Friday, December 7, 2012

Namibia draws another SNRAS researcher

John Duffy and the regional councilor.

SNRAS doctoral student John Duffy is about as far away from Alaska as he can get this winter. He is in Okakarara, Namibia, helping a local government as part of his research.

Duffy worked for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for 24 years before he left there in June 2010. He served as borough manager for 10 years, presiding over the fastest-growing area of the state. He managed the multi-million dollar Port MacKenzie, 11 new school district buildings, three new borough libraries and a new animal care facility.

He is working on his doctorate in natural resources and sustainability with SNRAS and is also in the Resilience and Adaptation program. Associate Professor Susan Todd is his advisor. When she was on sabbatical in Namibia, Duffy asked if there was any research he could do there and Dr. Todd found the right connections.

A report from Duffy arrived this week:

This community, Okakarara, needs lots of help: 57percent unemployment, high illiteracy rate, poor sanitation. The Regional Councilor (internship sponsor) had asked for assistance in finding resources for several projects: solar power for a marginalized SAN community, a smallholder farmer initiative, and economic development. I've spent most the past week finding data and trying to learn as much as possible about the community and region.

The major climate change issues here, base on one week of discussion, appear to be the change in the winter raining patterns which now come months earlier. Also, there appears to be instances of rain related extreme events which cause flooding. The major problem associated with the flooding is that it separates two very poor parts of the community from the major section of town where all of the facilities are, schools, government, stores, etc. The local government is seeking funding from the central government to build bridges to make the connections. Doubt if the money will be coming soon.

The Regional Council's original letter talked about having me develop a forest management program to reduce charcoal use as well as a potential grassland management program. When we discussed these programs, the regional councilor appears to now understand that if you work to replace charcoal manufacture you need something to replace the only source of cash for these poor people. Besides, charcoal is being produced from dead wood and there is no cutting of "green" forests, which, by the way, is highly regulated and policed. The region is also exporting charcoal to South Africa, so replacing this practice will require bumping up against vested interests that are well beyond the individual. Solar cook stoves would be a simple solution but I doubt that the community would support any movement away from charcoal use. It might be best to encourage practices that reduce the unhealthy side effects of charcoal use in the corrugated huts (homes.

So, I believe the best that I can do here in the limited amount of time on site, is to complete an assessment that may be used to obtain aid from the ICMA/USAID city links program. The assessment is a set of questions about 14 pages long which should provide sufficient data for other grant/aid proposals as well. I'll also identify potential USAID prospects and perhaps other potential sources of aid. They could certainly use a bio-assessment and a climate change mitigation and adaptation assessment as well. I've found a potential funding source for the mitigation/adaptation assessment though it will need a university partner. One other project could be the installation of bio-latrines at all of the schools (there are about 50) since only 20 percent of the area's population (30,000) has access to sanitation. I've found some leads on this potential project as well.

Duffy's living quarters.

Lastly, I'm housed inside a hut of sorts (it is actually quite comfortable) at the community's cultural center. The Center was built with EU funds and is quite basic. They could do much more with limited improvements, such as broadening their venues by building trails to support birding, insect viewing, a night trail walk, and a basic nature walk. These new venues though require training of guides and an inventory of the biodiversity. I'll look for resources for this as well.

I'm giving a presentation to the Voc-Ed staff next week on the concept of voc-ed partnerships with the private sector to develop training programs for potential jobs. They have prospects for an olive oil processing facility and manganese processing plant.

I'm providing technical and research assistance on several projects: a small village-based solar energy effort as the village presently has no electrical power and is too far from the grid, identifying and finding the funds to implement methods of addressing bush encroachment (woody plants overtaking grass savanna), and as at any local government in the U.S. "other duties as assigned." My goals are to provide some practical assistance in terms of bringing resources to the community by identifying costs and finding possible financial aid.

I'll weave in bee-keeping in due time!

On the personal side, I've found it quite interesting and enjoyable so far. Lots, lots on interesting bugs. I counted 16 different species of birds from my hut's landing the first day I was here. As you know, the rains are frequent and at times heavy. I am most surprised by the regular breeze/winds, taking a bit off the high heat. I am looked upon with inquisitiveness (I'm one of the only whites), the majority of people are welcoming and kind.
Duffy will be in his current location another six weeks, then will travel around the country for four more weeks.

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