“Are you a journalist?” The customs officers in the ramshackle arrival terminal in Juba, South Sudan, ransacked through our 10 bags of cables and electronics, but their only concern seemed to be my cameras. Think quick and try the truth, I thought. No country in civil war likes journalists I reasoned. “No, I am here on a mission with the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide water to villages in Jonglei State…I need photographs to document our locations for drilling.” Though I thought I did a good job hedging my bets, I chose the wrong door. I was informed that only journalists are allowed to take photographs. Fortunately, ICRC local staff showed up, and with a bit of negotiation and a few phone calls, we were on our way.
It had been about 48 hours of planes, airports, and little sleep to get to Juba, but it was straight to the Air Ops to weigh our bags for a two hour helicopter trip north to Haat in Jonglei State. Prosthetic limbs on a pallet also heading north did not reinforce my confidence, already a bit shaky with the fatigue, heat, time changes, and the general state of affairs here in the world’s youngest of the 193 countries at the UN. It is the country also predicted to most likely fail. Famine, floods, war, and especially weak governance are a bad combination.
I was informed, apologetically, that we were 200 kg over capacity for the helicopter. My colleague Lucy’s first reaction was to cut some of the equipment. No way, as all those duffle bags provide the only reason we are here. And we are only about 375 kg total, including our body weights, so we were not even close. I would rather they cut the food and water. We let logistics figure it out and carried on with our other preparations. We will see what happens on takeoff in the morning, though the prospect of ending up like John Garang, the rebel and founding political leader who died in a helicopter crash in 2005, was in the back of my mind.
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the Foundation Geoscientists Without Borders also made a trailer for the Kakuma podcast. Many of the photographs are by Josie Bauman from Quest University Canada who was half of the documentary film crew.
Besides the podcast being released on June 20, World Refugee Day, I was a Keynote speaker on the same day (serendipity or fate) at the geoscience conference in Vancouver RFG, Resources for Future Generations 2018. I had the great honor of speaking on Water Constraints with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology - Caltech, and now the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Jason Gurdak from San Francisco State University who spoke about the groundwater situation in California; and Nalaine Morin, of the Tahltan First Nation, who gave a water perspective from both her engineering and aboriginal perspectives. My talk was titled Looking for "Good Water in Bad Places".
While I found the talks of all the co-presenters powerful and engaging, I found the presentation of Jay Famiglietti profound....very, very important stuff. Dr. Famigilietti presented an overview of the 15 years of data collection and interpretation of NASA's GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). With no fanfare or hyperbole, he simply went through the results which show conclusively, on a world scale, in an irrefutable fashion....our groundwater resources are being depleted worldwide, the depletion of groundwater resources is where we grow most of the food in the world, the ice caps are melting, and sea level is rising in an inverse manner. We all know this, more or less, but it is too easy to ignore until you see the big picture with factual support.
Dr. Famiglietti will now be a Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing. Great catch for Canada.
From 1986 to 2007, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) killed about 100,000 people in Acholiland in Northern Uganda, abducted and enslaved about an equal number, and displaced 1.7 million from their villages. About 2 million people lived in 200 displaced persons camps, with the largest holding more than 50,000 Acholi. Yet in our two weeks working in approximately 25 villages all over Acholiland, we did not see a single marked mass grave, see any remaining housing structures from the camps, or see a single marker or monument memorializing the violence and terror…until we went to Atiak.
Until January 17, I had never heard of Atiak. It is in the far northwest corner of Amuru District, 30 km south of the South Sudan border. Atiak sits at the end of Acholiland before one enters into the West Nile area, an ethnically and linguistically very different area. One of the female students had done an outstanding job of organizing the community engagement for a well repair there. Two communities were contributing a substantial amount of cash toward the well repair and the exploration program. They would supply and cook for us a goat at each site. They would supply labour. And they desperately needed the water. As a few of us, including myself, were somewhat done with the long, dusty drives, I was looking for any reasonable reason not to go to Atiak. Its remoteness, though, was just one more reason why the villages near the town were good airbenders.
Atiak, itself, had been one massive camp through the last 10 years of the LRA insurrection. If one looks on Google Earth at the 2007 image, you will see thousands of tightly packed mud huts. Today, none of those camp huts remain. The town center sits at the intersection to the road to Adjumani and the South Sudanese refugee camps. I guessed that there would be at least a coffee shop to succor the many NGO workers that must drive through there on the way to the West Nile. We saw neither foreigners nor a coffee shop. But more surprising, and only 50 m from the only functioning public well, there is a concrete monument with a large plaque, and on the plaque is a very long list of names.
In April 1995, a year before the government began to place the Acholi into concentration camps, LRA rebels entered Atiak. The LRA, who themselves were Acholi, and who even had a senior commander from Atiak, accused the villagers of falsely blaming the LRA for ruthless maiming and for not supporting the LRA cause….though that cause was never quite clear. To prove the villagers wrong, and to punish them, the rebels then rounded up villagers, and students and teachers from the technical college.
The LRA segregated very young children, the elderly, and the pregnant. They shot the rest, ordering the survivors to clap and cheer the rebels on. More than 250 were killed that day, with the names from the students of the technical school being on that plaque. The Atiak massacre prompted the Government of Uganda to break off relations with Sudan, as the rebels had found some refuge across the border. This, in turn, further encouraged Sudan to support the rebels, at least for a while.
While for me, seeing the plaque was unique, the story of villagers being trapped in an untenable position between the government and the LRA was not. While Musseveni’s army was preoccupied in a faraway conflict in the Congo, the Ugandan government pushed the creation of village militias armed with bows, called the “Arrow Brigades.” They were no match for AK47s, and the LRA rebels would chop off the hands of these primitively armed farmers. Women were encouraged to blow whistles if they saw rebels in the bush; the LRA would chop off the lips of anyone who would signal their advance. The LRA would even cut off the legs of anyone seen on a bicycle as they might provide warning of an impending attack.
The work went very well in Atiak. We repaired a well that had been drilled in 1986. While trapped in the Camp until 2007, the villagers had neither the means nor the money to maintain the well. The repaired well will provide water to about 100 households (approximately 550 persons) in a cluster of villages near the town site. We geophysically sited another well in a highly prospective location, which we expect to be drilled within the next 6 weeks. Colin Miazga once again managed the exploration group that day.
All the photos are from Paul Bauman, and all are of Atiak.
It is a year since we began our 2 week water exploration program in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, sponsored by the SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) GWB (Geoscientists Without Borders) Foundation, and which we called the Calgary to Kakuma Water Project. Using our results, in May 2016, UNHCR drilled 3 successful wells (that is, 3 for 3, with no dry or saline holes) to depths of 56, 74, and 62 meters below ground surface (mbgs), in what we termed in our report the “Northern Well Field”. The wells tested for sustainable yields of 40, 45, and 29 m3/hour, respectively. Given UNHCR’s practice of pumping supply wells for only 10 hours over each 24 hour period, this is enough water for 57,000 refugees, given UNHCR’s target of 20 liters per person per day.
We issued our full report in May 2016, and finalized it, after UNHCR review, in October 2016. The report is currently available in its entirety at www.paulbaumangeophysics.com (still in construction) We are planning to take on a similar project in the coming year, but hopefully in an even more challenging and water scarce location!
Computer models are rarely perfect, and are often very wrong. The computer predictions that estimated the height of the tsunami waves reaching the Acehnese coast underestimated their size, and hence the tsunami's destructiveness. As such, a team of Japanese, Indonesian, European, and American (USGS) earth scientists came to Aceh during the early weeks of absolute mayhem following the December 26, 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. From January 20 to 29, 2005, the scientists collected wave height, erosion, sediment deposition, flow direction, and other information to calibrate their models....and to better predict the impact of the inevitable next tsunami.
So, while the kite photo of the the tugboat and the coal barge evokes the power of the tsunami wave, the purpose of the photograph was to show the height of the wave. The coast of Lho Nga was one of the first locations that the scientists visited. Here, from the height of the stripped vegetation, they measured the tsunami wave at 31 m above sea level.
Of course in 2004 and 2005, small drones were not available for photography. And according to kite historians, Sumatra is where the kite was invented as natives mimicked the shape and ribs of falling leaves to build the first kites.....and it is still a popular hobby everywhere in Indonesia.
The coal barge was carried from about 2 km offshore, only to be deposited on the only coastal road of Aceh. The coal had been destined for the Lafarge cement factory in Lho Nga. When I returned on a later trip, the then unemployed cement factory workers had built a little cafe under the shade of the bow of the barge.
Another measure of the height of the tsunami wave was the decapitated monument in the harbour of Banda Aceh, which had originally been erected to celebrate the Aceh War against the Dutch.
One of the very positive outcomes of the Indian Ocean tsunami in Aceh was that the destruction caused by the tsunami convinced GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), the Free Aceh Movement, to agree to a ceasefire so as aid workers could move into the area. The December 28, 2004 ceasefire eventually metamorphosed into a lasting peace agreement. And certainly during my time in Aceh traveling by boat, helicopter, hitchhiking, and on foot, I never encountered any sort of threat from any of the GAM fighters. Too bad the 6+ year catastrophic drought in Syria did not have the same effect there.
The tsunami warning in southern Chile today reminded me of the the 26 December, 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, 12 years ago. In retrospect, it was the first in a long string of natural and man made disasters that has struck our planet in the recent past. I, like everyone else, was transfixed to the astonishing but horrific images that appeared in the media. And like most of us, my holiday good will was with the people of the rim of the Indian Ocean, and my only thought, like many, was if only there was something I could do.....
I was fortunate to be seconded to UNICEF in Aceh Province, the earthquake epicenter in Indonesia, to assess the impact of the tsunami to water wells and water supply infrastructure, and to begin the redevelopment of groundwater supplies. It was in Aceh that I learned, first hand, what one person can do....and I do not mean me.
While assessing the impacted wells in the capital, Banda Aceh, I came upon some Indonesian graffiti scrawled on a broken cement wall, beneath a fishing boat suspended one floor above (I shot the air photos with a small film camera suspended from a frameless kite - no kidding!!). 3 years as the only white person on an island off the coast of Indonesian Borneo left me with a good grasp of the language. "With the permission of Allah, this boat above saved 54 persons." Hmmmmm. A young man, pictured below, stepped out and explained that there was not one, but three tsunami waves. The first wave deposited the fishing boat on the second floor of the standing building. He climbed into the boat, and then helped 53 others into the craft. The following two waves destroyed the remainder of the neighborhood....and certainly left me with no better explanation than only by the grace of Allah.....As the young man spoke, the survivors, most living in tents set up on bare foundations within 50 m of the rescue craft, stepped forward to add their personal stories of salvation.
Very few people were injured by the tsunami. Most either died, or survived. And each story of survival was similarly moving. I was always pleased and moved to be a listener.
Who am I to contradict that giant of Jewish legal experts and philosophers, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, or Maimonides of the 12th Century? Well, I think his eight levels of righteousness through giving has to be turned on its head for the 21st Century. Maimonides said that the penultimate act of giving is anonymously to a recipient who does not know the donor – and donor can mean money, food, services, an act of kindness, teaching a skill, etc. Well, this is what most of us do, at least some of the time. You pick a charity that fits your values, type in your credit card number, and hope that the Red Cross builds a shelter for someone deserving in Haiti, UNICEF provides 17.6 children suffering from famine in Chad with 22.8 meals, or Oxfam drills a water well in the Turkana.
Yesterday, returning to the airport in Entebbe, Resty of IsraAID (as well as the volunteer Chairman of the Board and one of the founders of Little Light), asked the driver to drop me off at the Little Light Children’s Center in the Numowongo slum in Kampala for a few hours. Numowongo is one of the two sister slums of Katwe (yes, as in the already critically acclaimed, just released Disney film “The Queen of Katwe”). Resty had arranged for Godfrey, the director, to escort me to the home of Elizabeth, a 7 year old slum dweller girl, whom our family supported last year in school. The cost of support is pathetically small, and I was certainly plenty pleased with myself to chalk one up for charity without having to walk across the slum or Elizabeth having to meet me. In fact, I was much more looking forward to having a cappuccino on one of the beaches near Entebbe, or doing a little gift shopping in the Oweino Market in Kampala, but I was too embarrassed to tell Resty that.
Suffice it to say that walking along the abandoned railroad track, across the mountain of refuse to Elizabeth’s home was infinitely more powerful than pressing return on the keyboard. People often ask me to recommend NGOs for donations. Generally, I say small is better than big, but beyond that I am always hesitant as I see it as completely a personal choice reflecting personal values and resources. Nevertheless, riding the wave of Phiona Mutesi and “the Queen of Katwe” (who unfortunately truly is one in a million), having met most of the staff (most or all of whom live in the Numowongo slum) and students and board members of Little Light, having been there twice, and having met a few of the beneficiaries at their homes….you certainly can be confident that any donation to Little Light Uganda http://www.littlelight.ngo/ is massively needed and will be well used.
Over the last few days I have learned to always carry a sharp knife with me in Acholi land. The students, one or two of the IsraAID staff, and myself have been traveling well outside Gulu town, from village to schools to small family compounds, siting wells. And wherever we go, especially the small family settlements, we are offered guava, oranges, jack fruit, papaya, or cassava. Thumbs up for the first four, but the uncooked cassava to me tastes like what it is, a woody root. And with typhoid especially common lately, I am always insistent on peeling and cutting my own fruit. If it was a couple months later, it would be mangoes galore on offer. I have only encountered generosity wherever we have traveled in the Gulu District.
Wednesday, we traveled through an area where several of the students indicated there had been a large number of camps. I pressed them a bit to get a better sense of what the Camps were like, as I still had scant idea of whether they were tents or barracks or Kakuma-like shoulder high mud brick walls with tin roofs. And where someone would point to an area of tall grass or maize and say that there, in 2005, were 10,000 people, I would see only vegetation.
The common narrative seems to be that when the NRM (National Resistance Movement, the ruling political party of Museveni since 1986…..and no, there being no real opposition here the name is not fitting) could not effectively defeat Joseph Kony and the LRA (generally understood to be a few hundred field commanders and a few thousand child soldiers), Museveni coerced 90+% of the Acholi population into the “Camps”. The UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defense Force) claimed the only way to effectively defend the people was to move them into centralized IDP camps where they could be protected, and in this way the countryside would be more conveniently transformed into a battlefield where Kony and his army could be starved out and quickly defeated. Most Acholi would say that Museveni used the LRA as an excuse to destroy their villages, culture, and economy.
Kony was never caught or defeated. Beginning in 1996, 1.7 million people were moved into the camps. The camps were poorly protected. The actual houses were hastily built versions of the typical circular, mud plastered, thatched Acholi houses….except, over an area where typically a village might have 50 houses widely spaced, in a Camp might stand 1000 houses spaced one next to the other. Food and water were scarce, and work even more so. Alcoholism, sexual violence, child abuse, and all the other problems that occur in IDP camps exploded. Not only was the UPDF of little use in protecting the IDPs, but UPDF soldiers returning from interventions in the Congo brought with them HIV and Ebola. Malaria, cholera, and other diseases were epidemic. The IDP Camps in the Gulu area had one of the highest mortality rates in the world. Beginning in 2005, people started to gradually return to their villages. As camps were vacated, the mud brick walls were toppled, and melted back into the African red clay landscape.
Being here in Uganda with IsraAID, I of course have to send my friends and family New Year's greetings full of health, happiness, and peace. I collided with the Holocaust/Uganda connection again a few nights ago. I had a Tusker (I prefer the Ugandan Nile Specials over the Kenyan beer, but the Tusker was colder) with a Ph.D. candidate from Warsaw, Camilla, who has been here in Acholi Land over the last 6 years. She is exploring the process of reconciliation here in Acholi Land following the 24 years of low grade war during the Joseph Kony and Lord's Resistance Army period. Interestingly, she is comparing the process of reconciliation here in Acholi Land to Poland under the Communists, if I understood correctly. It could have just as easily been a comparison of the Holocaust period had her research occurred 40 or 50 or 60 years earlier when there were more survivors, and I certainly do not yet know her conclusions. But the contrast is striking... in the West, we generally pursue reconciliation through justice and education. Here in Uganda, where there are no memorials to the Idi Amin or Joseph Kony victims, and where very few people will openly or even in confidence speak to me about their personal experiences, the path to reconciliation seems to be forgiveness, or at least forgetting.
Geophysics provides no answers to these complex questions. But what I do know, is that when I am out for a long run in the desert in Turkana or through the bush in Acholi Land, and I suddenly burst into a Turkana family compound or surprise Acholi farmers at work with machetes in their fields, and their immediate expression is that of suspicion, invariably a few words of greeting, Ejoka in Turkana or Itye maber in Acholi, will set off the widest grin imaginable. Of course my poor pronunciation may be part of the source of amusement. But I prefer to think that using a few words of the local language immediately demonstrates an effort to identify with the local community, and to show some respect for people that certainly deserve it. And what more could anyone want from a stranger.
The primary purpose of our efforts here in Gulu is to provide the training for marginalized youths who spent much or even most of their lives in the IDP camps created during the Joseph Kony and LRA violence of 1986 to 2009. Our objective is not to find water or repair hand pumps, but to train the students to do so. Being practical in nature, though, the training involves field surveys and field repairs. Myself and my 3 IsraAID colleagues do not choose the sites, as it is up to the students to identify the village (usually their own), identify the problem (broken pump, additional well needed, etc.), organize or identify the community contribution (labor, cash, food, etc.), and direct us to the location (always an adventure!).
Things do not always go as planned. On Tuesday, one of the students, Kagwar, took us on a long drive to a small village in the Omoro District, south of Gulu. Other than the handle having been removed (i.e., likely stolen), the hand pump worked fine, and was located a mere 15 m from a crystal clear alternative water source flowing from a carefully constructed and protected boxed in spring. Before we could become too irritated, though, he said there was another broken pump nearby.
Abili village, in fact, was not so near, but the pump was definitely broken, and the area was certainly high need- 50 households depended on the well, and the only alternative water source was a cloudy puddle that seeped out of a clay wall. The well had been drilled in 2005 or so while almost the entire village had been interned in a nearby IDP camp with thousands of Acholi. The well had not functioned since 2008.
The history of the site was given to us by a very articulate and gracious woman, Joyce, who lived only 50 m or so from the well. Besides the history of the well, she voluntarily told us her own story including 12 children, a widow from HIV, kids lost to HIV, and the challenges of raising a family while living with HIV. The reality, though, is that even in small, impoverished villages, those who acknowledge and directly address HIV can receive drugs, health care, and carry on.
The site was well suited for a geophysical survey. The need for a functioning well was there. And the pump assembly was a mess, with pipe lost in the hole, the downhole pump cylinder needing to be fished, the chain that connects the handle to the pump rods missing, etc. It was a disaster, exactly what the students need to see. Unfortunately, the missing piece was that the village pump maintenance committee had no money, and was completely unprepared to make any contribution of any kind. 3 riser pipes, a pump handle, 3 rods (that connect the handle to the piston in the downhole cylinder), a cylinder (the downhole assembly of pistons and valves that pushes the water to surface)...it all adds up to about 650,000 Uganda Shillings or $200 or so.
Fortunately for me, I just find the water. It is these community mobilization efforts that are completely unfathomable, as well as stressful. Resty, the IsraAID Ugandan field coordinator, did all the negotiations with the LC1 (the community leader), and she is no pushover at all. But given we were there, and the story of the village and what we could see with our own eyes, she decided to carry on. Not an easy decision, but probably the only one. The class had carried out two geophysical surveys on their own, repaired the pump, and shock chlorinated the well before we returned to town. Though Resty and I felt a bit duped, the class was buzzed from a job well done, and we certainly could not have simply walked away from such a wretched situation.