Floods

Storm gathering over Pacific shoreline

In today’s world of climate change, floods are here to stay. Floods are running wild in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, California, and many other places. People are drowning or homeless. In Pakistan alone an estimated four million people fled their homes from floods. Sea levels are rising and rainfall is increasing in wet parts of the world.

Wild Flash Flood Water, Australia December 2010

Some call for repentance and stopping carbon emissions. Others get practical and produce flood area maps and strategies. Some still debate the reality of climate change; they focus on mourning, repairing, and rebuilding in the same way and same place. Others wishfully think it will happen to “the others” not to us.

Of course not everyone is getting floods, some people are getting droughts, or earthquakes, or hurricanes as part of climate change. For those of us who are now in the process of abandoning the wishful thinking and are waking up, two connected questions come, “How can we save ourselves?” and “How can we help the others?” When these two meet up in the spirit of “quest” then meaningful works can take place.

Surviving Floods “in the short term and the long term”:

Short term survival as individuals can be improved with emergency preparedness kits and techniques. http://www.zetatalk.com/info/tinfo28j.htm For example, the sandbag emergency shelter instructions fit onto a laminated page, like the safety instructions in an airline, where we are asked to put our own oxygen mask first, then put in on others – I guess sustainability really does begin with a person!

Remorse may drive us to find ways to stop carbon emissions. But there is more. Our planet’s climate change is not all about us. We can stop polluting, but that isn’t going to stop climate change. So how can humanity live through the floods? What can we do to help others in our communities?

humans are limbs
of the same body
all made from the same essence
when one limb is in pain
others cannot feel at rest
if you are indifferent
to another person’s pain
you cannot be called a human
- Saadi (trans. Nader Khalili)

No one can say they have all the answers, but here we are trying to pass on whatever we know from experience, while asking new questions for research.

We can take the attitude of resisting whatever nature throws at us. Like building higher and higher levees and sea walls, but following the same old pattern of walls in stiff, straight lines. In this scenario we will always be working harder to beat forces that are stronger than us. Sandbagging is universally accepted the first resort to hold back floodwaters. http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/Flood/NWD_Sandbag_Pamphlet.pdf

Building a temporary sandbag wall during a flood

To be ready to help in an emergency in this practical way, we went to the dock in Galveston and bought half a million sandbags after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Bags from the port of Galveston, Texas

In Australia’s recent floods the owners of a fish and chip shop saved their business with a small personal levee and a pump in the middle of thigh deep floodwaters. They even took the chance to re-decorate while their customers were absent!  http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/weather/2011/01/07/black.aus.flood.fish.chips.cnn.html

In Holland the whole nation claimed land from the sea by building long levees, many from sandbags which have lasted for hundreds of years. And many coastal cities or those along rivers have built levees to protect their populations.

In doing something about their situation, rather than running away, the levee builders got the chance to learn something more about the water they were trying to resist.

Breached Levee

After the floodwaters recede, what should people do? Can they salvage family photos and memories of the past? Is anything recognizable, or has the flood smashed up their homes board by board, and shifted the border between land and water, as it did in New Orleans in 2005?

Long-term, permanent solutions mean working with the floods and learning about their nature”? The living forces of our planet are doing a “balancing act” during global warming, and the universal elements of earth, water, air and fire, are trying to find an equilibrium. Thus the ice melt from the polar regions is cooling the ocean but creating the conditions for increased rain. The extra rain makes floods while it tries to find its way down below the earth. The expansion of the earth’s crust due to the solar system aligning with the center of the galaxy is creating earthquakes which need lubricating to help the continental plates to move as needed. The symptoms of this global “balancing act” are the intensified changes in climate that we experience.

Individuals and governments should ask themselves, “Can we prepare better, could we do things differently?” Finally we must take this a chance to learn and adapt; learn the lesson from the floods.

In 1991 there were floods in the Mojave desert in California after ten years of drought. As a new apprentice to architect Nader Khalili, I listened to him speak about the equilibrium of the universal elements of earth, water, air, and fire, and of their ultimate unity.

Sand Dunes shaped by wind and earth

At that time he was researching how to build with earth in a way that could go though any disaster; he drove several students to the fire department where we could pick up some free sandbags, then took us back to the empty desert lot, later to become Cal-Earth Institute, where the group started to build arches and a dome with the filled sandbags. Later it was found the very same desert sand had once been an ocean bed in prehistoric times, and the spiny Joshua tree of that Mojave desert is a species of water lily adapted for the dry climate!

First Sandbag Dome

Sandbag Arch

Today, the process of building disaster-resistant homes with earth-filled sandbags and barbed wire has won world-wide acclaim with the Aga Khan award for architecture, and is established through U.S. building code tests. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=836839608834772683# and http://www.amazon.com/Emergency-Sandbag-Shelter-Eco-Village-Manual/dp/1889625051

Eco-Dome with continuous sandbag coils

Eco-Dome Moon Cocoon Model

This is an example of turning the materials of war and disaster into the building blocks for peace.

“water in the boat
is the death of the boat
water under the boat
and the boat’s afloat”
- Rumi (trans. Nader Khalili)

In nature everything has its “measure”, which in Arabic is called “Qadr” as I have learned from Shaykh Taner Ansari. Perhaps this is similar to the Greek “Pan metron ariston” – “everything in measure is best”. In any case the way I can understand it is about the true or proper place of phenomena.

If floods are dumping water in places where it causes harm, shouldn’t we should learn about the proper place of both the water and ourselves? And just as Nader Khalili found the way to create safe homes for humanity from the same materials and elements, isn’t it now time to build sustainable communities in harmony with the universal elements?

Dam-shaped community design

As individuals and communities we must have the courage to face our failures and make changes. There is an inborn solution in every disaster, so the water may not be our greatest disaster, it may be our greatest friend. Personal loss is cause for sorrow, but may become a hidden blessing. We must learn to abandon our wishful thinking and learn to understand the water flow intimately. Instead of putting up a big straight wall against the mighty ocean, we must “go with the flow”. We must learn to curve flood walls with the water – for example the rivers build their own levees from their banks when they curve around. The water sculpts the land in these forms giving us clues.


Mississippi River, USA

Flood and Erosion control, Hesperia Lake, funded by FEMA

The message in the floods is showing us new ways, new opportunities. You can experiment with your family to learn at home. Fill a bath with water and put objects in it. Learn how the wave action flows around them. Fill the bath with water, then pull the plug and see how the water flows around the objects. Once you understand the flow, you will know how best to plan your house or sustainable community. And when the water flows out you will see how getting the water underground can turn the destruction of floods into future fertile lands. Local governments should employ surveyors to find or make caves which can take the water fast into underground aquifers and natural storage tunnels. Guiding the water swiftly underground may help the water to clean the earth and air, which it is so good at doing. It will store this precious water for constructive use.

Humble as Water........

Clay Eco-Dome model

The relationship of earth and water is especially close in the material of clay. Shelters and even permanent homes could be built into the water and pumped dry, so that residents do not need to flee when their homes are a few feet deep in flood waters. The power of the flowing water can drive turbines or mills to do work and make energy, which can be prepared in advance in areas which are going to be flooded.

The power of water

Every situation has different factors to consider in floods as in any force of nature. I have to admit the flimsiness of many conventional homes doesn’t leave me very cheerful.  But it remains true that the same floods have the potential to create disaster or great benefit for humanity. Communities just need to prepare. They must seek wise advice. There must be a strategy, and there must be good timing putting it into practice. And maybe the answers will be found in the earth or the air or in human beings. If each person in the world were to add a single earth-bag to a well-prepared design then I believe that humanity can adapt to the severe flooding that is happening. It is up to us to respond in however small way.

A small shelter built in 2 hours

International Day of Climate Change Action

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