Monday, 31 December 2007

Piracy and tidal wave alerts, earthquakes, floods and landslides

Every day Hill and Associates give an update on events in Indonesia. 31 December was a typical day from tidal wave alerts to piracy alerts.


Earthquake Shakes Tual, Maluku

An earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale shook Tual and Southeast Maluku in Maluku Province today, Monday 31 December at 2.11 am Eastern Indonesian Time (WIT), but claimed no lives. The epicenter was located 104 km northeast of Tual, at a depth of 45 km below sea level, according to information from the Ambon geophysics office. The intensity of the earthquake was relatively mild so it was barely felt by local residents who were asleep when it occurred. Tual was also hit by strong winds which uprooted a number of trees. Two moderate 5.5-maghnitude quakes struck western and eastern Indonesia on Sunday 30 December, but there was no threat of a tsunami and no immediate reports of damage, meteorologists said. The first hit at 10.36 am about 147 km offshore and southeast of the city of Gunungsitoli on Nias Island (west coast of Sumatra) at a depth of 60 km. The second hit about an hour later in the eastern province of Maluku about 340 km southeast of the provincial capital Ambon, at a depth of 125 km. (Sources: Antara | The Jakarta Post)

New Landslide As Search For Victims ContinuesA new landslide buried more than 30 homes at Tengklik village in Tawangmangu, Central Java at around 1:00 pm on Sunday 30 December as rescue workers continued searching for victims of earlier landslides and floods, an official said. There were no deaths or injuries but 177 people are displaced. The recent landslides and floods have killed at least 153 people in heavily populated Central and East Java after torrential rains lashed the region. Search teams were continuing to dig manually and use water to clear the mud to find victims. Rescuers have been hampered by a lack of heavy earth-moving
equipment as landslides, poor weather and large fallen trees hindered their progress. Bojonegoro in East Java and Blora and Cepu in Central Java remained underwater Sunday as Bengawan Solo River overflow had not yet subsided. Aid has been distributed to victims and floodwaters are reported to have started to subside today.

In Pandeglang, Banten, seven districts were submerged following torrential rain and strong winds brought down two high voltage towers in Depok, West Java. Meanwhile, storms hit Padang, West Sumatra, felling aged trees, injuring five locals and destroying cars and motorcycles. Heavy rains were also reported in Bali, Gorontalo, Jambi and North Sumatra. The Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia or PMI) is reported to have responded appropriately through the deployment of trained emergency response teams (SATGANA) and volunteers for assessment, evacuation, relief distribution, monitoring and reporting. (Source: AFP | The Jakarta Post | Xinhua | UNOCHA | International Federation of Red Cross | Antara | Kompas | Republika)
H&A Comment
Environmentalists blame excessive deforestation and logging for the landslides and floods as trees serve to fix soil and absorb rain. Local officials have said that unusually heavy rain this year has destabilised already vulnerable hilly areas. Landslides and flooding are common in Indonesia during the rainy season (December to February).


1.25 – 2.0 mWaters to the west of Aceh, the western part of Java Sea, the Sulawesi Sea, waters of the Sangihe Talaud, the Maluku Sea, the Halmahera Sea, the Seram Sea and waters to the north of Papua. Hazardous for fishing vessels.
2.0 – 3.0 mWaters to the west of North Sumatra, the Sunda Straits, the Sawu Sea, the Timor Sea and the southern part of Makassar Straits. Hazardous for fishing vessels, and motorised wooden vessels.
3.0 – 4.0 mWaters to the west of West Sumatra, the Karimata Straits, the eastern part of Java Sea, the Bali Sea, the Flores and Banda Seas. Hazardous for fishing vessels, motorised wooden vessels and ferries.
4.0m +Waters to the west of Bengkulu to Lampung, waters to the south of Java to West Nusa Tenggara, the Natuna and Arafuru Seas. Hazardous for ALL vessels.
(Source: BMG)

Bad Weather Alert
Bad weather has impacted traffic from the Merak seaport in Banten to Bakuheni in Lampung, causing congestion. Ferries are taking longer to berth and to sail. The Meteorology and Geophysics (BMG) Agency predicts that heavy rain and strong wind are likely to occur in parts of Indonesia on New Year’s Eve. Heavy rain may fall in East and West Nusa Tenggara, Bengkulu, Lampung, South Kalimantan and South Sulawesi. Meanwhile, waves 3-4 meter in height are expected off West Sumatra, Lampung, East Java and the Banten Straits. BMG official warn that beaches should be avoided this week. (Sources: Kompas | Media Indonesia)


Emergency Landing Due To Cockpit Glass Fracture
A PT Express Air Boeing 737-200 en route Jakarta-Jayapura (Papua) made an emergency landing at the Juanda airport in Surabaya on Sunday 29 December after a crack was found in the cockpit glass. There were no reports of injuries. Officials are investigating. (Source: Kompas)

N/AIndonesiaNo specific recent events reported but mariners are warned to be extra cautious and to take necessary precautionary measures when transiting the following areas: Balongan, Balikpapan, Belawan, Tanjong Priok (Jakarta). Generally be vigilant in other areas. Attacks may have gone unreported.
N/AMalacca StraitsThough the number of attacks has dropped due to the increase and constant patrols by the littoral states’ relevant authorities since July 2005, ships are advised to continue maintaining a strict anti piracy watch when transiting the straits.
(Source: International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre)

City Preparing For New Year's Eve
Police officers have set up a security coordination centre in Blok M, South Jakarta, on Friday. City police have started setting up security centres in more than 600 locations across Jakarta in preparation for New Year's Eve. With millions of people expected to crowd entertainment centres in Jakarta on New Year's Eve, the city administration and the police are preparing to deploy more than 17,000 officers in an effort to step up security and manage traffic in the capital. Police will intensify security in entertainment parks, shopping malls, train stations, bus stations, the Soekarno-Hatta international airport and other public places, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Adang Firman said. To celebrate the New Year, the city administration has organised festivities at the National Monument in Central Jakarta; Ancol Amusement Park in North Jakarta; and Taman Mini Indonesia Park in East Jakarta. "This is to prevent heavy traffic congestion in those areas," Governor Fauzi Bowo said. From the total 681 entertainment hubs holding New Year's Eve parties, the police would prioritize the National Monument and Ancol, according to the Jakarta Police Traffic Management Centre.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Homesick at New Year

Being in Jakarta over New Year makes me feel so homesick for New Zealand. I miss friends, family, mountains, lakes, rivers, food, wine and bush. However, it is a pleasure to look at a few photos of previous New Years spent in NZ.


Friday, 28 December 2007

Alex Millar and Bruce Watson

Posted by Picasa

caption : Alex Millar left and Bruce Watson right, outside their combined premises at Franz Josef where Alec has his ski plane business and Bruce a great bookshop

In the coming months I want to reflect on some of the important people in my life that have influenced me, helped me and are close driends.

Alec Millar and Bruce Watson are legends on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. I first met Alec in 1967 as a young mountaineer at Mt. Cook and then in 1971 as a daring ski plane pilot, he played a key role on a mountain rescue when I was working as a mountain guide for the Mt Cook National Park. He was one of those magnidicent men in their flying machines with the dash, daring and handle bar moustache. In the early 1990's Alex, Bruce and I worked for the Department of Conservation, Alex and I at Franz Josef Glacier and Bruce our boss in Hokitika. Bruce and Alec were then at the cutting edge of conservation and interpreting the landscape and their processes. Bruce pioneered new visitor centres at Reefton and Haast while Alec was the best living interpretor of the West Coast glaciers and their processes. We all left the Department of Conservation in the 1990's, Alec became an owner of the Mt. Cook ski plane operation, Bruce bought bookshops in Hokitika nad Franz Josef, and I went back to work for the Red Cross in Afghanistan.

In 2006, Alex and Bruce got back together at Franz Josef Glaceir township, and Bruce has a boutique nookshop in Alex's ski plane booking office.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Red Cross volunteers rescue landslide victims in central Java

Caption: Reports from the affected region suggest that landslides have so far claimed at least 80 lives. A local official has claimed that these landslides are the worst to hit the region in 25 years. (Reuters/Stringer)

It was a busy day yesterday as the news of the landslides and flooding in Java reached us here in Jakarta. We have been in touch with the rescuers and my colleague Ahmad Husein wrote the following article for our website in Geneva. The Indonesian Red Cross continue to do an amazing rescue, relief and ongoing assessment in the large affected area. The International Federation in coordination with PMI's national headquarters in Jakarata quickly responded to the disaster, releasing 1,500 hygiene kits from Surabaya and Yogyakarta warehouses to PMI's Central Java Chapter.

I'll keep you posted. Bob

27 December 2007
By Ahmad Husein, communications coordinator for the International Federation in Jakarta, Indonesia and Cici Riesmasari, International Federation information officer in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

It was supposed to be a quiet holiday for Marsito, who, like many Indonesians, was enjoying a one-week, end of year vacation with his family. But that all quickly changed early on the morning of 26 December, when news came through of deadly landslides in at least nine areas of the neighbouring central Java district of Karanganyar.

Within hours, Marsito along with nine fellow Indonesia Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia – PMI) volunteers and three local health office staff were on their way to the worst-affected sub district of Tawangmangu, where more than a day of heavy rain had caused catastrophic land slips, claiming at least 37 lives." I know today is a holiday. But to help peoples in disasters like in Karanganyar is more important than a holiday," Marsito says.

Marsito and his team brought with them five ambulances to support the rescue work already being coordinated by local authorities. However, roads to the disaster site hade been cut by landslides, and it took them about three hours to reach Tawangmangu. Marsito described the situation when he arrived: "Dozens of houses were buried under three metres of mud. No excavators had arrived yet, so we started to dig using any equipment to find the bodies."

The unstable and steep land made their work more difficult. But despite these challenges, the team worked hand in hand with rescue teams, police, the army, other volunteers and people from the community at seven landslide sites to rescue victims as quickly as possible. PMI volunteers also provided help for those who had been injured during the landslide or the evacuation.

Marsito is just one of thousands of PMI volunteers who are regularly and willingly mobilized whenever disaster strikes in this tragically disaster-prone country. He is a member of a group known as the KSR (Korps Sukarelwan or volunteer corps). The group is open to all Indonesian and foreign citizens above 20 years of age with a certain minimum educational background. Membership is organized by PMI at the district level and members receive regular disaster management training from PMI and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Reports from the affected region suggest that the landslides in Karanganyar have so far claimed 65 lives, with a further 35 people missing. A local official has claimed that these landslides are the worst to hit the region in 25 years.

The International Federation in coordination with PMI's national headquarters in Jakarata quickly responded to the disaster, releasing 1,500 hygiene kits from Surabaya and Yogyakarta to PMI's Central Java Chapter.

The International Federation has also cautioned that landslides, floods and other potential disasters in Indonesia will need to be carefully monitored as the rainy season continues across the next two months. "In this case, disaster preparedness is a critical issue for everybody includes both government and community," said Bob McKerrow, the International Federation's head of delegation in Indonesia.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

At least 88 people killed in Indonesian landslides

While many of us were celebrating Christmas here in Indonesia, heavy rains on Christmas day were starting to trigger landslides in several areas; Tawangmangu areas of Central Java, in Karanganyar district, and further south in Wonogin. Initial reports indicate approximately 88 people killed.

We are working closely with the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI)who have been out in the affected areas since word got out of the tragic disaster. Here is a report which I received at 2 am this morning.

Floods affected 5 districts on Central Java province during the rain with medium and high intensity that continuously happened in these three days. At the same time on 25th of December some areas were flooded. From the north of Java Islands; Grobogan districts; down to Surakarta; Sukoharjo and Wonogiri. Also in the middle of Central Java flooded Purwokerto district.

Based on the report from PMI Grobogan district branch, areas that flooded are :Getas Mayakan sub-district, Kalangan sub-district, city of Purwodadi district and Penawangan sub-district. The flood happened on 25th of December at 23.00 pm local time. Rain poured down continuously and caused severe flooding. Based on the report at noon, there were 3 houses damaged (rapid assessment still on going). Some peoples were force to move in to a sport centre and schools because of the high level water.

In Surakarta city, the flood occurred on 25th of December at 01.00 am local time. The areas that affected are at river sides of Bengawan Solo and Sewu village. High continuously rain on a day caused overwhelm of the river. The highest water level reached to 3 meters that inundated houses. Activity was focused on evacuated peoples to safer places and assessment.

Sukoharjo district flooded on 25th December at 01.00 am local time. Continuously rain on a day caused the flood. There are 6 sub districts affected: Nguter, Sukoharjo, Selokarto, Grogol, Mojolaban and Sukoharjo. Numbers of casualties is 2 dead.

In Wonogiri the flood happened at 01.00 am local time on 25th of December. One day of heavy rain caused the flood. Landslides occurred and 13 people reported dead. (further assessment still on going).

In Purwokerto, Banyumas, strong winds caused by the rain affected 5 villages: Titar, Windinegara, Wayan, Wayan, Jambu and Purwojati village.

Flood have caused disruption to all community activities because their houses were flooded and access roads were inundated.

PMI branches on the field
- coordination with local government and all actors on the field
- 30 Satgana team in every branch conduct immediate response
- evacuation on the field with Satlak (operating unit on district level) with first aid response
- doing rapid assessment on the areas that affected
- operating field kitchen on the field
- distributed food items
- satgana team from PMI Bantul (neighbourhood Branch) with three 4 wheel drive cars equipped with 2 rubber boats and 12 personnel
- 24 hours monitoring the situation on branch post command
- shared the information to PMI Central Java Chapter

PMI Central Java Chapter
- monitoring situation on affected branches
- giving technical assistance to affected branch
- dispatched immediately needs such as 50 family tents and 5 rolls tarpaulins to PMI Surakarta branch and operational funds to support the operation in every branches
- communication and coordination with post command in NHQ
- shared information with PMI NHQ for further assistance

- monitoring and coordination the situation to affected chapter
- giving technical assistance to chapter
- up dating the information from all resources through government institution and media
- shared information to all stakeholders
- seeking donors support to strengthened the operation

DMIS will be updated accordingly based on further report.
Coordinating other actors conduct evacuation process, Search And Rescue, assessment and field kitchen services. Preparing temporary shelters to IDPs, secure the areas to giving comfortable to peoples that affected. Cleaning debris to open road access.

Meteorological and Geophysics Agency (BMG) send alert on 25 – 27th December, high intensity rain will be a hazard in all parts in Indonesia. And for strong winds forecast on 28th – 31st December will hit in South of Sumatera, West part of West Java, Central part of Central Java, some parts of East Java, South Kalimantan in East parts, South of Sulawesi, Bali and East Nusa Tenggara. Speed of the winds predict reached until 30 knot.

Friday, 21 December 2007

A Persian Garden

Mulberries blossom in this Persian garden
Where Kings granted poets pardon
To write throaty rubaiyats of grief
Beneath the trellis where vines leaf

Was this the Cypress under which Omar wrote
Five hundred couplets as his lips smote
Countless caraffes of rich red wine
From his much worshipped Naishapur vines

O garden you inspire me too
Here I read Khalilli through
And see the Afghan Persian interface
In a city that has forbidden the juice of the grape.

Bob McKerrow
Herat 9.3.94.

I saw my first Persian influenced garden at the Taj Majal in 1975 and a few years later, journeyed to Kashmir where I saw the wondrous Shalimar gardens. Between 1993-96 I worked in Afghanistan and especially in Herat, saw magnificent Persian gardens. The poem above. was written in one of those gardens.

For more than three thousand years, the Persian garden has been a focus of Iran's national imagination, influencing its art, literature, and even religion. The Persian garden's inspirational role has, however, extended far beyond the land of its origin; its precepts have exerted a profound influence on garden design around the world. The Persian garden starts from the magnificent sanctuaries and hunting parks of fifth-century b.c. Persepolis to the magical nightingale gardens of nineteenth-century Tehran. All were seen as a kind of earthly paradise (the English word paradise has its roots in the old Persian word pairi-daeza meaning a walled space).

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Christmas in Almaty

Around Christmas time, Almaty is so picturesque.

Christmas in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Coming from New Zealand where we celebrate Christmas in the middle of summer, the European snow theme Christmas cards never made much sense to me. Until, that is, I had some Christmas's in Kazakhstan. A few memories

24 December 2001

It's Monday morning in Almaty and another heavy snowfall last night Up the road the golden cupola's on the Russian Cathedral are covered in snow, but you can still see the gold on the spires. Almaty is a very beautiful city and if ever wanted a "real Christmas scene", this is it.

Yesterday I went skiing at Chimbulak and had a wonderful day's skiing. A number of runs from 3,500m to 2,500m with panoramic views of the Alatau range of the Tienshan. I was so captivated by the environment and the clock seemed to stop as I watched the sun go down and the moon slowly brighten. It is days like yesterday that make me realise the importance of mountains in my life and their grandeur and timelessness.

Time is something which has always fascinated me and most writers allude to it, in one way or another.

Recently I have started reading the great Kazakh writers, poets and philosophers and one stands out above all others; Abai. He loved his people as no other and that's why his words ooze blood as his soul bleeds. One of his early poems is about the ticking of clocks (1880)

The ticking of clocks is not an idle sound
life flows by, my friend, their beating repeats
A minutes is like an age for a man:
it goes, it dies, and the circle of life is closed

A clock is a ticking thief,
stealing life daily,
taking it unnoticed so that without love and constancy
life is nonetheless just fleeting deception.

In a clock's rustlings is past life
if it dulls a soul or comforts it,
still reason knows that time is treacherous,
it goes past as though its tick is harmless.

A day, a month, a year goes off in to ashes,
old age comes, time flows away...
Since transient time beckons us pitilessly,
Oh, imperishable Creator, have mercy upon us !

Abai is one of the few nomads who wrote with such passion and spirit about the life of nomads:

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Meetings with remarkable men.

There are remarkable people who leave a lasting impression on you and your curiousity wants to find out more about them. For me one such man was Henrik Beer who was the secreatry general of the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (later became of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)from 1960 to 1982. I, and many others who knew him, rate Henrik one of the greatest huamnitarians of the 20th century. I asked Brian Walker the ex head of OXFAM to pen a few thoughts as I am beginning to gather information on Henrik, in the hope that in time I can publish a book on him.

Henrik Beer – an appreciation.

I first met Henrik in 1975 shortly after my appointment as Director of Oxfam and when it was a single, world-wide agency head-quartered in Oxford.

My predecessor, the late Sir Leslie Kirkley, took me to Geneva that spring, principally to introduce me to Henrik as the leader of the main “Disaster” response agencies. These had come together at Henrik’s invitation to form what was called (somewhat clumsily) – “The Geneva Ad Hoc Committee on Disaster Relief”. This loose association was based in the offices of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It was chaired by Henrik.

This was the start of a fine, high quality friendship which lasted through to Henrik’s untimely death in 1990. I visited Henrik in hospital three days before his death. He smiled throughout our short conversation despite his obvious pain and clear understanding of his condition. Here was a man of quality.

Henrik was highly intelligent. A born conciliator he was able to hold confidences with integrity, anxious to improve through better and wiser management the contribution of his national Red Cross Society members. He was anxious to break the un-natural distinction inherited between “disaster relief” which was the focus for the national Red Cross Societies and ICRC, and “development” with all its political baggage and radical philosophy which ICRC was anxious to avoid.

Our partnership, I felt, was crucial to the evolution of the then six Ad hoc committee members, and in due course we were able to help the Red Cross/Red Crescent itself to assume a role in development as well as in disaster response.

This was by no means easy for Henrik - but his sense of good humour and his steady determination were at once impressive and effective.

We agreed to set up a daily fax system for disseminating to member agencies the latest news from the ground in any disaster, with Henrik’s office concentrating on “relief” and Oxfam on the “development” side of any potential response. That remains the standard mode.

Occasionally, Henrik would ask me home to have supper or to discuss contentious issues in private. He was an excellent host, always honest as well as honourable. I came to realise he was a great admirer of the late Winston Churchill and, as a Swede, appreciated the dry humour of the English. His integrity was unimpeachable; so was his humanity.

Brian W. Walker. 16.12.07.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Decisions in Bali

As delegates to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali head home many of us are analyzing the outcomes. Not fully what we expected, but a raodmap which is the start. I personally like the text on adaption which states: Will consider how to "remove obstacles to, and the provision of financial and other incentives for, scaling up" the transfer of clean energy technologies from industrialised nations to the developing world.

Decides to re-instate an expert group on technology transfer to advise developing countries.

Below is the text in full.

Acknowledges that evidence for the planet warming is "unequivocal", and that delays in reducing emissions increase the risks of "severe climate change impacts".

Clean technologies like wind turbines will be spread
Recognises that "deep cuts in global emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate objective" of the UN climate convention, namely "avoiding dangerous climate change".

Decides to look at "a long-term global goal for emission reductions".

Developed nations to take on commitments that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable", and "nationally appropriate". May or may not include quantified, binding targets for all or some.

For developing nations, "measurable, reportable and verifiable" actions "in the context of sustainable development, supported by technology and enabled by financing and capacity-building" - ie only with Western support.

Pledges to consider "policy approaches and positive incentives" to reduce deforestation and conserve forest cover.

Funds pledged to World Bank to initiate pilot projects under the banner of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries (Redd).

Enhanced co-operation to "support urgent implementation" of measures to protect poorer countries against climate change impacts.

Acknowledges that economic diversification can "build resilience".

Resolves to consider ways of reducing the occurrence or damage from natural disasters.

Will consider how to "remove obstacles to, and the provision of financial and other incentives for, scaling up" the transfer of clean energy technologies from industrialised nations to the developing world.

Decides to re-instate an expert group on technology transfer to advise developing countries.

A subsidiary body will begin work on the Bali roadmap as soon as possible. Views of parties to be sought by late February, and the first meeting in March or April.

Further review meetings scheduled; process to complete at 2009 UN summit in Copenhagen.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Fans for climate change

The Red Cross Climate Centre in the Hague produced some fans with key facts about climate change emblazoned on them.

Field trip to Aceh and in Bali, "on the brink of a deal."

I left the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali on Wednesday as I had to go to tsunami affected province of Aceh where I have the overall supervision of the Red Cross recovery programme. We are colleactively building 40,000 houses (20,000 durable transition shelters completed), livelihood programmes, water and sanitation, risk reduction and other capacitry building programmes for people affected by Tsunami. The President of the French Red Cross, Prof. Jean-Francois Mattei, arrived Thursday night to hand over 600 house built by the French Red Cross, to the people. So today, Friday 14 December it was good to be in the field doing something practical. I love to see the smile on people;s faces when they get the keys for a spanking new house. They are 45 metres squre with 3 rooms and well ventilated. It was so fulfuiling spending such quality time with a man who really cares for people. A pedeatrician for decades, a former Minister of Health in the French Government, and now putting the French Red Cross on the International stage as Prof. Mattei brings sound leadership and has expanded the French Red Cross international work.

We visited a large health centre that the French Red Cross has built and you could see how he was delighted to be amongst children and mothers and talk to them about health matters. We talked awhile and he said to me, " Bob, it is so importantat we cater for not only the body, but the minds and spirit of people for they have been severely traumatised by the Tsunami and its after effects."

This is where the Indonesian Red Cross psycho-social volunteers paly a crucial role councilling people.

So iI got back late tonight from a stimulating field visit and was keen to see how things were going in Bali and saw the following on the BEEB:

The UN climate summit in Bali is "on the brink" of a deal, according to the UN's senior climate official, as talks look set to extend into an extra day.

The EU has been pressing for a final text committing industrialised nations to specified emissions cuts, but the US, Canada and Japan are opposed.

I look forward to the conference in Bali closing today with a road map on climate change that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The future generation

Amidst the lobbying, politics and negotiations, we need to remind ourselves we want the next generation to enjoy the world and its environment as we have.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Row over 2020 emissions goal sours Bali talks

The news coming late Tuesday from the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali is not so good. The latest update from the New Zealand website:

The European Union has taken a veiled swipe at the United States at climate talks in Bali over Washington's efforts to remove tough 2020 emissions guidelines for rich nations from a draft text.

The UN-led talks have become dominated by disputes over whether a final text, or Bali roadmap, should omit any reference that rich nations should axe greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Any watering down or outright removal of this non-binding range would anger developing nations, who are demanding rich nations do more to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions.

The row overshadowed the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Kyoto Protocol, which delegates at the Bali talks are seeking to replace or expand from 2013.

"Of course it is crucial for the European Union, and not only for the European Union," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told reporters in Bali.

"In order to gather an effective fight against climate change we need this range of reductions for developed countries by 2020," he said.

The Bali talks aim to bind all nations to greenhouse gas curbs from 2013 but poor nations want rich countries to do more before they agree. Negotiators are working hard on a formula to draw in the developing world, particularly India and China.

The annual two-week talks are expected to wrap up by late Friday and negotiations usually go right up to the last minute.

"Good progress has been made but it's not a done deal yet," the head of the UN's Climate Change Secretariat, Yvo de Boer, told a separate meeting of finance ministers.

"It's probably going to take a couple of sleepless nights to bring all countries, rich and poor, on board."

Environment groups are concerned US-led efforts at the Bali talks could lead to the removal of any reference to 2020 guidelines. The United States says including the guidelines would prejudge the outcome of negotiations.

"We need to put a guard rail around the negotiations for the next two years," said Hans Verolme of the WWF environmental group. He said the 25-40 per cent range was needed

Tuesday's update in Bali

With the start of the crucial High-Level segment of the Climate Change Conference in Bali only a day away, agreement has been reached on several important issues under discussion. Of special note was a decision which heralds the launch of the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund, set up to finance concrete adaptation projects in developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. Parties agreed on the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the secretariat and the World Bank as trustee of the Fund, which will become operational with the start of the Protocol’s first commitment period in 2008.

Meanwhile, continuing speculation on the issue of emission reduction targets prompted a detailed clarification from UNFCCC Secretary Yvo de Boer. “25%-40% by 2020 is an emission reduction range, it’s not a target, and it’s something that governments said earlier this year they should be guided by in the context of the negotiations,” he said, adding that “contrary to some reports, these figures do not prejudge the outcome of the negotiations.”

Mr. de Boer continued, ”this range does not represent concrete emmission reduction targets for industrialized countries and this conference will not produce an agreement on specific targets per country,” pointing out that this was not what it had set out to do. What it did aim to achieve, he explained, was to set the wheels in motion in terms of launching a process going into the future.

Competing with Yoko Ono and John Carey at Bali

Caption: A young boy from the Tanjung Benoa village, planting mangroves last Sunday in Bali.

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to be on a panel for the Tsunami in Indonesia and joined Mar’ie Mohammed, Chairman PMI and Kuntoro, head of BRR in the Indonesian Pavilion. The turnout was poor, around 20 journalists. We discovered that at the same time, Yoko Ono and former President hopeful, John Carey were billed together at the same time at a nearby venue.They drew a capacity crowd.

In the main conference, progress is slow, painfully slow. The next few days will reveal more clearly where the negotiations are heading.

Today, the start of the second week of negotiations at the Climate Change Conference in Bali, the various contact groups were intensifying efforts to maximize progress before the arrival of Ministers for the High-Level segment beginning on Wednesday.

Talks on a future agreement continued today, and among the topics under debate was the need for quantified national emission objectives for industrialized countries - guided by the range of 25-40% reductions by 2020 – and the need for emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years. Parties also acknowledged the need to strengthen existing commitments and enhance their implementation, especially with regard to developing countries.

Further discussions focused on technology cooperation to support emission reduction efforts. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said that "technology must be at the heart of the future response to climate change.” Environmentally sound technologies and sustainable development approaches, he said, could "help developing countries leapfrog the carbon intensive stage of economic development.”

The inclusion of performance indicators for monitoring and evaluating techology transfer activities was also debated today, as well as a proposal for a technology leveraging facility under the auspices of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Its aim would be to turn assessments already carried out on the technology needs of developing countries into concrete project proposals. In this context, Mr. de Boer stated that technology cooperation between developed and developing countries - and increasingly between developing countries themselves - was neeeded “on an unprecedented scale.”

According to estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA), fossil fuels will remain dominant in decades to come, accounting for between 72% and 81% of global primary energy in 2030. Mr. de Boer stressed, however, that “we cannot afford to let the industralized countries’ climate-unfriendly growth become the global norm.” With investments and the wide deployment of appropriate technologies such as carbon capture and storage, he said, “the fight against climate change need not be a fight against oil, but rather a fight against emissions.”

He went on to explain that significant emission reductions can be achieved with existing technologies or those that are closing to becoming commercially available, but that more incentives were needed “to push technologies out of the laboratories and into the market." He added that the carbon market was a key tool in achieving this.

Since the private sector will account for 86% of projected investments in 2030, businesses, he said, were “the key to a low-carbon future,” underlining that appropriate government policies were neeeded to create the right conditions for private investors. These could include binding targets, tax incentives and policies to promote the shift to less carbon-intensive energy sources.

According to the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, markets for low-carbon energy products are likely to be worth at least 500 billion USD per year by 2050. Mr. de Boer pointed out that the transition to a low-carbon economy could become a platform to new economic growth, new jobs, new manufacturing and service industries and new markets. Responding to climate change, he said, was creating windows of opportunity, and that “instead of closing the shutters, the opportunity must be seized.”

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Sitting in the Plenary of the UNCCC - Bali

Caption: Planting mangrove trees at Tanjung Benoa villagers, Bali Indonesia.

It's Monday morning 10 December in Bali. I am sitting in the Plenary II meeting where we are discussing the Kyoto Protocol pusuant to its article 9 scope and contents. Important and crucial issue to discuss en route to all parties coming up with the Bali road map that will be finalise in the coming week. I am sitting next to my former boss, Simon Missiri who is the deputy head of our delegation to the conference.

It is a huge event here in Bali with the main focus on the main conference, a raft of side meetings and parallel events for local authorities, UN, International organisations and NGO’s display, advocate, educated and lobby.

Yesterday, the atmosphere during the climate change conference in Nusa Dua Bali changed, at least during the afternoon. Instead of being trapped in hectic, complex discussions and lobbying in conference rooms on how climate change affect people in the earth, a fresh and inspired action was undertaken by Red Cross and Red Crescent along with Tanjung Benoa villagers, Bali Indonesia.

Led by Indonesia Red Cross Society (PMI) leader Mr. Mar’ie Muhammad, 50 representatives of Red Cross Red Crescent societies from all around the world enthusiastically joined with hundreds of villagers, youth and adult, dug the muddy sands, carefully placed the tree in its hole and fill it with the mud. Happiness blossomed among the crowded in that afternoon when they finally completed the planting of 1,000 mangrove trees. The community, with PMI help, plans to have not less than 10,000 mangrove trees along the exposed beach.

Will update you as further information comes to hand

Wednesday, 5 December 2007



Event: Red Cross Red Crescent to plant one mangrove for each of the 10,000 participants at Bali climate change conference

Representatives from Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from all over the world, along with local community members, will be planting mangroves on behalf of the participants of the UN Climate Change conference this Sunday.
The Red Cross Red Crescent is urging participants in Bali to ensure that adaptation to climate change – an effort that would reduce the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable people – is on equal footing with measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Red Cross Red Crescent is working with communities in more than 40 countries to develop and implement measures that will reduce the impact of climate related disasters that are expected to continue to increase in frequency and intensity. Mangroves can add important protection against storms and tidal surges, reducing the impact that such events have on lives and livelihoods.

Date: 9 December 2007
Time: 15:30 Central Indonesia Time
Location: Village Tanjung Benoa, less than 10 minutes from the UNFCCC, (pleas find attached map)
Transport: A bus will be available from Westin Hotel starting at 15:00
For further information, or to RSVP, please contact Zach Abraham in Bali on +62 (0) 812 699 2680


Sunday, 2 December 2007

Climate summit opens in Bali

Today, the UN Climate Change Conference started in Bali. On Friday I will be participating in the conference as a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delegation.

On 30 November 2007 the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, comprising 194 governments and 186 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, adopted a declaration concerning the main humanitarian challenges facing the world today. These include environmental degradation and climate change and the declaration sets a path ahead concentrating on the role of National Societies in support of adaptation and other national policies aimed at the achievement of global and national goals.

The IFRC, alarmed by the increasing number of extreme weather events and their contribution to the global burden of disease, is deeply concerned about the observed and projected impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable people: the elderly, the sick and disabled and, in particular, the poorest of the poor. Climate change not only threatens the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals but also strikes at the heart of our humanitarian work

The IFRC has been confronted with a steep increase in weather-related disasters over the last 10 years, increasing from around 200 per year at the beginning of the 1990s to over 300 a year in every single year since 2000. The number is still growing and is expected to be over 400 in 2007.

This requires a change in the way the whole humanitarian community addresses climate-related disasters. Principally, we recognize that climate change affects poor and vulnerable communities through increases in the scale and scope of the weather that they face on a year on year basis. With our focus on building the capacities of our National Societies to support communities to reduce the risks from weather related disasters and their implication on health, and prepare for them more effectively, the IFRC is uniquely positioned to take the lead in bringing the goals of the UNFCCC and the priorities of the Hyogo Framework of Action together.

The IFRC will increasingly focus its efforts on ensuring, in those countries where weather-related disasters and poor health indicators are increasingly affecting vulnerable populations, that it supports its National Societies’ actions to promote climate change adaptation through the application of sound health promotion and disaster risk reduction at community level and through advocacy for strong national policies and strategies at national and global levels.

Inevitably, the human and financial resources of the IFRC and other humanitarian agencies that address climate-related humanitarian consequences such as disasters and ill-health are stretched and new resources will be needed even for the immediate future, let alone the long term. Actions are urgently needed to help build the capacities of organizations helping vulnerable people to cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce their vulnerabilities, particularly at the community level.

Our hopes are directed to Bali and the will of the global community to address the humanitarian impact of climate change. We propose that the following issues are addressed in the Bali Roadmap:

1. Take a decision in Bali to prioritize climate risk management at the community level, concentrating on the most vulnerable countries.

The poorest people in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, today and more so in the decades to come.

These are the people who have contributed the least to climate change and have the least resources to protect themselves against climate change related risks and impacts. This is confirmed by the IPCC, but not reflected in the balance of current adaptation investments in the developed countries on the one hand, and in developing countries on the other. In many Annex I countries substantial investments are now being planned on domestic strategies and programs for adaptation. The scale of funding for adaptation in the most vulnerable countries does not even come close.

Although all countries will need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, it should be a leading principle for all parties to the UNFCCC that there should be a fair balance between resources spent on adaptation in developed and in developing countries. Priority should be given to the most vulnerable countries and people.

In addition, countries and international organizations and agencies should work to promote the harmonization of the agenda of the adaptation components of the UNFCCC and the priorities of the Hyogo Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction. This recognizes the importance of disaster risk reduction in achieving the reduction of risks to vulnerable communities from the future impact of climate related disaster.

Based on the overwhelming evidence that health and access to health services are being affected by the global climate and degraded environment, governments supported by relevant organisations should continue addressing the main health priorities in the community, providing preventative, curative and rehabilitative services accordingly as so committed to the promotion of primary health care in Alma-Ata in 1978 (Article VII.2).

2. Agree that a target for adequate adaptation funding be included in the post 2012 Agreement, along with mechanisms to mobilize new and additional resources and effective implementation mechanisms that foster mainstreaming of adaptation into development and involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

Climate change impacts are new risks and new, additional and adequate funding is urgently needed to adapt to these risks and to recover from the impacts that can no longer be avoided. The UNFCCC articles 4.3 and 4.4 already outlined 15 years ago, in 1992, what developed countries committed themselves to:
- provide new and additional financial resources for adaptation, and to take into account the need for adequacy and predictability in the flow of funds (art. 4.3)
- assist developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting the costs of adaptation (art.4.4.)

A major impediment is the limited insight into the costs and benefits of adaptation in developing counties. Initial calculations of global costs of adaptation by the World Bank , the UNFCCC, OXFAM and recently UNDP put the order of magnitude of the costs in the range of 10-80 billion $US dollars annually for developing countries. More detailed studies are necessary, but there can be no dispute about the essential requirement for substantial new resources.

Hence, in the coming two years leading up to Copenhagen, parties should mobilize adequate resources for adaptation, and the development of effective and efficient implementation mechanisms that ensure mainstreaming with a holistic approach into regular development planning and involvement of all relevant stakeholders. The financial mechanism should ensure that funding is targeted at reducing the climate risks facing the most vulnerable people.

To stimulate this process it is of vital importance that developed countries express in Bali their political will to include quantifiable, predictable and adequate financial resources and mechanisms for adaptation in the post 2012 Agreement.

3. Make a commitment in Bali on an immediate increased investment for 2008-2012 to strengthen capacity for climate risk management in developing countries

Additional resources are needed today and in the coming five years, before the post 2012 Agreement comes into force, to meet the needs of humanitarian and development agencies and organizations to address the immediate consequences of climate change and to strengthen the capacities of sectors and institutions to understand and integrate climate change related risks in their planning and programs.

Although initial initiatives are being undertaken to develop capacity for climate risk assessments and adaptation measures, the scale of actions is still very limited compared to the challenge of scaling up to reach all vulnerable countries, sectors, and communities.

A substantial increase of the committed US$ 450 million annually will be needed in the transition phase to scale up the capacity for climate risk management before new funding and implementation mechanisms under the Copenhagen protocol enter into force.

The most efficient way to implement the scaling up of climate risk management is to integrate the additional efforts into existing national, sectoral and local government strategies and programs, and plans and practices of other stakeholders serving the most vulnerable people.

Over the past five years, such an integrated approach has been initiated in more than 35 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with assistance by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre. These experiences are documented in the Red Cross /Red Crescent Climate Guide, available at:

The IFRC commits to supporting Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide in their actions for the most vulnerable, specifically through capacity-building so they can play a full part in the development of national and local adaptation policies. IFRC will bring the lessons learned from such actions to the regional and international levels, and through this integrate community-based policy approaches into planning for Copenhagen 2009 and beyond.

So what is the Bali conference about ?

World governments are meeting for a key UN climate summit that will attempt to reach a deal on what should replace the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012.
Talks will centre on whether binding targets are needed to cut emissions.

It is the first such meeting since the IPCC, a panel of leading scientists, concluded that climate change was "very likely" caused by human activity.

The two-week gathering in Bali, Indonesia, will also debate how to help poor nations cope in a warming world.

The annual high-level meeting, organised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is under pressure to deliver a global agreement on how to cut rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC says more heatwaves are very likely in the future

IPPC's climate verdict

UNFCCC Executive Director Yvo de Boer urged the international community to use the summit to take "concrete steps" towards curbing climate change.

"We urgently need to take increased action, given climate change predictions and the corresponding global adaptation needs," he said in his welcome message to delegates.

"In the context of climate change, projections of economic growth and increases in energy demand over the next 20 years, especially in developing countries, point to the urgent need to green these trends."

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fourth Assessment Report (A4R), in which it projected that the world would warm by 1.8-4.0C (3.2-7.2F) over the next century.

Mr de Boer added that the IPCC's conclusion that climate change was "very likely" the result of human activity ended any doubt over the need to act.

Climate for consensus?

At the top of the conference's agenda is the need to reach a consensus on how to curb emissions beyond 2012.

This marks the end of the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which commits industrialised nations to cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 5% from 1990 levels.

Critics of the existing framework say binding targets do not work, and favour technological advances instead.

Recently, the UNFCCC itself announced that greenhouse gas emissions from 40 of the world's richest nations rose to a near all-time high in 2005.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Kayaking the Tasman Sea.

Caption: Justin Jones and James Castrission leaving Australia on their attempt to kayak across the Tasman Sea a few weeks back.

With co-paddlers, Paul Caffyn has twice attempted to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand but has been thwarted on both occasions by the Tasmanian authorities and bad weather. (Cackle TV website)

In 1988 I joined Paul Caffyn in an attempt to be the first kayakers to paddle the Tasman Sea. After two hours into the trip, we had to return to shore for adjustments to the front cockpit I was sitting in. The rudder cables were cutting into my knees.

Once on shore we were served a summons by the Tasmanian Police and forbidden to make another attempt on the Tasman Sea.

So I am following with great interest the current attempt by two kayakers to cross the Tasman Sea. In today's paper I read the following:

Equipment failures and the "gnawing" elements have hampered a trans-Tasman paddle with fears two Australians face certain danger as they get closer to New Zealand.

Justin Jones, 24, and James Castrission, 25, have been forced to dump overboard the bilge pump from the cabin of their custom-designed double kayak after it stopped working.

Their electric desalination pump also broke, requiring them to use a manual version to produce up to 10 litres of filtered drinking water a day.

The effort takes two hours from their paddling regimen, which can last up to 15 hours each day.

The pair departed 18 days ago on their 2,200km adventure and hope to be the first Australians to complete a tran-Tasman paddle by reaching New Zealand by Christmas.

The pair have just reached the halfway point of their journey and posted their most recent audio message on their website.

I have been thinking a lot about the guts and commitment it takes just to prepare, train and get on the water. For our attempt in 1988 I remember doing a double crossing of the Cook Strait, a another 70 km crossing of the same strait from Paraparaumu, paddling past Kapiti, Brothers Islands, and Cape Kaomaru to reach the South Island at Cape Jackson. I also did a lot of night paddling to get accustomed to reading the sea in the dark. Paul and I did a few trips together but little preparation in the kayak we started out in, as it was stored in Tasmania after his unsuccessful the previous year. Paul was worried that if we were seen practicing in Tasmania the Police would become supiscious and arrest us, which finally happened.

I have a sad photograh in my current dairy under an entry on February 14 this year of Vicky McAuley, the wife of Andrew McAuley, kneeling and weeping by her husband's kayak that was found about 80 km off Milford Sound, without him. His body was never found.

This is a reminder of the seriousness of such a journey and my thoughts and prayers are with Justine and James out on the Tasman, Hang in there guys, you can do it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Alone, sick and happy

I sit on my bed in Jakarta on the 19th floor and watch clouds building up. Jakarta sprawls beneath me. I have been sick the last three days but last night was so weak, that I have taken a day off work. I usually feel guilty doing that but today I don’t. I am reading Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild.

It was given to me on Sunday by Bernard, who works as a forester with GTZ. Ann, his pretty Vietnamese wife bubbles with enthusiasm. They are a delightful couple, so natural. Bernard is close to nature. His books exude an intensity of trees, plants, insects and ecosystems, as well as raunchy adventure stories that feed our sense of being the gladiator or the spectator at the Coliseum.

It seems I was destined to be sick as I needed to read this book. Having been to the South and North poles, scaled the heights of the Andes, Tienshans and the Himalayas, I have been living in a comfort zone. It is three years since I spent quality time alone in the wilderness. Between 19 and 22, I spent virtually all my time in the wilderness including 13 months with 3 other people alone in a remote part of Antarctica. One week in every four I would be on fire watch alone from 9 pm to 7a.m. This was the best time in my life. For after ten months, I found a friend. First I had to get to know my biggest enemy, myself, and then befriend and appreciate him. I also realised that a man without a woman, is a man without vanity. I read Thoreau. Walt Whitman, William McGonagal and books of the great polar explorers.

I remember doing winter and spring journeys in -50 oC with Gary Lewis and shudder at the risks we took in Antarctica.. Twenty one and not a care in the world. I planned an expedition to Greenland that winter and charted my life ahead of me. I can identify with Chris McCandless who gives his savings to charity, abandons his car and hitchhikes to Alaska and walks into the wilderness to be alone and figure out the meaning of existence. Four months later his decomposed body is found by a hunter……

On July 2, 1992 McCandlas finished reading Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness,” having marked several passages that moved him.
"I have lived through much and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country with the possibility of being useful to people..." to who it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; and then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire ?

Monday, 26 November 2007

Road Map of the Roman Empire - the Silk Road

The Tabula Peutingeriana is one of the Austrian National Library's greatest treasures.

Some months ago I wrote some articles with maps and photos on my travels along the Silk Road in Central Asia. Recently I discovered a magnificent story on the BBC website with a photo of a parchment scroll with a road map of the Roman Empire.

The parchment scroll, made in the Middle Ages, is the only surviving copy of a road map from the late Roman Empire.

The document, which is almost seven metres long, shows the network of main Roman roads from Spain to India.

It is normally never shown to the public. The parchment is extremely fragile, and reacts badly to daylight.

But it has been on display for one day to celebrate its inclusion in Unesco's Memory of the World Register.

Practical guide

At first sight, it looks very unlike a modern map.

Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay

Andreas Fingernagel
Austrian National Library

Both the landmass and the seas have been stretched and flattened. The Mediterranean has been reduced to a thin strip of water, more like a river than a sea.

Instead of being oriented from north to south, the map, which is only 34 centimetres wide, works from west to east.

But despite its unfamiliar appearance, the director of the Department of Manuscripts, Autographs and Closed Collections at the Austrian National Library, Andreas Fingernagel, says it is an intensely practical document, more like a plan of the London Underground than a map.

"The red lines are the main roads. Every so often there is a little hook along the red lines which represents a rest stop - and the distance between hooks was one day's travel."

"Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay," he said.

"It was meant for the civil servants of the late Roman Empire, for couriers and travellers," he added.

Some of the buildings have large courtyards - a sign of more luxurious accommodation.

Clue to ancient world

At the centre of the Tabula Peutingeriana is Rome. The city, represented by a crowned figure on a throne, has numerous roads leading to and from the metropolis. Some, such as the Via Appia and the Via Aurelia, still exist today.

The Tabula Peutingeriana scroll dates from the late 12th or the early 13th century and was made in Southern Germany or Austria.

But Mr Fingernagel says it is very different from other medieval maps and is clearly a copy of a much earlier document, dating back to the 5th century.

"In maps from the 12th or 13th century, Jerusalem, not Rome, was in the centre," he said.

"The interests of map makers in the Middle Ages were quite different. They don't show roads or rest stations, instead they show the holy places of Christianity."

And the map contains other details which indicate the original probably dates back to the 5th century, including the city of Aquileia, which was destroyed in 452 by the Huns.

The scroll was named after one of its earlier owners, the Renaissance German humanist Konrad Peutinger.

Later it was obtained by the Imperial Library in Vienna - now the Austrian National Library.

"It's unique," said Mr Fingernagel. "It's the only map of the ancient world - although it's a copy - that gives us an impression of how things used to be."

The Tabula Peutingeriana was included in the Unesco Memory of the World Register this year, and was on limited view in Vienna on 26 November 2007.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Celebrating 100 postings

Today I am told that this is my 100th posting on my blog. To celebrate I would like to be true to the sub-title on my blog: wayfarer


The painting displayed above is by Owen Merton,(near Motueka) the father of Thomas Merton. Owen was a great artist, born in Christchurch New Zealand and married Ruth Calvert Jenkins, an American art student in London in 1914. His son, Thomas was born in Prades in the Pyrenees-Orientales France. Thomas Merton wrote more than 50 books, 2000 poems, and a countless number of essays, reviews, and lectures that have been recorded and published.

Man instinctively regards himself as a wanderer and wayfarer, and it is sesond nature for him to go on pilgrimage in search of a privileged and holy place, a source and centre of in dedefectible life. This hope is built into his psychology, and whether he acts it out or simply dreams it, his heart seeks to return to a mythical source, a place of "origin," the "home" where the ancestors came from, the mountain where the ancient fathers were in direct communication with heaven, the place of the creation of the world, paradise itself, with its sacred tree of life, thus wrote Thomas Merton.

So who was Thomas Merton ? (January 31, 1915- December 10, 1968) Often described as an American Trappist monk and author, born in Prades in the Pyrenees-Orientales departement of France.

Merton was educated in the United States and France before attending Oakham School in England. As mentioned earlier, his father was an artist from New Zealand and his mother, a Quaker, was from the United States. His mother died when he was six and his father when he was sixteen. After a disastrous first year at Cambridge University, during which time he fathered an illegitimate child, Merton moved to the United States to live with his grandparents. He proceeded to take his bachelor's and master's degrees at Columbia, where he made the acquaintance of a group of artists and writers who would remain his friends for life.

Merton converted to Catholicism in his early twenties during the period he was writing his master's thesis on William Blake. His desire to enter the Franciscans being thwarted, he taught at St. Bonaventure's College, in Olean, New York and, following a retreat at the Trappist (Cistercian of the Strict Observance) Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky during Easter 1941, he came to a crisis with call up looming and was finally accepted as a choir novice (with the intention of becoming a priest) at Gethsemani on December 10th, 1941.

During his long years at Gethsemani (where he was encouraged to write) Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of his most famous book, the autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, to a contemplative writer and poet who became well known for his dialogue with other faiths and his stand on non-violence during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s, and finally achieved the solitude he had long desired in a hermitage in 1965. During these years he had many battles with his abbot about not being allowed out of the monastery, balanced by his international reputation and huge correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.

A new abbot allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia at the end of 1968, during which he memorably met the Dalai Lama in India. He also made a visit to Polonnaruwa (in what was then Ceylon), where he had a religious experience while viewing enormous statues of the Buddha. There is speculation that Merton wished to remain in Asia as a hermit. However, he died in Bangkok on 10th December 1968, having touched a badly-grounded electric fan while stepping out of his bath. His body was flown back to Gethsemani where he is buried. Since his death, his influence has continued to grow and he is considered by many to be a twentieth century American mystic.

Merton put a ban on publishing much of his work until 25 years after his death. After that time his diaries were published

But why has this man influenced me ? First his father was born in Christchurch, New Zealand where I have my family home and his paintings ptovide me with a sense of belonging, the place where I started my pilgrimage in 1968. His son, Thomas has helped me understand the spiritual journey many of us are still on, and he has helped me understand the lives of the great mystics.

Merton’s spiritual journey within became the subject of tens of tracts and books on meditation and contemplation, social justice and ecumenism that have guided believers ever since. His books still sell, and commentators who write on his writings continue to sell, as well. For example, James Finley’s Merton’s Palace of Nowhere deals with Merton’s understanding of spiritual self-identity. Merton’s whole spirituality, Finley says, pivots in the question of human identity, his message is that “we are one with God.”

Toward the end of his life Merton grew increasingly interested in bringing people together, both in the communal sense, and in bridging obvious differences, such as race and religion. He studied Eastern religions and became enamored of the philosophies of Buddhism. On a trip to the Far East he met several times with the Dalai Lama as he prepared to give a presentation geared for bringing together East and West in a major world conference. A few hours before he was to speak, Merton died by being accidentally electrocuted in his bathtub in the hotel in Bangkok where he was staying. He was 53 years old.

Another Merton associate at the monastery at Gethsemane, writes that whatever Merton was doing, whether talking or writing on prayer, monastic life, liturgy, the psalms or on civil rights, peace and war, nuclear disarmament or ancient cultures, “he was expressing the fullness of the nature of contemplation. For contemplation for Merton was not simply one aspect of life, still less some esoteric phenomenon attainable by only a few in life. For him, contemplation was the fundamental reality in life. It was what made life real and alive. It was what makes us to be truly human.”

I hope this might inspire some of you to read Thomas Merton and to enjoy the art of his father, Owen.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

"I sent you forth my brightest world, now it's nearly gone"

Caption: Vietnam red cross volunteers

"I sent you forth my brightest world, now it's nearly gone"

This story was posted on Alertnet today.
As we come close to the start of UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Bob McKerrow, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Indonesia delegation reflects on where the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian organisation has come from in terms of championing environmental issues.

McKerrow is one of the longest-serving IFRC delegates and has also published three books inspired by nature. He has climbed and trekked extensively in New Zealand, Europe, Peru, Antarctica, Borneo, East Africa, Nepal, India, Central Asia and has also been on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments in discussion relating to the state of the global environment. This conference led directly the creation of government environment agencies and the UN Environment Program

Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (from 1960-82) participated in the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, and was deeply moved and somewhat traumatised by predictions of the earth slowly destroying itself. He left inspired and determined to get the Red Cross movement involved in environmental programmes in order to stop the environmental degradation that he believed was worsening the plight of vulnerable people.

In 1972-73 the phrase “Climate Change” had not been coined, but Henrik Beer’s vision changed the way Red Cross societies thought and acted, as they started getting into environmental programmes which set the foundation for an easy understanding of the later, and insidious onset of Global Warming.

Inspired and driven by Henrik Beer, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies started getting involved in environmental programmes. Environmental concerns found their way to the highest levels of governments and the international community. Slowly Henrik encouraged Red Cross societies such as Ethiopia - suffering from drought in 73-74 - to plant trees and get the youth involved. He had similar messages for flood-stricken Nepal and India. He was passionate about reforestation, he understood overgrazing and the need to protect our mountain lands and water catchments. In 1975 when I went to Nepal as a disaster preparedness delegate, he reminded me of the need to plant trees and make the young aware of the need to care for the environment.

In 1981, when I was working in India on a huge cyclone preparedness programme, Henrik Beer made his last field visit as secretary general. before retiring. We were building 233 cyclone shelters and part of the programme was an integrated disaster preparedness programme where young volunteers planted trees to protect the coastline and shelters. They also kept drainage canals from being blocked. Henrik was thrilled to see the Indian volunteers active with environmental programmes. Today, planting trees for protection along cyclone prone coastlines would be described as a good example of a climate change programme.

Henrik Beer started his tenure as secretary general in 1960. Just two years later the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson highlighted to the impact of chemicals on the natural environment. In 1967 the Torrey Canyon oil tanker went aground off the southwest coast of England, and in 1969 oil spilled from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel. In 1971 the conclusion of a law suit in Japan drew international attention to the effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

At the same time, emerging scientific research threw the spotlight on existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them were Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book “The Population Bomb”, published 1968, revived concerns about the impact of population growth. Biologist Barry Commoner generated a debate about growth, affluence and "flawed technology." Additionally, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report The Limits to Growth in 1972, and drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities. Meanwhile, nuclear proliferation and photos of Earth from space emphasized the consequences of technological accomplishments, as well as Earth's truly small place in the universe.

Henrik Beer was a voracious reader and kept abreast of world affairs and especially topics related to humanity and environment. I was fortunate in coming to Geneva in early 1975 as a young desk officer and met him on many occasions. Henrik spoke with conviction and passion about the environment.

His words, spoken over three decades ago, could have been written yesterday as a rallying call for all civil society and government organisations to come together and safeguard our future:

“Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources — of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has not yet been effectively related to the peace/population/food/development/education/environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions? It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to. focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns.”

.The interest in environmental issues is reflected not only in the wide body of literature and debate, but also by the rock songs of that period.

Mama Nature said
"It's murder what you've done"
I sent you forth my brightest world
Now it's nearly gone

Mama Nature said
"I can't believe it's true"
I gave you life and food for thought
Look what did you do

You're killing my rivers
Drowning my baby streams
Day by day by day by day
I hear them scream

Mama Nature said
"You're guilty of this crime"
Now it's not just a matter of fact
But just a matter of time

Mama Nature Said, by Thin Lizzy, 1973

Monday, 19 November 2007

McKerrow family and the Globe in Dumfries

Isn't it odd how literary genius and licensed premises oft, like freedom and whisky, gang t'gither? The Old Boars Head (Ben Johnson) and The Mermaid (Shakespeare) spring to mind. In Dumfries, the Globe Inn, in the High Street will always be associated with Robert Burns. It is one of the country's oldest hostelries, established in 1610. Robert Burns frequented the Globe firstly from Ellisland Farm, whilst he was building the farmhouse, and subsequently when he moved into the town of Dumfries.

One of my relatives owns the Globe Inn and I hope to visit soon for some freebees and a yarn.

Dumfries in Burns' time was economically, and socially, more significant than it is today; in 1752 it was described as the 'Scottish Liverpool' with more American tobacco trade than Glasgow. Its importance as a west coast port was emphasized by the fact that an estimated 21,000 people from all over

The McKerrow family have owned the Globe since 1937, both Matthew and George becoming Burns Federation Presidents. Many still remember Jack and "Ma Broon" who had a long association with the Globe. In those days, like many other pubs of the day the back room of the Globe was very much a male working class drinking den, devoid of creature comforts but complete with a piano, of sorts, and a set of drums with every encouragement to the clientele to provide their own entertainment. Ma would rule her fiefdom and put up with no nonsense. If someone, to whom she did not take to, opened the sliding door of the snug he was politely told - "Nae laddie, your place is next door".

The present landlady, Maureen McKerrow, George's daughter-in-law, has seen, over the last 29 years much of the High Street demolished, and rebuilt, around the Globe. The building was after all originally open to the High Street, the horses being stabled in what is now the lounge bar. Some things never change for in 1945, Matthew McKerrow noted that a sum had been set aside to pay for the re-roofing of the property when such work was possible (there was a lack of building materials at the time) and one imagines that the roof will need constant repair to this day. Some things do change ... He also put down that "the property should not be sold to a foreigner"! Nowadays overseas visitors are especially welcome, hopefully to receive the same warmth of hospitality experienced by the Bard.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Reflections on Gujarat earthquake

6 March 2001

The last 35 days have been the toughest of my life. More difficult than the North Pole expedition of 1986, tougher than any mountain I've climbed. The first 5 days I had no sleep and since then for the last 30 days I've survived with a handful of hours every night. God knows how I've kept it up. Finally I am having this weekend off after having spent the last 14 days in Bhuj and Bachau. The dust, the dirt and stench of decomposing bodies permeates every pore of your body. People speak of a death toll of over 100,000 now which I can readily believe.

Running and coordinating a team of over 150 foreign delegates, supervising a 350 bed hospital plus two other field hospitals, getting vital relief goods out to over a million of the worst affected people, organising pycho-social counselling teams, orthopaedics centres for those 2000 or more children who lost limbs has been a momentous challenge. We now have a team of highly trained professionals from 21 countries working together with the Indian Red Cross.

Phil Goff, our Minister of Foreign Affairs arrived last night and is travelling today with the NZ High Commissioner and a top level mission from NZ, from Delhi to Bhuj on our plane (which we have chartered for the first 3 months) to see our operation. As I desperately need some time to myself I have sent my deputy, Alan Bradbury, another NZ'er with them to show them round. I'll have dinner with them when they get back

I reflect on some of those harrowing days.
In a narrow street behind a school in Bhuj town, a crowd of people wait anxiously for the arrival of an Indian Red Cross truck. It might not sound much but this truck will bring enough tents to provide shelter for a minimum of 2,300 people.

This distribution of tents is the second one of the day by the Indian Red Cross in Bhuj and the supply cannot meet the demand. Wherever one looks in the town, there is rubble. Bhuj has suffered terribly from the earthquake that hit western India two weeks ago. A town with a population of more than 150,000 people, it had one of the highest official death tolls with a minimum of 6,000 people killed while the number of injured was put at more than 60,000.

Among those waiting slightly apart is a woman holding a baby in a bundle. Hina Chanchal's husband is among the crowd of men surrounding Indian Red Cross officials to see if they are on the list of people who will be given tents.

Like all the others there, Hina lost her home in the earthquake. Although none of her family was killed, she saw the teenage daughter of a neighbour die after being trapped under the debris for several hours. She too had a narrow escape after having to run back inside the house to get her baby.

"It is almost as if God had put a protective corridor around me," she says. "Everyone in front of me and behind me had debris falling on them. I and my baby seemed to have a clear escape route."

Now she and her family of 8 that includes her mother and sister, live by the side of a street. The nights are cold in Gujarat at this time of the year and with each passing day spent living in the open, their desperation at their plight increases.

The sad tragedy is that there are so many people just like Hina. The crowd at the distribution point are vociferous and jostle each other but a small contingent of policemen keep them in check. The earthquake has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. And all of them have their own desperate story.

One man, a welder who had his own business, no longer has a home or a business. After making sure his family won't have to sleep under the stars in a tent sent by the French Red Cross, he will leave them to search for work in a town 40 kilometres away.

The loss of everything that one has worked so hard for is difficult to take. But amidst the despair, there is a happy smile.

"The Red Cross is doing a fantastic job, keep up the good work," says Vijay Kantilal Mandalia as he leaves the area, carrying a tent in his arms.

He too has lost his building supplies business as well as his home.

"We were happy before, we had achieved something. Now we have nothing and are living on a road. Whatever possessions survived the earthquake, didn't survive the looters. The clothes I am wearing, I have borrowed, even the shoes," he says. "What shall we do? I just don't know."

Nevertheless he is relieved he has a tent. "I knew before the earthquake of the work of the Red Cross. I knew I could go to them for help," he says. "We don't need food, just shelter. Nobody else has given us shelter - until now."

The Indian Red Cross has so far distributed more than 67,300 blankets, 4,200 tents and 6,100 tarpaulins sent from donor Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. With the International Federation targeting 300,000 in its appeal for Gujarat's earthquake victims, the emergency relief operation is set to continue for a few months still.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Simeulue from the air

Simeulue Island from the air. I visited this remote and beautiful island of Indonesia last week in the course of my work. See previous article and photos.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Visit to Simeulue Island

Photo captions: Above: One of our 6300 shelters on Simeulue island.
Below: Map of Simeulue Island near the star.

Last week I visited the remote Indonesian island of Simeulue, situated off the west coast of Aceh province.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have supported the Indonesian Red Cross to build 6300 transitional shelters on the island which has a population of 80,000 people. This has been a huge undertaking using ships, barges, landing crafts and trucks, where there are roads. I went there on an inspection visit, and to attend the opening of the new airport at Bandara Lasikin, and for the opening of a Japanese Red Cross (JRC) sponsored hospital in the capital Sinabang, the opening of a JRC primary health care centre and housing project completion ceremony at Kampung Aie. This ceremony which was held in a JRC community centre and attended by a huge number of village people, marked the completion of 1062 houses and three community centres in Simeulue and Meulaboh. A Red Cross festival was running for a week in the Kampung to provide the beneficiary communities with the opportunity to learn more about the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

Now a little about this fascinating island. Simeulue was close to the epicenter of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, but loss of life was surprisingly low, mainly as the people are familiar with earthquakes and tsunamis in this seismically active region and so knew to leave the coast after the earthquake. Local folklore has it that a huge earthquake and tsunami hit Simeulue in 1907, killing many of its inhabitants. Many died when people rushed to the beach when they saw the water recede, exposing the coral and fish. They went to collect the fish not realising that the water would come back with a vengeance. Those who survived told the story of the 1907 semong, the local word for tsunami, to their children. It is largely because of this oral history that many in Simeulue say that they instinctively knew what to do when the December 26th 2004 earthquake and tsunami struck. Simeulue rose at least 6 feet on the eastern coast, during the March 28th 2005 earthquake, leaving the flat top of its coral reefs above high tide level and dry and dead. On the west coast, the land was submerged, seawater flooding fields and settlements.

I will write more about Simeulue when I find time.