ruben Borge, MetaMeta Circular Economy / Rockin Soils June 03, 2013Famers knowing how to make compost is key to the concept of circular economy. As compost practitioners know, proper aeration controls both temperature and moisture in the compost pile. A lot of oxygen and moisture is everything you need to make food out of waste. They take this very seriously in TheNetherlands.  I had a ...

    Read more

  • Farmer-smart ICT?

    Posted by Likimyelesh Nigussie June 03, 2013One of the big challenges in achieving global food security  is ‘closing the yield gap’. There is much knowledge aIrrto get the best out of a crop in global centres of knowledge, but these techniques are not known to many farmers (especially those in remote and poor areas) and hence they are not applied. Also, the supporting inputs are often not loc...

    Read more

  • One house, one buffer

    Posted by Francesco Sambalino May 23, 2013 Djerba from the plane appears as a vast and flat island dotted with sparse settlements and clusters of tourist villages. It is always ready to host hordes of Europeans escaping the colder north. If you go to Djerba - or any other location in southern Tunisia - you will be sure to find plenty of sunshine and mild temperatures. This is often the perfect rec...

    Read more

  • To start to exist

    posted by Allah Baksh and Frank van Steenbergen May 10, 2013Postcard from Tharparkar, the desert on the border of Pakistan and India and one of the hardest places to be:  summers of blazing heat, child marriage as the norm, groundwater in little patches (but often saline), and hardly any rain.Here (above) is a picture of a large campaign to get women registered, have an identity card and to star...

    Read more

  • Open Letter to UNICEF

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen April 29, 2013If you would head an organization whose mandate is to protect of the rights of children, help meet their basic needs and raise resources to achieve this..And if that same organization, upon receiving funds from donors would take between six to eighteen months to get the paper work ready for things to roll out, mainly because of internal procedures and...

    Read more

  • Good Grab, Bad Grab

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen April 22, 2013With the large and sometimes overexposed attention for land grabbing in Africa, good examples tend to be forgotten. Here is a picture of an inspection team to a land concession issued five years earlier.The land is in a remote part of Amhara state in Ethiopia. It is barren and windswept. The concession was given to an investor from the ‘diaspora’ ...

    Read more

  • Pocket paradises

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen April 01, 2013Cities grow and there is nothing stopping them. In 2050 not half but 65% of global citizens may be urbanites.As our life becomes more urban, it becomes faster, richer, more diverse but also impersonal (how many neighbours do know us?), grim, impersonal, dangerous, insecure.There is much to learn from the oldest megacities: how to avoid grime and what ...

    Read more

  • The Coming Plastic Revolution

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen March 04, 2013Is this the next revolution in agriculture and water management: plastic mulch?In rural China, entire landscapes have already been transformed by ultra-thin poly-ethylene plastic foils. They are laid out in long glistening strips, one next to the other. The total area under plastic mulch in China is enormous. One estimate  (Kasirajan & Ngouajio, ...

    Read more

  • Towards a Lighter Burden: A Small Step

    March 09, 2013Square, unwieldy and (often) yellow, jerry cans are a common sight in rural areas across the world. They were originally designed to contain fuel/cooking oil, and are probably quite suitable for that purpose. Ergonomically, they are perhaps least suited to fetching water from a public source and carrying it over long distances. Unfortunately, this is what precisely what rural communi...

    Read more