Sunday, October 19, 2014

Surviving desertification

Can we undo the damage done to our ecosystem globally? Can we stop the excess of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? This documentary shows how communities in different parts of the world work to reverse progressing desertification. China, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Jordan, Bolivia... John D. Liu documents their efforts and engages in propagation and promotion of sustainability. This is truly a thought provoking picture.

John D. Liu is an award-winning documentary film maker, researcher and ecologist. Since 1997, he directs the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP). John's films aim to provide information about ecology, sustainable development of agriculture and first of all to give solutions and ideas on restoration of ecosystems. He documents harmful effects of irresponsible farming that caused the destruction of natural environment, namely the biomass, organic matter and biodiversity, and in consequence led to the loss of arable soil and desertification.

learn more on John D. Liu work at

John D. Liu's documentary brought to my mind a personal experience and a memory of a place in the heart of a desert I really fell for. In 2008, just before a new round of big oil wars in the Middle East, I went on a one-month discovery trip to Syria and Jordan. The Mar Musa monastery or Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian), located some 80 km North from Damascus was one of its highlights for the amazing 12th-century paintings that cover the walls and ceiling of the monastery's chapel.

For more about the Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian see Robert Mason article in the Antiquity.

I remember the Mar Musa not only as a heritage jewel, however. A relatively newly established, small community of monks and nuns of the Syriac Catholic rite founded by Paolo Dall’Oglio was on a mission to restore the once thriving but now long-time lost natural vegetation and agriculture in the Mar Musa wadi (= dried river valley). The monastery was built up in the mountains, clinging to a rock, around its own water supply system. You still have to negotiate a rocky path for about 30 min from the main desert road to get there. In the 6th century when the Mar Musa was likely founded, the wadi was a green valley. Centuries of progressive deforestation of Syrian mountains turned the vast majority of the country's land into a hostile desert.
Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi from the Monastry's facebook page
Did the monks succeed in their restoration projects? In 2011 father Dall’Oglio was killed in 2013 by Islamic militants (source PressTV). What did remain of the community? Did they continue planting olive trees? Their website is silent, 

Can you succeed in greening a desert? Watch this spirit-lifting from Jordan as a positive epilogue to my today's story! it tales the tale of an amazing project by the permaculture designer Geoff Lawton,

Permaculture Greening the Desert


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