In September, a group of specialists, entrepreneurs and representatives of aid organizations came together in Tamera to discuss the possibility of creating a “Blueprint” for coordinated aid measures in crisis and disaster areas. They were invited by Ruth Andrade who called on the friends and cooperation partners of her late husband, Paulo Mellett, to form a team that would continue his work. Leila Dregger reports.
Many aid organizations know the problem all too well. Emergency aid after natural disasters and wars is necessary. However it often slows down the mechanisms of regional social and ecological regeneration. What does aid mean and what should it look like to support sustainable structures? How will the essential elements of autonomy, such as natural water cycles and traditional knowledge in areas such as regional food production, renewable energy sources, local economies and craft industry, be sustained rather than further destroyed? How can we help the recovery of refugees and damaged regions?
Recently some aid organizations have tried to integrate the experiences of ecovillages and communities in their work. This makes sense as these communities have been called “laboratories for the future.” Through lived models they are testing simple, economical, decentralized systems in cooperation with nature. Their most important resource is social knowledge. The experience of many aid organizations shows that ecological and technological knowledge alone do not create sustainability. An understanding of group dynamics, conflict resolution, social sustainability, the significance of gender roles and communal decision-making processes is also needed for the success of a project. With all this experience, the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), is currently creating an “EmerGENcies Protocol” program for responding to crisis situations.
What is the Blueprint?
The concept of the “Blueprint” is a similar approach. It incorporates tested technologies and techniques into a modular design for a village. Bernd Müller, Director of the Global Ecology Institute in Tamera explains:“The Blueprint is a master plan for regionally autonomous, regenerative community development. It is designed to be adapted to many different situations and climatic conditions.”
Creating such a master plan for human settlements combines social, ecological and technical knowledge. Each settlement will include modules which demonstrate best practice in these areas. Examples of such modules are: solar cooking devices and mini biogas systems, natural water and waste water systems, compost toilets, buildings made from locally-available materials, decentralized, sustainable food cultivation and energy production from renewable sources. Combining these modules according to the master plan makes regional autonomy in cooperation with nature possible.
The first models can be built as pilot models for demonstration and experimentation. The experimentation phase will mainly not take place in crisis areas; the model should be first developed by an experienced community situated within a more stable region. There the overall system can be tested, allowing important conclusions to be made before they are included within the blueprint. These experiences can then be used to help in post-disaster areas, refugee camps and other crisis points in the global south. From the beginning, the models will be educational and training centers which facilitate the integration of holistic principles in daily life.
The Blueprint Meeting Participants
The Blueprint meeting was hosted by members of Tamera’s Autonomy Council: Barbara Kovats, the coordinator of the Solar Village Test field; Christoph Ulbig, a core carrier of the Ecology Team and Bernd Müller. Among the participants of this first “Blueprint” meeting were Simon Constantin, son of the founders of the natural cosmetics company Lush and co-initiator of the Sustainable Lush (Slush) Fund; solar inventor Jürgen Kleinwächter, Sibylle Culhane who, with her husband Thomas, builds biogas systems in slums; engineer J C Abrahams who develops natural waste water treatment plants; Magnus Wolfe Murray and Bee Bowen who are involved in post-disaster work in Pakistan and Peter Mellett, Paulo´s father. For Ruth Andrade the calling of the first “Blueprint” meeting together was a logical continuation of Paulo’s work.
The Core Question of Community
Barbara Kovats states, “With the Biosphere 3 project, Tamera continues to develop a model settlement in an experimental test field which is already partly equipped with technological and ecological installations. The community which will live in and test this model settlement in its daily life can rely on 30 years of experience in community building. All too often we have witnessed how brilliant knowledge could not be applied because people became stuck in social issues of recognition, hierarchy, money, etc. Because of these reasons, aid that is offered may not reach the people in need.”
Bernd Müller: “We want to fully pass on our experiences to all people who need that information, for example those who provide post-disaster aid. We therefore export only those things which we have authentically tested and really see as an improvement. An aid provider who recommends bio-gas systems and compost toilets but does not use them cannot be very convincing. A model settlement which is inhabited joyfully and voluntarily by an experienced community can authentically bring about a change towards sustainability, truth, mutual support and regional autonomy.”
The Diversity of Questions in Real Life
Bee Bowen’s work in Pakistan illustrates the diversity of the real-life questions with which aid workers are confronted. Bee’s task is to reconstruct traditional clay buildings after the floods. For centuries clay buildings served the inhabitants perfectly, but in recent years the buildings have become less water-resistant; when floods occur the clay dissolves and the buildings collapse. In accordance with conventional (capitalist) thinking the clay should be replaced by concrete. Concrete is water resistant but reliance on it creates a dependency on imported materials and industrial production which also gives the houses a much larger ecological footprint. Through careful observation and talking with elders of the region Bee discovered that the clay houses only started to collapse since local people stopped the traditional production of lime-clay, which is able to resist water. In her project, Bee uses – and retrains local people in – traditional (re)construction techniques.
Magnus Wolfe Murray who, together with local organizations, organizes sustainable aid in the Pakistani province of Sindh, explains: “The floods have changed the landscape and the forests have been practically eradicated. 90% of the people are malnourished. The vast majority cannot read or write. The intense emergency situation is also characterized by an increase in violence against women and children. When I look at the unbearable poverty and the emergency situation of the women who have lost everything through the floods, or when I see the difficult and unjust situation of women, then I have to force myself to focus on my work: on the tiny part where I can really do something.”
In such a situation, which is familiar to any aid worker or peace activist, the implementation of a holistic model based on the Blueprint would help; each module applied would be a step into a new system improving the livelihoods of people in need. While villages that were destroyed by floods are reconstructed, plans can be created for natural water and soil management which could prevent floods and water scarcity in the future. In this way aid organizations could begin to create long-term solutions for regional regeneration while they are working on the symptoms of the problem.
In the two and half days of intense talks in Tamera the participants outlined the preconditions for a promising cooperation. The vision they developed includes the building of two pilot models – one in Tamera and the other in a post-disaster area in Pakistan – as centers of training and education and as models for autonomy and sustainability. With adaptations to regional circumstances it should be possible to apply the results worldwide.
In the name of all people who urgently need help and in the name of all children, we wish to give thanks to Paulo Mellett for his great commitment which brought together this special group of people after his death. We also give thanks to Ruth Andrade, her soul power and farsightedness in choosing Tamera as the first meeting place.