Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy COP21!

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is kicking off in Paris today.

On Sunday 29 November, groups all over the world mobilised for the People's Climate March, raising their voices together against climate change. I marched in Agadir with some friends from Dar Si Hmad and the Surfrider Foundation.

I also wrote a brief piece about the connections between climate change and gender-based violence for Dar Si Hmad's 16 Days Campaign:

Meanwhile in the UK, the team of Low Carbon Mentors I help lead worked with a high school in Norwich to write a statement against climate change. The students presented their statement to local MP Chloe Smith and sent to it 10 Downing Street, MP Clive Lewis, the Bishop of East Anglia, and Paris.

The English high schoolers call for a world "where racism, world hunger and poverty are extinct instead of animals". Read their powerful statement here:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Day 2: Catching fog for capacity building

On Day 2 of the 16 Days Campaign running from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day coordinated by the United Nations to focus on violence against women, girls’ education, and human rights, I have written a post for my research partner that describes their flagship program in more detail.

Read more about Dar Si Hmad's fog harvesting project and the connection between women, water, and empowerment here:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Violence Against Women: Bad News, Good News

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

It's kind of a crap day. We shouldn't need an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Because that shouldn't be a thing.

But it is.

That's the bad news.

The good news? There are really cool people doing creative things about it.

Check out a piece I wrote with The Conversation, a cool open-source peer-reviewed blog-journal:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Ramblings" Reboots

After an embarassingly long (eight months!) hiatus, "Ramblings with Rebecca", my YouTube vlog, returns today with an apology and a promise to myself to start posting once again.

As I am off in the field, there are certainly stories to tell and issues to be reflected upon! My intention is to ramble a bit more habitually, using the vlog as a tool for intellectual exploration as I grapple with a variety of concepts and questions. Come along for the ride, if you like: (the specific "Reboot" episode is available at

Monday, November 16, 2015

After France, Beirut, and all the rest...time to spread some love

I've been struggling about whether and how to post in the past few days. The attacks in France were horrible. The attacks that have happened - and are happening - elsewhere in the world were and are also horrible.
Suffering and trauma are not things easily compared or measured.
Global media and various countries pay attention to some kinds of trauma, and some people's suffering, more than others. And we must question why and how this is, and work against egocentric and unjust systems that enable this. We must also recognise that losing loved ones, feeling physically unsafe, and encountering intolerant ideology is painful no matter who you are and where you live.
So mourn. Cry for those who have suffered and are scared. Weep for our broken world. And then...figure out what you can do to make it better.
When we encounter the worst of humanity, we must seek to be the best of it.
As one option for those of you who are physically and/or relationally removed from the recent attacks, here is one way to reach out and show your support. The day before the Paris attacks, dozens of people died from terrorist action in Beirut, Lebanon. A beloved friend of mine, Maya Terro, is striving to empower the best of humanity in her country to respond to systemic hunger and economic inequality. SOUPer Meals on Wheels is a mobile food kitchen that helps alleviate the ongoing suffering of Syrian refugees and Lebanon's poorest. Rebuilding lives in the midst of terrorism is not an easy task, and it takes all kinds of efforts. A hot meal, prepared by a diverse set of volunteers, is a powerful way to let people know they are loved. Giving to the Food Truck will support efforts to make those regularly affected by terrorism more able to engage in and support their new communities. I invite you to support a bit of peace and friendship in the midst of our war-torn world:


I have been incredibly spoiled for day trips as of late. Yesterday, the two Fulbright Teaching Assistants I'm living with decided to adventure to Taroudant. Why not join them?
Taroudant is nicknamed the "Grandmother of Marrakech", so named for its similar red sandstone walls and its status as a market town. It's very cute and far less touristy than many of the places I've been visiting thus far, which made for a nice change. I found some fantastic handmade leather flip-flops in the souk and we found some adorable residential streets to wander for a very different 'vibe' than in the more city-like Agadir.
One of the more fun aspects of our day was my first Grand Taxi experience. We got a 1.5 hour ride in a taxi for incredibly cheap...via the 'public transit' system in Morocco that squeezes at least seven people into 5-person cars. Quite the way to travel for long periods of time, especially at checkpoints when the authorities glance into your car and take no issue whatsoever with the number of folks crammed in and lack of seatbelts going on.

Sheep, donkeys, and goats grazing roadside are not an uncommon sight in Morocco. The large camel herd we found en route to Taroudant is a slightly rarer, but very much delightful, version.

The fun of finding residential streets is that occasionally you stumble upon very cool public service announcement murals! We found a series of ones encouraging people to put rubbish in bins, to plant trees, and to exercise, among others.

You can get anything at a souk. Anything.

There was obviously some kind of football match happening yesterday afternoon; we sat down at one restaurant and didn't even manage to get served because the staff were so busy with match-watchers/watching themselves. We passed a couple of boys desperately peering through the cracks on this gate to see a cafe's television; later, we saw a huge crowd of teenage boys pouring out of the municipal stadium, where they'd clearly been screening whatever it was. 

Pots. Lots and lots of pots.

This country honestly has some amazingly beautiful doorways. I've got a whole series of photos like this because I can't seem to stop taking pictures of them.

And one should always take time to stop and smell the flowers. Especially on beautifully sunny days in market towns, because there's something magical about quiet alleys and blue skies. :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Marrakesh Day Trip

Yesterday, some of my research partners from Dar Si Hmad attended a meeting in Marrakesh with MEPI, the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative, who fund one of the organisation's youth empowerment projects.

I did not attend the meeting; however, one of my housemates and I took the opportunity to see another part of the country, driving up with the crew to Morocco's fourth-largest city. The "Red City" has walls of red sandstone that are around 900 years old; the city itself is nearly one thousand. Its central square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, has a claim to the busiest square in Africa and it is truly bustling with snake charmers, henna artists, Berber youth acrobats, monkeys on leads, juice stands, and virtually every souvenir you could possibly imagine, want, or need. The city's streets and souks (outdoor markets) are likewise full with a dizzying array of silks, jewelry, lamps, kitchenware, scarves, art, decorative name it. We had a lovely day exploring a palace from the 1500s, a working Jewish synagogue, and some of the more residential streets.

Fountain in the center of Marrakesh's synagogue

Oops. I seem to have found a tree to climb. Like a dangling monkey.

The direct collision of old and new transport mechanisms.

Not only in London are the busses red, double decker, and touristy

Fezzes are cool. Also silly and fun.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

World Science Day for Peace and Development

It's World Science Day for Peace and Development!

From the UN:
"Science will be essential to reach many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, thus, to ensure a sustainable future. The UNESCO Science Report is one of the tools that countries can use to monitor progress towards the goals of Agenda 2030...
"The purpose of the World Science Day for Peace and Development is to renew the national, as well as the international commitment to science for peace and development and to stress the responsible use of science for the benefit of society. The World Science Day for Peace and Development also aims at raising public awareness of the importance of science and to bridge the gap between science and societies."

In light of this lovely Tenth of November, a shout-out to Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture, my Moroccan research partner. Dar Si Hmad is a non-governmental organisation in Agadir, Morocco working to promote local culture and empower sustainable livelihoods through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity.

Dar Si Hmad skillfully and valuably combines scientific advancement with recognition of local values and traditions in its programming, defining knowledge as "facts, skills, traditional lore, and modern science and technology".

The organisation operates one of the world's biggest fog-harvesting systems, complete with solar panel energy and state-of-the-art engineering. The system is providing potable water to hundreds of villagers in Morocco's southwestern mountains.

Amazigh women are able to manage their water systems using their mobile phones via SMS messages.

And furthering scientific knowledge and capacity in the country, a mobile education caravan works each summer in the mountainous communities to bring people together around water and use a summer Water School as a remedial school through which rural children can learn not only about water, but also about the natural world and discover the planet in a different way.

 Organised in rural schools of Aït Baamrane in partnership with the Provincial Delegation of Education, Dar Si Hmad's Water School teaches children about the hydro cycle, the importance of water in their world, how they can utilise untapped water resources, water sustainability, and wider ecological issues.

Science is cool, my friends!! And involving communities in the co-creation of scientific knowledge and making sure technical advances benefit everyone in sustainable ways is even cooler.

First Day of Work!

Yesterday I went to 'work' for the first time in Morocco. A bit of a shift from the lazy days of beach and mountain walking.
During my fieldwork, I'm occupying a bizarre space between student, staff, and researcher at Dar Si Hmad. Dar Si Hmad for Development.
Education, and Cultre is a non-governmental organisation in southwestern Morocco that contributes to rural and urban livelihoods, gender equality, cultural heritage, and environmental sustainability with a variety of educational, vocational, and water projects. I'll be spending six weeks in their office, helping with projects as they arrive and my skills/experiences will be of use. During that time, I will also be conducting one-on-one interviews with the staff about their time with the group and their views on environmental peacebuilding and facilitating a full-staff stakeholder analysis, asking them to identify who and what has power over the work that they do.
There are always a multitude of projects winding down and starting up around here; I've been impressed in just a day and a half with how many things various staff have come in to talk about.
After years of being a spoiled student without a real schedule, it's a bit strange to be in an office from 9am-6pm...but probably quite good for me! Things have gone very well thus far; I am hoping I'll be useful to them in some respects, and certainly they're going to be useful to my PhD.

For more stories from Americans in Morocco, check out the blog of my housemate Zeke, who is teaching in Agadir as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant:

Friday, November 6, 2015

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict

On this day in 1991, the the last burning oil well in Kuwait was capped, and the environmental destruction wrought by the Gulf War began to be remediated. On the fifth day of this month in 2001, the UN General Assembly declared 6 November the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

With thanks to people like the members of the Kuwait Dive Team, I urge us all to remember the violence of conflict - to ourselves, to our loved ones, to others, and to our world. May we all strive toward a more peaceful and just planet. And when we and others betray that calling, may we all work to make it better.

Hello from Morocco!

A quick post to say 'hello' and say that I've made it safely and well! My research host was hosting her in-laws this week, and today is Eid Al Massira Al Khadra, or the Green March, a public holiday in Morocco commemorating the strategic mass demonstration that was held in November 1975 (organised by the government) to win the Spanish Sahara from Spain. Given the shorter work week (Morocco works Monday-Friday, unlike many majority Muslim countries I'm familiar with) and her busyness, she suggested I take a few days to acclimate.

So...acclimation! Oops sorry, I found a camel. ;)

One of the AMENDS Fellows, who originally put me in contact with Dar Si Hmad to do this work, met me the day after I arrived and took me around his city. One of our first stops was the massive outdoor market, Souk El Had (literally, the Sunday Market - so named because it is open on Sunday and instead closes on Monday as the rest day). Abdelkrim claims it's the largest in Africa. I can't vouch for that, but I can say it was quite huge. You can buy virtually everything, from Dora the Explorer backpacks to local fruit. I've been in many a souk before, but this was the first time I saw full rows and rows of chicken and rabbit vendors. A fascinating sight, including all the butchering equipment, albeit not one for weak stomachs - and one that made the animal rights advocate in me squirm a bit, captivating though it all was.

Much less controversially, we  then off to the mountains, with a beautiful view of the port and the sunset:

After the sun set, we walked along the beach promenade and I gloried in all the palm trees and evening lights of Agadir. Just as we were getting back to the car, the universe graced me with this lark:

I did not, in fact, go in. Yet. ;) My cousin is coming to visit at the end of my stay in mid-December, and somehow I have the feeling we'll just happen to find ourselves there. Abdelkrim says the soda inside is more expensive than the beer - a true English pub, that!

I stayed in a hotel for the first few days, while my host's house was taken over by visiting family. I'm now preparing to move in there, at which time I'll stop dilly-dallying about with camels and actually get to work. Maybe. ;)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

And I'm off! Round 2

Here goes the actual's 4:21am, and I'm at a bus stop en route to Morocco!

A proper trip this time, not some quick little in and out. I'll be in Agadir conducting participatory research with Dar Si Hmad, an environmental NGO whose cool work includes fog harvesting in the rural mountains. 

I purposefully don't know all that much about the group yet, as part of my research is to tease out their narratives and how they understand their work. But check out their website for a flavour of what I'll be working on:

Time to turn on my bit of French and learn some Berber!!!

I'll be posting regularly, and if I follow through on my intentions, will start up my "Ramblings" YouTube series as well. Questions, comments, and ideas welcome as always!

Date thee wel, Britain!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict

Rebecca L Farnum Comments at the Seminar on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict

Thursday 29 October 2015

Sponsored by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, Rutgers University, the Environmental Law Institute and the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Commission on Environmental Law

When considering the relationship between the environment and armed conflict, it’s easy to focus on the negative – the horrors wreaked by violence, the barren landscapes left in the wake of war. But the destruction of violence, and the devastation wrought by armed conflict are also creative, in that they create unique windows of opportunity for a reflection and reframing of values and norms. The dismantling of the normal that armed conflict entails invokes within us a call to reconsider what kind of world we want to live in. We’re sitting today in the incredibly creative result of one such unique moment, when states and peoples questioned what kind of world they wanted to live in after the Second World War. The overwhelming response was ‘not this one’ and ‘never again’. And thanks to that shared global resolve, we’ve just celebrated the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.
On slightly smaller scales, nations, communities, and peoples can do the same with the environment in the windows created by experiences of conflict, when the normal ways of doing business are in upheaval. I want to share today a few examples of groups that are doing just that, in the hope that lessons learned from these stories and positive examples of what does go right can help us consider how we approach and shape the law of the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict.

These case studies suggest four major issues to be considered in the connection between the natural environment, conflict, cooperation, and peacebuilding:
  • One, that local communities must be involved in both the identification of concerns and the methods of redressing those concerns, such that PERAC is not only about the immediate cleanup and restoration but also about changing societal norms; 
  • Two, that the environment should not be seen only as a tool or a problem, but rather as a partner in this work;  
  • Three, that properly tackling these issues will require input from a great many sectors, with law being an important but not solitary part of the solution; and
  • Four, that justice, not simply or merely security, should be seen as the major goal of protecting the environment and in law around issues of violence.

My first assertion considers local community involvement.

 Early work of the Kuwait Dive Team. Photo courtesy of Kuwait Dive Team.

This is a view from Kuwait. We’ve heard quite a bit about it already today. After the 1990-1991 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait, the country was left in ruins. The issues raised by the Syria case study we heard earlier – infrastructure damage, leftover military equipment, and the like – were very real. In response, and as a method of patriotism and national rebuilding, a group of amateur scuba divers determined they were going to teach themselves salvage techniques in order to clean up the oil and lift the sunken boats from their coral reefs.

Unexplored ordnance in Kuwaiti waters. Photo courtesy of Kuwait Dive Team.

Views like this undetonated ordnance, which the Kuwait Dive Team found and helped the national government to safely dispose of, are now far less common. Instead, thanks to the particular buy-in of this grassroots movement – and the way that conflict clean-up made a group of people fall in love with their oceans and with community service – we get views like the one below, with hundreds of schoolchildren coming every week to do a beach cleanup.

Kuwaiti beach clean-up operation and education. Photo courtesy of Kuwait Dive Team.

The boats and oil mess leftover from the invasion could have been cleaned up much faster by some concerted, top-led, super financed and focused effort, allowing Kuwait’s waters to look like this once again. But this would not have led to the creation of a major NGO now shaping Kuwaiti civil and political life and creating a spirit of volunteerism in the country. There is value, both intrinsic and instrumental, to ensuring that local communities are deeply involved in these efforts.

Secondly, I would challenge us to consider the approach to the environment – and other sectors at play – we all hold. I contend that the environment should not be seen merely as a tool, and especially not merely a problem to deal with, but rather as a partner in peacebuilding and post-conflict rebuilding. This doesn’t discount that sometimes the environment is an issue. But if we focus only on nature as a problem to solve, we’re doing it wrong. We don’t view our children merely as obnoxious things that wake us up in the middle of night. They are much more than that, with many more roles to play. And generally speaking, their positive, relational impacts on us far outweigh the headaches they create. The environment intersects with armed conflict in a number of ways, and many of them are positive. Emphasizing the positive partnership in which we can engage with nature should be a priority for those of us concerned with these issues; otherwise, the negative issues become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Good Water Neighbours programme session. Photo courtesy of EcoPeace MiddleEast.

EcoPeace Middle East, for example, is working with Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian teenagers on shared water management and Jordan River rehabilitation. The group’s work is challenging notions that water scarcity and tensions necessarily lead to conflict even as it is empowering young people in a conflict-ridden region to be ambassadors against reductionist stereotypes and narratives of environmental doom.

Jordan River Rehabilitation programme. Photo courtesy of EcoPeace MiddleEast.

The EcoPeace narrative about environmental peacebuilding includes attention both to the anthropocentric need for water but also to the concern for the ecosystems themselves, bringing nature in as a stakeholder to the environmental consequences of conflict.

Too, nature is not law’s only partner in the protection of the environment. Activists, economists, educators, policymakers, farmers: we should all see each other and alternate approaches to these issues not merely as tools in our own work but as partners who all come with a piece of the puzzle. While this may sound basic, and it isn’t unique to the problems raised by the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflict, I do want to give a nod to the importance of involving a multitude of actors. After all, we all have a stake in this.

Environmental Peace Journalism Workshop attendees. Photo courtesy of the Media Association for Peace.

One group doing this interdisciplinary and intersectoral work is the Media Association for Peace, currently running environmental peace journalism training programmes in Lebanon. This work is encouraging journalists to cover environmental issues and nature itself as a key stakeholder in Lebanese state-building and sustainability, creating a Lebanese public with a greater interest and buy-in to environmental concerns. This is building local capacity and seeking to mitigate the chances of things like bush burning (Robert). The discursive power of law in both reflecting and reproducing the kinds of norms these peace journalists are trying to highlight shouldn’t be underplayed – nor should the power of these peace journalists to help uphold and encourage the rule of law.

Environmental Peace Journalism seminar. Photo courtesy of the Media Association for Peace.

And finally, a call to justice. Much of international climate change law and global thinking is captured in the phrase "common but differentiated responsibility". It's a powerful call, I believe: a recognition that we have all played a part in harming our world, but not an equal part. An awareness that we all have a part in helping to care for our world, but that some are equipped and morally required to take on a larger share. When it comes to the protection of the environment – including ourselves – in relation to armed conflict, a similar logic applies. We all play a role in perpetuating conflict; we all must seek to end violence. Some of us can and must do more. But it is not only common but differentiated responsibility. When it comes to the environmental risks of armed conflict, we also have common but differentiated vulnerability. One environmental peacebuilding organisation in the Middle East acknowledges these power asymmetries by giving their Palestinian office the final say in all press releases and policies, ensuring that those with the weakest systemic position are fully on board with actions before moving forward. We – and the law – have to similarly target and include the most vulnerable or we are likely to find ourselves back on the similar ground of inequality, unsustainable injustices, and tensions leading to conflict. We have a unique opportunity here, an uncommon moment to shape who we are and how we relate to and with each other and to and with nature. And I hope we use it wisely and justly. Thank you.

Comments given at the Seminar on the Protection of the Environment in Relation to Armed Conflict at the United Nations in New York on Thursday 29 October 2015. For more information and with comments, please email
·      For more details on the Kuwait Dive Team, visit
·      For more details on EcoPeace Middle East, visit
·      For more details on the Media Association for Peace, visit