“How are we responding to crises using a whole systems and regenerative approach?” This was the question that a group of ecovillagers, consultants, volunteers, and other interested participants gathered to explore during a week-long session during the 20th Anniversary of the Global Ecovillage Network in July. Facilitator Sarah Quebatlin and Leila Dregger report.
Natural disasters triggered by climate change are responsible for 150,000+ deaths every year and cause millions of people to have to abandon their homes and communities and seek refuge elsewhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), predicts 50 million ‘environmental refugees’ by 2010, and 150 million by 2050. Typhoon Haiyan, that hit the Philippines in 2014 killing more than 7000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of communities, is one cataclysmic marker of deep concern to climate scientists who warn of more intense weather across the world.
Up to 250 million people in Africa are projected to suffer from water and food insecurity in the 21st century. Some studies reveal underlying climate and demographic trends linked to the ecological crisis affecting the Maghreb, the Sahel region and the Niger Delta, as factors behind the heightening of conflicts over basic resources and threatening of state structures, regional stability and mass migration of Africans to Europe across the Mediterranean.
Today, as more and more Syrian refugees cross European borders, we are learning that the roots of their displacement stem from climate change related droughts from 2006 – 2009 that forced up to to 1.5 million people from rural regions to migrate to urban areas shortly before uprisings in 2011.
It is in this backdrop of displacement due to conflict, climate change, and economic transitions around the world, that several networks connected with GEN are emerging as global initiatives aiming to model and promote ecovillage living, permaculture, and other ecologically sound and integrated approaches in response to crises.
Through stories of our shared experiences on the ground, we have now started to map the growing community responding to crises such as natural disasters (earthquakes, typhoons, etc.), or conflict, as ecovillages, intentional communities, permaculturists, or anyone else responding in a regenerative design process. It was agreed too that as Greece was experiencing its financial collapse during the summit, that this is also a category of crisis that we have to respond to.
Responding to Natural Disasters
Chris Gibbings, from Bellbunya community in Australia, shared his experience with the recent earthquake in Nepal, in order to engage stakeholders and local partners who have the responsibility for work on the ground. He expressed how necessary this is in ensuring the long term sustainability of any emergency intervention. Fiorenza Bortolotti, a permaculturist from Italy responded to the same quake from India, shared using a cultural approach for the psycho-social support of communities in collaboration with an NGO partner. Pi Villaraza of Maia Earth Village and an intentional community of healers using Inner Dance, shared a short video of his trauma healing response in Nepal together with a local NGO, during one of the opening sessions of the summit. (PHOTO: A Community Gathering in Nepal) (Read more http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5854 )
Robina McCurdy who has been involved in the post earthquake response in Christchurch, New Zealand, working with ecological sanitation solutions, shared some food security practices inspired by past permaculture projects.
Michiyo Furuhashi of Konohana Family in Japan shared how their community sent support for the sea-quake. Their model of monthly crisis simulation against the backdrop of Japan’s natural disasters is something that may support communities in highly vulnerable geographic contexts. Read More: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5853
Boniface Gomes of BASD, piloting a permaculture and ecovillage design program in partnership with Gaia Education and CIFAL Scotland, shared their best practices in grassroots engaged climate adaptation. PHOTO (right): Climate Leadership Training Bangladesh
Sarah Queblatin of Mandala Earth Story in partnership with Maia Earth Village, shared how her work in designing the response with Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Philippines was inspired by her experience with survivors of conflict and typhoons in the past through creative trauma informed practices. Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7ite_uSWPY PHOTO (below): Building a typhoon bunker out of waste with Earthship Biotecture and setting up solar power for the community of Batug who survived the deadly SuperTyphoon Haiyan, the strongest storm on global record in 2013.
Ethan Hirch-Tauber shared how, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he was involved in supporting volunteer efforts in rebuilding projects as well as being on site when the Indian Tsunami hit in 2004 witnessing and assisting the efforts of Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka.
Gildardo Tuberquia of Colombia has been active in community led actions to address years of conflict in Colombia. Through grassroots efforts over the years, they were able to strengthen conflict prevention and develop the capacity of locals to respond as a community using non-violence. He is the leader of Peace Village, an ecological settlement that combines earth care and peacebuilding. (read more: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5838 ) PHOTO (right): Building new homes for campesinos and refugees from the civil war
Aida Shibil of Global Campus Palestine in partnership with Tamera, had their own separate sessions but are also involved in green initiatives in Palestine. An upcoming Ecovillage Design Course will be held in Palestine in November. (more: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5837 )
Sarah Queblatin of Mandala Earth Story in partnership with Maia Earth Village shared of her emerging project engaging youth in designing regenerative learning experiences and applications through creative place-making together with interfaith youth leaders from conflict affected communities in the Philippines.
Financial Crises and Addressing Poverty
Anna Fillipou, co-founder of Skala Ecovillage in Greece, shared about the situation in a country that is on the verge of a financial collapse. To avoid social collapse as a consequence and help the society to become more autonomous from financial economy, Skala Ecovillage plans actions to teach and train communities to transition. (more: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5855 )
PHOTO: Community Gathrering at SKALA Ecovillage in Greece. Bernd Mueller and a team from Blueprint are leading a working action to build Swales for natural water harvesting
Lydia Schellinghaus, a young German woman helping street children in DR Congo, uses arts to bring Trauma healing, community and support for their basic needs. Her interest in EmerGENcies is to help expand her support to her community partners in the backdrop of what she describes as “a permanent emergency of hunger and sickness.” In large parts of Congo affected by conflict, children have no place to hide from soldiers and other armed groups.
Refugees in Migration
Alfonso Flaquer of Arterra community, shared about his idea of The Posidonia Project: a GEN Mediterranean action for refugees arriving in the region. It is the result of various former actions, initiatives and existing ideas in the ecovillages and communities networks across the Mediterranean (African, European and Middle Eastern or those who have a strong involvement in the area). The initiative aims to facilitate responsible and sustainable entrepreneurship, in order to convert the resilience they have shown into a mutually beneficial opportunity. By supporting youth and community twinning, the sharing of talents and experiences are cultivated and a network that enhances ecovillage solutions will be birthed. (read more about his ideas on emerGENcies: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5847 )
Fayez Karimeh, a Syrian refugee based in Sweden, joined us on Skype. In cooperation with SICE (The Syrian Initiative Craftsmanship Ecovillage), Fayez and other initiatives are supporting ecovillage resettlement projects for their fellow countrymen. Currently, they are actively engaging in social enterprise and training programmes in claybuilding and sustainability for members of the ecovillage NGO. (Read more: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5861 ) PHOTO: The Syrian Initiative Craftsmanship Ecovillage (SICE) with a visit from international volunteers Photo from Ekohuset I Gammelstrang
Through Skype, we heard the story of how Ruth Andrade (the late Paolo Mellet ‘s partner) gathered Paolo’s friends: regenerative designers and technology experts, during his wake. Keeping his compassionate spirit alive, they formed the initiative, Blueprint, to serve a growing need for crisis response.
Water expert Jay Abrahams shared his understanding and experience with land, sewage and rain water management and how water is key to regenerating land into a thriving habitat.
Water expert Bernd Müller spoke about experiences consulting with an aid organisation following the Haiti earthquake. His conclusion is to enhance not only ecologically appropriate technologies to support large scale humanitarian responses to crises, but also systems that integrate the aspects of water, food, energy and the social. Currently, Blueprint is prototyping these models in partnership with Tamera in Portugal.
Meanwhile Blueprint has met for another experience week week held in Tamera in August. Afterwards, they had their first intervention in SKALA ecovillage in Greece as an emerging resilience model for self -sufficiency in times of economic crisis. (read more: http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/node/5842 )
A Learning Network to Respond to a Growing Need
From our harvest during the GEN+ 20, the big picture shows us that our scope varies from a small scale community-led relief effort to experts living in ecovillages prototyping appropriate technologies replicable on the ground in areas where disasters hit.
We also see that crises can be defined beyond emergencies in relation to natural disasters or conflict. Economic collapse and poverty such as the experience of responders from Greece and Congo may also be considered emergencies. Here, the solution of restoring the direct relationship with natural resources can help recover basic needs such as food security, redefining the need money for survival. Bernd Mueller pointed out that the crisis in Greece is an example that “ecological crises are the foundation for any economic crises.”
Coming from his grassroots led ecovillage incubation in Spain, Alfonso Flaquer of Arterra Community who birthed the initial vision of EmerGENcies, stressed that “we need an integration of both ecovillage education and incubation where knowledge and experiential application are engaged, as both are necessary to sustain our efforts.”
Sarah Queblatin, from her experience in Psycho-Social Support in emergencies, emphasised how we are innovating the traditional humanitarian response and assist beyond helping victims become survivors. To her, Ecovillage and Permaculture solutions, recover resilience and “help communities move beyond survivors and become thrivers: able to regenerate and recover quickly.”
Overall, as sustainable communities already modelling our own resilience responding to communities in need, we discovered we already have proof of the concept that self-sufficiency is possible and replicable. As world crises continue to escalate, with multiple triggers occurring in multiple locations within multiple contexts of worldview and experience, so too is our need to strengthen the diversity of approaches in order to adapt to existing needs. By co-creating a network of support and learning, we can continue to deepen and expand our experience and best practices by harnessing collective wisdom that will guide us in defining and designing what a whole systems approach to crises looks like.
Based on the strand harvests, we came up with the intention to design the following platforms that could serve the needs and intentions of communities responding or hope to respond to crises in the future. Support in developing these are very much welcome.
Mapping and Profiling
Across the world, we are connecting with ecovillages, transitioning intentional communities, and ecological solutions experts to identify what is being done, who are doing it, and what are the best solutions that emerged from their experiences. Through storytelling, interviews, and archiving, we hope to come up with a body of experience and best practice that embodies regenerative and whole systems design as an innovative contribution to the field of humanitarian assistance.
Establish System Support
Design a system to support local and global prevention and response to future crisis. Support in project design, proposal writing, and documentation. Setting up economic channels for donations and fundraising. Establish technical pool of experts and practitioners for training, design, and implementation. Engage in partnerships to strengthen capacities and services. Develop partner learning sites in areas where the implementation is piloting active practice and replication and has potential for hosting trainings.
Learning Network and Exchange Platforms
EmerGENcies as a learning network engages partner communities and practitioners in an exchange of best practice to enhance and evolve solutions inspired by collective wisdom and action. This may take place through online exchanges or learning journeys where practitioners visit and learn directly on site.
Training and Education
Through its partner education and training organisations and experts, EmerGENCies supports community leaders and facilitators in developing their capacities through ecovillage design education, ecovillage incubation, and appropriate technology trainings. Through this engagement, they will also be supported in documenting, developing, and designing their modules unique to the context of their experience and learnings.
*Are you responding to crisis in your community? Please connect and share your story with us. Email [email protected] to know more about this initiative.