You cannot be against development, progress, innovation and even education. We count on these things to solve our biggest problems, whether it’s the ecological crisis, malnourishment or peak oil. If you don’t believe in them, you’re a defeatist. But do they earn the blind faith we have in them? The documentary film Green Mirages, directed by Egyptian Nadia Kamal and Tunisian Habib Ayeb, about the Tunisian village of Demmer, suggests we shouldn’t, and points out some important questions to ask.
Demmer, Tunisia’s version of Egypt’s Fayoum Oasis, is the home town of social geography researcher Professor Habib. Compared to the rest of Tunisia, you can call this area undeveloped. And you would feel inclined to pledge for more development, not question it. It’s not the typical flip side of the coin. Not a garbage dump or a polluted mining site in Congo where you would go and see the devastation caused by the development elsewhere. But this makes sense. Demmer is not an accident de parcours, but a typical example of how development works. It might be Egypt.
The government brought unemployed people from the city, lawyers and such, to reclaim and farm an arid area, and while their wells are emptying the valuable aquifer, the local knowledge to farm without irrigation will vanish along. Exit sustainable agriculture, forever.
Habib shows us the community’s disappearing methods to cope with drought. And it’s not desertification or climate change, a real hazard, but development itself that makes them disappear.
You’re saying that we should educate people more, or raise awareness – the solution that’s repeated ad nauseam?
Even worse, modern education appears to have had the worst impact, bringing mostly unemployment, and making the young people eager to leave the community.
Habib doesn’t want to turn the clock back, though. After showing us his ancestral house, and the impact a small act of modernity, such as plastering, has on the cooling system, he questions himself. He couldn’t live among his own people anymore. Just like the local youngsters.
Development seems unavoidable and unstoppable, but it might be time to ask deep questions about it. A must see, if you get the chance.
Image of green mirage from Shutterstock