Rumble: I will never be a city dweller (Cairo version)...

Half the world's population will live in urban areas by the end of this year and about 70 percent will be city dwellers by 2050, with cities and towns in Asia and Africa registering the biggest growth, according to this article.

Thought of that, as we flew into Cairo this afternoon. Miles and miles and miles of grey-yellow buildings with almost no signs of any green. 17 million people. Dah. Forgive me not liking cities!


Picture courtesy Wikipedia. Source: The Road Daily

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News: Child Soldiers

Amnesty International: Child Soldiers in Sri Lanka

What have Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Myanmar, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Colombia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uganda in common? These are all countries where children are used as soldiers in armed conflicts.

The UN security council this week expressed "concern at the widespread and systematic use of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children, in particular girls, in situations of armed conflict" and "called on all parties to take special measures to protect girls and boys from sexual and gender-based violence." A council statement read at the end of a daylong meeting on children and armed conflict expressed "readiness to review the provisions of its resolutions on the issue" — but it made no mention of concrete and targeted measures against violators, nor of expanding the monitoring group's activities to compiling data on rape and sexual violence.

You know, and THIS is what beats me. Children are our future. If children are part of a war machine, then war will be our future. We don't need "expressions of sympathy", we need concrete action, and a more forceful language to condemn this crime! That not only goes for the UN. I searched the web for any concrete action. I found little. There is one from Human Rights Watch stimulating the ratification of the "Child Soldier Protocol".. But that is as far as it goes.

Maybe the political pressure is the way to go. Check here for more. At least it helped in Ivory Coast, it seems:

Have a look at this site dedicated to stop the use of child soldiers. by the Belgian ex-journalist Els De Temmerman works on re-integrating Ugandese ex-child soldiers. Check out also this gallery of pictures drawn by ex-child soldiers

Update March 5: Have a look also at: What responsibility does the world bear for rehabilitating child soldiers from the horror of serving in armed conflict?, a Pulitzer Center's Global Issues/Citizens Voices Contest which gives individuals the opportunity to speak out on the most pressing issues of the day. Child soldiers is one of them.

Picture courtesy, They're our children and Amnesty International. Video courtesy UNICEF.
News source: International Aid Workers Today

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News: Cyclone Ivan in Madagascar

Cyclone Ivan hit the Northeastern coast of Madagascar Feb 17, as a category 3 cyclone with winds measuring up to 200km/hour. The storm was followed by considerable rainfall, causing quite some flooding. (Latest news)

cyclone Ivan flooding madagascar

The picture shows flooded rice fields in Alaotra Mangoro, near Lac Alaotra, the main region for rice production in Madagascar. 14,200 hectares are flooded in this region.

Click on the collage for a slide show of the pictures:

madagascar flooding in slide show

Pictures courtesy Maherisoa Rakotonirainy and Nicolas Babu (WFP). Thanks for the link, Kirsi!

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News: Zambezi Floods in Mozambique

zambezi 2

At work, a team just came back from Mozambique where we provide assistance with the floods, caused by the Zambezi river, due to excessive rain.

They brought these pictures with them. They show clearly the size of the devestation, the amount of farm land that was flooded, and the isolation of the villages in the Zambezi flood water.
(click on the collage to see the slide show)

click on collage to see slide show

Pictures courtesy Francesca Erdelmann and Jeronimo Tovela, with thanks to Eva-Kristin Urestad Pedersen.

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News: heading for a new record., the now famous online vocabulary game which donates 20 grains of rice for every word you get right, is heading for a new record. So far, in February, the total balance is over 20 billion grains of rice. In concrete terms, that translates into 400,000 kg of rice, or daily food rations for over one million people. Play the game, learn and help!

For bloggers and website administrators, here is how you can get the FreeRice icon onto your site and help us spread the fight against hunger!
Watch FreeRice distributions in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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News: The Food Crisis. Global Overview

Afghanistan farmerI hate to bring the bad news about "The Perfect Storm", the metaphor used to describe the global food crisis. But unless if we globally recognize we have a massive problem on our hands, we won't do anything about it.
Still not convinced? Well, here are the recent symptoms of The Global Impact of Food Price Inflation:

  1. United States: The last time America's grain silos were so empty was in the early seventies, when the Soviet Union bought much of the harvest. Washington is telling the World Food Programme it is facing a 40% increase in food commodity prices compared with last year, and higher fuel bills to transport it, so the US, the biggest single food aid contributor, will radically cut the amount it gives away.
  2. Morocco: 34 people jailed this month for taking part in riots over food prices.
  3. Egypt: The world's largest importer of wheat has been hard hit by the global price rises, and most of the increase will be absorbed in increased subsidies. The government has also had to relax the rules on who is eligible for food aid, adding an extra 10.5 million people.
  4. Eritrea: It could be one of the states hardest hit in Africa because of its reliance on imports. The price rises will hit urban populations not previously thought vulnerable to a lack of food.
  5. School in Ivory CoastZimbabwe: With annual inflation of 100,000% and unemployment at 80%, price increases on staples can only worsen the severe food shortages.
  6. Yemen: Prices of bread and other staples have nearly doubled in the past four months, sparking riots in which at least a dozen people were killed.
  7. Russia: The government struck a deal with producers last year to freeze the price of milk, eggs, vegetable oil, bread and kefir (a fermented milk drink). The freeze was due to last until the end of January but was extended for another three months.
  8. Afghanistan: President Hamid Karzai has asked the WFP to feed an extra 2.5 million people, who are now in danger of malnutrition as a result of a harsh winter and the effect of high world prices in a country that is heavily dependent on imports.
  9. Pakistan: President Pervez Musharraf announced this month that Pakistan would be going back to ration cards for the first time since the 1980s, after the sharp increase in the price of staples. These will help the poor (nearly half the population) buy subsidised flour, wheat, sugar, pulses and cooking fat from state-owned outlets.
  10. India: The government will spend 250bn rupees on food security. India is the world's second biggest wheat producer but bought 5.5m tonnes in 2006, and 1.8m tonnes last year, driving up world prices. It has banned the export of all forms of rice other than luxury basmati.
  11. Girl in ChinaChina: Unusually severe blizzards have dramatically cut agricultural production and sent prices for food staples soaring. The overall food inflation rate is 18.2%. The cost of pork has increased by more than half. The cost of food was rising fast even before the bad weather moved in, as an increasingly prosperous population began to demand as staples agricultural products previously seen as luxuries. The government has increased taxes and imposed quotas on food exports, while removing duties on food imports.
  12. Thailand: The government is planning to freeze prices of rice, cooking oil and noodles.
  13. Malaysia and the Philippines: Malaysia is planning strategic stockpiles of the country's staples. Meanwhile the Philippines has made an unusual plea to Vietnam to guarantee its rice supplies. Imports were previously left to the global market.
  14. Indonesia: Food price rises have triggered protests and the government has had to increase its food subsidies by over a third to contain public anger.
  15. Do you want more?

Source: "Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits", a must-read article in the Guardian.

Pictures courtesy WFP (Clive Shirley,Ramine Rafirasme and Tom Hakell)

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News: Sarkozy in video: "Get Lost, You Poor Dumb Ass"

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was filmed by a journalist on a walkabout at the annual farm fair in Paris last Saturday.

Sarkozy offered his hand to a man who said: "Don't touch me, you are soiling me." In reply, Sarkozy said, without dropping his smile: "Casse-toi, pauvre con" ("Get lost, you poor dumb ass")

The video was posted on Le Parisien's website. Less than 24 hours later, 350,000 people saw it. (Full)

The video reminds me of one of Bush's slap stick videos, where he goes into his usual blabbering, and then says: "I can not believe I just said that! [dumb smile]".
Inside news sources told me Bush and Sarkozy are actually working on a new video based tutorial: "The art ov comunikatieng wehn yu aare de presitent." I think it will be a smash hit.

Here is the Sarkozy "Casse-toi, pauvre con!" video:

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Rumble: Pictures from Kenya

Stuart, a friend and colleague just came back from his Kenya mission where he supported the aid surge after the election trouble. When he told me he brought some pictures back, I thought it would be about crowds fighting with riot police, burning houses and charred cars.
But most of his pictures were about children. And they touched me. I don't know why. Maybe because of the innocence they radiate, amidst violence and hatred. Maybe because while their country threatened to go up in flames, these children continued to smile.

Kenya children amidst the election violence Kenya children amidst the election violence Kenya children amidst the election violence Kenya children amidst the election violence

Pictures courtesy Stuart Zimble (WHO/WFP)

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News: The Global Food Crisis: A Perfect Storm

price of foodThe Perfect Storm.

The world is heading towards a global food crisis. A number of factors contribute to what could be described as 'A Perfect Storm':

The price of fuel increased dramatically in the past years, thus the cost of food production and transport increased dramatically, pushing the price of food higher than ever before.

Last year, for the first time in many years, the world's food production went into a deficit, pushing up the price of the commodities, based on a supply and demand dynamic, even higher. The US, one of the world's largest food grower, says the grain silos are as empty as in the 70-ies when the then-USSR bought most of the reserves.

Fast growing economies like China pulls people away from rural areas, causing massive urban expansion. A double spin: a smaller agricultural work force and a loss of farm land. China lost an average of 1.23 million hectares of farmland annually in the past years and is now looking for foreign farms because the nation can't feed its 1.3 billion people.

Child in HondurasTo make matters worse: following the market economy, if there is an expected shortage of supply, and an vastly increased demand, the commodity is speculated upon in the international financial markets with one goal: profit. The futures market is a traditional tool for farmers to sell their harvests ahead of time. In a futures contract, quantities, prices and delivery dates are fixed, sometimes even before crops have been planted. They can buy futures contracts for wheat, for example, at a low price, betting that the price will go up. If the price of the grain rises by the agreed delivery date, they profit. Some experts now believe these investors have taken over the market, buying futures at unprecedented levels and driving up short-term prices. Since last August, this mechanism has led to a doubling in the price of rice. (More)

High prices, high demand, and a shortage in supply, has driven several government to limit or ban exports in staple food, either to protect its own population, or to ride on a speculation wave. That has led to a sharp reduction of rice available for trade in the global market. For example, in 2007, India and Vietnam, two of the world's biggest rice exporters, reduced their rice shipments. Since then, Cambodia, Egypt, and Brazil have all halted rice exports. Many observers worry that Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, might jump on the bandwagon. This in its turn will increase the shortage on the international market, and have the prices potentially spiral out of control (More)

In several countries the positive average wealth trend is leading consumers to eat more meat products. Meat products need more vegetable food products to get the same nutritional level as vegetable products. Thus, a shift from human vegetable products to meat, leads to a higher demand of meat production, resulting in an increased demand for vegetable products, staple food for poorer countries.

child in SomaliaThe Most Vulnerable Pay the Highest Price...

The increased food prices hit the most vulnerable countries the hardest: where people used to survive on the 'edge': Their income is no longer sufficient to feed themselves. International wheat prices in January 2008 were 83 percent higher than a year earlier. Protests turned riots in Bangladesh, Morocco, Mozambique, Venezuela and Burkina Faso last week, will be the first in a long row, showing people simply can not cope with the price increases.

Aid agencies, traditionally able to feed the most vulnerable, are scrambling too: as the fuel prices increased, so did the cost to transport food aid. Add to that the increased price of the food commodities, for the same aid-dollar, less food is being delivered. This will have donors ask questions about the effectiveness of their aid-dollar invested in food aid. There are signs donors are easing away from food aid. Real pessimists state that due to the high inflation (guess what, caused by high fuel prices and sharp price hikes on basic commodities such as food), will decrease the global aid - and not just food aid - significantly this year.

The Outlook is Not Good Either!

Because of the increased fuel prices, and the recent worldwide rally about global warming, the price of biofuel has gone up, having many farmers move away from food production, to a more lucrative biofuel production. The U.S. is now using more corn for the production of ethanol than the entire food crop in Canada.
This takes away a lot of resources (land, assets, production and distribution capacity) from the food production, not only in the West, but even in food deficit countries in Africa and Asia. Less food being produced once again pushes the prices even higher.

On top of record-breaking rice prices and corn, a warning is circulating amongst financial investors that this is just the beginning: a wheat fungus, known as Ug99, first discovered in Uganda in 1999, is spreading across the African continent and beyond. The fungus has the potential to wipe out a large part of the global wheat crop, prices of food commodities on the futures market spiked, causing panic buying. This in itself chases prices even higher. (Full)

Women fetching water in EritreaThe global warming has shifted weather patterns, causing more natural disasters: tropical cyclones causing vast flooding hit Central America, Africa and Asia harder than ever before. Winters are harsher and longer in Central and South Asia. Dry spells bring longer periods of droughts cause crops to dry up, and cattle to die.

True, the Kyoto Protocol tries to put an end to the global warming caused by the Greenhouse Effect. But there is a nasty tail to the story: those countries which emit too much carbon, can purchase "carbon credits" to offset their "carbon emission deficit". A country can 'create' carbon credits, amongst others, by planting forests. Some say "Carbon Credits" will become a precious trading commodity (example), pushing countries to plant forests. In principle this is a good thing. The fear however is that, as the price of Carbon Credits will increase, more and more fertile agriculture land will be used to plant forests, once again decreasing the food production, further driving the price and world hunger up...

Aral: an ex-seaRoughly one tenth of the earth’s land surface is used to produce crops. Two tenths is grassland of varying degrees of productivity. Another two tenths is forest. The remaining half of the land is either desert, mountains, or covered with ice. The area in desert is expanding, largely at the expense of grassland and cropland. Deserts are advancing in Africa both north and south of the Sahara and throughout the Middle East, the Central Asian republics, and western and northern China. As an example: Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is losing 351,000 hectares of rangeland and cropland to desertification each year. (More)

And last but not least:

The world's population is expected reach 9 billion by 2050, a growth, of almost 50% compared to today, concentrating mostly in the less developed countries.

More demand for food, less production, higher prices. A vicious circle, felt the hardest in developing countries. How can this cycle be broken?

Update Jan 26 (one day after posting this): Worldwide wheat prices rose by 25% in one day to an all-time record high

Pictures courtesy WFP (Evelyn Hockstein, R.Chalasani, Lou Dematteis) and National Geographic. Graph courtesy The Economist

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Rumble: Italian Men - Part 2

Yesterday, we were talking with the famous "E" and "D" about the "Italian Men" issue, again. We asked ourselves "How it was possible that my previous post about Italian men got most of the Road's Google search hits?" Is it the myth about "Italian Men"? What myth then?

After that conversation, and as part of my "research" (ahum) for a series of articles about "How it is to live in Italy", I started to check the Internet for related articles. And found this interesting article and video. About the myth of Italian Men:

On the Italian Adriatic coast, where romance reigns and beachcombers bask in the sun, the notorious Latin lover looks for his prey and he hunts his conquest with chat-up lines. The women are fed up. "We run away from Italian men," said Tiziana Andreoletti. "They're such a drag." And it happens all the time. Boy meets girl and boy annoys girl. So, the Italians have enacted an interesting solution to this problem. They have created a beach strictly for women. No men, children or loud disco music are allowed. Known as "Pink Beach", it is situated along the 50-mile stretch of coastline linking Rimini to Riccione, with a pink sign that reads: "No Men". Except for the life guard.

Picture courtesy Dr.X's Free Associations

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News: Dubai Crane Truck Blooper

I told you before there is a lot of construction going on around our office in Dubai. Martin sent me a picture of a crane truck with a small problem, close to our office entrance, this morning:

Dubai crane truck accident

Dubai crane truck accident

Pictures courtesy Martin Kristensson

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News: Did Pilots Fell Asleep in a 30 Minute Flight?

From the Aviator Website

As a frequent traveller, each time I step onto a plane, I feel like I am handing over my life to someone else. I try not to think about the risks involved in flying at 10 miles above safe ground. Sometimes, though news reports make me doubt if I should trust "the system", I hand my life to. This is one of them:
Go! Flight 1002 took off from Honolulu at 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 13. It was scheduled to land in Hilo at 10:05 a.m., but the plane flew beyond Hilo Airport and was out of contact with air traffic controllers for more than 20 minutes, officials said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the pilots fell asleep and continued to fly out to sea, or if there was some sort of technical communication problem.
The FAA said that even if the pilots did have a communication problem, normal procedure would be to stick to the flight plan and land the aircraft in Hilo at the appointed time. (Full)

Check out the story in my eBook: Italians, the Art of Flying and the Laws of Probability.

Update April 25: The two pilots were fired. (Full)

Cartoon courtesy of The Aviator Website

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News: Dubai Builds World's Longest Arched Bridge

Talking about bridges:

If you ask anyone living in Dubai "What is the biggest challenge for you?", most probably they will answer: "Traffic is a bitch!". A big part of the problem is the crossing of the creek, separating the 'old' from the 'new' Dubai, which bottlenecks all traffic shuttling between both parts of town, and between Sharjah and the port area of Jebel Ali. When I went back to Dubai in December, 18 months after I changed my duty station in the UAE for Rome, I saw two new bridges over the creek had been built "while I was away".

Two weeks ago they announced the construction of a sixth creek crossing, designed as a new landmark for Dubai with a price tag of US$681: A 1.6 km long bridge, 64 metres wide and 15 metres above the water level. It will have 12 lanes for road traffic and a track for the Dubai Metro. It will be able to handle 20,000 vehicles an hour. Once finished in 2012, it will hold the record of "The World's Longest Arched Bridge".

Dubai: the world's longest arched bridge

Dubai: the world's longest arched bridge

Dubai: the world's longest arched bridge

The project also includes 12 kilometres of new roads and 22 intersections. And oh, it will also provide access to a new island in the creek, which the local developer plans to build an opera house on. But that is a detail :-)

Check out the other posts about Dubai on "The Road to the Horizon".

Sources: Meed and Dubai Expat Diaries

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News: Czech Police Lost Bridge

Bridge LostIf you are in possession of a bridge, the Czech police would like to talk to you!

The police is investigating the theft of a 4 tonne railway bridge from the border town of Cheb. The company responsible for its maintenance raised the alarm when, ever alert, they noticed the bridge disappeared. The bridge was on a disused stretch of rail line just outside Cheb.
Martina Hruskova, a spokeswoman for the Czech police, commented to AFP: 'We are not sure if it was taken for personal use or for its scrap value.' Exactly what that 'personal use' might be was left unsaid. (Full)

Picture courtesy AP

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News: The World Press Photo of the Year 2007

World Press Photo of the Year 2007

Tim Hetherington, a Vanity Fair photographer, won the "World Press Photo of the Year 2007" award with this picture of an American soldier resting at a bunker in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan taken September 16, 2007. The jury said "This image shows the exhaustion of a man and the exhaustion of a nation, we're all connected to this. It's a picture of a man at the end of a line".

Der Spiegel published the story behind this picture. An excerpt:
They barely slept that night. All of them crowded in the bunker, against the dirt wall "away from the other wall where they would come over. " says Hetherington, "they" being the enemy.

It was in that darkest hour that Hetherington took the picture that moved the world. A young soldier, leaning against the earth wall, his helmet off, arms smeared with dirt. He wipes the sweat off his brow, looking directly into the camera, his eyes foggy, his mouth ajar, part shocked, part weary, part desperate. He is wearing a large ring on his left hand.

The image is dark, blurry, lacking contrast. Some have criticized that now, arguing that a photo like that "was not appropriate to win," says Hetherington. But the shot captures the moment perfectly, and it works on two levels: It gives the viewer the sense of what happened then and there, and at the same time it has timeless, symbolic meaning.

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Tim Hetherington/Vanity Fair. - Source: The Road Daily

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Rumble: Kosovo Fireworks

Kosovo Independence Fireworks

Kosovo Independence Fireworks

Ardian forwarded me these beautiful pictures made by Arijana, during the celebrations of Kosovo's independence, last Sunday.
Both feature in the previous post, Faces from Kosovo.

Thanks again, Adrian and Arijana!

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News: Kosovo, Independence Day


L, a friend working in Kosovo, sent me her story of the Kosovo Independence day, a sequel to her previous post.

Sunday morning, Feb 17 2008.
Kosovo awakens to another cold day, covered in a mantle of snow. It might be its last day as a Serbian province. We have agreed to meet for brunch in the market, at what we call "Police Avenue", right in front of the Justice and Police Department. There are a lot of known faces, internationals, some with a hangover from the day before, taking re-hydration salts to recover and get ready for today, the big day.. (Read the full post)

Thanks again to "L" for the story and "E" for the editing.
Picture courtesy AP (Visar Kryeziu)

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News: The New Kosovo Flag

New Kosovo Flag

With thanks to Ardian!

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News: Kosovo, The Birth of a Nation.

This is a story from "L.", a friend working in Kosovo. The story of Kovoso's independence, seen from within.

Friday Feb 15, 2008.

It's the coldest day of this year, 2008.... Last night, as we were all holding our breath waiting to see what would happen during the meeting of the Assembly, it started snowing... At first it was really light, almost invisible, but little by little it came down in heaps... We've all been joking that the icing on the cake would be an electricity cut just when they're making the announcement. Lately, it's gone back to 5 - 7, 9 - 11 or 11 - 1, depending on the areas. (Read the full post)

The follow-up story of "L", you find here.

Thanks again for the story, "L". And flowers to "E", for the translation!
Picture courtesy AP (Bela Szandelszky)

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Rumble: Faces from Kosovo

On the eve of Kosovo's independence, I am thinking of the people I met there in 1999 and 2000, right after the war. I wish for them the transition to the independence would go peacefully and smoothly.
Many of those that worked with me, remained in contact through the years. I am proud that all of them have found their own path in life.

Ardian was one of our radio operators in Pristina. The first time we talked, was via the radio, when I drove into Pristina for the first time, and Ardian was the one trying to guide us to our office. We are still laughing today how he used the word "Semaphore" instead of "traffic light". "First Semaphore to the left and then second semaphore to the right." I had no clue what a "semaphore" was, so we got completely lost in town.
Years later, Ardian joined FITTEST, our ICT intervention team, and worked for us in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur. We often sat together joking about our times in Kosovo. Even just thinking back of our stories about Herman makes me chuckle...
Ardian is back home in Kosovo since almost two years now, employed by an ISP, doing core routing and switching. He is married and has a lovely daughter Jora ("J" in Albanian is pronounced as "Y" in English), with a second little one on her way...
Ardian is the one who sent me an update of our common Kosovar friends.

Nap, I met for the first time in Ferizaj, a few days after she joined our organisation. She was one of our radio operators, a petite girl with a dazzling smile and sparkling eyes. A sunshine to work with. We stayed in touch for all these years. She is now married, and works for the Kosovo broadcast companies, where she has her own TV show, covering foreign affairs.

Arijana (on the left) was one of our drivers in Pristina, going with the now-famous call sign PW7-1-7.. No doubt she was the prettiest driver we ever employed. And the most temperamental. One day she and I had an argument, and she locked me up in my office, running off with the key. Ariana is now married and has twins. Last heard, she was working in one the Western Union Offices, in Pristina.

Vjosa (in the middle on the previous picture) was another member of our Pristina radio room gang. She is about to graduate in Law and working as a "Rule of Law" Legal Assistant in American Bar Association/Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative. She has two kids now, a boy and a daughter.

Bekim, or "Uncle Bekim" as Ardian and Vjosa used to call him, he is working for one of the biggest bank in Kosovo. He is the main programmer in the bank, developing software and maintaining the bank's databases. He is married and has a son.

Laura, another radio operator from Pristina, is a Customs officer now. She has two kids.

Toni and I met the day I entered Kosovo from Albania. From all the people in the office, I spent the most time with him, so he told me a lot from the times Kosovo was under Serb ruling. How he wanted to become a medical doctor, which was nearly impossible then, as there was no university for Albanians at that time. Tony worked as a radio operator for us in Prizren. And guess what, he now graduated from the Pristina University medical faculty and is doing his master's in Austria, where he lives with his wife. His dream of becoming a doctor did come true!

Lulzim, or Luli as we called him, started as a radio operator in Peja. He then got promoted to finance assistant, moved to Pristina and stayed with our organisation until the office closed in 2002. Later that year he became a certified accountant and started a new carrier as lecturer in Society of Certified Accountants and Auditors of Kosovo – SCAAK, internationally recognized professional body for accountants and auditors. In 2006 he became licensed auditor. Currently he is heading the professional and education activities of SCAAK.

Haki, the colleague of Nap in Ferizaj, moved to IOM and soon after that went on mission for few years to Afganistan and Indonesia. After coming back to Kosovo, he managed the "East West Management Institute and is now the representative of the "Rockefeller Brothers Fund " for Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro.

So you see: each of them found their way in life. Just knowing that, fills me up with joy. It is almost like my kids growing up,... Let's hope they live through the Kosovo independence phase in safety and prosperity.

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Rumble: Volunteer!

Hey, don't sit around thinking 'I wish I could do something to make a difference in the world'! Well, DO something! Here are two easy ways to help. And you don't even have to leave your home....

1. Are you an aid worker? Or interested in humanitarian topics in the international news? Or are you regularly browsing the web, checking out the news in general? Then you must regularly come across articles we are interested in at "The International Aidworkers Today".

This is a group we recently started with some friends on Newsvine. Each time we find an interesting article, we "seed" this into Newsvine: a simple copy/paste of the link, title and the first paragraph... The article is then automatically fed into Newsvine, and into the Aid Workers group.
The articles are about aid or development work - with all issues around it, including the international politics - and all humanitarian topics.
The goal is two fold: Raise the general public's awareness about humanitarian issues and provide a forum where these news articles can be discussed amongst group members.

Help us seeding articles by registering to Newsvine and joining the aidworkers Newsvine group.

2. There are all kinds of short or longer term tasks and assignments from a wide range of interests where you can help through the Online Volunteering site. The help needed by the non-for-profit organisations varies from website design, help in editing papers, research on specific topics or looking for funding.
I recently finished an assignment for the The Aidworkers Network, and it was fun.

Picture courtesy Genevieve Choine and Ramin Rafirasme (WFP)
PS: Ramin is one of the best male belly dancers I know! ;-)

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Rumble: Ostend, once more.

ostend 6

The "Sea Men’s Monument" (Willy Kreitz, 1951) in Ostend, commemorates all those lost at sea. While the sailor standing at the top of the monument looks over the sea confidently, with almost a challenging attitude, the one at the bottom of the pillar mourns for his lost colleagues.
Every Easter Monday, the town holds a procession to this monument honouring the victims of the sea, an event culmulating in the blessing of the sea by a priest… Traditional hedon practices in a catholic coat, with a folkloric gravy. ;-)

The monument is erected right where Ostend’s first lighthouse was built, back in 1771:

View Larger Map

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Rumble: My Home Town

I am still looking at the pictures we took last weekend, during our evening walk along Flander's coast...

Ostend by sunset

I was born and raised in Ostend, and left only after I graduated, at the age of 23. But I always come back, even if it was only for the sea. She has always attracted me. The scent of the silt, the mighty power and potential to harm or kill at any moment. Yet endlessly beautiful, inspiring and gracious. Ever changing colours and behaviour, changing moods in a flash.

boat entering Ostend port

Maybe it was the sense of endlessness, the travel, "leaving but never knowing when you would come back" which always attracted me to the sea. Or the freedom. Just take off in a boat and... go!

Ostend's boardwalk

This boardwalk ("staketsel" in Flemish), runs along the entrance of the port, once busy with a active fishing fleet, cargo vessels and ferries to England. Every so often, a large vessel looses control over its helm, and rams the boardwalk, chewing out a whole piece. And every time, it is repaired. As a kid, we used to climb from the side of the boardwalk down to water level, and drop fish heads strung on a cord in the water, waiting for the crabs to bite into the bait. Or on the beach, next to the board walk, we would collect empty bottles, and get money from the shop when we returned them. Always good for a handful of fresh candy.

Ostend's boardwalk

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Rumble: FreeRice Goes Bangladesh

I have reported in previous posts about FreeRice, the Internet game which translates your vocabulary skills into donations of rice to the hungry. Up to today, 18 billions grains of rice have been collected by all players.

That starts to translate into REAL stuff. FreeRice donated over US$200,000 to the UN World Food Programme, resulting in actual rice going to refugees in Myanmar and Bangladesh:

If you are a blogger, you can copy and paste code for the FreeRice widget from this post.

Video and picture courtesy WFP.

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News: Sometimes I Am Ashamed to Work for the UN.

UNinvolved - From Die Burger; Advertising Agency: FCB Cape Town; South Africa; Creative Director: Francois de Villiers; Art Director: Anthony de Klerk; Copywriter: Marius van Rensburg; Photographer: Chad Henning

I am pissed off. Two articles were published in the last days that make me ashamed to work for the UN.

Before we start, let me make something clear: The "UN" is one "brand" consisting of several parts which have completely different goals, operational practices and funding mechanisms. In fear of over-simplifying, I would distinguish three main parts in the UN:

  1. "The Political Side", UN secretariat in New York and UN security council, are probably the UN's most visible side. In this large forum "where world issues are debated and decided upon", every nation has its vote and voice. The critics would say "all equal, but some have a bigger vote and a louder voice than others".
    This side of the UN is funded through direct contributions by the UN member countries, and as such by the taxes citizens like you and me pay.

  2. "The Peace Keeping Side", codenamed "UNDPKO", are the famous blue helmet-ed forces we see on TV. Stationed in conflict zones like Sudan, Eritrea, DRC etc... they often work hand in hand with the UN Department of Political Affairs in enforcing political and military stability in (potential) conflict zones. Just as "the Political Side", the "Peace Keeping Side" is funded by the UN members. Once again, your tax dollar "at work" (well.. "not at work" would sometimes be more appropriate).

  3. "The UN Humanitarians" are not one organisation, but a few hundred organisations. Well-known names in this branch are UNICEF, WHO, WFP, UNHCR, UNDP etc... Most of these organisations are "voluntary" funded. This means they do not receive annual funding from the UN headquarters, but they launch appeals for each of their projects, be it in the development or emergency relief sector.

The "voluntary funding" scheme the humanitarian organisations work under, is somewhat an insurance those organisations are "kept on their toes". If you screw up a project well enough, donors will be less eager to fund your projects next time. The "humanitarian market" (as I like to call it), is a competitive market. The need for funding exceeds the "capacity of the world to donate". So "competition" keeps the humanitarian organisations somewhat in line. "Somewhat", is the right term though, but we will expand on this another time.

Now, what pisses me off on a regular basis, is that the "UN number 2" from above, the "Peace Keeping Side", often gets involved in all kinds of bad press.
You still remember the reports about UN peacekeepers unable to prevent the Rwanda genocide? Or the Srebrenica massacres where the Dutch UN peace keepers "stood by". There were many reasons why these tragedies happened. And even more excuses.

Totally UNexcusable are, amongst others, the sex scandals (the whole works including pedophilia, rape and prostitution) by UN Peace Keepers in DRC and in Haiti. Or the gruesome stories of Belgian UN Peace Keepers "roasting" a Somali boy. (read also this this article).

Shame, deep shame, we should all have. All of us.

While most of the time, I can still tell myself, "Ok, this is not concerning the UN humanitarians, this is not 'us', this is the 'other UN arm'." Still, the criminals wore the same colour as I do: "UN Blue". They went into a country supposedly to help the population, and not to kill people and urinating on them afterwards, sexually abusing them.

I want to be able to keep my head up high, tough. Once of the reasons I continue to work for the UN (For a number 3, a UN humanitarian organisation), is to be able to say: "I not only criticize. I actually try to make a change."! And the best way to make a change is a "change from within". I try to speak up when confronted with any wrongdoing. While it gave me the reputation of being "difficult" (they say "a pain in the a**"), I do need to live with my conscience. I need to be able to say "I tried my level best". And to be honest, I feel people *do* listen. At least where *I* work!

But still, ... still, there are those days, like today, where I get frustrated, pissed off, wandering if all the fighting is worth it. Those are the days, like today, where I read that the audit of the UN peace keeping mission in Sudan wasted millions of dollars: (Below is an extract but the full post is here):

U.N. officers in Sudan have squandered millions by renting warehouses that were never used, booking blocks of hotel rooms that were never filled, and losing thousands of food rations to theft and spoilage, according to several internal audits by the U.N. Office for International Oversight Services. One U.N. purchasing agent has been accused of steering a $589,000 contract for airport runway lights to a company that helped his wife obtain a student visa, while two senior procurement officials from the United States and New Zealand have been charged by a U.N. panel with misconduct for not complying with rules designed to prevent corruption.
The U.N. procurement division "did not have the necessary capacity and expertise to handle the large magnitude of procurement actions" in Sudan, particularly during the early phases of the mission, according to a confidential October 2006 audit. Investigators also detected "a number of potential fraud indicators and cases of mismanagement and waste."

It pisses me off that millions of dollars are wasted through mere miss-management or for personal gain, in a country where millions fight to survive starvation every single day.
Also today, I read how the United Nations forces failed to help East Timor's president Jose Ramos Horta after he was shot in an assassination attempt in Dili this morning:
Mr Carrascalao told ABC Radio's PM that when UN police arrived at the scene of the attack they refused to help.
"I have to regret that we advised the United Nations Police who went to the scene but 300 metres before reaching there, they refused to proceed," he said. "The President was lying on the road and bleeding and already shot, and they refused to continue to give him assistance. It was finally the family and an ambulance from our hospital that went and rescued the President when he was more than half-an-hour bleeding and losing a lot of blood. The United Nations Police didn't take action until the Portuguese Generale got there. That's one of the worst things that could happen to this country; have police from everywhere, everyone within one system and mostly looking after themselves than looking after the situation here." (full article)

Those are the days I am ashamed. Ashamed to say "I work for the UN"!

Pictures Die Burger and Chad Hanning (UNinvolved), WhatReallyHappened and Gamma Liaison (Belgian Peacekeepers).
Source: The Other World News

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