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Friday, 23 September 2011 17:48

Interviews behind the checkpoint

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  On Thursday, I do my first two interviews in Ramallah. I come to Jerusalem every two years or so, and every time there is a change in how to get to Ramallah from Jerusalem, as the checkpoint regime changes every time. This time, the mini-bus (which is the usual means of transportation in the East Jerusalem) drives right through to Ramallah.

I am relieved to have arrived to Ramallah safely. The day before, Qalandiah, the big checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah had seen a bit of tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army, and apparently had been closed for this reason. But today is quiet. The only unusual thing are the many TV crews at the checkpoints. 

My first interview partner, a policy maker at a Palestinian ministry, greets me and say that he would like to go to a demonstration soon. Subsequent to Obama’s speech at the UN, which obviously did not create great enthusiasm on the Palestinian side, a demonstration is to be held in front of Abbas‘ seat. Apparently, all the ministry is going. The life of Palestinian ministerial officials is apparently a bit different from the ones of people working in a German ministry.

After the interviews, I walk through the city centre of Ramallah, bustling as ever. On the central square of Ramallah a huge empty chair has been erected, with „Palestine – the 194th member of the UN“ written all over it. There are also many posters referring to the UN proposal, and some showing Abbas.  Not everyone is convinced, however, that anything positive will come out of UN bid: „We are a non-state anyway“, says one of the people I talk to, referring to the fact tha Palestine would not have full control over its border or what it considers its territory even if it was recognised as state. However, as one of my interview partners points out, the Palestinian Authority might have access to more (environmnetal) funds if it was accepted as UN member. It then could also become a party to environmental agreements and consequently apply for funding.

Back on my way to Jerusalem, I need to go to through Qalandia checkpoint myself. Get off the bus, wait in line, put my stuff through a detector, show my passport, get on the bus again. The trip from Ramallah, which is at about 15km from Jerusalem, takes about two hours. I make a mental note that I should try and do as many interviews on a day as possible to avoid doing this trip too often.

 

 

Note: Christiane Gerstetter is a Fellow at the Ecologic Institute and involved in CLICO. The views expressed in this blog cannot be attributed either to CLICO or the Ecologic Institute.

Friday, 23 September 2011 17:18

Back in Jerusalem

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From where I sit I can see the golden cuppola of the Dome of the Rock against the night sky. Next to me, on the rooftop of my hotel, sits a group of men and women, observant Muslims by their appearance, a group from South Africa (I did not even know until today that there is an observant Muslim community in South Africa). They are eagerly listening to a presentation during which the speaker with great conviction claims that there is no such thing as the „holocaust“. It may be a blatant lack of courage, but somehow I don’t feel like getting up and correcting his outlandish (and in Germany legally prohibited) views.

Welcome back to Jerusalem, a city very close to my heart, where I have spent longer and shorter times of my life in the last 15 years. This, however, is the first time I will do environmental research: I will conduct a series of interview with Palestinian policy actors, including government officials, to understand better the role of policy-making regarding climate-induced conflicts and threats to human security. In parallel, a colleague of mine will conduct interviews in Israel.

I currently have no idea how the next three weeks are going to look like, because Middle Eastern politics is likely not to leave my research efforts untouched. Everyone is speculating what the Palestinian leadership will do, will they go to the UN General Assembly, will they turn  to the Security Council? For me, the more practically relevant issue is what the Israeli reaction will be, and what will happen in the West Bank where most of the people I want to talk to are based. Will there be protests in the West Bank, will Israel impose a closure? And will I then still be able to do my interviews? An international passport gives you a freedom that nowadays neither Israelis nor Palestinians have: the freedom of moving in both Israel and Palestine. Israelis are not allowed to travel into territories under Palestinian control, including the larger Palestinian cities such as Ramallah. Palestinians, in turn, need an (often denied) permit to enter Israel. In the past, when Israel imposed a  closure in the West Bank, that also sometimes meant that Palestinians could not travel even between Palestinian cities. If that happens again, my interviewees may not be able to reach their work places in Ramallah, the unofficial capital of Palestine, and instead I may have to meet them wherever they live. The insight that research is rarely as straightforward as you think in the beginning, may have a very physical dimension to it in this part of the world.  

Christiane Gerstetter is a Fellow at the Ecologic Institute and involved in CLICO. The views expressed in this blog cannot be attributed either to CLICO or the Ecologic Institute.  

Wednesday, 09 March 2011 15:24

Sharing the fun of coding

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I started my PhD in March 2010. Full of enthusiasm, I thought everything to do with my research would be incredible fun. I couldn’t wait to start work for the CLICO project and, ignoring the comments of my supervisor how boring data collection could be, everything seemed very exciting to me. The plan: we were going to compile a new data set on domestic water-related conflict and cooperation. Easy and straightforward! We started by hiring four research assistants and dividing the countries to be coded among the people from PRIO and ETH. I had never met the people from PRIO but through our email exchange, they soon became quite familiar to me. After discussions about the source we would use and some minor methodological questions, we were ready to start phase one of the work at the beginning of April: downloading of all the relevant media entries for the allocated countries. It soon became quite clear that this was not going to be the fun part of the whole work. The only body part that was actually in demand turned out to be the index finger. Some of us indeed claimed that they could feel a beginning tendinitis in their fingers after hundreds and hundreds of media items. But eventually, we were lucky and finished the downloading before we suffered permanent injuries.

Sure enough, now that the boring work of downloading was finished, the interesting second phase was about to begin: the coding of our 78’000 something media items. 78’000 something media items sounds like a hell of a lot of work and it turned out to be exactly that. The coding is, however, much more interesting than the downloading. I started with Algeria and I can say there is really something going on in that country. The attractive part of the coding is that you learn quite a bit about the individual countries even if you are only looking at very limited aspects. It also turned out that some prejudices were verified while others could be completely rejected. After covering half of the time period of a country, some actors even appeared to be like old relatives; some of them seem quite likeable while you don’t want to meet others in person at all.   

However, after some months of coding, I begin to believe my supervisor’s comments about data collection. It’s not all just fun! It can even be a bit frustrating when you think you are about to finish a country’s coding and it turns out that there are an above-average amount of items in the last six months of the final year. Far from having finished my part of the coding, I can say that I see the end of coding appearing at the horizon. The moment when we finish will be worth a good bottle of something bubbling. To finish this entry, I would like to share some of the coding highlights with you. Well, at least I experienced them as such.

Husni Mubarak in an interview explaining the conflict in Darfur on 8 April 2006: “Darfur area is equal to the area of France. It is a vast desert. Since early history there have been two large tribes in Darfur. One has rain and the other has drought. The second goes to the first in search of food. They quarrel but finally hold an annual peace conference and everyone will then return to his original place. If it rains here and does not rain there next year, they will do the same. This has been happening for years.”

Editor of the Al-Quds al-Arabi website London on 24 December 2008: “The Egyptian army has transformed from a source of pride for Egypt and the Arab nation into an army of bakers and workers digging irrigating canals and tending to chicken farms.

I asked myself whether sometimes it is not more preferable to have people raising chicken and preparing for irrigation instead of fighting. But I agree that this is my personal opinion.

Tuesday, 08 March 2011 18:13

Day 1- Cyprus

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25 April 2010

Just hearing the word Cyprus, your ears kind of perk. Your first thoughts may include buffer zone, beaches, Greek food or the word “hot”. To be honest, I was intimidated. Not by entering a new culture, but by the amount of work that had to be done.As the plane approached its landing on Saturday afternoon, the drought problems were prominent. It was April; the end of the rainy season, the land looked like a collage of brown paint swatches. It reminded me of Texas in August.

To the contrary, however, flowers lined the highways on the drive from the airport in Larnaka to Nicosia. P and I exchanged jokes about the mal use of water. It’s different to arrive in a place with a mission, especially when that mission is entirely visible. You feel like you know something extra about that place, despite your actual knowledge.  Arriving in Nicosia was another story, however. Although I had my preconceived ideas of the city from what I was taught in 8th grade social studies class, what filled my eyes was something of a different story, initially.  

The house keeper Muhammad was waiting for us as the taxi driver found his way through the winding narrow streets that lead to our final destination. Upon our arrival, we understood our luck. Our hostel was actually an old masque type building that had been turned into a small but spacious living quarters for academics. There were trees growing out of the small quart yard in the center, flowers taking over its corners and a small well was in one corner inhabited by a statue. There were small birds flying in and out of the arches that defined the rooms of open-air living spaces and the winding staircases and tall ceilings only added to the awe.

Its impressive when you come upon places like this. Or perhaps better said, being an American and despite my travel experience, finding something at happenstance that isn’t touristy, but provides everything that a tourist wishes to fall upon is something of a jaw dropper. It was ancient, it was safe, it was natural, it held a comfort and it was entirely beautiful. This is where we were to spend long hours going through notes and excels while in Cyprus. We were lucky.

On day two, understanding what Sunday means in Europe concluded that capitalism was outweighed and nothing would be open. After a tea and coffee P and I decided to wander the city to get a feel for it. This is where my preconceived notions were partially realized. The town was dead. The “old town” had absolutely nothing going on. No cars, no walkers, no movement, there were only feral cats. We walked around and looked at graffiti and tried to avoid the sun. The number of empty buildings was strikingly strange and confirmed some of my preconceptions.

“At one time, the Greeks and the Turks lived amongst each other within the city walls of Nicosia. When the division became concrete, the Greeks agreed that they would not move into Turkish homes, in so, making a point that it was not right to do so on the other side of the buffer zone,” P explained.

Not here to make a political statement but instead one about water, I wonder what it would take to build a community that would work side by side. Yes, there is much that can be done in the Greek side of Cyprus alone, but the island is what is suffering from drought, not just the Greek side.

Our walk was leading to stranger and stranger areas.  Suddenly we came upon what P had described to me about the Cypriot culture some time ago. Shopping. As if suddenly stepping into Miami, we turned one corner and the streets were no longer dead and Iyves Roche, Guess, Deisel, McDonalds Starbucks and Nescafe were saturated with the people from the missing streets and we fought the tides as we searched for a quieter spot for a beer.

This was the contradiction that was so hardily visible upon our walk. Our understanding of the place was at first very romantic, then a bit haunted and dilapidated, and then so fashion forward that it was hard to find any thoughts.

Cypriot culture appeared to have many contrasts. The people here understand the contrast between their culture and the Turkish culture. Just like everyone understands the difference between themselves and the person next to them. However, the more interesting and probably most important question to my understanding is what it would take for these communities to work together. The answer lies in a project that is something like CLICO. A hopeful motivation through the poignant delineation of details that is properly explained to the public as well as policy makers alike. 

Despite this hopeful motivation, it is only honest to admit that it can be intimidating, and perhaps partially defeating. Looking at the mobs of shoppers when having just seen so many dilapidating buildings prompts many thoughts. The old town is left to grow older and the part of town that is sought includes large houses, big blooming lawns and pools. Its only natural to question the amount of effort it will take to address the problems of such lifestyles, when the alternatives seem so out of fashion. 

 

Tuesday, 08 March 2011 18:04

Half way through

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30 May 2010

There is a division between the scientific community and the greater public, and it is the type of division that leaves so many people skeptical about scientific findings. Of course, science is carried out on the boarder of what can be explained and what cannot and unfortunately this makes science intimidating to many who haven’t had the education or time to learn about various subjects in greater detail. Many people aren’t ready to agree with findings that explain the boarder of the unexplainable.

I am not alone in thinking that education is one of the most important contributors to quality of life and understanding. However, I am now significantly more experienced about the amount of hard science that can be lost when trying to simplify information in order to make it communicable to educate larger masses of people.

This simplification is one of the greatest contributors to skepticism. The simplifications can easily be questioned and proven incomplete. This is intrinsic to the simplification. I have struggled a great deal with my own work to decide upon where simplifications can be made and what simplifications have to be made. It is during these periods that supervisors can be such an asset in reemphasizing the greater purpose of the work and what is possible for the scale of the project.

I am in the process of creating a vulnerability assessment of the rural communities in Cyprus to climate change. Unfortunately, describing what makes a community vulnerable does not necessarily have to do with what makes a community sustainable. Understandably, politics, economics and human demands play a great roll in the difference between the two. For example, I will use the case of water subsidies. The farmers demand it, the politicians need the farmers support for reelection and as a result they allot water subsidies that the farmers come to depend upon to grow water intensive crops such as mangos. Ultimately the farmers are economically rewarded by the demand in the market for this exotic fruit; however, by the end of this process the value of the water is essentially lost in the exchange.

It isn’t surprising that sowing water intensive crops in a drought ridden country isn’t the most sustainable practice and further, it leaves farmers more vulnerable in the long term due to the uncertain water provisions that will be allowed in the future. However, displaying such information in a limited number of indicators is where the challenge lies.

I am nearing the end of my excel experience and am approaching the application of indicators as proxies for qualitative information. I am both excited about the process and eager to see the results. Most of all, I am anxious to go into the communities to see what the data looks like in the flesh and determine whether or not the simplifications can still represent the ultimate values that we are aiming for: understanding what it is that affects the livelihood of the people and their quality of life and quality of the environment.

I imagine that no matter what I find, the portrayal of such circumstances will be complex and contradictory. I imagine there will be bright green fields amongst a backdrop of brown. I am sure that the quality of life in the rural communities will not match the number of BMWs and stylish high heals I see in Nicosia.

The few people that remain farmers in the rural communities of Cyprus imaginably do so out of a connection they feel towards their work or because of a lack of further experience that would entice them to a life in the city. I imagine I will feel a great sense of respect when I speak with these people while at the same time a great amount of concern.  

 



We arrived at the Larnaka airport on a really hot day of June. Truth is I am used to Mediterranean climate but the air in Cyprus is unbeleivably dry during the day. The asphalt was burning my feet while laying on the side of a wall, trying to figure out how to make my way to Nicosia. I look around to see new faces; people are tanned I can see, very tanned! No wonder; it’s an island, bright and sunny 90% of the time. Waiting there for 20 minutes I saw 3 or 4 Mercedes and BMW stop by, drop people and go. Seems like they like big cars here, I thought.

 

cats

Spending 2 months in Nicosia, there are some things I will never forget. Like the hundreds of cats around. People seem to adore them. Stray cats all over the city, fed by everyone, taken care of by everyone. The old city center between the walls is their fortress, not a lot of cars there, lots of little alleys and old abandoned houses to sneak in and take a nap; it is indeed a cat’s paradise. In the old center, one finds contradiction. Though it is by far a cultural heritage, with all those old houses, some of them true architectural diamonds, it is silent, left alone, as if forgotten. At least that was my impression during my first Sunday afternoon walk.

However, the days to come I was to discover its many faces. Little workshops pop out in the alleys, from the old days when each street would host a profession (the leather products’ street, the furniture street, the fabrics street…) and art galleries, architectural studios, hidden bars,  an interesting ambience which is pleasingly not too obvious. I asked people of the abandoned houses, being impressed with almost half of the district literally falling apart. They used to belong to the Turkish people living here before 1974. Greek-Cypriots don’t recognize the partition of the island, therefore they believe that this property should not be taken over; for this would also automatically mean that the houses in the occupied north belong to the Turkish-Cypriots living there now, and the Cypriots I talked to, are definitely not able to accept that thought.

My reason for being in Cyprus was to study water issues, so water was the center of my conversations with officials, locals, experts. It became obvious, as time went by, how water has always been a central preoccupation in people’s lives. Everybody is concerned and everybody has an opinion. Looking at numbers and facts, the change of legislation through time and the policies, their implementations, the existent practices and perceptions, I came to realize how complicated it is for a dry place to maintain such a water-thirsty economy it has created. Not only during the latest "climate change" years, but always, in people's memories, water has been scarce. However, the situation has significantly changed. Governement representatives told me they were ashamed to tell people there is no water for their houses during the 2008 drought. They were afraid of their reactions. Most people had the strong belief, that anything humanly possible should be done so that they are guarranteed not to have the same scarcity experience they had 3 years ago. However the more wet years that followed, domestic water cuts are still a reality on the island.

Outside of the walls is the busy city, quite tall buildings, businesses, shops, traffic; a lot of traffic. Cypriots  seem to deny to use the buses and the public transportation system is completely left alone for years (maybe one is a consequence of the other). Only a few elderly and many immigrants are using the buses (a handful of vehicles running on a not-so-regular basis). In the expanded Nicosia area, houses are big; they have green gardens, lawns, pools, numerous rooms and big garages…

 

Rural Cyprus is very different both from Nicosia and also from the other coastal cities and their “prospering” touristic businesses. Luxury hotels, golf courses and privatized beaches give their place to the abandoned small-scale agriculture in the rural semi-mountainous Cyprus. People have no access to the big markets, roadways are absent, and villages are left without inhabitants. I and my colleagues visited a village which was found to be very vulnerable to climate change (based on an index developed in the Cyprus Institute). Our visit was a true event even though we only stayed for a couple of hours in the morning and had a cup of coffee with some people of the village committee. They were more than welcoming and ready to tell us everything about their reality, though I could feel their doubt on the difference it would make to state their problems to us. It felt like expectations weren’t very high in terms of central state reactions; however, they didn’t seem ready to give up their efforts either.

I saw very little of the country, but it seemed to me that the occupation of the North part of the island is being felt still today in the consciousness of the people. It is my impression though that it is not anger that characterizes people's feelings, but it is sadness. Concerning water, I didn't get close to examining the issues that could link the two (division and water); apart from the pre-division existing water treatment facility in Nicosia (which as many say is to the benefit of both communities) where cooperation is seemingly taking place and water runs from one side to the other. Having said that, it is also to the spirit of the non-recognition of the division, that the government of the Republic considers its responsibility to serve the regions reached by its facilities, therefore not stopping to provide that water to the North.

In Cyprus I did see a divided country. Crossing the border and stepping in the North I felt strange, but still quite welcome when I spent some days there. Awkward as it was, I ended up staying in some beach bungalows on a little hill, owned by a British family. British are all over the island, reminding me that Cyprus was once a colony, but so do other Europeans who bought property and either live permanently (starting their own businesses) or come for long summer vacations. I tried to use my credit card in a cash machine but -surprise surprise- the card was eaten, the machine wouldn’t give it back. They don’t recognize foreign visa in most cash-machines in the North. That made me wonder of what kind of institutions exist and how they work there. The questionmark still remains over my head. 

There are some beautiful landscapes to be discovered in Cyprus, original and mysterious, as time has passed over them. Old castles, ruins, churches, mosques, are surrounded by a blend of cultures within the island and an on-going search for identity.

 

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Welcome to the Clico Blog

CLICO researchers share thoughts and experiences from work in their labs and in the field. Join our community and share with us your opinions, experiences and material (documents, photos, etc), especially if you are a researcher working on similar issues or if you have first hand experience from the case-study areas we are working on. Comments on blog posts are open to the public. If you want to add a blog entry you must first register on the site and create an account. After you have done this, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your name and the institution you are from. A confirmation email will be sent to you with instructions on adding blog posts.  

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