This week I’m attending a meeting for PhD students about how to communicate science to stakeholders, society and the general public. Something that I wish for is that my research one day can help improve society and environment in Kurdistan, or elsewhere. How to make that happen is another question that I have yet to figure out, so I thought starting with this meeting would help me get some idea of how it works.
The potential benefits of my research to Kurdistan is mainly in the rural development and agriculture area, as that is where the connection between population and environment is strongest. So what parts of my research could actually be interesting for stakeholders and public?
The data that I’ve gathered comes mainly from two sources: satellites and people’s own perceptions of life in rural (and urban) Duhok. The satellite data can show us the current state of the environment, and also how it looked as far as 40 years ago (using Landsat data from the 1970’s). The survey data, on the other hand, show how people are perceiving their lives within that environment. A simple but important question that I asked in my survey was:
“What is the main problem with life in your village?”
The answers ranged from ”no problem at all” to lack of accessibility to health care, schools and jobs. Some reported environmental problems, but it was clear that accessibility was a key issue, that is affected by bad road quality and limited availability of health care or schools. The government might already be aware that the road system needs to be improved, so it’s not really a ground breaking finding. But if we add to the equation that my survey showed that migration from cities to villages was larger than from villages to cities, i.e. people are returning to rural life, as lack of (affordable) housing is becoming a problem in urban areas, then it becomes clearer that a rural focus is needed.
But how is this related to population and environment dynamics? A change in the rural demography is bound to affect the environment in one way or another, and the most important perspective, as I see it, is how these return migrants might change how the land is used. Maybe they decide to cultivate their land as an income source. Maybe they have some new ideas on how to do it. Maybe they will use the water resources differently. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a causal relationship between return migration and land cover, but in the context of return migration, it is interested to look at the landscape and how it has changed?
This becomes especially interesting since the government is trying to increase agricultural production to attain self sufficiency in the Kurdistan Region and decrease the reliance on imports. Detailed information about land cover and land use can be important for the development of agriculture in the area, and so far I haven’t seen a detailed and up-to-date land cover map of Duhok or Kurdistan. Additionally, there are no time series of land cover that will allow us to compare the situation, say, ten years ago to the situation now.