News: The Somalia Syndrome

Somali fighters on a TechnicalA "must read" to understand the role of the US in East Africa (and hey, why not, in most developing countries, and hey, why not, the role of the West in most Third World countries), is the "The Somalia Syndrome". This article was written by Noam Chomsky, an emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

Some interesting passages:

After that [the US' retreat from Somalia in the 90's], the United States — and much of the rest of the world — basically turned its back on Somalia. (..) But in the summer of 2006, the world started paying attention again after a grass-roots Islamist movement emerged from the clan chaos and seized control of much of the country", leaving only an enclave adjoining Ethiopia in the hands of the Western-recognised Transitional Federal Government.


The Ethiopian invasion, with US backing and direct participation, took place immediately after the U.N. Security Council, at U.S. initiative, passed Resolution 1725 for Somalia, which called upon all states "to refrain from action that could provoke or perpetuate violence and violations of human rights, contribute to unnecessary tension and mistrust, endanger the ceasefire and political process, or further damage the humanitarian situation.
The invasion by Somalia's historical enemy, Christian Ethiopia, soon elicited a bitter resistance, leading to the present crisis. The official reason for US participation in Ethiopia's overthrow of the Islamist regime is the "war on terror" — which itself has engendered terror, quite apart from its own atrocities. Furthermore, the roots of the Islamic fundamentalist regime trace back to earlier stages of the "war on terror".

For humanitarian news, see The Other World News. Picture courtesy

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News: Would You Not Pay US$10?

Well, it seems at the end of the year, loads of charity rallies are held. It shows that each of us can help. Nothing seems beyond our capacity to help or our ingenuity finding new and fun ways to assist the less-fortunate.

Yep, this is Pim... I know what you are thinking!Every year, Food Bloggers from all over the world join together for a fundraising campaign. They are led by Pim, a popular food critic and author of the Chez Pim blog (Picture left). They call the campaign "Menu For Hope".
Last year, they raised $60,925.12 by raffling culinary rarities.

Menu for HopeThis year "Menu for Hope" raised funds to support a WFP-run school lunch program in Lesotho. The food for the lunches is bought directly from local farmers who practice conservation farming methods. They help feed the kids (which keeps them in school) and support their parents and community farming as well. Sustainable development they call it. ;-)

Some examples of this year's culinary rarities were:

  • Yep, that is Fanny, and I know what you are thinking!Private live episode of Wine Library TV (editor: I guess ...)
  • Edible Paris custom food itinerary (editor: edible, hey?)
  • Foodie week-end with Fanny (Picture on right) in Paris (editor: Hey, I speak French. And have 10$. Here, have 20$, Hell, take everything I have!)
  • Tea time at La Cocotte (editor: "La Cocotte" means "The sweetheart". So I guess I'll take that as well. ok. That is 4!)
  • Chris Cosentino (of The Next Iron Chef and Incanto) takes you to lunch on delectable bits at his favorite secret restaurant in San Francisco (Editor: Ok, I will skip that one.)
  • Review with Stephen Downes, one of Australia's most experienced restaurant critics
  • This is Sigrid. Culinary expert. And I know what you are thinking!Dinner with Sigrid (Picture on the right) in Roma (Editor: Hey, I live in Roma!! And I have US$10. Can I still bid?)
  • Contigo Conmigo: 4-course dinner for 8 at Contigo chef Brett Emerson's house in San Francisco (Editor: For eight! Cool! Have not had one of those for a long time!)
  • One-Night Package at the Vermont Culinary Inn (Editor: Vermont, here I come!!!)
  • ...

Each virtual raffle ticket went for US$10. This year, they raised a total of $90,286. Well done, and no wonder!

Thanks to and The Other World News for the intial links

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News: "Click to Feed a Child" fed 1.8 million kids

In the past year, we have been promoting quite a bit. Their icon was on this blog (and the others I run) since we started. has been organising the yearly Walk-the-World event, and has a well moderated website. One of the main features on their site was 'Click to Feed a Child', where sponsors contributed each time an icon was clicked by a visitor.

The campaign "Click to Feed" has ended now, and I am happy to announce we all contributed to feed 1,850,963 children for a day, in the past three years. A humble feat in the battle against hunger, but a proof it can be done. Thank you all for contributing!

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News: Top 25 Censored News Stories of 2007

Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media.

Between 700 and 1000 stories are submitted to Project Censored each year from journalists, scholars, librarians, and concerned citizens around the world. With the help of more than 200 Sonoma State University faculty, students, and community members, Project Censored reviews the story submissions for coverage, content, reliability of sources and national significance.

The university community selects 25 stories to submit to the Project Censored panel of judges who then rank them in order of importance. All 25 stories are featured in the yearbook, Censored: The News That Didn't Make the News.

Here are the Top 25 Censored News stories of 2007:

  1. Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
  2. Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran
  3. Oceans of the World in Extreme Danger
  4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
  5. High-Tech Genocide in Congo
  6. Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
  7. US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq
  8. Pentagon Exempt from Freedom of Information Act
  9. The World Bank Funds Israel-Palestine Wall
  10. Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
  11. Dangers of Genetically Modified Food Confirmed
  12. Pentagon Plans to Build New Landmines
  13. New Evidence Establishes Dangers of Roundup
  14. Homeland Security Contracts KBR to Build Detention Centers in the US
  15. Chemical Industry is EPA’s Primary Research Partner
  16. Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court
  17. Iraq Invasion Promotes OPEC Agenda
  18. Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
  19. Destruction of Rainforests Worst Ever
  20. Bottled Water: A Global Environmental Problem
  21. Gold Mining Threatens Ancient Andean Glaciers
  22. $Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed
  23. US Oil Targets Kyoto in Europe
  24. Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
  25. US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region

(Full post)

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The Driver's License

During my security briefing in Khartoum prior to my deployment into South Sudan, I was reminded that international staff are not supposed to drive and therefore no local driving licence is required. “Local drivers speak the local language. They know the local driving customs and terrain. They know where to run for help if need be.” This is what I was told. “Fair enough, something less to worry about,” I thought.

A few days later, I arrive in my new Southern Sudan duty station and receive a warm welcome from one of our local drivers…. For the rest of the week, I end up without any drivers. I am the only one in the office who knows how to drive. The nice chap who picked me up from the airstrip seemed to have disappeared and all other drivers are on field missions. I assume the policy “to always use a driver” was more of a “general guideline”. “Maybe I should start thinking of a driving licence. Just in case…”, I think.

It is a thought that recurs when one of the young drivers comes back from his walk-about. I ask him why he had disappeared for a week without permission:
- “Nothing special.” he tells me, “A chap wanted to marry my younger sister, but couldn’t afford the dowry of 35 cows we’d negotiated. So, he decided to kidnap my sister. My family and I chased them up. We –euh—‘renegotiated’ the dowry and they’ll soon be married,” he concludes, nodding with a satisfied smile.
- “So, do you have more unmarried sisters?” I ask.
- “Three more” he says.
- “Good for you. That is a lot of cows!”, I compliment him
As I walk away, I am thinking to myself: “I really, really need to get me a driving licence!”.

The next time I visit the regional capital, Juba, I fill in the application for a local driving license.
- “Not a problem, sir!” says our Juba head driver. “You only need to pass an eye test!”
He takes me to a place which looks nowhere like a hospital or even a place where they practice medicine... He explains this is where eye tests are carried out. A middle-aged lady takes me to an empty room. Our head driver and the lady exchange a few words in the local language. She fills in a form, stamps it and gives me the receipt.
- “Let’s go, sir!”, the head driver announces abruptly.
- “How about my eye test?” I protest.
- “It’s all done, sir! She looked into your eyes and didn’t see anything wrong.”

A few days later, I am the proud owner of a legal Sudanese driver’s license. Now I can drive legally, while my drivers are out chasing their future brothers-in-laws.. Procedures are followed, my eyes are fine and life is good.

Story by Enrico Pausilli. Edited by “E” and Peter Casier
Pictures courtesy Ulrik Pedersen

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The Perfect Balance

Finding the right balance in life is so difficult to achieve that some people choose it as their sole undertaking in life. A common mistake made by many, though, is to think that the perfect balance is an absolute concept. It is not. The perfect balance is a moving target. That goal differs depending on where you live, what you do,.. Working in a remote location in South Sudan, today was one of those days where I felt that target was further away for me than ever.

Here is the deal: I am in charge of a humanitarian operation that covers an area in South Sudan which is five times the size of Denmark. The country is amazingly challenging with little or no infrastructure, and plenty of insecurity. Luckily, things only turn real bad during the rainy season. Unfortunately, the rainy season lasts an average of eight months a year.

The very few roads we have here are then impassable. The airstrips turn into mud and thus, become unusable. The country becomes one big swamp. It gets so bad, that one long sunny period is what most South Sudanese pray for. For those waiting for food aid and other relief items, it makes the difference between life and death. The floods destroy harvests and paralyze the little commerce that shyly emerges during the dry season. The conditions are so bad that some areas become impenetrable islands, with its inhabitants isolated for weeks on end. As a humanitarian worker it is already bad enough that you can not reach those in need, stuck on one of those “islands”. But it is even worse if you happen to be there during one of those rain storms. And you become one of the “Islanders” yourself…

This environment makes “finding the perfect balance” or rather “finding any form of balance” a daily challenge. Let me describe to you what happened today: “One day during the rainy season in Bor, South Sudan.”

You start your day by taking a radio call from one of your food monitors out in the field, informing you the airstrip where we were to pick her up is not landable. And that she runs out of food supplies and water.

Another staff member calls in via the radio, asking for a tractor to rescue his vehicle stuck in the mud a hundred kilometres from his final destination.

While organizing help for the teams in the field, one of your staff kindly reminds you that he hasn’t been paid for the past two months which is quite common in a place where banks do not exist. His gentle reminder is accompanied by a look of annoyance from your security guards, who are still waiting for their new contracts and never miss an opportunity to remind you how good they really were with those AK47 machine guns before the South Sudan peace treaty was signed.

The worry for your life becomes second priority when a kind man tells you there are only five drums of fuel left to run the vehicles and generators, without which your operation will stop. This reminds you, you should really start working on finally getting your administration, finance and human resources assistants recruited. If you could find some time to start the process.

Ten minutes later, a Director General from one of the nearby ministries drops by your office asking for tents so he can relocate his flood-affected family to higher grounds.

While still keeping a smile and dealing with some of these adversities, you are suddenly reminded of an urgent need to go to the bathroom. The nearest latrine is two kilometres from your office, though.
“Never mind” you think, “Lunch time is few hours away. I will go then.” Meanwhile you stay away from fluids. Especially from the murky river water someone poured into the office water dispenser. *%$$£ !

That is about the time, you hear shooting in the vicinity of the office. As the UN security area coordinator responsible for the security of all staff, you are compelled to “do something”. Not too sure what, though.

By 11 am, you remember the landlord wants to kick you out of your current office premises. And the governor wants to turn your best warehouse into a prison. Meetings must be held!

Just as you realize there is no vehicle to go for lunch (or the latrine!), you remember it’s Friday and your weekly reports are due.

While you try to forget the urgency of nature’s call, you are reminded by e-mail to do a bit of planning for the next food distribution. You are trying darned hard to figure out how on earth you are going to recruit forty people needed for that. Without administration, HR or finance assistants to help you out….

Before you know it, you realise it’s already six pm and mosquitoes will soon start looking for you. Then again, you remind yourself that as a humanitarian worker, suffering is part of the job. So you shrug and look one more time at your e-mail inbox trying to figure out which of the last fifty unread message deserves your attention.

Three of them catch your eye as the red exclamation marks indicate their high-priority. You open them up and they read:

  • “The time for submission for the peer support focal point is due today”.
    You think this would be ideal work for your HR assistant. If only you had one….
  • “The deadline for the UN Online Training Module on Prevention of Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Authority in the Workplace is due by the end of the month and is mandatory for all staff.”
    You are glad that somebody reminds you of these important topics often overlooked by operational people. But then you remember that 60% of your staff is always in the field, distributing food in remote locations where even radio connectivity is a luxury. Let alone electricity or computers. So how can they do the training, which is only available online on the Internet? And what happens to the estimated 30% of your staff who only speak a local dialect, which unfortunately is not amongst the five United Nations’ official languages of the “Harassment Module”. And the remaining 10% of your staff are stuck in the mud of the rainy season somewhere waiting for you to pull them out.
  • “Next year’s budget submissions are due tomorrow.”
    You know that you’ll never make it and without it, you know you are doomed.

Your driver reminds you it is 8 pm and he is never been paid overtime. His calling awakens your bladder and reminds you of the curfew. You need to get going. You are cheerful, though, because tonight at least you have a driver. You get a lift to your living compound and are welcomed by a call for dinner. Ugali and beans. Again. You look at the food, take your plate to your tent, sit down and force down a few bites. You switch on your laptop, the custodian of hundreds of unread messages. Soon the frogs’ choir and bats hitting your tent imply that midnight is near… Yawn… You stand up and stretch.

Wait! One more message to read. Your wife and kids remind you how much they miss you and that your place is at home, in Rome, with them. You are about to reply, telling them that your supervisor asked you to postpone your leave due to an unplanned emergency but that would be too much in one day.

Just after midnight, you switch off the light and promise yourself that the following day you’ll figure out the meaning of all this… And that you will soon find “a better balance”.

Story by Enrico Pausilli, edited by “E” and Peter Casier
Pictures courtesy Ulrik Pedersen

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The Forces of Nature

In most parts of the world, people have learned how to curb the forces of nature. However, there are still places where this has not taken place yet.

Recently, I was invited by the Government of the State in South Sudan I work in. The Governor reminded everybody that a good administration should always follow a bottom-up approach and that consultations should take place in the “bomas”, the small grass root communities, first. Then, in the counties and finally, at the state level where the final consolidation is done.

After pausing for an instant, he looked around the table and noticed that the commissioner, the ministers and the general directors were all from the capital city.

The governor then said “Well, there are always exceptions and our State is one of those. Due to the floods caused by the heavy rains, large parts of the country are still isolated and everyone has problems travelling to and from the capital. This is why WE are using a top-down approach.”

Story by Enrico Pausill, edited by “E” and Peter Casier
Picture courtesy Ulrik Pedersen

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The Theory of Relativity

As a Masters student, I often wondered about the possible applications of the Theory of Relativity in real life. Now fifteen years later, while sitting at my desk as the recently appointed head of our office in South Sudan, I understand.

A young man came to me with a request for a salary advance at the end of another day in the ‘deep field’ - a day full of nuisances and challenges. The form bore two signatures, which gave me some reassurance the request had gone through some initial screening process. I asked him for his name and what he did for WFP. The answer didn’t come immediately, so I repeated my question. After some seconds of hesitation, he uttered a few words in Dinka, the local language. Being Italian, I had no difficulty in using my body language to make him understand to come back with an interpreter which he did.

His name and function though, did not match those on the form. I asked the translator, one of the two signatories, why the name on the form was not the same name as that provided by the young man.
- “Well, because that’s his brother’s name”, the interpreter replied.
- “And where is his brother?” I queried.
- “He deceased a couple of months ago!” he said.
- “This is not a family position” I growled, “We only employ people through a selection process based on competencies and relevant work experience. Ask him how he was hired..”
- “Well, he inherited his brother’s family so he took his brother’s job to maintain them.”
He certainly had a point and I was about to mellow out.
- “So, what type of contract have you been given, my son?”
Without hesitation the interpreter offered the answer:
- “None!”

I held my breath for a moment, thought to answer, but could not but smile. I closed my laptop and called it a day.

Story by Enrico Pausilli, edited by “E” and Peter Casier
Picture courtesy Ulrik Pedersen

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Twenty-Four Hours in Aweil.

I landed in Aweil, South Sudan on the afternoon of April 20. The landing strip is located in the middle of the village, joining the two sides. When there is no aircraft, the landing strip is a soccer field where kids play football while watching their cows. It is also where trucks from Kisangani and Kampala offload their cargo, filling the strip with cycling villagers and smaller trucks. Before landing the pilot flies over the strip at low altitude to chase away any living creature. Once this warning is given and the "airport" is vacated, the pilot then comes back to land.

I have twenty-four hours in Aweil to build a concrete base for the office satellite communications dish. This system enables us to cut down the communications costs dramatically, so I really have to get it up and running before the plane picks me up again. And I only have one day to do it. The challenge is to find casual laborers to help me build the concrete base. The rest of the work, I can do by myself.

After hiring a dozen of them who resign minutes after they have taken the job, I am introduced to these Darfur refugees who accepted my terms and conditions: work through the night until the concrete base is done, load the gravel, the bricks, the iron rods and transport them to the site. They take the job.

We work from 14:30 and complete the work the next day at 03:00 in the morning. At 08:30 we continue, plastering the bricks. This is when I take a picture of this man. This daily labour is a refugee from Darfur. He has little or nothing. Not even a home. He lives in a camp. He worked through the night and still, he smiles. It is comforting to see this smile.

A smile from a man with barely nothing, but his heart

When I pay them in the evening, they look at me like someone who just gave them an award or a present. And yet, the salary is their right. They are thankful while yet they did ME a favour!

I leave wishing I could be more of help to them another day. I realize this is what I enjoy about working in this part of the world. In all of my actions, I get the chance to see its immediate impact on the people, on the beneficiaries. I will never regret having chosen to work here. Here I get what a big salary or a promotion cannot give me: the feeling that I have been of help to a human being.

Story and picture by Cyprien Hiniolwa (Camp Juba, Southern Sudan).
Edited by “E” and Peter Casier

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The Pit Latrine

When everything else is lacking, the bare necessities are really bare. Those coming from relatively developed countries have forgotten a human being needs only the very bare necessities. One of those is a proper toilet with a flush. I always loved camping, but camping for a living and especially in a non-tourist resort has never been my dream. The best you can find as a humanitarian worker in most places in South Sudan is a tent. The lucky ones have the type where you can simply walk rather than crawl in after a long and tiring day….. And a pit-latrine. What’s wrong with a tent and a pit latrine? Nothing, if it wasn’t for some small details.

According to Murphy’s Law, your tent always ends up a good twenty metres from the latrine. A distance that can reach a hundred metres depending on Murphy’s degree of concentration. At night, once you’ve decided you cannot hold it in anymore, you start summoning all your energy and courage to overcome the many obstacles separating you from the latrine. You often wonder whether it wouldn’t be less painful to simply forget about it and have a good shower the next morning.
At any rate unlike you, mosquitoes and many other unknown creatures love your tent.

So getting out of it, without being bitten to death, is the first obstacle. Obviously, this doesn’t come without stress since your tent’s zipper is usually broken and you don’t want any unwelcome tenants to swamp in. When you are lucky, you haven’t forgotten your torch so you can proceed to your ultimate destination without the further frustration of having to fiddle with that damned zipper again to get back into your tent.

The second barrier is the snakes. That is, when you have a properly fenced compound where bigger animals cannot enter as in this part of the world a lot of animals still move around freely and undisturbed. If your journey proceeds without unpleasant encounters, you can finally open the door to the pit latrine. Since you have at least another ten competitors for the same latrine, you always walk the last five metres praying that nobody else has had a similar pressing need and you won’t have to wait in the dark for fifteen minutes.

At this point, the inexperienced, the optimistic and the careless might think that all their troubles are over.. Or at least, 50% over since the return journey is still awaiting. The rest, though, know that the worst fear is yet to come: the encounter with the Hole!

You start imagining that some disgusting slimy creature has chosen this unusual place as its den. In those moments, you are still tempted to go back to your tent with your business unfinished. However, after a few seconds of realism and the pressure from your bowels, you decide to lower your trousers and get it over with.

Every night, the average humanitarian worker over here in South Sudan dreams of his or her own toilet where they can read the Sunday Times undisturbed! How basic dreams can be…

Story and pictures by Enrico Pausilli.
Edited by “E” and Peter Casier

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How Deep Is the Deep Field?

BorFor us, aid workers, there is this magical term: the “Deep Field”. It stands for those locations where the real relief work is done. But the “Deep Field” is relative, depending on where you stand. Here I was, leaving our headquarters in Rome for my new assignment in Bor, South Sudan. A place I learned to know as the “Real Deep Field”. How deep can one go, though?

Just before leaving our Rome, I met a colleague who’d just come back from a “field” mission. “Where to?” I said. “Khartoum” he replied. Khartoum, an as-if non-family duty station, is considered by the UN to be an adverse place, bad enough to make you earn the famous hardship allowance. Khartoum, with its international airport, renowned university and air-conditioned houses and shops, is indeed considered a daunting destination by most HQ colleagues waiting for their reassignment. For me, Khartoum was just the first of two transit points on the way to “The Real Deep Field”: my final destination and the frontier to civilization.

Once I reached Khartoum, the perspectives rapidly changed. Colleagues based in Khartoum felt privileged to be there and looked down upon their unfortunate colleagues who had been chosen for Juba, my second and final transit point and its sub-offices. A colleague from Khartoum confessed to me that he jokingly used “A mission to Bor” as a powerful ‘threat’ with his staff: “How bad could Bor be?” I wondered. Khartoum wasn’t that bad, after all …

JubaThe flight to Juba was pleasant and without surprises. Juba, the capital of South Sudan and one of the three WFP coordination centres in the area, had a more “familiar field look”: a poorly developed place, with loads of challenges. But still a place where the bare necessities could be found. Half of my colleagues were still living in tents. Offices were housed in air-conditioned containers. There was no local infrastructure, rough hygienic conditions and a volatile security situation. But all types of food, drinks and a bit of night life were available. In my first few days in Juba, I felt this was the level of isolation and hardship I was ready to tolerate.

At the mention of the word “Bor”, most colleagues in Juba squirmed, compassionate enough not to unveil the final surprise but kind enough to give me some indispensable tips that would prepare me for what was yet to be revealed. Despite it all, I was quite anxious to go to Bor and was still a bit optimistic that at least something was going to be good. Well, my optimism was soon to be betrayed.

When I reached Bor, I felt this was the end of the “known world”. This must be the “Real Deep Field”, I thought. The office, located in a compound on the west bank of the White Nile, did not comply with any of the standing security and operational standards. Food, sanitation and basic living conditions were a mere illusion. I really felt depressed.

Within 24 hours however, I discovered a new world. This was not the “Deepest Field” yet: Bor, is the capital city of Jonglei state, the vastest of the ten South Sudan states, five times the size of Denmark. Bor has its own governor, ministers, a parliament, a police force and a local market where a few basic items could be bought. Those excluded fruits, vegetables and cleaning material, though. It also has a wannabe all-weather airstrip and a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

All of this wasn’t enough to brighten my spirits until I spoke to one of our field monitors. She was about to go on one of her usual food distribution missions with ninety kgs of luggage. “What are you carrying?” I asked. “A tent, clothes, gum boots, water, basic food for thirty days, charcoal and a few other indispensable items.” she replied. “Why food for thirty days if you are going on a 3-day mission? And what are you doing with the gum boots?” I said. “Well, during the rainy seasons the areas where we operate get flooded. So sometimes, the plane cannot land for weeks and the gum boots are essential to walk in those swampy areas, although sometimes the water reaches more than one meter.” Then I noted she did not have any means of communication and that her tent had holes.

So after all, maybe Bor isn’t the “Real Deep Field!”

Story by Enrico Pausilli, edited by “E” and Peter Casier
Pictures courtesy Ulrik Pedersen and Ben

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Murphy's Law in Sudan

Everybody knows Murphy’s Laws, but nobody imagines how applicable they are in South Sudan. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong and in the most unlikely way with the worst possible consequences.

Here you are in the bush. Finally, your one week holiday has arrived and you can go back home to see your family. You get into the car and after a little difficulty you manage to insert the worn-out key. The engine is running, but the car is not moving. Gee, a flat tyre. And of course, the spare is flat as well! You control your murderous instincts and get into a second vehicle.

It is raining. No, it is pouring. The road is very muddy and slippery. The pickup slides all over the road. You get out of the car to engage the axle lock on the front wheels. After ten minutes, you are soaked, but you can’t get the lock engaged.You have not given up hope yet, so you engage the 4-wheel drive, and drive the best you can. The worst that can happen is that you end up in a ditch. You can’t give up. You really want to get out of that place. You keep driving at 10 mph.

You finally get to the airstrip, step into the sheltered area and wait. The sky is dark and heavy. Rain pours down. The plane is late and you swear. The airstrip looks wet but “landable” to you… Or maybe you’re just being optimistic. You wait, until you hear the pilot’s crackling voice on the HF radio, announcing the approach from the plane. You look up at the sky and start believing again that a God does really exists. After a couple of unsuccessful landing attempts, the plane turns around and disappears at the horizon. “Airstrip unlandable”, says the pilot over the radio…..

You are depressed, exhausted. You sit down on an empty fuel barrel and think of quitting this job once and for all. Then you think of the people you are helping…and your mortgage. All of a sudden, you come up with a brilliant idea: There is a road that can take you to the next airstrip. If the weather is not too bad you can still make it. It is only 5 hours’ drive. The road though is on security level-4 and requires a military escort, but not all is lost. It is Friday and halfway, there is a scheduled convoy that you can join.

You start driving and keep wondering whether you are still sane to travel in these weather conditions on a security level-4 road, but you drive on. Two more hours later, you finally reach the convoy meeting point. The convoy should be there by noon. You wait and wait. The convoy is not there. Still, you are hopeful…. Three hours later you are told the convoy has been cancelled. The next one will be on Monday!

You drive back for three hours. Get into your tent and sit on your bed, with the rain gushing down on the canvas. Everything is damp. You feel miserable and hope for a better day. One without Murphy following you around.

Short story and picture by Enrico Pausilli
Edited by “E” and Peter Casier

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This Man...

Khartoum Taxis

Short story by my friend E. An inspiration, every day.

My trip to Khartoum is marked with one amazing experience. I went for lunch today with a friend from UNICEF. I had a nice hour - easy lunch. Stepped out of the UNICEF office and started walking towards the street in the heat, trying to figure out in my little comfy world "How long would I have to walk before I find a tuktuk or a cab?". I saw one of the UNICEF cooking ladies walking on the street, and greeted her. As I turned there was a nice yellow cab coming my way..He slows down. I bend to stick my head at the window and ask him in Arabic: "Street 33, how much?".. He replies "5".. It’s too hot, I figure I won't haggle or look for a tuktuk. So I say "Ok" and get into the front seat, as per usual. He drives off and asks which direction I'd like to go and I tell him.

Then, we're both quiet - I'm reflecting a little on the heat and the rest of my working day at the office, looking out the window - also, secretly hoping he won't want to chitchat.. After a while, he says to me: "My daughter,..." (It is always a relief as the use of that word to address a younger woman, in Arabic, is a sign of decency). "My daughter,... I'm disabled."

I turn towards him and look from up to down. He has no legs - cut a little below the waist. Can you imagine my reaction - my heart leaped out of my chest. My eyes bulged and I looked back up at him and then, figured very quickly that he's got a cab equipped with a basic, Sudanese-style mechanical addition so he can drive. And work. Now, I want to chitchat. But don't even dare push him in that direction. He says: "I'm disabled but it doesn't stop me from living and having lived my life.."

All that spurts out of my mouth is: "Mashallah (God Bless)". And then, "May God assist you".. The usual Arabic expressions of admiration and support - always with the tinge of religious connotation. He turns again and says "I have lived my life. I have daughters your age..."

By then, my feelings are reeling - I'm thinking "Look at this - what a shake out of your world, E.! Look at this - this a person who is truly courageous and just amazingly happy with his part in life. The rest of us - in our spoilt, disturbingly easy lives cannot hold a light to *that* strength!"..

He continues: "I've been disabled since 13 and I'm over 50 now - I have lived. I have lived with what I could".. My tongue and voice return - I say "Since 13, Mashallah! This is really impressive. May God bless and assist you. You have children? You...". He cuts me off with "Yes, my daughter - I have daughters like you in age and they have children too.. And I have lived."

By that time, we are nearing the office and he asks about the specific location - I give directions until we get there. We stop and I hand him whatever cash I have. He looks at his hand and shakes his head: "It's too much". And I say "Of course it's not", thanking him and start making my way out of the cab. For my own self, I don’t ‘dare’ to look back.

I quickly start digging into my aching heart and my spirit - we crossed each other's paths for a reason. I realize as I started writing this story that the reason for me was a sentence he kept on saying "I have lived!". Oh yes, he had. He was an example to me. Living with every inch of you - regardless of the 'outcome' - is the way.. I have every intention of living my life - sucking it dry without guaranteeing the outcome! And now to you, I say: "Live so you can say as he did 'I have lived' and truly mean it..!"

Picture Khartoum taxis, courtesy of Phillip Russell

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon's Ebook, jump to the Reader's Digest of The Road.

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News: Humanitarians Become Terrorist Target.

UN office bombed in AlgiersThis news article sums up the recent terrorist attacks against the UN:

In 2007, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have threatened or targeted U.N. officials and peacekeepers in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and southern Lebanon, where six U.N. peacekeepers were killed in a bombing in June. Even before the Algiers attack, the United Nations was already investing millions of dollars in fortifying its facilities and convoys in response to threats in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the Algiers attack -- the deadliest for the United Nations since insurgents bombed its Baghdad headquarters in August 2003 -- provided a blunt reminder of how vulnerable the international organization is. (...)

Since the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, I have always believed that we, international humanitarian organisations, will become the soft targets. As the "hard targets", e.g. the UK and US foreign missions, isolate themselves, lock themselves up behind walls of concrete, we -humanitarians- can not. While often the streets of US embassies are barricaded, our work is on those streets, in the field, working with the people.

We -humanitarians- are working in the most remote places, often as the only expats around. How easy does that make us as a target? Any malicious group who wants international press, only needs to kidnap or kill one of us, and they get plenty of international press... And that was only talking about terrorism. How about just plain crime and banditry?

To give you an idea, WFP (UN World Food Programme) had 36 people killed, injured or detained this year only... That is a sharp raise from the previous years.

We're in for a rough ride... How much do we protect ourselves? With what financial implication? For example, a typical field 4x4 vehicle costs about US$25,000. But working in a high risk area will easily add US$15,000 in ballistic blankets and HF/VHF radios for security measures.

How much risk is acceptable, to the organisations, and to the staff themselves? How much do those security measures isolate us, and disables us from doing the work we are set to do: work with the people.

Picture courtesy Fayez Nureldine, AFP/Getty Images

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Rumble: Lost Connection

Dubai airport at night

Arriving at Dubai airport last week, reminded me of a story I had in my mind. I wrote it as soon as I got to the hotel, at 3 a.m.. It is called "Lost Connection". An extract:

I step out of the plane and look at my watch. 10 pm. Two hours to shop in the Dubai Tax Free before boarding my connecting flight to Islamabad, Pakistan.I follow the stream of arriving passengers moving along on the first floor of the airport, overlooking the shopping area. I look at the vast crowd below. A dense mix of every possible nationality, religion and ethnicity in the world, expressed through a myriad of dress codes. From formal western suites, the traditional Arab dishdashahs, women in mini skirts mixed with those fully veiled. Rough Afghani chupans, expensive Indian silk sari’s, Berber djellabas, Australian safari shorts, Sudanese turbans, American baseball caps and Arab hijabs. This crowd seems to represent the world within one space. But the crowd is not strolling along from one shop to another in its usual way. The people are talking in groups, some with raised voices and expressive hand gestures, and others whisper. There is no laughing, nor joy but a nervousness makes the tension in the air so thick one could cut it with a knife. You do not have to be a clairvoyant to feel something is wrong.

What was happening? Ah, for that, you'll have to read the full story!

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News: UN Budget Cuts Threaten to End Corruption Investigation.

The UN General Assembly is preparing to put an early end to an in-house panel that has exposed more than $600 million in tainted United Nations contracts and is currently investigating an additional $1 billion in suspect agreements.

A budget committee of the General Assembly is scheduled to vote as early as Friday on a resolution that would force the panel to close down its operations in six months. (Full)

OK. That makes sense. UN budget cuts do not allow to continue the investigation of alleged corruption...

Thanks to E. for the link

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Rumble: What is new on this site?

Yep that is me!Loyal readers like yourself (ahum) will have noticed it immediately (ahum): I had time on my hands. And fiddled around with loads of things on "The Road to the Horizon", preparing to celebrate "The Road - One Year After". :-)

Here are the latest new features on The Road:

  • To ease social bookmarking, I added a new icon under each post. It makes it easier for the reader to link to that post using IE Favorites, Digg, Facebook,, My Yahoo, Newsvine, Technorati, etc... There is also a new "ADD THIS" icon in the 'Subscription, Feeds and Tools' tab in the right column. That one is linking to the home page of "The Road".
  • I updated the links to other interesting blogs in the right column, and split them up in different groups. I did my best to be selective and to only include blogs with good stories and pictures, giving a feel for the place or the work the person does. Have a read! If you come across any other interesting blogs about aid work, travelling, adventure, remote places, drop me an email at peter(dot)casier(at)pandora(dot)be, or just make a comment below a post...
  • As I continue to get a lot of questions via email about aid work, and "How do I become an aidworker?", I included a new tab in the right column with interesting links to related to aid work, and life as an aidworker.
  • I added more details on traffic to this site (where visitors come from, what pages they read etc..), and statistics on sites linking to "The Road". I put them on the bottom of the side column, so they do not disturb the main flow.
  • I re-arranged the Ebook short stories in a more chronological order. If you hover over each short story, it now shows the country the story is about.
  • As the tag list for the posts was getting quite long, I put it in a scrollable frame. Saves space.
  • I updated and added more Blogger's tips and tricks.
  • I revisited several short stories, edited them and changed some pictures.. All new and updated short stories are marked as such.
  • I re-edited all news stories. From now on, news postings only have the prefix "News" in the title, and carry the tag "News Item". No more News Roundups.
  • As I can not keep up with the interesting news stories people send to me, I post more in my Newsvine space. The articles which are relevant to aid work, you can find back in the "International Aid Workers Group" on Newsvine.
  • I updated the my book library and added the latest books I am reading. You can find it under the tab "Need Inspiration: My Books". The widget shows only a random grab of 10 books from my library, reselected each time you refresh the page.

As you can see, I continuously try to make "The Road" better, more interesting, easier to read and faster to access. I have some questions for you, dear reader (leave a comment below this post):

  • Is the download speed of the page acceptable? (I am trying to find a good automatic picture compressing tool, but I mostly worried about the time the widgets in the right column take to run when loading a page...)
  • Do you ever look at anything in the right column?
  • Any features you like/dislike/would like see add?

Thanks! Peter.

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Rumble: Are you an aidworker? Join our Newsvine Group!

International Aidworkers Today!
You can see the Xmas holidays gave me some spare time... :-) [Tine would say: "He can't be bored, always looks for a new kick!"]...

I have been playing around with an idea to share news articles of interest to aidworkers more easily. Articles about our lifes are aidworkers, but also about stuff we pick up in the news which would be of general interest to us, either personal or professionally.

True, I have been posting some on this site, The Road. And we have the automated humanitarian news aggregator running on The Other World News... But I looked for a way to make a more collaborative effort. Whatever tool used, it had to be hassle-free to post and share articles we (and that includes you!) find in the news, or on blogs, or on no- matter-what-Internet-resource. The tool should have an easy way to comment, and to filter out the key articles from the 'noise'.

Well, I think I found the right formula. Have a look at The Newsvine International Aidworkers Group/ . You don't have to be registered to read the articles posted there. But you need to register to post new articles and to comment. And I would encourage you to join the aidworkers network on Netvine:
Either go to the International Aidworkers Group and click on 'JOIN GROUP' in the left box,
or register as a new Newsvine user directly.
So how does it work when you have joined this new network? What can you do?

  1. The main purpose of the Newsvine International Aid Workers Group is to share "Internet finds" of interest to us. Either to "us", as in people often working in remote areas, or "us" as in professionals, in the "line of business we do. So the most important feature is to post items you find on the Internet. Anything that contains a URL link: News items, interesting blog posts, documents, utilities etc... You post it simply by clicking 'Seed Link', copy/pasting the URL, filling in a title and a short optional summary for the post... Click some publication options and you are done in one minute.

  2. Once a post is published, others can vote on how much they liked the article you posted, they can comment on it, or go into a discussion about it.

If you need more details, here is the Newsvine FAQ.

See you on Newsvine!

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Rumble: Have We Become Disaster Gypsies?

"I had met far too many people that were left alone, lonely, and bitter after years of wandering fieldwork. There were the drunks and misanthropes, people who were reduced to a husk of their former selves by cynicism and personal and professional estrangement ... This was not to even mention the crazies, of which there were more than a few," writes John Norris, senior political adviser to the U.N. Mission in Nepal, in his new book, "The Disaster Gypsies: Humanitarian Workers in the World's Deadliest Conflicts". (full post)

It relates back to 'us': relief workers and development aid workers, and our lives: I am an aid worker. Help!, I wrote in an earlier post. Even more so when you are a woman in the relief field...

Thanks to E. for the link.

PS: Merry Christmas everyone!

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News: Somalia - An Uphill Aid Battle

Food aid stacked on the beach in SomaliaSomalia has had no functioning government since 1991, when rival clan leaders overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. When an Islamic group took power in parts of the south and the capital last year, the weakened transitional government invited in Ethiopian troops to dislodge the Islamists. The Islamists regrouped with support from Ethiopia's archenemy, Eritrea, and have been fighting an insurgency against the government ever since.

Several aid workers have been killed by stray bullets and mortars this year, and the years of fighting have devastated Somalia's infrastructure, making aid delivery difficult and dangerous.

Last week, ships coming from Kenya headed not to chaotic Mogadishu but to the nearby port of Merka. All that remains of the disintegrated pier is a series of jagged metal poles biting into the turquoise sea.

The rusty wreck of a cargo ship run aground warns the aid ships not to come too close. Instead, a rickety flotilla of small boats sets out to meet the ships, ferrying sacks of grain through rough seas toward hundreds of porters waiting neck-deep in waters where aggressive bull sharks hunt. (Pictures)

Once the food is piled on the beach, aid workers organise its storage and transport through roadblocks manned by hungry gunmen, their teeth rotten and eyes bloodshot from chewing the mildly narcotic plant called qat. In the chaos of Somalia, the ragged gunmen can be freelance bandits, members of a clan-based militia or even work for the government. The cost of moving a truck through roadblocks along the 39km from Mogadishu to the refuge town of Afgoye has
shot up to $475, and there have been 15 incidents of looting from WFP convoys this year. (Full Post)

For updated humanitarian news, check The Other World News.

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News: The 2007 Funniest News Stories

Okay, on a happier note then... Here are the world's funniest and strangest stories of 2007 according to AFP. A selection:

  • The CNN TV network had to apologise to US presidential hopeful Barack Obama after it confused his surname with the first name of the world's best-known terrorism suspect. A sequence on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden carried the caption "Where's Obama?" (full)
  • An Australian bank was embarrassed when it emerged that it had issued a credit card to a cat. The owner of Messiah, a ginger tom, had put in the spoof application to test the bank's security system. (full)
  • A 100-year-old woman in Germany moved out of her retirement home after six weeks saying she found the other residents not only boring but also "too old". She returned home to her cat.
  • Switzerland's army inadvertently invaded the tiny neighbouring state of Liechtenstein. A unit on manoeuvres got lost at dead of night, officials said. (Full)
  • The Norwegian government abolished a regulation that had allowed strip-clubs to claim exemption from sales tax on the grounds that their performances were an art form. (Full)
  • A British man claimed the dubious distinction of making the first ever mobile phone call from the summit of Mount Everest. "It's cold" were his first words. (Full)
  • Fishery officials in China restocked a river with 13 truckloads of live carp, only to realise that thousands of residents from a nearby city had immediately swarmed to the banks a short way downstream and caught most of them. (Full)
  • Transport officials in Australia try to discourage men from driving too fast with a series of TV ads featuring attractive woman suggesting that speeding males were trying to compensate for inadequate virility.
  • A town in South Korea which spent some 140 million dollars to build its own airport was then forced to admit that no airlines actually wanted to fly there.
  • The Chinese capital Beijing began a campaign to improve its signposting in English ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. Among signs in need of correcting were ones for "Pubic Toilets," and "Deformed Men" -- the latter indicating facilities for the handicapped.
  • A US man who ordered flowers for his mistress sued the florists after they sent a note to his home thanking him for his order -- thereby informing his wife of his infidelity.
  • An African medicine man dived into a river in Tanzania after promising his fellow villagers that he would bring back revelations from ancestral spirits lurking underwater. He drowned.
  • A child maths prodigy who started university in Hong Kong at age nine, said he found the courses too easy, and rather boring.
  • A Belgian prankster reacted to a prolonged political crisis in his native land by putting the entire country up for sale on the Internet auction site eBay. The company halted the bidding.
  • Dutch anglers were up in arms against immigrant workers from Poland, who also enjoy fishing in the many local lakes. The problem being that the Poles actually eat the fish they catch, whereas the Dutch believe in simply putting them back in the water.
  • A posh food store in New York was embarrassed after an employee, who was clearly not Jewish, stuck a "Delicious for Hanukkah" sign on hams. Jews, for whom Hanukkah is a religious holiday, do not eat pork.
Hillbilly Dogs.. Nope, these are not my dogs... just found this on the net, and thought it was funny enough to share with you. Merry Xmas!

Stories courtesy AFP. Post found thanks to Digg. Picture courtesy ...

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News: The Most Under-reported Stories of 2007

A father waits with his son to receive health care at an MSF clinic in Myanmar

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors without Borders) just published the Top Ten Under-reported humanitarian stories of the year 2007:

  • Displaced fleeing war in Somalia face a humanitarian crisis
  • Political and economic turmoil sparks health-care crisis in Zimbabwe
  • Drug-resistant Tuberculosis spreads as new drugs go untested
  • Expanded use of nutrient dense ready-to-use foods crucial for reducing childhood malnutrition
  • Civilians increasingly under fire in the Sri Lanka conflict
  • Conditions worsen in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Living precariously in Colombia’s conflict zones
  • Humanitarian aid restricted in Myanmar
  • Civilians caught between armed groups in the Central African Republic
  • As Chechen conflict ebbs, critical humanitarian needs still remain
The ten stories also come in pictures. Why not check also the 2006 top under-reported stories.

Picture courtesy Claude Mahoudeau/MSF.
For updated humanitarian news, check The Other World News.

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News: Unicef Pictures of the Year

Happy Birthday in Manila

Unicef published the pictures of the year, snapshots of children around the world. This picture shows a girl on her birthday, living near a waste dump in Manila (Philippines).

Picture courtesy Hartmut Schwarzbach. Thanks to E. for the link.
For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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News: Belgium Frees Al-Qaeda Suspects in 24 hrs

Belgian security stepped up in public placesFourteen people arrested in Belgium on suspicion of plotting to free a convicted Al-Qaeda member from jail have been released without charge. The suspects were released for lack of evidence after 24 hours in custody. They were suspected of plotting to free Tunisian national Nizar Trabelsi, jailed in Belgium in 2003 for planning to attack US targets.
Unlike some other European countries, Belgium does not have anti-terrorist laws which allow suspects to be held for longer than 24 hours. (Full post)

24 hours of detention only? Hmmm, a sharp contrast with Guantanamo Bay?

Picture courtesy BBC News

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Rumble: Back Home

A view from the bed room window this morningA close-up from our gardenI am back home in Belgium for Christmas. A sharp contrast with the Darfur video. How fortunate am I !

PS: The same day I arrive home, an interim Belgian federal government is formed, after six months of post-elections deadlock. Coincidence? (Full News Post)

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News: Darfur. Do We Still Care?

How many more movies and documentaries are to be shown before the world has the courage to change anything about the situation in Darfur? This video shows why we should care!

For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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News: Darfur Rebels Threaten to Attack Capital

Darfur rebelToday Darfur rebels threatened to attack West Darfur's state capital El-Geneina and told aid workers to stay in their compounds and away from government military bases. (Full Post)

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin
For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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Rumble: Flooding in Mexico

In October, the Tabasco region in Mexico suffered from heavy rains. The soil was already saturated from earlier tropical storms, and could no longer absorb the rain. It caused major flooding and mud slides. Here are some pictures we received earlier from the region.

Pictures by Elisabeth Sagastume (with thanks to Carlos Melendez)
For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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News: Turkey Attacks North Iraq

A villager looks through a rubble at the Qlatooka village near Iraq's border with Turkey on Sunday Dec 16 2007Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel targets as deep as 60 miles inside northern Iraq for three hours Sunday. Turkey's military chief said the U.S. gave intelligence and tacit approval for the raid.
An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman. The rebels said two civilians and five rebels were killed.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq refused to comment Monday on the Turkish general's assertion that American officials had given Turkey permission to enter Iraq's air space. (Full item)

Eh? And I thought Iraq was a sovereign country?! Did the Iraqi government have no say in this? The US "gives permission" to bomb villages on the territory of another state.. On basis of what authority?

Picture courtesy AP

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News: Colleague Died in Algiers Bombing.

Gene Luna on the left. Picture taken in AfghanistanOne of the two Algiers bomb attacks three days ago completely destroyed the third floor of the UN building. The floor of our offices. Most of the staff members were outside the office on a training course and therefore escaped the attack.

Amongst the 11 UN staff members that died, we lost one colleague Gene Luna (Left in the picture). Gene (48) joined our organisation in 2002. She worked in Kandahar, Afghanistan first and transferred as finance officer to the Algeria office barely a week ago.

At the time of her death, Luna, was part of our program assisting the food needs of thousands of refugees displaced by the 1975 conflict in Western Sahara.

There are still 5 UN staff members missing. (News post)

So far this year, 36 humanitarian workers serving WFP have been killed, injured or detained.

Picture courtesy WFP

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News: UN Staff Killed in Algiers Bomb Attacks

UNDP building in Algiers flattened by suicide bomber At least 62 people have been killed and scores more have been injured in two explosions in Algeria's capital today.

One explosion rocked an area near the constitutional court in Algiers, while another blast occurred near a United Nations building in the district of Hydra. Witnesses said that the explosion near the constitutional court also hit a school bus.

Yazid Zerhouni (Algeria's interior minister) said car bombs, at least one of which was set off by a suicide bomber, were behind the blasts. (Full news item)

Latest (unconfirmed) reports state ten UN staff were among the dead. This is - once more - a sad day for all of us.

Picture courtesy AFP

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Rumble: Food Aid to Somalia

Millions of people have been affected by the recent conflicts in Somalia. Food aid -and relief aid in general- has been hampered by many operational challenges (see also earlier posts). On several occasions, vessels carrying aid were attacked or hijacked by pirates off the coast (earlier BBC report).
As of November, aid vessels are escorted by French war ships. Reaching Somalia is one challenge. Offloading is another, as there are often no ports or ports are not usable. The vessels carrying relief items have to anchor a mile off the coast and transfer their relief cargo onto smaller boats. These are then offloaded by labourers and stacked on the beach. Another crew loads the food onto trucks which transport everything to secure warehouses, before the goods are distributed to the effected population. Not once, but every day.... (Full AP News story)

An example of the logistic challenge we are facing in the field. Here are some pictures we received recently. (Full set)

Pictures courtesy WFP
For updated humanitarian news, check out The Other World News

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