Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kidnappings, drought

Tonight on Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN):

Roy Hallums was kidnapped in 2004. He was rescued in 2005. He endured 311 days as a hostage in Iraq. He was actually buried alive when he was rescued and now we have the exclusive videotape of his rescue. We'll show you how the special forces team did it. Hallum says what might appear hyperbolic with a calm earnestness. "I hoped they wouldn't decide to just cut off my head and videotape the occasion for mass distribution to the international media." Instead, we have the videotape of his rescue. Michael Ware reports Thursday at 10 p.m. ET.

A CNN friend wants that noted -- also Ware may speak of his own kidnappings -- and we'll toss it up at the top in part because CNN friends are still ticked off about entries here two weeks ago (which were accurate). That's tonight on CNN.

Meanwhile, Ivy Farguheson (Muncie Star Press) reports, "A man who moved to Muncie two years ago to be closer to his family has now lost his only son in the Iraq War." Roger Pauley is the father of PFC Jaicia L. Pauley who is one of 4 US service members who have died in Iraq this month. He tells Farguheson, "It bothers me (knowing the death is still being investigated), but whether it's a suicide or an accidental discharge of a gun, my son is still gone. He was a typical man in his 20s and he was my best friend who I could talk to about anything."

In Utah, middle school students had s end-off for their principal. Salt Lake City's ABC 4 reports Rick Miller is deploying for Iraq (his second deployment to Iraq) and that "his students, teachers and staff threw him a surprise assembly" yesterday. Mary Richards (KSL) adds, "The students sang and showed slide shows of Senior Master Sgt. Rick Miller, who has worked at Kaysville Junior High for 13 years. Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet called Miller a hero for what he does. They presented him with a special flag to fly at the school until Miller returns from Iraq in July."

Meanwhile, Iraq faces serious drought issues. From Martin Chulov's "Iraq: Water, Water Nowhere" (World Policy Institute):

From his mud brick home on the edge of the Garden of Eden, Awda Khasaf has twice seen his country's lifeblood seep away. The waters that once spread from
his doorstep across a 20 percent slab of Iraq known as the Marshlands first disappeared in 1991, when Saddam Hussein diverted them east to punish the rebellious Marsh Arabs. The wetlands have been crucial to Iraq since the earliest days of civilization -- sustaining the lives of up to half a million people who live in and around the area, while providing water for almost two million more. The waters vanished after the First Gulf War due to a dictator’s wrath; over the next 16 years, they ebbed and flowed, but slowly started to return to their pre-Saddam levels. By 2007, with no more sabotage and average rains, almost 70 percent of the lost water had been recovered.
Now it's gone again. This time because of a crisis far more endemic: a devastating
drought and the water policies of neighboring Turkey, Iran, and Syria. These three nations have effectively stopped most of the headwaters of the three rivers—the Tigris, Euphrates, and Karoon—that feed these marshes.
"Once in a generation was bad enough," says Awda, a tribal head and local sheikh in
the al-Akeryah Marshlands, who also advises the Nasiriyah governorate on water issues.
"Twice could well be God's vengeance."
In a land where fundamental interpretations of monotheistic scripts often determine
the tone of public discourse, particular attention is now being paid to the biblical
Book of Revelation, in which the Euphrates River drying up was prophesized as a harbinger for the end of the world. It is not doomsday yet in Iraq, but the water shortage here has not been worse for at least the last two centuries—and possibly for several millennia more. Government estimates suggest close to two million Iraqis face severe drinking water shortages and extremely limited hydropower-generated electricity in a part of the country where most households get by on no more than eight hours of supplied power per day, in the best of times.
The flow of the Euphrates that reaches Iraq is down, according to scientific estimates, by 50–70 percent and falling further by the week. From his frugal office in Baghdad's National Center for Water Management, engineer Zuhair Hassan Ahmed
has for the past decade plotted the water levels of the Euphrates and the Tigris, the
latter of which bisects the Iraqi capital. The hand-etched ink graphs show a black line that marks an average "water year," from October to May, super-imposed over a
green line, which shows the actual flow through the two rivers over the same time.
The green line had been markedly lower than the benchmark for much of the past
decade. But in 2007—the start of a serious drought—it dipped sharply and has continued to fall.

Also covering the issue is Birgit Svensson's "From Flood to Drought" (Qantara):

Although it rained at last for three days at the end of November, the sand banks in the Tigris still rise above the water. October saw dust and sandstorms in Iraq such as hadn't been seen for years. Hundreds of people had to be treated in hospital for breathing problems.
The fine dust doesn't just get into the lungs. It's everywhere. It covers the country between the Tigris and the Euphrates with a beige coat, and suffocates everything it lands on. There have always been sandstorms in Iraq, but meteorologists say it's never been as bad as this year.
Clear line of sight for the guns
Some say the Americans are to blame. In the six years since the invasion, their tanks have broken up the surface of the earth and knocked it off its ecological balance. Others say it's the fault of the former president, Saddam Hussein. The dictator had millions of palms chopped down, especially in the south of the country during the eighties, when there was war with Iran, and he wanted a clear line of sight for his army.
Now, dust and sand can make their way unhindered through the desert. Neither of the accusations as to the reason for the drought has been proved. But it's a fact that the country is increasingly being smothered in dust and sand. The phenomenon is easily visible if you travel across the country. Everywhere there are little whirlwinds which develop into thoroughgoing tornadoes of sand. They sweep through the steppes, especially in the West of the country, and coat everything with which they come in contact.

The United Nations Development Program has issued the following list of effects global warming has had on Iraq:

- More frequent and more severe droughts, 2008/09 was the second such prolonged drought period in ten years.

- Declining rainfall over the past four years, with annual precipitation reaching only 25-65 percent of normal levels.

- Increasing scarcity of drinking water in the south, as seawater intrudes on once-plentiful fresh surface and groundwater supplies.

- The unique Southern marshes are shrinking, causing the loss of a globally-important habitat, traditional livelihoods, and future conservation and tourism potential.

- Water purification plants south of Baghdad cannot pump water, because it is too muddy due to low river levels.

- Increasing frequency and severity of dust storms due to low soil moisture, especially evident in the summer of 2009. Not only do these dust storms have serious health consequences and cause loss of human productivity, they may also cause irretrievable desertification in some places.

- Wheat production in 2008/09 was down 45 percent from a normal harvest, with similar reductions expected for the 2009/10 harvest.

- According to Iraqi experts, reoccurring events - drought and dust storms - mark the beginning of the end of the Fertile Crescent, the breadbasket of the Middle East.

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