Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stable Instability

Disorder and instability have returned to Kyrgyzstan in the past several days. On Thursday, May 13th counter-revolutionary forces took over government buildings in Osh, Jalalabad and Batken- all provincial regions in the southern portion of the country. In Bishkek, small demonstrations were held in support of reinstating the former mayor. Conflict between counter-revolutionary forces and pro-government forces (revolutionary forces that assumed control over the government last month) resulted in violence on Thursday and Friday in Jalalabad and Osh. By Friday morning, the pro-government forces had regained control of seized buildings. Local sources are indicating that the former president‘s family, the Bakievs, may be financing some of the disorder that is taking place.

These recent events are at a smaller level than the events that took place April 7th-8th, 2010 when the government of Kyrgyzstan was overthrown after widespread antigovernment protests.
However, the current events highlight the fragile nature the interim government has.

Demonstrations on both sides are being called for over the weekend. Monday, May 17th seems to hold a gathering sense of uncertainty as it marks 40 days since the events of April 7th and is being called a memorial day. Many shops in Bishkek, especially those with expensive inventory, have cleared their shelves clean and have shut down in preparation. One particular concern is over the potential for violence. Many households have rifles for hunting and from a history of ethnic violence. Additionally, hundreds of guns were distributed on April 7th, when an Interior Ministry arsenal was looted.

With advice from the U.S. embassy, I am delaying my departure to At-Bashy and will remain in Bishkek for several more days. Although rural areas would initially be safer than Bishkek, I could find myself stranded and without communication if events escalate dramatically and roads are shut down.

Spring Plans

I recently returned to a very green Bishkek and markets full of strawberries and cherries. My short hiatus was a journey to another great mountain range of the world, the Alps. In France and Switzerland I joined friends to ski a portion of the Haute Route (bailed due to rain) and classics such as Aiguilles du Tacul, the Cosmiques Couloir off the north side of the Aiguilles du Midi, and the Grand Cass. Returning to Kyrgyzstan felt like coming home.

For the rest of May and most of June, I am heading to At-Bashy to fully immerse myself in conducting interviews with locals in the At-Bashy area who make their livelihood connected to natural resources. The interviews will be an investigation into the way in which changes in glaciers are having an impact on livelihoods, water security and environmental quality.

I was last in At-Bashy over a month ago and the region was just beginning to melt out after winter with an above average snowfall. Now spring is here and herders are readying their livestock to head to high elevation pastures for the summer.

My many travels this winter proved fruitful in exploring various ranges of the Tien Shan, making many friends and gaining exposure to many different aspects of life in Kyrgyzstan. However, I am looking forward to getting to settle down a bit more and invest myself more deeply in one place.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Historic Data

These graphs show average historic annual temperature and precipitation for the village of At-Bashy. This data comes from stations maintained as part of a much larger network of weather observation stations across the former USSR. Precipitation data dates back to 1927 and temperature data for At-Bashy dates back to 1962, however both datasets have incomplete years of data that were excluded from my graphs. The data does not continue to present day, as most weather stations were abandoned in 1990. In fact today, there are less than 25 weather stations in Kyrgyzstan, just a fraction of what existed several decades ago.

According to the regressions, which I have not analyzed their statistical significance, the data shows an increasing temperature trend and a decreasing precipitation trend. The significance of these trends should not be extended to make generalization about regional trends over the past century. However the data still provides an insight and when coupled with additional data sites will provide a broader glimpse of trends.

Obtaining the data was a process in itself. During the winter I contacted the Kyrgyz Hydro- meteorological Center certain they would be thrilled to provide me with the data I was interested. To my surprise I was informed that the data would be available at $10 US Dollar per year per station. That is a hefty price tag of $4200 for just 4 stations’ data! Unwilling to pay, as I made more contacts I thankfully obtained the data free of charge from several sources including Dr. Ryskul Usubaliev at Central Asia Institute of Applied Geosciences and also from Dr. Chiyuki Narama at Nagoya University in Japan. The problem was there were discrepancies and the data did not match. Recently, Dr. Vladimir Aizen at the University of Idaho made a majority of historic USSR meteorological data available via a web data server at Dr. Aizen and Dr. Narama have both assured me to the accuracy of their data, and being that there data is identical, it is the data I have chosen to use.

The uncertainty in data accuracy is significant because each data value can have a huge effect on the resulting trend. One small difference can greatly exaggerate an increasing trend that could be used to falsely indicate warming. On the reverse, another error could negate an actual positive trend.

This story highlights the delicate nature of numbers and data, as well as questioning the significance that is placed on the results. Beyond questioning the data sources and transcription, I have to wonder about the accuracy of the observation records. Although error in transcription from original sources to digital sources can be overcome, there is no way to overcome original biases from measurement or recorder error.

I will still use the data in my research, but it will be supportive documentation. Coupling the trends of multiple stations in the area should provide a better representation. Additionally, I will be interested to see any correlation between the data and locals’ observations.

National Geographic

The April 2010 National Geographic was a special issue- WATER – Our Thirsty World. One of the feature articles is “The Big Melt”, highlighting that “glaciers in the high heart of Asia feed its greatest rivers, lifelines for two billion people. Now the ice and snow are diminishing”. The article covers all of Central Asia and provides an excellent overview touching on documentation of changes, existing difficulties for locals, different government responses, and possible future impacts for the region.