Rumble: The Water Crisis: Every Last Drop Counts


In the 12th century, Sri Lanka’s king Parakramabahu said: "not a single drop of water received from rain should be allowed to escape into the sea without being utilized for human benefit."

Thanks largely to unsafe drinking water, more than 2 million children die of diarrhea each year. Six hundred million subsistence farmers lack irrigation water and are mired in poverty. Wetlands have been decimated in Europe, North America, and Asia, and fish populations are collapsing. Drought caused a more than 50 percent drop in Australia’s wheat production in 2007 and sparked a ten-year peak in global wheat prices.

Every year roughly 100,000 cubic kilometers of rain fall on earth—some 15,000 cubic meters per person per annum. The total amount of water that evaporates also is more or less constant. Population, however, is not constant. It has doubled in the last fifty years, resulting in a 50 percent decline in water availability per person.

As people accept that climate change is real and here to stay, they are likely to realize that while reducing greenhouse gas emissions is all about energy, adapting to climate change will be all about water.

This article presents a holistic view on the importance of water management. It makes me think: In the whole discussion about the global food crisis, did we forget the global water crisis?

Thanks to my Friend E. for the link.

More posts on the Road about water management, pollution and the environment.

Picture courtesy

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Rumble: Flying again.

Breakfast at the airportAs the sliding doors of Rome's Fiumicino airport opened this morning, the smell of coffee and croissants welcomed me. Above the background noise of hundreds of people talking, the clickclacking of hand luggage and an occasional burst of laughter, sounded the high pitched noise of cups and spoons being put on saucers. The sound of Italian breakfast: cornetto and cappuccino. Feels like coming home. Is this weird or what? Arriving at an airport at 6:30, and feeling at home? Am I travelling to much? Lemme see: from three weeks ago: Rome-Brussels-Rome-Parma-Rome-Addis Abeba-Rome-and now Brindisi. Could be worse.

With a comfort of cornetto and cappuccino, who cares Windows on the departure screen crashed again?

Windows crash Fiumicino airport

Oh, and no sign of striking Alitalia crew members...

More posts on The Road about Rome

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Rumble: If one flight were one dot, how would all flights look like on a worldmap?

When flying back from Ethiopia last Friday, we crossed paths with two airplanes, in a span of a minute. I have never seen planes cross that close. We must have flown over the other planes by just a few hundred meters. One was that close, I could almost see the pilots in the cockpit of the other plane. It made me think about the amount of planes in the air at any given minute.

Well, I looked it up: As I am writing this (Sunday afternoon in EU, morning in the US), Flightaware was tracking 3,146 airborne aircraft, and registered 34,130 arrivals in the last 24 hours. And that is in the US only.

How would that look like on worldmap? Well, Christo's Blog posted this video simulating all the flights in the world, within a 24 hour period - you can see the sun moving across the globe. You can also download a 19 Mbyte high resolution .mov version.

This video is a project from the Zurich School of engineering. They also publish another experiment, showing live air traffic above Switzerland. It takes a while to load, so be patient, it is worth it! You can click on any plane you see to get the flight and plane details..

It all relativates air travel, no?

More posts on The Road about flying

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News: Can Bill Gates help Africa feed itself?

Local farmer in Sierra Leone

The injection of western food aid into poor countries is often criticized to be unfair competition for small farmers in those countries the international community is actually trying to help. The global food crisis rocketing the prices of basic food commodities, once again showed that the poorest in the world suffered the most, despite decades long efforts to eradicate hunger from the world.

Last week Bill Gates and Howard Buffett (Warren's oldest son) announced their private foundations will plow more than $75 million into helping small farmers in Africa and Latin America to sell their crops as food aid — a move which could potentially overhaul the decades-old global food aid system.

Under a five-year pilot project called Purchase for Progress, the foundations will help 350,000 small farmers in 21 countries, most of them in Africa, to grow food for the U.N.'s World Food Programme, the biggest food aid distributor in Africa. Rather than simply buying the farmers' crops outright, much of the money will go to teaching better farming methods, and to helping them store their crops in warehouses, plant higher-yield seeds, and transport their produce to customers.

With WFP as a guaranteed client, many poor farmers will be eligible for credit with which to buy seeds and fertilizer, and perhaps employ people to help harvest the crops. (Full)

More posts on The Road about poverty

Picture courtesy J.Hartley (WFP)

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Rumble: In the train, this time in Italy.

Italy by train

Last weekend, I travelled by train from Rome to Parma. By now, you should know I love to travel, even if it was for the sake of travelling. Just as the weekend before last when I took just a short train ride from home to Brussels airport, I could not but gaze at the scenery.

Travelling, scenery and a good book. What more can a person wish for?

Oh, and the book was about travelling too, travelling by train, actually:
That train was the one piece of life in all the deadly land; it was the one actor, the one spectacle fit to be observed in this paralysis of man and nature. And when I think now how the railroad was pushed through this unwatered wilderness and haunt of savage tribes…

R.L.Stevenson, The Amateur Emigrant.

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News: In My Name: celebrities team up against poverty

In 2000, the United Nations agreed to a set of ambitious goals for cutting poverty and disease, and improving health care and education for the world's poor by 2015. But now, halfway through the time period, those Millennium Development Goals have not been met by far.

YouTube has teamed up with, and non-governmental organizations GCAP, Oxfam International, Save the Children and Comic Relief to help spread the message that poverty around the world needs to be eradicated.

YouTube launched a new channel on its site where users can upload a video stating their name, home country, and a message to their government about the need to meet the poverty goals. (Full)

More posts on The Road about poverty

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Rumble: Back from Addis

A view from the officeWhile I work for an aid organisation, the past years I was based in Dubai and Rome. Made me quite fortunate compared those based “in the field”, in the places where we do the actual work. Quite challenging also, as it is difficult to stay in tune with the real work we do, the work that matters.

It has been a while since “I have been to the field”. Sure enough, I spent a total of probably 3-4 months in Brindisi, our emergency depot in South Italy, but one can hardly call that “the field”.

Back in 2006 I went on missions to Khartoum (Sudan) and Kinshasa (DRC). Some people would rightfully argue this is “not the real field”. Enrico wrote an interesting story about “what is the real field”. But still, it was good to get my feet wet for a few days in Addis Abeba, this week. It was nice to feel the real buzz of the operations, certainly in one as active as the Ethiopia programme.

It was also a good reality check of our life back in Europe. The small annoyances that make a difference. The confusion of the pickup when I arrived, having a hotel room with mildew all over the wall, the problems paying with credit cards (“Sorry sir, but it is raining, the telephone line does not work”), the erratic mobile phone coverage, toilets without toilet paper, limited Internet connectivity (I have better and faster connectivity at home than the whole office has),... All very small inconveniences...

The new Addis airportOn the positive side, I had not been in Addis since 1999 and was pleasantly surprised to see the big changes in the city. The new airport building, all of the construction and business which started since then, the major upgrade they have done on the economy…

It also reminded me what a wrong concept people often have of Africa: the images of the heat, the drought, the savannah or jungle... At least that is what I had in mind when I came to Africa for the first time: Angola in 1994. How I thought to work in the bush villages, by campfire, looking at the stars, hearing the lions roar in the background.
Instead, then, I was housed in a small apartment in Luanda, with the only noise I could hear at night was the machine gun fire and exchange of rocket propelled grenades as the civil war raged on in the street.
Instead, now, I was in the middle of town, and it was cold, gloomy and rainy.

At least that, we did not have here in Addis. Streets were safe and the only risk you run, is getting hit by a car...

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Rumble: Ten random things I hate about travelling.


In many posts on The Road, you will see I am an addicted traveller. I love travelling, even for the sake of travelling. But there are things I hate about travelling. Last night's flight (leaving 01:00 AM) from Rome to Addis on Ethiopian Airlines reminded me of them.

Ten things I hate about travelling:

1. Have to check in two hours before departure, only to have to wait and wait.

2. Red-eye flights: leave tired, arrive tired.

3. Flight attendants who wake you up each time they pass by with (make your choice) a hot tower (which stinks anyway), the menu, drinks, food, newspapers, a hot towel (again), immigration leaflet, a headset.

4. Non-reclining seats. (Where the hell was the time where Ethiopian Airlines were the best in Africa? This plane sucked. Dirty floor cover, dirty seats, most of the seat covers half dismantled...)

5. Seats which have little or no legspace.

6. "I am sorry, we have run out of headsets"

7. Having to sit around an airport after midnight with all shops, restaurants and pubs closed. And to top it off, with the wireless Internet connection failing after you only used 10 minutes of your 120 minutes subscription you just paid online.

8. Stepping onto a plane, stopping over, with passengers picked up from the previous airport. Getting in the air smelling of 300 people stuck in a confined area for three hours.

9. Sitting by the plane's emergency exit, which is that cold and draft-y, you think your hair is going to freeze against the wall as your head leans over while falling asleep.

10. Being happy you get through customs and immigration in a whizz (only handluggage, yuuuhuuu!), but then having to wait for 90 minutes for your airport pick-up. Only to find out that a. your hotel courtesy van claims to have been there all the time, b. the office driver thought it was tomorrow, c. another office driver had left one minute before you arrived.

11. Ok, here is an 11th: Checking into the hotel to freshen up after an overnight flight. Just as you are getting undress, the office calls and the reception guy knocks on your door stating "we will move you to another room, as we realized the toilet in this one is not flushing".
They move you from a 15 m2 room with huge windows and a wonderful view, into a 5 m2 room with a 0.2m2 window, with mold on the walls. And while moving you, the porter did not notice your bag was already unzipped (no matter how many times you say: "don't worry, I will take care of that"), and spreads your underwear, electronic gadgets, toiletry all over the corridor.

Dah. I guess it all starts with a 01:00 AM flight. It just puts me in a bad mood.

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News: Bombing of the Islamabad Marriott hotel

Islamabad Marriott bombing

A massive bomb blast has hit the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, killing at least 40 people. The explosion occurred when a lorry, which was being checked by security staff and sniffer dogs blew up at the hotel's entrance.
The explosion - a suspected suicide bombing - is thought to have been caused by more than a tonne of explosives.
Pakistan authorities say 53 people died and 266 were wounded. (Full)

The attack sends a chill down my spine. When I lived in Islamabad, we used to go to the Marriott at least once per month. The hotel is featured in this shortstory.

The attack also comes just a few weeks after I wrote a post to watch the developments in Pakistan at at a time where the government is trying to find the right balance between its alliance to the US, and the grip the Taliban has in the Northern Territories...

More posts on the Road about Pakistan

Picture courtesy AFP.

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Rumble: Stock Market Disaster Prompts Massive Humanitarian Effort

Money, Money, Money...EAST HAMPTONS, NEW YORK- A drop in the Dow Jones Industrials index this week of more than 800 points as well as the failures of half a dozen major financial institutions have left tens of thousands of Wall Street brokers and high powered investment bankers bereft of liquid assets and without hope. We've all seen the incredibly moving footage on the evening news, the throng of gaunt, lifeless figures in smoking jackets and evening gowns wandering the streets of their high powered bedroom communities in search of food and shelter.

Amid the chaos of this growing humanitarian crisis, President Bush has bravely taken the lead and, through the coordinated efforts of several federal agencies, sought to bring relief to these weary, bejeweled souls.

"I know we took a lot of heat for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina," said Bush, "and I really don't want to repeat that mistake."

Aid helicopters hovered over the Hamptons beach club on Wednesday morning, air-dropping crates of supplies including canteens of single malt scotch, cigars, and MRE's filled sandwiches topped with Grey Poupon. At first the thirsty and famished residents were quite receptive, but the crowd turned ugly when it became clear that the cigars were of not of Cuban origin.

"This is so humiliating," said Hamptons resident Thurston Howell, trying without luck to light his generic cigar with a lowly five dollar bill. "Plus, this whiskey can't be more than five years old. How dare they!"

As the dusk approached, FEMA officials recognized that the relief effort had reached a critical point. If they did not act before night fell, some feared that there might be nothing left when the sun rose the next day. With that in mind, Chertoff and others made a last-minute decision to drop a second shipment of emergency supplies in the hardest hit portions of the Hamptons, this one a bit more practical: premium bottled water and bales of hundred dollar bills.

The exhausted and dehydrated Wall Street evacuees received the relief packages with great enthusiasm, especially the cash. News cameras perched on helicopters overhead captured footage of the gleeful residents rubbing the bills together lovingly, tucking them into their clothing, and using them to making a small bonfire on the beach.

"I guess George Bush really does care about rich white people after all," said Howell, his eyes dewey and moist. "President Bush cares for all Americans, everyone from the obscenely wealthy down to the very very rich."

This satire was respectfully ripped from Ridiculopathy, with thanks.

Picture courtesy

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Rumble: I come from...

Sunset in Italy

I come from no country, from no city, from no tribe.
I am the son of the road,
my country is the caravan,
my life is the most unexpected of voyages.

From Leo the African, by Amin Maalouf

Picture taken in Orbetello (Italy, 2008)

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News: Before and after Hurricane Ike


Before Hurricane Ike


After Hurricane Ike

After Hurricane Ike

Warren and Pam Adams lost a house to Hurricane Rita in 2005, so it seems they'd be relieved to learn their new home withstood Hurricane Ike. But not when their house is the only one still standing in their section of Gilchrist, Texas.

Ike's storm surge last week devastated the Bolivar Peninsula town, flattening most of the roughly 200 homes there. The couple's yellow house at the beach -- supported 14 feet off the ground by wooden columns -- was the only house on Gilchrist's Gulf Coast side not to be flattened. (Full)

Pictures courtesy Ray Asgar, Judy Hudspeth (CNN)

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News: How Financial Madness Overtook Wall Street

Wallstreet Crash

Even Time magazine got emotional about it:

Every day brings another financial horror show, as if Stephen King were channeling Alan Greenspan to produce scary stories full of negative numbers. One weekend, the Federal Government swallows two gigantic mortgage companies and dumps more than $5 trillion — yes, with a t — of the firms' debt onto taxpayers, nearly doubling the amount Uncle Sam owes to his lenders. While we're trying to get our heads around what amounts to the biggest debt transfer since money was created, Lehman Brothers goes broke, and Merrill Lynch feels compelled to shack up with Bank of America to avoid a similar fate. Then, having sworn off bailouts by letting Lehman fail and wiping out its shareholders, the Treasury and the Fed reverse course for an $85 billion rescue of creditors and policyholders of American International Group (AIG), a $1 trillion insurance company. Other once impregnable institutions may disappear or be gobbled up.

If you're having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world's financial system, you needn't feel bad about yourself. It's horribly confusing, not to say terrifying; even people like us, with a combined 65 years of writing about business, have never seen anything like what's going on. Some of the smartest, savviest people we know — like the folks running the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board — find themselves reacting to problems rather than getting ahead of them. It's terra incognita, a place no one expected to visit.

If you can't trust your money fund, what can you trust? To use a technical term to describe this turmoil: yechhh! (Full)

[Ed: I have another title for this article: "How Greed Overtook Reason, and Dragged the World Economy Down With It." How come the major financial scandals and horror stories come from the US in the past years?]

Picture courtesy Gluekit (Getty Images)

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News: Storm leaves * * * on the brink of a 'food crisis'

I have a Google News feed I monitor for key words. One of the key words is "food crisis". Most of the news feeds are about hunger in developing countries. I just came across a news article, titled "Storm leaves [name deleted] on the brink of a food crisis.

If I take pieces of the article, but delete the names, one would think it is about a place in Africa or Asia...

The city is on the brink of a "food crisis" as a result of Sunday's windstorm, said [deleted].

"We have a stressed hunger-relief network because demand is up 20 percent over last year. We are facing a hunger crisis in our community."

At the Catholic Social Services food pantry, [deleted], marketing and development director [deleted] said the individuals being hit hardest by the food crunch are children.

"Most folks we see have children," [deleted] said. "If you look at the number of people in the household, well over 65 percent of the food goes to children in this community.

Outside the pantry, [deleted] residents Dorothy, 19, and Kenny, 20, said they are staying with friends after losing power to their home on Sunday. They estimate they've lost $200 worth of food, and the couple came to the food pantry to replenish groceries.

"It's hard to eat. We have no food.", she said.

Now I ask you: Where would this article be about? Haiti, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Madagascar?

No, the article was about Dayton Ohio, USA. The full article, you find here. Puts things into perspective. Hunger and poverty is universal. And that is a sad thing.

Picture courtesy Peter Wine (Dayton Daily News)

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News: Billions 'wasted' by aid system.

ramin rafirasme WFP

Billions of dollars will be wasted unless there is a radical overhaul of the system of giving aid, a report from Care International warns. It states too much money is being spent on short-term fixes during emergencies, rather than on longer-term prevention work.

"It is much more cost effective to support people who are on the brink of a disaster, rather than "fire-fighting when you have to manage an emergency response. If we take the example of Niger, in west Africa. In 2005, it was costing about $80 (£44) to save a malnourished child at the height of the crisis," Care said, adding we should: "admit that business-as-usual hasn't worked, and agree to change mind-sets, and really change the way that everyone works". (Full)

More on The Road about development.

Picture courtesy Ramin Rafirasme/WFP

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News: Drop of Western influence at the UN: Good or Evil?

Today, The Guardian headlined an article titled "Haemorrhaging of western influence at UN wrecks attempts to push human rights agenda". Some extracts:

UN logoThe west's efforts to use the United Nations to promote its values and shape the global agenda are failing, according to a detailed study published yesterday.

A sea change in the balance of power in favour of China, India, Russia and other emerging states is wrecking European and US efforts to entrench human rights, liberties and multilateralism. Western policies in crisis regions as diverse as Georgia, Zimbabwe, Burma or the Balkans are suffering serial defeats in what the study identifies as a protracted trend.

The haemorrhaging of western power, as reflected in longer-term voting patterns in key UN bodies, is mirrored by the increasing clout of China, Russia and the Islamic world, according to an audit of European influence at the UN by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"The EU is suffering a slow-motion crisis at the UN," says the report, noting that the west is now being regularly outwitted in global diplomatic poker by the Chinese and Russians. "The problem is fading power to set the rules. The UN is increasingly being shaped by China, Russia and their allies ... The west is in disarray. The EU's rifts with the US on many human rights issues at the UN in the Bush era have weakened both."

US and European failure to win the day at the UN security council in recent votes on Zimbabwe and Burma as well as defeats last year on Kosovo or Darfur and the constant struggle to muster support for global action against Iran because of its nuclear ambitions are traced as part of a broader decline over the past decade.

Using a programme designed to analyse voting patterns and statistics, the thinktank found that European policies on human rights enjoyed the support of 72% of UN members a decade ago but only 48% by last year, while the US suffered a steeper collapse from 77% to 30%.

Now I ask you: Is this perceived drop of influence from the West caused by the human rights issues being based too much on traditional 'West values'? The fact the UN fails to rally sufficient support to take appropriate action in Darfur, is one thing, but the article also quotes the drop of support for the independence in Kosovo, failure to condemn the Russian reaction in Georgia, the build-up of Iran's nuclear power... These issues are controversial, to say the least.

Are "our" Western views the right ones? Is it not a good thing the Western powers are being balanced by other 'new power kids on the block'? Is the UN nowadays less balanced than before, or is it more balanced and more truly representing the different nations of the world?

More articles on The Road about the UN

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Rumble: Microsoft again.


After my issues with Internet Explorer, I am starting to discover "The World Beyond Microsoft"!

Test of the day: Downloading the home page of "The Road":
  • Microsoft Exporer 8: 20 to 31 seconds (and seems to hang halfway)
  • Google Chrome 0.2: 10 to 15 seconds
  • Mozilla Firefox 3: 12 seconds
The latter two come for free. Go figure.

Check here for a more indepth comparison of the different Internet browsers.

Graph courtesy Chris Blattman's blog

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News: Vatican states Darwin’s theory compatible with Bible. No apology, though.

Vatican finally recognizes Darwin was right

Today, the Vatican said the theory of evolution is compatible with the Bible but planned no posthumous apology to Charles Darwin for the cold reception they gave him 150 years ago.

Christian churches were long hostile to Darwin because his theory conflicted with the literal biblical account of creation. Earlier this week a leading Anglican churchman said the Church of England owed Darwin an apology for the way his ideas were received by Anglicans in Britain. The Vatican has no intention of apologising for earlier negative views, though.

"Maybe we should abandon the idea of issuing apologies as if history was a court eternally in session," the Vatican's culture minister said. (Full)

[Ed: Maybe history should be a court eternally in session. Maybe then we could indite some of the past popes for crimes against humanity, no?...]

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News: Desmond Tutu: "Israel raid could be war crime"

Beit Hanoun shelling

A report to the UN Human Rights Council on Israel's shelling of Beit Hanoun in Gaza almost two years ago says it may have been a war crime. The report compiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu casts doubt on Israel's explanation that the shelling resulted from a flawed artillery firing system. It calls on Israel to pay compensation to the victims, 19 of whom were killed.

The Israeli military, which was at the time trying to prevent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, says its own inquiry shows the shelling of Beit Hanoun was caused by technical errors, but Archbishop Tutu's report is sceptical.Mr Tutu says there is evidence of a disproportionate and reckless disregard for Palestinian civilian life, contrary to international humanitarian law, which raises concerns that a war crime may have been committed.

"In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military - who is in sole possession of the relevant facts - the mission must conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime," his report to the UN Human Rights Council said.

The report calls for an independent investigation into the shelling. (Full)

More posts on The Road about Palestine.

Picture courtesy BBC/Getty Images

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News: Climate change: the struggle of the poorest

carbon emission per country

The real climate change victims share two characteristics. They are too poor to defend themselves by expensive flood controls or sophisticated public-health programmes. And (unlike China or Brazil) the poor countries' own carbon footprints are tiny. Kirk Smith, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, calls climate change the world’s biggest regressive tax: the poorest pay for the behaviour of the rich.

When industrial polluters in emerging markets cut emissions, they are rewarded through Kyoto. But the poorest are not rewarded for the big contribution they could make towards reducing emissions, which is the better management of tropical forests. That is because forests were excluded from Kyoto, to the chagrin of the poor. (Full)

More posts on The Road about the environment and global warming

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Rumble: The first signs of fall

I left Rome on Friday evening. It was 37°C. I came back last night and it was 16°C. People tell me it rained cats and dogs over the weekend. Would summer be over?
Two weeks ago, on Sunday August 31, I wrote a piece about the first signs of fall. Now would be a good time to post it.

Lasts days of summer in Fregene

The First Signs of Fall.

I made up my mind this morning: I am going to the beach. I live 200 metres from the edge of the Mediterranean, and can hear it, smell it and feel it through the bedroom window in the morning. But I don't often go to the beach in the summer. It is crowded. Italians flock to the beaches in the summer, seemingly enjoying huddling as closely together as possible, occupying every possible grain of sand. They don't seem to mind to queue up in the traffic jams together with thousands of like-minded, escaping Rome in the weekend. No matter they have to snail up from the toll booth as they leave the highway, all the way to their favourite beach spot on the Lungo de Mare. Only to end up on a crowded beach with crowded restaurants. And to queue up all the way back to Rome in the evening. This to say: it is crowded. And I hate crowds.

But I love the sea, the beach, the endlessness as I watch the sailboats slide over the horizon line. So today, I made up my mind: I am going to the beach! My feet did not touch the sand since the girls were here several weeks ago. It was peak summer then. With hot days and humid nights. The days are still hot now, but the nights are cooler. The beaches are still crowded as if it were peak summer. And yet it is not. I know it will be two, three weeks more before it will all be history.

Alicia, the girl behind the bar at the 'stabilimento', the beach club, reminds me of the ending of summer, as she greets me in French - she knows me from the past weeks when we came here with the girls-: "Hey, how are you? This is my last day, here today!".
I remember she had mentioned to only work here during the summer, and thought of moving to Paris in fall.
"Hey, Alicia, are you still going to try your luck in France?"
"No, I will be working in a kindergarten in Rome as of next week!", she smiles.

As I walk to the restaurant, Karim, the Tunisian waiter, passes by and stops for a chat.
"Alone today, sir?", he asks, remembering the girls were with me last time. "Where would you like to sit?". He looks around and smiles, pointing his chin to a young lady sitting at a table by herself. "Next to some pretty company?".
"Rather not! Alone and love to be alone!", I joke back.
"Last day for me!", he says, as he prepares a table for me in the corner.
"And where next?", I ask.
"Ah, going to see my mum in Tunis for a month, and afterwards, I want to try my luck in the North of Italy, where the ski resorts will open up for the winter soon. We'll see. I am flexible."

All signs that, even though it is over 30°C, winter is just around the corner. A few more weeks and Singita, my favourite beach bar, will close up, packing up its wooden bar-bungalow in tarpaulins. A few more weeks, and the beach boys-slash-life guards will no longer unpack the lettini, the beach chairs, in the morning. Nor will the men with tractors drive the pallets of chairs to their night-shelter in the evening. Everything will close down for the winter, leaving the beaches clear to be littered with storm debris: tree branches, broken buoys and pieces of rope and nets, rather than the plastic water bottles and tubes of sun screen the summer guests leave behind in the summer.

Just a few more weeks. Everyone knows, and everyone lives through it, still enjoying the last bits of warmth, the last bits of summer. As I doze off in the sun, with the salty wind brushing my hair, I wonder if this is how it must feel to get old. Enjoying the last remains of the good life, knowing the cold is near. And in one's imagination, still hearing the laughter your children, like little drops of joy. And the nearness of your wife, bronzed, smiling at you with her bright blue eyes, in the beach chair next to you. All knowing that it is far in the past, even though it seems only hours have gone by since they were right there.

Just as this summer was long awaited, and hoped to last forever, a youngster hopes for his adult years. And just like this summer seemed to have lasted only for minutes, so must life be. Would in the end, one think: "Hey, this only lasted only for minutes, this life?". At least I have one thing I am happy for: I enjoyed those minutes of life. I enjoyed my moments in the warmth of summer.

feet in the water

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News: UN Peacekeepers - sexual misconduct scandals continue...

UN Peacekeepers in DRCAlthough a group of Indian peacekeeping soldiers accused of sexual abuse in eastern Congo have returned home, allegations of misconduct continue to surround the battalion.

The United Nations confirmed last month that an internal investigation had uncovered credible evidence that members of an Indian unit stationed in North Kivu province “may have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse”.

A UN source said around 100 peacekeepers from India allegedly used children both to work for them and to hire Congolese girls for sex, using the children as domestic servants and to pimp for prostitutes, some as young as 12 or 13 years old.

Peacekeepers are strictly forbidden to socialise with local people, but Mapendo Polepole, a 28-year-old prostitute from Goma, who heads an organisation of women living with AIDS, testified Indian soldiers from the camp in central Goma are regular customers.

“They have sexual intercourse with us, without condoms, in their jeeps, during a patrol and in their camps,” she said, adding that the soldiers pay 20 US dollars for her services rather than the going rate of two dollars. (Full)

More posts on The Road about UN Peace Keepers

Source: International Aid Workers Today
Picture courtesy: AP Photo / Sayyid Azim

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Rumble: The every-day traveller...

Peter on the train today

Peter on the train todayI was home, in Belgium, this weekend. Taking the train back to Brussels airport, I was surprised how green everything still was. And how beautiful it looked.

The fields were much smaller and looked more cramped next to the other, compared to what I am used to in my second home, in Italy. But its beauty still amazed me. And it took me by surprise that I was amazed. After all, I have seen this scenery since 47 (soon!) years. I have taken this train to Brussels Airport for 15 years. And still...

It made me think about travelling... Travelling is a state of mind. In finding joy in little details. Even if you see them every day. Travelling is being amazed by these small joys. Travelling is standing still to look at a detail, no matter how common, and to look at it as if it was the first time.

I took some random pictures as the train was passing through scenery. (Surely wished my Nokia mobile phone featured a better camera!)

Belgium in fall - click for slide show

(click on the collage to view the slideshow)

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News: E-waste or Your Laptop's Dirty Little Secret

Coal, steel, oil — we think of these old-economy industries, and we picture pollution. Smoggy skies, fouled rivers, toxic waste. As we make the transition to a new economy, we imagine that industrial pollution will become a thing of the past. Mobile phones, laptops, MP3 players — they conjure images of spotless semiconductor factories and the eternal summer of Silicon Valley where the digital economy was born.

But the tech industry has a dirty little secret: it has toxic waste of its own. Phones and computers contain dangerous metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, which can contaminate the air and water when those products are dumped. It's called electronic waste, or e-waste, and the world produces a lot of it: 20 to 50 million tons a year, according to the UN — enough to load a train that would stretch around the world. Most of the e-waste ends up in developing nations like China, India and Nigeria, to which rich countries have been shipping garbage for years. There the poor, often including children, dismantle dumped PCs and phones, stripping the components for the valuable — and toxic — metals contained inside. In the cities like the southern Chinese town of Guiyu, they work with little protection, melting down components and breathing in poisonous fumes. (Full)

More posts on The Road about the environment.

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News: Fidel Castro wins humanitarian award

Fidel CastroSouth Africa gave its 2008 humanitarian award to former Cuban president Fidel Castro for his contributions to "humankind beyond boundaries."

Castro, who turned 82 Wednesday, becomes the first non-African and the third ex-head of state to win the "Ubuntu" award. Castro won the award "for the role he played in the Cuban revolution and worldwide contribution to the struggle for an alternative, just and humane society." (Full)

Picture courtesy AFP

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Picture of the day: A one hundred billion dollar bill

Zimbabwe one hundred billion dollar bill

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of inflation and just one in five has an official job.

Esther (a pseudonym) wrote on the BBC site, in August: "At midnight, my bank stripped me of my trillionaire status - the Z$5 trillion sitting in my account became Z$500."
The Central bank had stripped a string of ten zero's from the currency.

So no more talk of trillionaires, quandrillionaires and quintillionaires. "At least, not for another six months or so", writes Esther. (Full)

More posts on The Road about Zimbabwe.
More Pictures of the day.

Picture courtesy BBC.

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Rumble: Who needs Internet Explorer, anyway?

Microsoft hidden options menu

OK, OK, I am not impartial. After my computer failed to reboot after the Microsoft XP Service Pack 3 upgrade, the guys from the ICT helpdesk at work had no other choice but to reinstall the whole operating system ("a new image") on my poor laptop.

All my personal data was backed up, so I was cool, but all software settings went back to the defaults. I also had to reinstall the software I had put on it. And of course, there was the usual debugging. Kept me busy on and off for two days.

But the deed is done. Except, I could not get Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 to start up properly. It kept on referring me to this configuration site, which failed to register my settings. So each time I started IE7, it asked to configure itself.

A year ago, I got to learn Firefox (it is for free), and in a short while the newer versions got faster and cleaner... Only a few problems left (some HTML tags don't work properly), but hey...

After installing Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (beta), and seeing there were more problems (default font were bigger screwing up layouts, scrollbox did not show well etc..), I took a drastic and emotional decision: For the first time in all my life, I configured Firefox to be my default browser.

Looking at the statistics of the visitors on The Road, it seems more and more people did the same. A year ago, only 25% of the visitors used Firefox, now over 50% of you preferred Firefox over Internet Explorer.

Now I know why.

Picture courtesy One Man's Blog

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News: Dutch chicken shit to power 90,000 homes.

chicken: a powerhouse?

Dutch agriculture minister Gerda Verburg unveiled the world’s largest biomass power plant to run exclusively on poultry manure. The plant will convert a third of the nation’s chicken waste into energy while running at a capacity of 36.5 megawatts - enough to power 90,000 homes.

The 150 million euro plant will convert roughly 440,000 tons of chicken manure into energy annually, generating more than 270 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. (Full)

More on The Road about waste management, pollution and the environment

Picture courtesy Redjar

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Picture of the day: Hurricane Ike seen from space

Three hurricanes in a row have caused havoc in the Caribbean. A view from space at the awesome size and power of Hurricane Ike.

hurricane ike from space

hurricane ike from space

More Pictures of the day on The Road.

Pictures courtesy yawoot

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Rumble: If pollution statistics were art...

Chris Jordan is a photographer/artist with a strong social message. His work visualizes statistics we read almost every day. Through the medium of intricately detailed prints, assembled from thousands of smaller photographs, he makes political statements. (Full)

Here are two million plastic beverage bottles,
used in the US every five minutes:
waste statistics in pictures

partial zoom:
waste statistics in pictures

actual size:
waste statistics in pictures

60,000 plastic bags used in the US every five seconds:
waste statistics in pictures

partial zoom:
waste statistics in pictures

actual size:
waste statistics in pictures

410,000 paper cups, used in the US every fifteen minutes:
waste statistics in pictures

partial zoom:
waste statistics in pictures

actual size:
waste statistics in pictures

106,000 aluminum cans used in the US every thirty seconds.
waste statistics in pictures

partial zoom:
waste statistics in pictures

actual size:
waste statistics in pictures

More on The Road about waste management, pollution and the environment

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Rumble: Trade liberalization, making the poor even poorer?

haiti rice farmer

Take the case of Haiti:

Rice is the staple food of Haiti and up until the 1980s Haiti was self-sufficient in its production. In the mid-1980s Haiti's domestic rice production decreased rapidly. By the 1990s rice imports outpaced domestic rice production. This displaced many Haitian farmers, traders, and millers whose employment opportunities are extremely limited.

Import tariff reduction is a critical piece of the trade liberalization policies that are strongly advocated and many times mandated by international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the loan packages they negotiate with developing countries. In 1995 Haiti agreed to the pressure of the IMF to cut on rice import tax from 35% to the current level of 3%.

Though it earned Haiti a score of 1 on the IMF's 1999 Index of Trade Restrictiveness, making Haiti the least trade restrictive country in the Caribbean, Haiti has also remained the least developed country in the Caribbean. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Three-fourths of Haitians live on less than $2 a day and 70 percent of the workforce is jobless or underemployed. More than half the country's children don't get enough to eat. The connection?

Following the adoption of the import policies local production of rice in Haiti dropped dramatically. Rice import tariff reductions in Haiti has made it more difficult for local rice producers to compete with imports.

haiti rice import graph

Some argue that the resulting flood of relatively cheap rice imports originating mostly from the United States has had a negative impact on Haiti. The decline in the demand for Haitian rice has been devastating to an already desperate rural population. Rice farmers are some of the most vulnerable members of the population; the alternative employment options for farmers in Haiti are extremely limited.

Furthermore, competition between Haitian and American rice growers is not exactly fair. While US rice production is "subsidized through a variety of mechanisms", the small, struggling domestic rice industry in Haiti receives no support from the government. Several Haitian and international NGOs have claimed that the US is guilty of dumping rice in Haiti. The US now dominates the rice market in Haiti. Most American rice exports are handled "by a single US corporation -- American Rice Inc. -- which has enjoyed an almost monopolistic position in Haiti." (Full)

Picture courtesy Newsday/Moises Saman. Graph courtesy

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News: Sudanese ex-commander speaks up about Darfur crimes

This video shows former Sudanese Commander Arbab Idries admitting to arming and leading Janjaweed milita attacks on civilans in Darfur in order to "rid the land of blacks." The former commander says he believes he committed war crimes in Darfur.

More posts on The Road about Darfur

Source: Genocide Intervention Net

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Rumble: Where I live

Although, in general, one never appreciates enough what one has, no day goes by without my marveling at the magic of the place where I live. Here are a few snapshot taken within one kilometer from my home in Fregene, near Rome:

A view from the terrace of my home:
fregene morning

Just outside my house:

Three hundred meters from my home: the sea
(and as you can see, I don't live far from the airport)

About one mile in-land, the fields

More posts on The Road about Italy

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