10 seconds in the life of a leaf

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Attack us where we work, attack us where we sleep.

UN staff attacked in Kabul

After the devastating suicide bomb in our office in Islamabad three weeks ago, I knew it was going to be bad day when the first Twitter message I saw this morning was: "UN guesthouse in Kabul attacked, 5 staff dead".

From the NY Times:
The guests were still sleeping when the gunmen, dressed in police uniforms, arrived early Wednesday. In the dark, they shot the guards, scaled the front gate of the guest house and began firing grenades, the beginning of a terrifying two-hour siege that showed just how little it takes for the Taliban to trap foreigners in central Kabul.

By the end of the siege, at least five United Nations employees, two Afghan security officials and the brother-in-law of a prominent Afghan politician were dead, as were their three attackers. (Full)

2008 was a record year in terms of casualties amongst aid workers. 2009 promises to be even worse. I keep track of most of these attacks on The Road Daily.

It is only weeks ago I wrote:
It is strange.. It is only after the hours go by that the cruelty and the reality of the act today really seeps through... And the consciousness that if we are to work in a higher risk environment, there actually is not one place, where one is totally safe. Where would that be? In the office? They drive a truck through the gates and blow it up. In the guesthouse or the hotel? Same thing...(Full)

This is the dilemma we, aidworkers, face today: We are nowhere safe anymore. Terrorism, banditry, sheer violence. And we can not isolate ourselves from the communities we are suppose to serve. We can not lock ourselves up in fortresses, as the US did with their embassies worldwide after the bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. We need to be "there", we need to be where the aid is required. We need to do the assessments, we need to monitor to ensure the aid goes where it is supposed to go. But slowly, the violence makes it impossible to do our work properly. And who suffers? Those in need. As always.

Picture courtesy Altaf Qadri/Associated Press

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Snapped: Sunset at Fregene

I left the office a bit earlier this evening, so I enjoy the sunset of this glorious Indian summer evening... and could snap the sunset with my brand new iPhone...

sunset at Fregene, Italy

sunset at Fregene, Italy

sunset at Fregene, Italy

More in this Snapped series.

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Moving into the 21st century with my iPhone

Palm III

Remember this post, where I described the things I always travel with? My faithful Palm III PDA was one of them.

I celebrated my birthday recently and the guys at work gave me my present last week: an iPhone...!

Peter loves his iPhone

I could not believe it. I had been looking at an iPhone for ages, glued to the window like a kid in front of a candy story. And finally, I had one.

My team said "We know how attached you are to your Palm III, but you can not really head a technology team using a 1997 piece of 'wannabe PDA'... So we're bringing you into the 21st century"...

It is true, in a way. At work, we have a "museum"glass cupboard displaying all pieces of old technology we used in the past 20 years. From a manual of WordStar (remember that?) to old VHF radios, a keyboard from a 1970's IBM mainframe and... a Palm III. Many people could not believe my faithful Palm III survived all the travel, the dust roads I drove on, all the remote places I've been to, and all the emergency operations I have served in. It stored my agenda with appointments going back to 1997. It held all the business contacts of people I met in the past 12 years, and all the notes I took while on mission. And it still did its job.

So I spent much of last weekend exploring my brand new iPhone 3GS, figuring out how to use it and the applications I wanted.

Here is my rundown of the things I love about it:
  • the user interface, the way the different applications are working
  • its display (it is color, yay!), the resolution, the touch screen
  • the integration of wireless LAN connectivity and all web applications is out of this world
  • the speed in which it discovers and registers to wireless LANs.
  • the vast amount of applications you can download
  • the speed of the applications
  • the quality of pictures and video is great. I always cursed the poor quality of both on my old Nokia phone. Just this is a real plus for me, as it will make the iPhone a great tool to take ad hoc snapshots to post on my blog.
  • for the first time, I can have all I wanted of a PDA, iPod, compact digital camera/videocam, telephone,.. in one
  • I can Twitter, Skype, Email etc... to my heart's content, which for a social media addict like me is a definitive plus
The things I would like to have improved:
  • it seems Bluetooth is not used to connect the iPhone to the computer's iTunes. I need to have the cable (or did I miss something here?). I also seem to have problems to get my computer pick up the Bluetooth connection from my iPhone and vice versa.
  • iTunes is heavy on a PC (maybe I should finally by a Mac?), it is slow, takes ages to load, and has a horrible user interface. It seems to only be a beefed up version of a music library, but does not feel intuitive at all.
  • I also hated the fact I needed to register my credit card while subscribing to the iTunes store. Even if I did not want to buy anything...
  • the battery runs down in less than 24 hours
  • I did not find a way to define the resolution for the camera.
  • and the worst part, unfortunately, is the "phone" part of the iPhone: its GSM sensitivity is ways below what my Nokia offers. In a GSM-signal poor country like Italy, this means I no longer have coverage where I used to have it. And that includes my apartment. A real bummer.
  • it took some tweaking to have the phone work on data-over-GSM. Luckily some hacker-friends gave me a patch where I could define the data-configuration for my GSM carrier, but somehow this should have been more transparent for the user.
More to come. But for the time being, I love the iPhone, if they could only increase the GSM sensitivity! Thanks again guys! You should not have done this...

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How could I have missed this: World Sight Day

October 8th was World Sight Day... and I missed it. Let's catch up:

45 million children and adults are blind worldwide, two-thirds being women and girls… and every year between 1 and 2 million more will lose their sight.

What makes these facts even more upsetting is that 75 percent of cases could have been prevented, or their eyesight restored, if only people had access to proper eye care. Unless steps are taken now, it is estimated that by the year 2020 blindness will affect more than 76 million people!

As one of the organisations trying to do something about it, ORBIS carries out programs onboard its Flying Eye Hospital and at hospitals in developing countries to help the blind see. While they are in these countries, ORBIS also trains local doctors and nurses in the latest sight-saving techniques so that they may gain the tools and knowledge needed to carry on the work that is done.

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Microfinancing at work in the Philippines after the typhoons

Mary is a Kiva Fellow who is currently in the Philippines. She works with ASKI, one of the Kiva's local microfinance partners. ASKI operates 24 branches of which Ilagan, Tugugraro and Cayaun were the hardest hit by the recent typhoons.

Of the 60,037 ASKI Clients, 5,943 (about 10%) were affected by the typhoons. The total damage, both personal and businesses amounts to US$1,405,808...

She wrote me an update:

The standing crops were damaged due to “VERY” strong wind. Rice crops were totally damaged and lost. Vegetables crops and fishing business were totally washed out... The above villages are still in recovery especially in the village of Antagan 1 & 2 which were the most affected.

The typhoon caused a lot of damages in the people's livelihood. Most of their ricefields which were ready to harvest, were totally wash out due to flash floods. Hundreds of cows and carabaos were also found dead.

ASKI is made up of 2 arms: an Micro Finance Institute and a foundation. When things like the typhoon hits, the MFI taps on the shoulders of the Foundation so they can offer as many contingencies as possible to lenders and still remain solvent.

ASKI has responded to the storms in an amazing way: quickly and compassionately they personally delivered $26,000 of relief goods in dangerous ares to all affected communities in Central and Northen Luzon, based on need. The Foundation has also set up a Disaster Council for future financial and logistical planning.

ASKI recently implemented mandatory crop insurance (PCIP) from the government of the Philippines for all agricultural loans. They are now speeding up implementation. The ASKI board has just approved the following loan contingency plans. Together, clients and loan Officers will decide which of 3 options makes sense for each situation: a loan moratorium, a loan restructuring or a refinance.

In the mean time, our project raising funds for the microfinance entrepreneurs affected by the recent Asian typhoons generated $2,500 so far. For every comment left on this post, I will fund US$5 for entrepreneurs in the area.

Picture courtesy Philippe Martou of WFP Logistics, which set up an extensive relief operation in the region.

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Let's do something for those affected by the floods in the Philippines

In the past weeks, two deadly storms struck the Philippines killed more than 700 people and destroyed the livelihoods of millions.

Unfortunately, many of the entrepreneurs we support through our microfinance project have been affected. One of them was Leoncia (picture).

To do my part in helping these courageous people recover, for each comment left on this post, I will donate US$5 to microfinance entrepreneurs in the affected areas.

So go now, and help in two easy steps which take no more than one minute of your time:
  1. Read this post
  2. Leave a comment there.
Let's help where we can.


Update Oct 22:
In 24 hours, we got 230 comments. We are on a roll...! Please spread the message through your blog, Twitter, Facebook,... and link to this post.... If we stretch the limit of my personal finances, I have some sponsors lined up that will chip in. Keep the comments coming!

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Customized humanitarian news


I wrote before about Humanitarian News, which imports the latest updates from 600+ news sites and blogs.

Humanitarian News already featured an extensive set of RSS feeds, split up per section, but now you can generate your own RSS feed customized with the subjects YOU are interested in.

You simply execute any search, and click on the "XML" icon to generate a feed out of it. Check out the subscriptions page for more details.

I use it quite extensively at work, to check the latest updates of certain events or subjects I am following. As Humanitarian News keeps track of more news sources than any other site, and all sources are hand picked, the searches go deeper and are more relevant than what e.g. Google News Search would offer you.


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Emily becomes UN Citizen Ambassador and has a message for us

On September 22, UN Secretary Ban ki-Moon launched a challenge: "Use your voice as a global citizen and tell these leaders in a short video what you think needs to be done to make this world a better and safer place. Be a Citizen Ambassador to the UN."

Emily Troutman which we featured before on The Road thought of her core message: "I want us both to agree to say one true thing out loud everyday. To remember one real person. To remind ourselves that our tragedies—yours and mine—are lived and felt one person at a time; just like our hope, our renewal, our future can also be lived and carried out into the world, one person at a time. You have a chance to be that person."

It was one of five selected out of more than 450 screened by top leaders at the UN. As a result of winning the contest, Emily will be named a "UN Citizen Ambassador", get to travel to New York to attend the UN Day Concert, and meet Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

So, time to have another chat with Emily:

Photographer, videographer,... What are you now?
The lines are blurring between the photographer and the videographer. Which for me, opens up the possibility to create really robust narratives. I'm still just a baby in this process, my work leans more towards automated slideshows, but in the future, I expect more and more online articles to contain video instead of still shots.

From the narrative in the video, it seems you are not only good in visuals, but also in wording it.
People who know me, know that I began my career as a writer through poetry. And even at a young age, was very successful at that. The study and craft of poetry taught me a lot about how to draw a line from complex intellectual constructs into emotion.

And then comes the humanitarian aspect..
Humanitarian work is considered the next frontier for me. There is a tremendous need for high quality communications tools that also maximize the potential of the internet to bring people together around important issues.

Although I have a Master's Degree in Public Policy, it was really through my blog that I really learned how to talk to people about complicated issues. In 2005, I traveled to Iraq while conducting research for my graduate thesis on democracy. While there, I witnessed the first post-Saddam elections and emailed my friends about what I saw and how it made me feel. I had no idea that the emails would be more important than the thesis, but somehow, I managed to tell real stories about people I met and the lives that touched mine.

From those early emails, I created my blog: who we are / how we live, and really started to embrace an unusual avocation-- to write and talk about complicated problems in a personal way. I tried never to forget my original audience: my little sister, my mom, policy wonks, colleagues.

And then came this video you made for the UN. What message did you try to bring?
For this project, I genuinely asked myself, "What do *I* want to say to world leaders?" I knew I didn't want to put forward any particular policy or opinion, but instead, to call on them, and all of us, to connect with something true and real. To think less about politics and more about people, actual people that we know. I think this is something humanitarian workers in the field do regularly. When they talk about Iraq, they tell stories about people they know there. When they talk about hunger, they tell stories about hungry people.

It's a subtle but profound shift in thinking. Through this video, and all of my work, I hope to remind myself and others that power is personal. Real change is only created by hope and empathy, by strength and commitment, by listening to others and acknowledging that quiet voice, in my own heart, telling me what needs to be done.

So what's next?
For now, my professional goals as a writer and photographer are just to get better at what I'm doing and learn more. I have some local projects planned here in Baltimore and DC, but I'm hoping to head back to Africa in the winter. I'm always looking for interesting projects and people to collaborate with.

Check also Emily's website and her blog

Read other interviews on The Road.

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Snapped: One week and a world of difference

Fregene beach

This is last week Sunday, on the beach near my house here in Italy. It was 29°C. The beach was crowded, people were sun bathing and swimming in the water.

This was the same beach today:

Fregene beach

There were three people and a dog on the beach. I was one of them. And I was not the dog. Even though it sunny, the northern wind kept the temperature as low as 9°C.

Yep, summer is definitively over.

More in this Snapped series.

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For the aidworkers amongst you: participate in the IASC survey

Hurricane Ike

Since 1992, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has issued policy statements, guidelines, and manuals, which help to set the normative frameworks, common standards and good practice for humanitarian community.

The IASC is now reviewing a selection of IASC products to find out if these products are known and used, and how they can be made more accessible.

Humanitarian workers are invited to give their views on IASC products using several short on-line surveys, available in English, French and Spanish.

All surveys remain open until Friday, 23rd, October 2009.

Picture courtesy Logan Abassi (MINUSTAH)

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Asia typhoons: Curing is more costly than preparing

Philippines typhoon

In 2008, the world spent US$12 billion on humanitarian responses to disasters. 99% of those killed by natural phenomena were in the Asia Pacific region, according to John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Holmes said 10% of what we spend on response or even on development should go into disaster risk reduction to limit the consequences of natural disasters, especially given the impact of climate change. (Full)

In the past weeks, two deadly storms struck the Philippines killing more than 700 people. The flooding disaster affected more than 7 million people. (Source)

While the humanitarian community's response is in full swing, tropical storm Lupit is forming in the Pacific, having all the potential to turn into the a super typhoon. Lupit is predicted to hit the same areas previously affected by typhoons Parma and Ketsana. (Source).

One good example of disaster mitigation is Bangladesh, where over a 100-year period, 508 cyclones have hit the Bay of Bengal region. After the disastrous effect of Cyclone Sidr in 2007, the government planted 100 million trees as a natural coastal barrier for floods and cyclones. They extended their weather watch centres, expanded the network of volunteers to warn people of upcoming threats and increased their shelters in high risk areas.

Meanwhile, Humanitarian News monitors the latest news updates on the Philippines flooding. You can use this RSS feed with the latest updates.

Picture courtesy Jay Directo (AFP/Getty Images)

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Blog Action Day: Drought and floods hit the poorest

Kenya drought

Fewer and fewer people who believe "Climate Change" is fiction. The hard evidence the climate *is* changing, is in our face: Hurricanes and typhoons become more frequent and more violent. Extensive droughts are followed by devastating floods.

Unfortunately, the poorest are hit the hardest. Look at what Typhoon Ketsana recently did in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Followed a few days later by Typhoon Parma.

For months now, the humanitarian community has been warning about the droughts in Kenya, which is now taking its full toll. What is said to be the worst in the country since 1996, with 3.8 million people now tumbling over the poverty line and becoming dependent on food aid.

The misery is not over, as floods are kicking off the rainy season in many parts of Africa.

The frustrating part is that even those who previously were able to sustain themselves independently, are pushed again to become dependent on aid. One step forward, two backwards. And the answer is in the hands of the richer countries, to impose proper limits on pollution. Is that not tragic?

Unless we can turn around the causes of climate change, it will only get worse.

This post is part of Blog Action Day, which concentrates on Climate Change this year.

Picture courtesy BBC

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Humanitarian News updates


September was the first full month for my new site Humanitarian News. In our first month, it fetched and stored 13,000 articles from +- 600 different hand selected nonprofit sources:
  • news about humanitarian issues
  • news about the environment
  • blogs by aidworkers
  • the latest press releases by humanitarian agencies
  • updates from websites specializing in development
  • the latest posts from over 300 nonprofit blogs
The site fetches its updates automatically every 15 minutes and publishes a searchable summary with a link to the original article.

I spent a lot of time updating the 600+ sites I get the input from, to ensure the updates are relevant and up-to-date.

I split up the RSS feeds for each of the sections of Humanitarian News, and you can now subscribe to them individually, either using the site's RSS feed, or via Feedburner.

You can also get daily updates via Email for each of the sections individually, or for the whole site. Here is an example how an email update looks like.

Two nights ago, I made news widgets you can add to your blog or website, displaying the latest updates.

Humanitarian News - AidNews posts

If you are on Twitter, updates from the latest posts are published via @humanitynews.

Because of the vast quantity of articles being updates, it has proven to be quite a resource, even for us at work, as all content can be searched. As an example, check out the latest on the Philippines storms.

If you want an instantaneous overview of the latest posts, check out The Other World News or My Home on the Road.


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Picks of the week: Project 10 to the 100, 350, peace x peace...

oranges on tree
Here are the interesting links I harvested last week:

  • Last fall, Google.org's Project 10^100 called for ideas to change the world by helping as many people as possible. Thousands of people from more than 170 countries submitted more than 150,000 ideas. Now is your time to help selecting the best.
  • 350.org is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis--the solutions that science and justice demand.
  • Vittana is a microfinance site, like Kiva, bringing student loans to the developing world through the power of person-to-person micro-lending. The difference is that Vittana borrowers are students who are in need of capital to finance their education. After the student finishes school and finds work, they pay the lenders back.
  • Peace X Peace is connects women across cultures for friendship, support, and action for peace.
  • Daily Good is a community blog delivering an inspiring quote, a related good-news story, and a simple action. "Good" does not have to be "big".

More Picks of the Week on The Road.

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Our microfinance project runs as a train

girl painting

In between the negativity of the tragic news of bombings in Islamabad and Peshawar this week, the continuing earthquakes and floods in Asia, the droughts in East Africa, and warnings of upcoming floods in Africa later this year, here is a bit of positive news.

Almost a year ago, I used The Road to the Horizon to kick off "Change Starts Here", our micro finance project.

Little did I know that 11 months later, the project would take that high a flight... I started it as an "I need to do more" project, donating $1 for each comment on the kickoff post.

Soon, colleagues at work joined, and we held several evening dinners, where people contributed to the project.

Then friends from our Antarctic expedition team joined in, and brought the total to over US$3,000.

From time to time, an individual stepped up and had the project take a leap. Like Ekram who asked people to allocate a loan to Kiva as a birthday present, rather than gifts. Just this week, another Friend joined and gave US$300 from her mission allowance to these loans.

Our Kiva Lenders team gradually expanded to 25 active members who have contributed US$4,614 to date.

As time went by, Kiva entrepreneurs paid back loans to us, which we reinvested. The total of re-allocated loans comes to US$5,141.

In May, I started a new blog, Have Impact!, where I post all updates and new loans.

The project has issued over 300 loans, for a total value of US$14,475. Our Kiva lenders team has 25 members. Not bad, after 11 months, hey?

As we will soon celebrate the one year anniversary of our project, I am preparing a small competition and fundraiser. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, check out the project score card. Join our Kiva team.

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The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

Tens of thousands of detained refugees from the war in Sri Lanka are threatened by the imminent arrival of monsoon rains in the north of the country, according to an internal United Nations document.

The UN believes that about 66,000 people held in the vast Menik Farm internment camp since May face a humanitarian disaster when the rains start, bringing the spectre of disease. Officials have urged the government to move those whose tents are most likely to be flooded by a mixture of rain and sewage. (Full)

Something in that picture hit me in the face. These are not refugees, but Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Refugees are people driven from their homes to cross a border, "hosted" on foreign soil.

The ethnic Tamil population locked up behind barbed wire and sharpened sticks as fences, are Sri Lankan civilians, on Sri Lanka soil. They were first held as human shields by the LTTE (the "Tamil Tigers") during the last weeks of the civil war, and are now kept as prisoners by the government.

What kind of government locks up tens of thousands of their own civilians in inhumane circumstances? Maybe this video explains what government we are dealing with here...

And when one UN official spoke up in the press about the condition of children in the camps, he was expelled from the country.

According to the latest OCHA humanitarian report, "253,567 people are accommodated in temporary camps" across Northern Sri Lanka. Since the conflict only "7,835 people have been released from temporary camps"...

Picture courtesy David Gray/Reuters. Video discovered via Stop Genocide.

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CNN Heroes. Cast your vote now.

Betty Makoni

"I was raped when I was 6 years old," Betty Makoni, a lady from Zimbabwe, recalls. Her attacker was a local shopkeeper. Her mother would not allow her to report the abuse.

"She said, 'Shh, we don't say that in public,'. I had no shoulder to cry on."

Three years later, she witnessed her father murder her mother. In that moment, Makoni said she realized the potentially deadly consequence of a woman's silence.

"I told myself that no girl or woman will suffer the same again," she says.

Believing an education would provide her the best opportunity and means to speak out, Makoni earned two university degrees and became a teacher. While teaching, she noticed that girls were dropping out of school at an alarming rate. She approached her students with an idea.

"I said to girls, 'Let's have our own space where we talk and find solutions,' " Makoni said. Girl Child Network was born.

By the end of the first year, there were 100 GCN clubs throughout Zimbabwe where girls could find support. Makoni said she was not surprised: "Every woman and girl identified with the issues that we were raising," she said.

In 2000, she quit her teaching job to volunteer with GCN full time. "I decided to become an advocate because I walked my own journey to survival," she said.

The following year Makoni successfully procured a piece of land and opened the organization's first empowerment village, designed to provide a haven for girls who have been abused. Girls are either rescued or referred to the village by social services, the police and the community. The healing begins as soon as a girl arrives.

"In the first 72 hours, a girl is provided with emergency medication, reinstatement in school, as well as counseling," said Makoni.

It is important to her that the girls are in charge of their own healing. "It gives them the confidence to transform from victims to leaders," she explained.

But for Makoni, speaking out came with a high personal cost. In 2008, she was forced to flee her native country. "I left Zimbabwe because my life was in danger as a result of my project being interpreted politically."

Today, she lives with her family in the United Kingdom. She still serves as executive director of her organization and shows no signs of slowing down.

Betty is one of the ten people chosen by CNN as "CNN Heroes". Look at their profiles and choose the one you find the most inspirational here.

Text adapted from Betty's profile page on CNN. Picture courtesy Davison Makanga/IPS

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Picture of the day: Suicide bomb in Peshawar

Peshawar suicide bomb

A huge and lethal blast rocked a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, in what appeared to be a warning about the government’s plans to launch a military offensive against militants in the frontier region of South Waziristan.

The blast, which police and security officials suspected was caused by a suicide car bomb containing more than 100 pounds of explosives, was the biggest in Pakistan in months, killing at least 48 people, including seven children and one woman, and wounding 148 others. (Full)

A car bomb, in a public market place, on a Friday... Clearly aimed to kill as many innocent people as possible. Civilians. People like you and me, who have nothing to do with the so-called war.
Killing children has nothing to do with religion anymore. This has nothing to do with faith anymore. Not even with politics. This is about power, and money, and control. At any cost, in any way possible.

I can not imagine how vicious a mind can be to plan and execute something like this. It is a spiral that seems to be impossible control, leave alone to be stopped. Anyone can strap explosives around his waste or stuff it in the trunk of his car and blow himself up in the most crowded places, trying to kill as many innocent people as possible.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy European Pressphoto Agency

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A deadly bomb blast in my office

suicide bomb blast WFP office Islamabad Pakistan

It is difficult to imagine what people go through when a suicide bomb determines who is to live and who is not. Here is the story from Rehmat Yazdani, one of our colleagues, who survived yesterday's bombing of the UN WFP office in Islamabad, Pakistan.

I am shaken and traumatized after the yesterday’s blast which took place inside my office building only a few paces away from my glass-cabin. The blast was so sudden and strong that it took me some time to register what actually had happened there with all of us. It was so strong that I was thrown from my chair to a few feet away on the floor.

Everything was shattered into pieces only in a matter of seconds. When I tried getting up from the floor, I had broken wooden pieces in my hair, my head and body were aching badly as something had hit me severely. I was not in my senses and my whole body was shaking badly, the sound of the deadly blast was resonating in my ears and I was so shocked that I could not move a step. There were injured colleagues lying on the floor. My room was on fire and pieces of paper, broken pieces of doors, broken pieces of my glass cabin, windows and tables were lying here and there. I was looking at my injured colleagues in a state of shock and horror. “Vacate the building immediately”, I heard one of my colleagues saying. But I could not move till the time one of my colleague dragged me outside the building. But that was not the end of it.

The real horror started when my colleagues started taking the dead and injured bodies outside the building. Yes, bodies drenched in blood of people I worked and used to spent a major part of my day on regular basis… It was such a heartbreaking scene……We had tears in ours eyes. We were horrified and traumatized…

None of us in the office had ever imagined that this Bloody Monday will change our lives for ever and we will be left with haunted memories of the incident. I have not recovered from the shock yet, the whole scene is playing back again and again in my brain, even the sedative pills failed to calm down my nerves. None of my other colleagues are out of trauma yet. Those innocent souls who died in the blast would never be there in our office again and our office would never be the same place again….. I pray for all the departed souls (Gul, Farzana, Wahab, Abid Rehman and Udan) and I am going to miss them forever …

My mother says that it is a miracle that I have only minor injuries and I survived despite the fact that the bomb blasted only a few paces away from where I sit But I am thinking why this miracle did not happen in case of Gul, Farzana, Wahab, Abid Rehman and Udan. Why these innocent people lost their lives?? What will become of their families now?? What was their fault or What was our fault that all of us became victims of a bomb blast and are left with haunted memories ??

Read also this story by one of our colleagues, Dima, who remembers her friend, Farzana, she will not meet again.

Story republished courtesy MetBlogs. Picture courtesy Dawn

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Song of the day: Angel - Sarah McLachlan

For the five friends and colleagues we lost due to senseless violence today.

The lyrics:

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference
Escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

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We lost five colleagues in Islamabad today

WFP office bombed in Islamabad Pakistan

Today, it is my birthday. But not much reason to celebrate. This morning, someone got into our office in Islamabad, Pakistan, and blew himself up.

He took the lives away from Botan, Farzana, Abid, GulRukh and Mohammad. Our colleagues and friends.

Botan Al-Hayawi (41) was Iraqi. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter. Botan was on mission in Peshawar when suicide bombers blew up the Pearl Continental Hotel in June. I met Botan several times back in 2002 and 2003 when I worked in Iraq.

Yesterday, Botan posted something on the Interagency ICT discussion forum:

I arrived to Islamabad last Monday morning with a busy day planned. I had just returned to Islamabad after recovering from the Peshawar blast on June 9th, 2009, which left me with some minor injuries but did not break my spirit.

He wrote this less than 24 hours before someone took his life away.

Farzana Barkat (22) was an office assistant. She worked in our logistics office, right next to where the suicide bomber blew himself up. A young woman at the start of her life.

Abid Rehman (41) was our senior finance assistant. He leaves a wife, two daughters and two sons. I worked with Abid when I was based in Islamabad from 2000 to 2002. We always exchanged friendly and teasing jokes as I stretched the finance unit with my urgent requests.

GulRukh Tahir (40) was our receptionist. She leaves behind a husband.

Mohammad Wahab (44) was our finance assistant. He leaves a wife, two daughters and two sons.

I am a bit numb at this moment. I think back of all the people I have known, and who lost their lives in the line of duty. Abby, Saskia, Pero, M.....

I think how it is possible to be close to those we want to serve, without having to isolate ourselves with barbed wire and sand bags. I think how we can still work in places we are still needed, but know we are at risk. Algeria, where our offices were bombed in 2007. Somalia, where we lost two colleagues earlier this year. Sudan, where we lost several drivers over the past years... Only to name a few.

It is strange.. It is only after the hours go by that the cruelty and the reality of the act today really seeps through... And the consciousness that if we are to work in a higher risk environment, there actually is not one place, where one is totally safe. Where would that be? In the office? They drive a truck through the gates and blow it up. In the guesthouse or the hotel? Same thing...
You can restrict the movements of staff and reduce field visits to minimize the risk, you can drive armoured cars - as we do in some operations - but then again, what holds them from blowing up an anti-tank mine underneath your vehicle as you stop in front of the traffic lights? What holds anyone from gunning you down when you get out of the car. Even when you think you are safe in the office compound.

Security for humanitarian workers has been more and more restrictive on what and how we can do our work. "Protecting ourselves" is a must. But how far does that conflict with being able to do our work, which entails having direct contact with those we serve? Should we all pack and go home?

I do not know the answers. I know one thing. This is not a happy birthday for me...

This song keeps on playing in my mind...

Picture courtesy The Nation

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Picture of the day: Manila flooding

Manila Flooding Typhoon Ketsana

Children look out from a window of a partially submerged house in floodwaters brought on by Typhoon Ketsana, in San Pedro Laguna, south of Manila September 30, 2009.

This picture is part of an excellent picture series on the Boston Globe.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Erik de Castro. Discovered via Heads Down, Eyes Open.

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Snapped: My favorite blogging position

My favorite blogging position. Outside, legs up, with a view on the world. This one is snapped in Tuscany, this summer.
(bad for your back, though... The blogging position, not Tuscany that is)

my favorite blogging position

More in this Snapped series.

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Snapped: The net

I have designed some pretty complex stuff in my time. And did some seriously complicated projects. But I have never figured out how fishermen can operate a large net. I would get it all messed up.
Snapped at Fiumicino port, near Rome.

Fishing net

More in this Snapped series.

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