I met two of my chief deputies, who had been on leave when I arrived. This will be the start of some beautiful collaboration. We have at our priorities aligned. I also got a new team member who did his PhD work on the soils of Iraq. How much better can you get?
My two deputies already know the county and the region. We talked about making a lasting impact. Among the projects we discussed are internet hot spots and a solar village. These dreams seem far fetched for the Iraqi desert, but they are no mirage. My colleagues have been talking to local authorities about projects of mutual interest. I asked them to talk harder and find the places for these projects.
Re solar – energy is expensive in Anbar, but this fact is obscured by the ostensibly nearby pools of black gold and Texas tea. Oil, however, has a world price. It does not matter if it is locally plentiful. A barrel of oil here costs around $80 in direct and opportunity costs just as it does everywhere else. In fact, in Anbar it costs more because of the problems with delivering the fuel. Some of the communities here are perfect for solar. They are isolated from the fuel distribution lines and the sun shines here just about all day, every day. I have been tacking on solar to other projects, but now the team will actively seek a demonstration project where we can solarize an entire small village. When it works, it will encourage imitation. I think it will be sustainable because it is fairly easy to maintain AND they have opened a vocational school in Al Qaim which is training electricians.
The Internet hot spot sounds even more hare brained, but also make sense. There are many Internet cafes and a pent up demand. Some of the local people have the skills to run such an operation. We do not want to compete with the private sector Internet café providers. Working with them, we can help provide wide area coverage for a densely populated downtown. We already have a village in mind for this. The progressive mayor has identified the problem. We hope to work with him to provide a solution.
The soils guy was also inspiring. I talked to him about the legacy of the CCC and WPA and told him that in 80 years I wanted our contributions to still be creating value and beauty. We may be able to provide solar powered irrigation pumps. This is also a great place for solar. The need for pumping is important, but never urgent. It can be done when the sun is shining. He also mentioned the efficacy of French drains in countering salinization of the soils. He told me that such low cost and low tech improvements could probably sustainable double the productivity of some fields. I was also surprised to learn that, while it took centuries to ruin the soil, proper treatments can restore it to acceptable form in only three years – providing there IS soil. Some places it has eroded away.
One thing we need to do this week is help get seeds to farmers who will plant them. Farmers here are not like those in the U.S. They have to learn to be more self sufficient. In Saddam’s time they were told what to do, so they still do not have the resources to go it alone. The wheat season is already started. They know what to do; they want to do it. They need seed. They will not get a harvest unless they get something in the ground soon. The seasons do not wait for our bureaucracy. I believe our flattening some obstructions will help at least some people get a harvest in the spring. I made that our new Ag guy’s most urgent priority.
We also talked about date palms. Like John the Translator, he knew about dates. He told me that Iraqi dates are know worldwide for their sweetness. It results from particular combinations of soil and climate. One of the things the coalition did that I do not like is that they knocked down many date palm plantations. They had good reason. Insurgents hide among their dense vegetation. But now that most insurgents have either gone to ground or are below it, I think we need to make up for that. We can help restore not only roads and buildings, but also the living landscape. We can help make it better than before.
There is no other job I can think of (at least not one I could get) where we can dream such dreams and have a reasonable chance of making them a reality. We have access to quite a pile of money. We either use it for sustainable projects, or we do the popular ephemeral things like picking up garbage, OR the money gets wasted someplace far off. We need to do some of the ephemeral things too in order to support today’s quality of life. I funded the creation of eight soccer fields for example, but I want to think farther into the future. I am a forestry lover after all who knows that the last generation planted for us and it is our turn now.
Will all this work? Probably not all of it, but dreams drive behavior and I think we will make some of them reality. If not us, who? If not now, when? Those who want to laugh at my windmill tilting plans can do so now. I enjoy the dreaming and I will post pictures after some of the projects are in place and working.