Stories from the field

month February 2017

Blog 4 – Debrief and Heading home

A final conversation with my fellow intern Bethlehem Daniel during debrief.

Blog 4 – Debrief and Heading home

A final conversation with my fellow intern Bethlehem Daniel during debrief.

Nate Jost – Blog 4: Pieces of the Migration Puzzle (GOV)

I don’t think it’s only because my internship in migration has made me more attentive to the issues; migration is in the limelight across the world in an unprecedented way. Recent statements and subsequent actions from England and America, supported by many of their constituents, have created gut-wrenching, visceral reactions throughout the world. And the world seems to be becoming increasingly polarized on the subject. Some can clearly articulate their position on the issues, others feel the issues passionately but cannot give a well-formed response, and still others are on the fence. Many around the world previously untouched by migration are now being forced to take sides. It has never been more important to have leaders who can present viable, ethical, compassionate, and robust responses to their constituents. For the thoughtful, it seems clear that full-blown nationalism is not the answer, and yet the limitations and naivety of a borderless world are also apparent. We wonder what our duties are to those within our borders versus those outside. If there is a discrepancy in our response, we should be able to provide subsequent explanation and justification.

While I do not seek to articulate a definite answer here, there are a few lines of reasoning that I believe are important when attempting to think rightly about the issues. I will try to explain these here.

Let me begin by stating the obvious. The world did not simply begin with the conflicts, disparities, inequalities, and political systems that currently exist; these were created over millennia, and have progressed due to a myriad of factors. The minority world—or, “the Global North”, “the First World”—did not begin as such. It was built through oppressive structures, and at the expense of (much of what would become) the majority world. Oppression and violence are in part why the world has not grown equitably.

This is important to recognize when thinking about current international standards of development, and the way forward in development.

The development of the minority world is, in some senses, an illusion. It is not based on reality. By this I mean that the amount of economic growth and the scale of consumption in the West does not correspond to what the West gave in exchange for these things. Indeed, the trade was (and is) not fair. When you pay $5 for a t-shirt and recognize how many ‘hands’ the t-shirt went through in order to get to you, you quickly recognize that the money cannot stretch very far down the supply chain; assuredly, not everyone will be paid very well. As such, this kind of system is inequitable.

Not only so, but such a world is unsustainable. At least we hope so. At the same time, this kind of world has existed for a long time, in various manifestations, and so we acknowledge that naming something as unsustainable does not actually ensure its disappearance. At present, the “unsustainability” of cheap labour seems to be in strong supply. The day(s) of reckoning seem to be far off, and even unimaginable at present.

Back to migration. When we consider policies that create jobs or encourage cross-border movement that favours the majority world, it is interesting that any backlash from the minority world usually employs the rhetoric of ‘caring for our own’. This is ironic based on the fact that the minority world has played a significant part in initiating and perpetuating the inequity that currently exists in the first place. And so to pretend that the countries in the minority world now enter into relationship with other countries without any history or baggage, and thus without reponsibility, is blind to history and frankly unjust. In reality, we are already implicit and guilty in the suffering that exists in the majority of the majority world. Additionally, for those who are in favour of policy which promotes industries to move from the minority to the majority world, or creating opportunities for labour migration to the minority world, it is interesting to use the language of compassion. This is akin to an abuser who “compassionately” restores justice to his/her victim; it is a matter of justice, not compassion. Compassion of course is not the problem per se, but it is not the primary issue or driver.

Let’s take this a step further. As armchair economists, we might recognize that the ‘race to the bottom’, while awful and far from ideal, should be taken with a long view, recognizing that in time the middle class will grow across the majority world, and more will be able to pull themselves out of economic poverty. But the same people who might affirm this are often unwilling to apply the same distant reasoning process to making ‘sacrifices’ in the West – or said another way, letting wrongs be righted.

Consider this future possibility: As jobs and opportunities seep out of the West, perhaps Western families will face the reality of having only two out of three adult children able to find work, or all three experiencing more irregular employment. As this happens, families will have to become more dependent on one another to survive. This may begin with more loans, adopting an increasingly simple lifestyle, or families needing to move in with one another. Side note: this would be a welcome step from the earth’s perspective, with Westerners occupying less space in the world, using the world’s scarce resources more appropriately, and reducing their already-unsustainable ecological footprint.

Given the oppressive history of the minority to the majority world, does this not seem to be a welcome change? Is there not something just about this extremely mild and almost insignificant amount of equalizing? It seems that in this situation, the majority world will benefit more than the minority world will suffer. And while balanced scales, and wrongs righted, are distant realities, it is important to affirm that this direction is good and right.

To be sure, this is not a prediction of what will happen. Its purpose is merely a thought experiment to envision how a shift in the world’s economy actually makes sense in terms of global, historical (in)justice. In fact, I recognize that my examples in part buy into the zero-sum rhetoric that inappropriately asserts that jobs is specific instances can either be created in the minority world or in the majority world, but not both. While I am no economist, I recognize this claim as contentious at best. But in my examples, I am speaking less in terms of economics, but more in terms of perceptions of potential economic shifts. Moreover, even as an ideological exercise (and not an economic one!), it is overly and potentially unhelpfully simplistic. But it’s the best I can do at this point, folks.

A side note on economic predictions: It seems ridiculous to so confidently paint a picture of what the future international market will look like, especially for those who are not expert economists. Not to completely give into an elitist world (where only the experts can know anything), but it is nevertheless important to recognize that the complex economic systems that underlie the current system, and will underpin any changes to it, are more often than not far outside the populist reach. Or maybe I do in fact subscribe to an elitist vision of economics.

Returning to the question about duty to those outside versus inside our (constructed) geographical borders. I’ve already mentioned that extreme nationalism and internationalism are both poor options. But what alternatives exist? I think that global and national leaders need to think critically about this question, in order to give options to those who are in search of a more robust framework that can bring about a just, compassionate, realistic, and robust approach to global migration.

Some have stated that in a world dominated by growing extreme nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Canada is one of the last liberal bastions. While there seems to be much good in Canada, it is difficult to not see much of it as extremely naïve. While we have accepted 30,000 refugees from Syria, many European countries have hundreds of thousands of refugees at their door, or already inside. And consider the ‘space to grow’ in Canada versus Europe. So even though the efforts from Canada can be appreciated, we should also recognize that Canada has not had to face the challenges that many other parts of the world have faced. With its geographic isolation from migration origin countries, and the fact that it is less of an apparent target for ideologically-motivated violence, I wonder what could make the global migration issue (what appears to be) an existential threat, as it has become elsewhere in the world? Presumably, the mass acceptance of immigrants and refugees could do this, or the increase in acts of terrorism carried out on Canadian soil. Without such a (perceived) crisis, will those Canadians who hold a naïve approach to migration informed by liberal niceties be able to adapt, retaining a just and compassionate approach to migration? If this kind of response is to happen, Canada will be radically departing from the rightward swing that many other countries—that Canada has followed, and been influenced by in the past—are currently in the midst of.

I close by noting that my reflections on ‘Canada’ are just as reflective as other generalizations about a country as a whole; that is to say, probably not very reflective. This out-of-touch-with-public-opinion was clearly present during the media’s portrayal of the recent US election, where a nationalconstituency that could never have voted in the president did so. Whatever the opinions across Canada are, we need to create more space for discussion on migration issues to occur, and robust frameworks to be provided that will weather the storms of less-than-ideal migration realities and challenges. Thoughtful reflection on migration issues is necessary so that we not only figure out ‘what to believe about migration’, but to think along the ‘right’ lines, thus bringing about a more flexible and thoughtful approach to migration issues for the ever-changing global landscape. 

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 6: Planning for the Unimaginable

Disasters are unpredictable and can occur without warning. It is this unpredictability that complicates the act of planning for a large-scale emergency event. How can a region plan for scenarios it has no experience with and how can one possibly train emergency personnel for every single possible disaster situation? These are questions that cities are left facing in the 21st century and what has led to the creation of international frameworks for action such as the Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) and more recently the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). Though the number of deaths caused by disasters continues to decrease every year, recent studies by UNISDR show that the number of people affected by disasters is increasing.

Building resiliency is a continual process and with the new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction there is a new international pressure for regions across the world to invest in disaster risk reduction software and hardware. This framework emphasizes the importance of establish strong networks prior to disasters so that research and information can be shared between individuals of all levels.

Since the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Japan has experienced a number of disaster events such as the 2004 Choetsu Earthquake, the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake. These earthquakes provided the Japanese with regular reminders to the horrific damage that our earth’s regular movements can create without warning. Japan learned a lot from the experiences of the City of Kobe during the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and it sparked a number of institutional changes in Japan’s approach to disaster management. The earthquake also paved the way to the Hyogo Framework for Action.

The Hyogo Framework for Action was established by the United Nations in 2005, 10 years after the Kobe Earthquake. Inside were lessons learned from recent disasters, including the Kobe Earthquake and it was a call for nations to take actions towards creating resilient communities. The UN acknowledged that without making disaster risk reduction a priority, nations would be unable to meet other UN programs such as the Millennium Development Goals; society cannot develop sustainably without investing in DRR software and hardware. In the Hyogo Framework, the UN stressed that “DRR is a cost effective investment in preventing future losses” (Sendai, 2015) and it welcomed a “broader and more people-centered preventative approach to disaster risk” (2015).  Engaging different stakeholders in DRR work extends to vulnerable groups and the framework stresses the need for the active participant of individuals from disadvantaged groups.

The Hyogo Framework evolved into the current Sendai Framework in 2015 and it will stay active in its current form until 2030. The Sendai Framework was created through extensive assessments and reviews of the Hyogo Framework, with special attention made to the experiences of other nation and regions’ use of the previous framework’s advice in their DRR plans. Sendai promotes the creation of a comprehensive multi-hazard approach to DRR that incorporates multiple stakeholders at various levels. The answer to how a city does that has yet to be answered. UN Habitat has explored in some of its publications how resilience needs to be embedded into urban planning. City planning cannot be implemented without adaptations to local contexts. Choosing infrastructure locations and construction standards need to align with local risks (UN Habitat, 2013). But as was seen and experienced during the Tohoku disasters in 2011 is that hardware investments are not enough. Cities need to plan around communities and disaster education needs to be a focal point of development.

Moving forward communities inside and outside Japan need to routinely conduct disaster drills that address a wide range of different emergency scenarios. Whole communities need to be involved and vulnerable populations such as the elderly need to be targeted and included in trainings. Older buildings need to be reinforced and upgraded in order to survive large earthquakes and hazard maps need to be updated to provide communities with a proper understanding of the vulnerabilities that they are exposed to. Medical institutions need to stock medical supplies with at least a 2 weeks’ supply and a bigger emphasis on preventative medicine needs to be made at the community level. Medical professionals need to be assigned to evacuation and volunteer centers and individuals need to be provided with regular health checkups in order to prevent illness. In order to address gaps in service, better communication networks need to be installed and innovative resources like cloud-based medical files need to become the norm.

Disaster response planning unfortunately is accompanied by a lot of trial and error that has resulted in thousands of deaths in Japan alone in the last 20 years. With the increasing threat of climate change and the number of fast-growing cities across the world, the importance of preparing for disasters is at an all-time high. Unfortunately though disaster is a common occurrence in Japan, little is being done on the individual community level to prepare for disasters. In a survey conducted by the City of Yokohama in 2015, though approximately 90% of citizens believe that there is a strong possibility of a large earthquake occurring in Yokohama in the near future, only 50% of citizens participate in disaster drills, 40% have emergency stockpiles with more than 3 days’ worth of food and water, and citizen familiarity with the city’s readily available disaster risk reduction pamphlets and hazards maps remains around 30-40%. Communities need to look past borders to connect with other communities around the world. We can share information, on disaster prevention, response, and recovery. Disaster risk reduction is not a solitary activity, we are all one world and one big community.

The UN and other international bodies provide governments with DRR policies that outline best practices. There is however limited support or advice on how to apply policies and this is why looking at case studies from different emergencies is vital to developing proper emergency responses. During the Tohoku disasters there were many things that Japan did wonderfully but there were also a lot of missteps that cost thousands of people their lives. Large-scale disasters are bound to happen in the future and with a large growing ageing society, population increases, and fast-paced urbanization, their impacts will continue to increase. It is becoming more evident that countries and cities need to share their knowledge and experiences in order to promote international cooperation but also to ensure that our world is full of resilient communities. 

Bhiamie Williamson – Blog 2: New Perspectives and Fresh Approaches

Recently, I have been reflecting on my time in Yunesit’in. Specifically, I have been thinking deeply about some of the core issues at the heart of my project and how I have and continue to engage with these. This blog will remain consistent with the approach I adopted in my previous blogs, acting as a sort of canvas where I can organise my experiences and consider my thoughts in order to arrive at a heightened sense of awareness of what I am doing (questioning what I am doing is something I struggle with from time to time during research). In doing so, this blog captures where I am at and where I hope to go with this work, giving extra purpose to this exercise and making it extremely useful.

To re-cap, the purpose of my collaboration with Yunesit’in is to design an Aboriginal Guardianship program. This program is to be used by the community to guide their work and activities throughout Dasiqox Tribal Park, as well as the wider Aboriginal Title Lands and Tsilhqot’in Caretaker Area. At first glance, it is easy to think that a ‘Guardianship’ program speaks specifically to land and water management. Being here and working with the community however, it has become plainly obvious that this program is as much, if not more, a social and cultural resource for the community. Having this slight change in consciousness towards the project alters the approach immensely. Whilst I was aware that an Aboriginal Guardianship program would arrive at this space, interacting with this on-the-ground has compelled me to adjust. The following section explains how this change has come about and what it means for the Guardianship program.

Firstly, as an Aboriginal Guardianship program embedded in the community, it is necessary to understand the core social issues that influence the inner workings and day-to-day lives of community members. During my time talking with community members and participating in activities at the local community school, it is obvious that the core social issues differ between generations.

I first encountered these experiences from an Elders perspective during a field-trip on to a part of the Tsilhqot’in Caretaker Area which had recently been logged. I learnt on this trip that many Elders in the community grew up and experienced first-hand the horrors of residential schools. Many were sent or taken away and forced to board in these institutions. Whilst the individual experiences of residential schools differ greatly, one commonality that is shared is the opportunity lost by not growing up surrounded by and actively participating in Tsilhqot’in culture. For many Elders in the community, being on the land, practicing and participating in cultural activities is seen as a vital component of the ongoing healing of residential school survivors. The dark shadow of residential schooling hangs over Yunesit’in, as it does with every Native community. This healing is something that I immediately realised I not only had to account for but embed in the fabric of the Guardianship program. The legacy of residential schooling influences every person in Yunesit’in. But how people interact with and feel the effects of this history differs between generations.

During a cultural exchange held at the local community school, I was able to engage with the perspectives of young people in the community including their hopes and desires for a Guardianship program, and their general views on being connected to the land. To start, many young people in the community have expressed they do not feel culturally strong. Whether not being able to speak fluent Tsilhqot’in or not knowing traditional hunting or gathering practices, young people feel disconnected form their cultural roots. Many young people identified that they love being on the land and participating in cultural activities such as fishing, hunting, trapping, berry picking etc. When pressed on why they enjoyed these activities, some young people expressed that they enjoyed being connected to the landscape as their ancestors were. But when asked to reflect deeper on why they enjoyed these things and where those feelings of happiness and joy come from, it became plainly evident that what the vast majority of young people enjoy is being on the land with their parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents. They expressed that they thoroughly enjoy spending time on the land, free from the distractions of town and all that goes along with it (such as tv, games, driving in cars, shopping etc.). Children shared freely and openly the times that they spent with the elders on the land, and how they felt when learning from and with their elders. In this way, experiencing culture is not a far off abstract or romantic notion; it is real and can be experienced in these interactions.

Understanding these views that are shared between people in these generations is vital to making the Guardianship program successful. Without accounting for and building in ways to engage with these perspectives, any program will not be as successful as it could be or should be. The challenge as it has appeared to me is how to design a program that can simultaneously account for the healing component so important to may elders in the community, whilst facilitating on-the-land opportunities for young people. But Native communities in north-America, I have learnt, share common philosophies of connectedness that we (Aboriginal groups) have at home in Australia. It is easy to view the ambitions of these generations as differently however, I see them as the same.

The common interaction between these very different ambitions is being on the land. Thus, the Aboriginal Guardianship program is now being designed to act as a facilitator of on-the-land activities. In particular, it aims to facilitate the on-the-ground learning component between generations and families. Through these activities, whether conservation work, cultural activities, building cabins, restoring tracks or monitoring cultural sites, the healing and family bonding takes place at the same time in the same place. The different generations may be interacting with these experiences differently and take away different feelings, but both are being benefited culturally and socially.

This is only one component of the research that has arisen however, it is a vital one. To design a Guardianship Program that understands the needs and supports the ambitions of community member from diverse experiences builds rigor into the both the research and outcomes. Most of all though, I feel that in doing so, it has the real ability to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of community members whilst simultaneously achieving positive environmental outcomes.

Tasneem Bhaidu – Blog 4: The Sundarbans (ES)

In this blog, I discuss the impending risks facing the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world, which is located in Bangladesh. I was lucky to be able to visit and spend three days in the Sundarbans during my internship!  

The Sundarbans

The last 6 months in Dhaka have been quite eye-opening for me from being deprived of fresh, clean air, blue skies, clean water bodies and greenery. I realized how much I had taken a clean environment and flora for granted back home in Canada. Now don’t get me wrong, Bangladesh is a beautifully green nation, but the city of Dhaka lacks the nature that it desperately needs. Stepping outof Dhaka and exploring other parts of Bangladesh has really helped me appreciate the nature and breathtaking environments it has to offer. Driving past beautifully-groomed paddy fields in Moulvibazar, running through tea gardens in Sylhet and watching the sun set over the beautiful beaches in Cox’s Bazar were some of the best moments for me in this country.

Best of all was taking a break from Dhaka and adventuring through the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. This will probably be one of my greatest memories of Bangladesh. A 3-day excursion to the Sundarbans, a 3-day cleanse from the heavily polluted and populated Dhaka was a breath of fresh air (quite literally). The Sundarbans are a vital part of Bangladesh and offered an enriching and refreshing experience for someone like me who desperately needed to be immersed in nature and a detox from daily life. It was an experience like no other that might not be possible anymore in a few years.

Unfortunately, there is an impending risk of serious environmental harm by a coal-fired power plant, potentially Bangladesh’s largest power plant, that is likely being built only 14 kilometres north of the Sundarbans. Financial benefits are being privileged over environmental sustainability and from the looks of it, the chances of the coal power plant being built in very close proximity to the beautiful forest are high. Along with the flora itself, the already endangered Bengal tigers and the other 100s of animal species in the Sundarbans will also be further endangered.

It breaks my heart to think that a few years from now, the beautiful Sundarbans might not even be in existence. The key parties that will be profiting off of the power plant are overlooking the immense ecological damage that will take place and destroy the Sundarbans and surrounding areas. The environment is being neglected for the capital gains from this development. Bangladesh is already a very vulnerable country to climate change and its damaging symptoms, yet this coal plant is very likely being built, only contributing to climate change and environmental degradation.

From the looks of it, the coal-fired power plant will be built but activists are still protesting. There are groups protesting this development in the Khulna area near the Sundarbans and also in Dhaka. People are not happy and are demanding that this power plant be reconsidered. Although I am feeling quite pessimistic and hopeless, there is still a small chance that somehow this power plant could be reconsidered. I am anxious to see what decisions are made in the upcoming months and in which direction the decision-makers go with this issue. I hope that the Sundarbans are preserved and protected, as they are some of Bangladesh’s greatest beauty. It’d be a shame to lose such beautiful wildlife for mere financial gain.

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