The row over the BBC's decision not broadcasting the aid appeal for Gaza (see my earlier post) is not over yet. Tony Benn takes on the BBC in this video:
Tony Benn is not just anyone: as a former UK Minister of Technology and Secretary of State for Energy, he is the second longest serving member of parliament.
The row over the BBC's decision not broadcasting the aid appeal for Gaza (see my earlier post) is not over yet. Tony Benn takes on the BBC in this video:
It might have gone unnoticed in a previous post, but this is important enough to reblog.
Kevin at Patronus Analytical specializes in tracking, improving and mitigating the security hazards aid organisations face.
Recently, he started tracking all security incidents reported in the press in one overview, and mapping them out (see the 2008 and the 2009 map of incidents).
This is the best overview anyone can get of security incidents involving aid workers.
Highly recommended and once again: a fine job, Kevin!
Here are the interesting links I harvested this week:
- Third Sector is a new discovery. A UK on-line publication for everyone who needs to know what’s going on in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector.
- Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a nonprofit organization that creates and evaluates approaches to solving development problems, and disseminates information about what works and what does not to policymakers, practitioners, investors and donors around the world.
- Marginal Revolution goes under the banner "Small steps toward a much better world". It is witty, it is informative, and fun to read.
- AidWatch is a new blog keeping a critical eye on the efficiency of aid.-- Added to the list of "Aid Resources" in the side column.
- For the nerds amongst you: drop.io allows you to share any file, for free. I use it to share .pdf files.
- Wokai is a new startup microfinancing platform where you can fund entrepreneurs in China. An alternative to Kiva?
- Africa Can End Poverty is the blog of Shanta Devarajan, the Chief Economist of the Africa Region at the World Bank. Sounds very formal, but his blog is not. Recommended!!
More Picks of the Week on The Road.
I was sitting in my pj's in front of the window this morning, and got an email from Sue in Luanda, Angola. I answered and less than two minutes later, I got a reply.
It made me think of the time, back in 1994, when I was working in Angola. My family was in Belgium. The only way I could communicate with them was by fax (if the telephone lines and the electricity worked) or by radio. Often days, weeks would go by without contact.
In the first hour I got up today:
- I exchanged Emails with people in Angola, Sudan and Zambia
- I updated a spreadsheet on Google Apps shared with three people (I don't even know where they are in the world, I think one is in Nepal)
- Twittered with three people in the USA, UK and Tajikistan
- Had a Skype exchange with my friend at the Gaza/Egypt border
- Read an update from a friend in Afghanistan
- Checked a comment on our forum from a reader in Mexico
- Looked at a video posted at the Davos World Economic Forum about food security
- Saw that while I was sleeping, my blog was read by 763 people from 66 countries
[Ed: no comment]
More Pictures of the Day on The Road.
Picture courtesy AP
"The Peter Principle" by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull is a humorous treatise of the principle that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence."
It was first published in 1968, but the principle still valid in many cases. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted as long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain.
"In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties", they conclude, ""ork is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence".
The authors illustrate the principle with a multitude of examples, the level of incompetencies demonstrated in administrations, schools, companies and councils of sorts.
While the book is depressing at best in its black humour, there is a grain of truth. In every day situations, how many times are we not faced with organisations who can only think of one way to reward performance: through promotions.
Specifically technical departments often promotes technicians to managerial positions, for which the poor people have not the skills, qualifications nor training. The person is miserably, and the organisation suffers. But demotion is often not an option.
In that way, how many times have we turned "good technicians" into "bad managers"?
My advice: The art is to stop at "climbing up the corporate ladder", at your highest level of competency. Both you and the organisation will be grateful.
More about books on The Road.
I can not resist this piece of gourmet -slash- political news. One of -what must be- Bush's last acts of.. whashalwecalit.. idiocracy? This must have been part of his war on
The United States, it turns out, has declared war on Roquefort cheese.
In its final days, the Bush administration imposed a 300 percent duty on Roquefort, in effect closing off the U.S. market. Americans, it declared, will no longer get to taste the creamy concoction that, in its authentic, most glorious form, comes with an odor of wet sheep and veins of blue mold that go perfectly with rye bread and coarse red wine.
The measure, announced Jan. 13 by U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab as she headed out the door, was designed as retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of U.S. beef containing hormones. Tit for tat, and all perfectly legal under World Trade Organization rules, U.S. officials explained. (Full)
Shall we add this to the to-do list of Obama: reinstate the stinky trade relations with France?
United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes blasted Hamas for its "cynical" use of civilian facilities during recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip.
"The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law," Holmes told the UN Security Council. (Full)
Picture courtesy AP Photo
A thought to keep in mind for those difficult moments...
Once, during a very stressful period at work, I worked very long hours. Gradually, my body gave me signals. My neck got stiff, gradually my shoulder got stiff, and before I knew it, my shoulder froze. I could barely dress myself.
After a few weeks, I flew back home, a doctor gave me a shot to put some fluid back into my joints and was advised to see a physio-therapist who "would work me back into shape". It was the first time ever I went to a physio-therapist.
The guy looked at me and shook his head: "This will take time". I told him "I don't have time. I give you 14 days. In 14 days, I want to be back as I was before. Do with me what you want, I will work with you on this, but you got 14 days."
He said: "A condition: During those 14 days, you go with me all the way. You will not give up and do what I tell you to do. No matter how painful."
"In revalidation", he said, "no pain: no gain. Pain shows we are at your limit. We're moving your limit."
He started to work with me. On me. He took an arm I could no longer move up nor down, and put some movement back in it, bit by bit. Those of you who ever got through a frozen-shoulder, or any other type of physical revalidation will understand when I tell you "painful" is an understatement.
Every day, twice per day for one hour, the physio-therapist worked on me. In between sessions, I exercised by myself. Every day, my arm, my shoulder, my whole body started to move a bit more. Every day, we went a bit further, and every bit 'further' we went, every time we forced that arm, that shoulder, to move a bit more, came with a deep pain.
A pain that told me 'stop', but my mind was stronger. I wanted to progress. And along the way, I kept one thing in my mind he told me early on: "No pain, no gain".
Transpose this to life, and the things that we go through. Remember in the painful times, times where we are tried. A project does not work well at work, conflicts with family, a divorce, death of a loved one: these are the times where we, as a person, as a family, as a project team, learn and grow. These challenges are put in front of us, so we can grow.
So: don't fear challenges. Embrace them and grow.
Oh, and about the frozen shoulder: yep, in 14 days, I was back on my feet.
In two separate cases, Amnesty International accuses Israel of not respecting international conventions during the recent Gaza conflict:
Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat.
These provisions of international law have not been respected during the recent three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip. Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, repeatedly came under fire from Israeli forces while they were carrying out their duties. At least seven were killed and more than 20 were injured while they were transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead. (Full)
The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza has captured much of the world’s media interest. However, the Israeli forces also used a variety of other weapons against civilian residential built-up areas throughout the Gaza Strip in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.
Among these are flechettes - tiny metal darts (4cm long, sharply pointed at the front and with four fins at the rear) that are packed into 120mm shells. (...)
Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas. (Full)
It is not always easy to describe what it feels like, when working in a remote environment where all of a sudden "things" run out of control.
I found this blog entry from a DFID aidworker, on mission in Chad. The text in combination with the video,... brings back some memories:
The first time I visited Chad in February last year, I picked the wrong weekend. It was the weekend that the rebels reached N’djamena.Video courtesy Stop Genocide Now
The day had started normally enough – breakfast of dry pastries in the terrace restaurant overlooking the river Chari which snakes past the hotel. But by midmorning, a rebel column of 300 vehicles was 30km from the capital, and closing fast, and we were planning our escape on a crackly line to London. Across the river? A quick rush to the US embassy? Or a dash to the nearby airport to wait for the last Air France flight. If it came.
The airport had been secured by the French, and as we plotted our next move, we had an excellent view of the French fighter jets coming and going.In the hotel, the fighting grew closer. French soldiers arrived. (..)
I had got onto chatting terms with the lady who swept the hotel corridors. She was unfazed, and with a very Gallic shrug-of-the-shoulders, she said ‘We are Chadians; we are used to it’.
In the end, we dashed for the airport. The street had been abuzz with pick-up trucks bristling with government troops brandishing rocket launchers, but was now eerily quiet, like a Sunday in suburban London. We caught the last flight out.
It proved to have been a good move, as our hotel, so close to the Presidential Palace, came in for its share of small arms fire. In the video clip [Ed: shot after they left], I was astonished to see French troops in position outside my room. The remaining guests were huddled in the dark in the kitchen, where the cook was continuing to make omelettes. (Full)
With the international (press) spotlights on Gaza, one would forget these -ongoing- humanitarian hotspots:
The Red Cross appealed to both the Tamil Tigers and the government to allow what they estimated at 250,000 people trapped in the northern war zone to flee to safety.
"People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded," according to the ICRC.
"It's high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed," he said, warning there could be "countless victims" if nothing is done.
The government has called on civilians to gather in a small "safe zone" on the edge of rebel territory, but a health official said at least 300 civilians were wounded and scores feared killed by army artillery shells fired into the zone. (Full)
The United Nations will be forced to end food distribution in Somalia unless armed groups stop attacking U.N. staff, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.
Humanitarian workers have been targeted during a two-year-old rebellion by Islamist insurgents that has killed more than 16,000 civilians and uprooted one million others. Four WFP staff have been killed since August last year. (Full)
Kenya and Horn of Africa:
Large areas of Kenya and the Horn of Africa are facing "an exceptional humanitarian crisis" that requires "urgent food assistance and other interventions to combat high malnutrition levels", according to the IFRC's appeal.
The combination of high world food prices and a crippling drought is endangering as many as 20 million people in both rural and urban communities. (Full)
Clashes in Southern Sudan's Warrap state have left 41 people dead and displaced hundreds of others from their homes in the past two months. (Full)
Sudan's government accused Darfur rebels of planning to launch attacks if President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is indicted for war crimes and said that would bring a new round of bloodshed. (Full)
Flooding in some parts of Mindanao has exacerbated the humanitarian situation on the island after nearly five months of deadly fighting between government troops and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Floods affected 40,000 people. More than 300,000 people remain displaced in the conflict-affected areas, many of them living in shelters or with relatives outside government-designated evacuation sites. (Full)
News discovered via AidNews
Picture courtesy Finbarr O'Reilly (Reuters)
The UN is cancelling its corruption task force. The Chigao Tribune covered the story under the title "A UN disgrace":
(The United Nations) created a special task force in 2006 to investigate bid-rigging, bribery and other alleged abuses in the hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts the UN handles every year.
By all accounts, the unit has been busy—and successful. It has uncovered about $630 million in allegedly tainted contracts. Its work has resulted in a criminal conviction of a UN employee and a contractor, disciplinary actions against 17 other UN employees and the suspension or removal of more than 45 private companies from the contracting process. (...)
With that record, you might think the UN would beef up this unit, allow it to ferret out corruption and attempt to restore the UN's shattered reputation. Wrong. The UN thinks the UN has had enough scrutiny, thank you.
The task force expired Jan. 1. The world body failed to renew funding for it. That endangers the 175 investigations the task force did not get to complete.
So much for the UN's zeal to clean up its act.
Some UN bureaucrats harrumph that the task force was not intended to be permanent, that it was a stopgap until the UN could find a permanent way to battle fraud and abuse. That one deserves to be enshrined in the UN's Hall of Lame Excuses. (Full)
Discovered via International Aidworkers Today.
More on The Road about the UN.
Picture courtesy Capitalism Magazine
notice how well-dressed UN Official always are?? Planes, trains and automobiles to move around in... they eat the best foods tax-payer money can provide for them, and drink the finest wines; while discussing poverty around the world....
just another hypocritical system....
And then I receive pictures like this from one of our guys in Myanmar:
When are the people going to understand that there is UN and then there is UN? The political side, the peace keeping side, the humanitarian sides of the UN are very different.
Check out this post to read where I stand...
Picture courtesy Ozdzan Hadziemin.
It is not in the "what" but in the "how" we learn.
Apply this to projects at work, or in general things we do in life: it does not always matter the most IF you reach your goal, or WHEN, rather than HOW.
If you reach your project goals at work by pissing everyone off, is it really worth while?
If you head a project team, and as you move along, along the "Microsoft Project Gant charts" and "critical path analysis", are you also wondering how your team actually functions? What your team members learn along the way? Not just in technical bits, but also in real 'lessons of life'?
And when things go wrong, it is not "what" you do to rectify. But "how"... Do you retract into your old "securities"? Or do you really put yourself "out there".
And are you really?
I was home in Belgium for the weekend. It rushed by. It seems like it was just a few moments ago, I packed hastily to catch my plane to Brussels, and now I arrive back in an empty apartment.
The weekend rushed by. The past weeks rushed by. The past year rushed by.
I grasp for air trying to keep up with the pace of life. Always wondering if I make the right choices. For my loved ones. For the people around me. But also for the work I do, and for myself.
Am I making the most of life? Am I enticing the positive change I would want to make? Am I making the most of the qualities I have? Or am I standing still and is life just rushing by? With little time to enjoy?
And still the joy is often so intense I could almost touch it. Counting blessings also takes time. Time that flies.
From the Google Africa Blog:
In Africa, we've learned that mobile phones are easier to get to than internet connections and PCs, and that working towards our mission means working through mobile phones.
At the beginning of 2008, there were over a quarter of a billion mobile subscribers on the continent. Mobile penetration has risen from just one in 50 people at the beginning of this century to almost one third of the population today.
To that end, we are excited to launch a test of Google SMS Search in Ghana and Nigeria. (Full)
What this means is: in Ghana and Nigeria, you SMS keywords -just as you would enter them in the Google search bar in your browser- and you get an SMS back with the search results.
Here is a practical example of how it looks like.
A real tool, or a lure into higher SMS traffic?
Cat is a UN aid worker, based in Afghanistan. On her blog, she gave a dark report on the state of affairs in the country.
One passage gives a realistic, but at the same time also cynical, glimpse in the life of an aid worker, amidst security incidents and feeling hopeless:
Amidst feelings of guilt and general helplessness, I am also pondering my own safety.Picture courtesy Tom Hanson (AP/Canadian Press)
Whilst staying on the military base the other day in Khost province for a conference, we were attacked. Three rockets were fired from the mountains close by and landed next to the base in a series of loud explosions which made my heart almost stop.
The whole place erupted into a frenzy of sirens - we were ordered to take shelter in our spartan military dormitories, donning our flak jackets and helmets and ordered to wait for further instructions from the base's loudpseaker. This is a vast US base, home to approximately 3,000 soldiers and thousands of metric tonnes of military equipment.
I sat on my little narrow bunk, everyone was quiet and the place was eerily silent except for the sound of humvees and tanks rolling past outside (they each weigh 35 tonnes, so the whole ground shook) and blackhawks and fighter planes overhead.
As we waited diligently for the all-clear, I read People magazine and caught up on Jennifer Aniston's latest news. Apparently she's really excited about turning 40 next month. (Full)
Normally when Britain's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launches an aid appeal, major television channels provide slots for short video ads, often fronted by celebrities, explaining the emergency and how the public can donate money.
In late November, for example, when the coalition of 13 British-based aid agencies asked for funds for their work in eastern Congo, the BBC backed the campaign, airing a two-and-a-half minute film presented by actress Juliet Stevenson.
But not this time: British broadcasters declined to run adverts for the DEC's latest appeal "to help ease the desperate plight of people affected by the conflict in Gaza".
A BBC spokesman said:
"Along with other broadcasters, the BBC has decided not to broadcast the DEC's public appeal to raise funds for Gaza. The BBC's decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation, and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story." (Full)
Several UK ministers urged the BBC to recognise "immense human suffering" and show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. 200 people protested in front of the BBC's studios.
Rivals ITV, Channel 4 and Five -at first supportive of the BBC decision- reversed their decision and will show the charity appeal. They said the issue "transcends politics". (Full)
Here is a summary of backlashing opinions on the BBC's stand. Where they took the decision not to air the appeal in order not to show a perceived bias, clearly it all turned against them. A strong bias was perceived after all.
Thanks to "E" for the tip.
Picture courtesy Wesam Saleh/Maan Images
Yesterday evening, I flew from Rome to Brussels. Two Brussels bound flights were leaving at the same time. At adjacent gates.
And even worse: as both were codeshared between Alitalia and Brussels Airlines, both had both an SN and AZ flight number.
I looked up the schedule for the afternoon flights from Rome to Brussels:
13:15 AZ 7438 / SN 3180
(Alitalia/Brussels Airlines codesharing)
15:00 AP 4222
(Air One - now one group with Alitalia)
15:20 AZ 160 / SN 5022
(Alitalia/Brussels Airlines codesharing)
16:55 SN 3182 / AZ 7064
(Alitalia/Brussels Airlines codesharing)
20:45 AZ 7162 / SN 3184
(Alitalia/Brussels Airlines codesharing)
Five flights per afternoon... No wonder most flights are only half full... And then we are surprised airlines go broke, even after millions of public funds are pumped into them? Maybe one should think of rationalizing before subsidizing...
Or maybe I should not complain, and be happy I can always stretch out over three seats?
Picture courtesy InventorSpot
In International Aidworkers Today, I clipped a news article about Jiri Zivny, a Canadian "aid worker", who apparently was beaten and robbed in Cambodia, and eventually died of his injuries.
Jiri Zivny was 'on mission' for International Humanitarian Hope Society, a so-called 'humanitarian organisation' offering tours in developing countries to "provide an opportunity for people to experience working in orphanages for themselves".
Their website ends on ".com"...
However, via Patronus Analytical, I read this news bulletin, which puts a totally different light on the whole incident. Apparently, Mr.Zivny was not stabbed and robbed, but died of a motorcycle incident... The news article makes allegations the "humanitarian organisation" miss-used the situation to fundraise:
A Canadian humanitarian group that launched a media and fundraising campaign claiming one of its members had been bludgeoned, robbed, stripped of his clothes and left to die in a Cambodian ditch is now asking that his family be left to "grieve in private" following complaints that nothing of the sort happened.While during the hospitalization of Mr. Zivny, they were fundraising to evacuate him back to Canada, they still have a notice on their website: "In memory of Jiri you can make a donation at Valley First Bank. Please make cheques payable to International Humanitarian Hope Society (a tax deductible receipt will be issued)."
The death of the man described in the Canadian media as "Smiling Jiri" has become a potent fundraising tool for the charity in a story that has rolled across both Cambodia and Canada, generating huge publicity and controversy, and apparently money for the charity. But the dead man, Jiri Zivny, may have died as a result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident after a night on the town in the coastal resort of Sihanoukville, a magnet for sex tourists. (sic)
Zivny, who died at the age of 43 in the neurological ward of Cambodia's best hospital, had no bruises or lacerations that would have indicated blunt force trauma inflicted by an assailant, doctors say. (Full)
Up to what extend does the cause justify the means? Even if the cause might be a good one?
And even so.. I have never seen any humanitarian organisation soliciting donations to 'commemorate' the death of one of their associates.
As I said: Smelly!
There is discussion about humanitarian agencies going a bit too far on The Road's discussion forum.
Ben White wrote a provocative opinion piece in the Guardian, under the title "Israel wanted a humanitarian crisis:"
Targeting civilians was a deliberate part of this bid to humiliate Hamas and the Palestinians, and pulverise Gaza into chaos.(...)
First, to what this war on Gaza is not about: it's not about the rockets. During the truce last year, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was reduced by 97%, with the few projectiles that were fired coming from non-Hamas groups opposed to the agreement. Despite this success in vastly improving the security of Israelis in the south, Israel did everything it could to undermine the calm, and provoke Hamas into a conflict.(...)
Estimates for the proportion of civilian deaths among the 1,360 Palestinians killed range from more than half to two-thirds. Politicians, diplomats and journalists are by and large shying away from the obvious, namely that Israel has been deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians and the very infrastructure of normal life, in order to – in the best colonial style – teach the natives a lesson. (Full)
Another clip, also published in The Guardian, features an audio-slides about the use of phosphorous shells in the bombing of the Gaza UN school.
Discovered via The Road Daily.
Picture courtesy PopulistAmerica
The UN's special torture rapporteur called on the US to pursue former president George W. Bush and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture and bad treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.
"Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation" to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said. (..)
He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required "all means, particularly penal law" to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
"We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld," against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
"But obviously the highest authorities in the United States were aware of this," added Nowak, who authored a UN investigation report on the Guantanamo prison. (Full)
You know what I am thinking? Now that Obama is removing the seal of secrecy on loads of government files (nice political move, Obama!), we will see plenty cans of worms. Let Pandora reign and justice be done.
Discovered via The Road Daily.
Adrian White, from the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology, analysed previously published data to create a global projection of subjective well-being: the first world map of happiness.
The research is based on the findings of over 100 different studies around the world, which questioned 80,000 people worldwide.
The top 10 "happiest" countries:
5. The Bahamas
Denmark ended up at the top to "its wealth, natural beauty, small size, quality education, and good health care". At the bottom were the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi.
The U.S. ended up on the 23rd place, the UK on 41, China is 82, Japan 90, and India an unhappy 125.
Here is the map of happiness around the world (the darker red, the merrier):
The original research paper can be found here.
One of President Barack Obama's first was to put the brakes on all pending regulations that the Bush administration tried to push through in its waning days.
For example, just six weeks ago, the Bush administration issued revised endangered species regulations to reduce the input of federal scientists and to block the law from being used to fight global warming.
The order went out shortly after Obama was inaugurated president, in a memorandum signed by new White House chief of staff.
Former President George W. Bush's administration moved into overdrive in the last year or so on a host of new regulatory proposals. Now the Obama administration will review everything that is still pending. (Full)
Picture courtesy Getty Images
At least 34 United Nations staff lost their lives as a result of malicious acts in 2008. At least seven truck drivers working for the World Food Programme were killed in Sudan and Somalia. Ten peacekeepers were killed in Darfur. A suicide car bombing against a United Nations compound in northern Somalia killed two. (Full)
Kevin at Patronus Analytical, is a security specialist working for aid and development organisations. He does an excellent job in tracking all incidents in his blog.
He has just started the most complete overview of security incidents involving aid workers you can find anywhere, listing all incidents chronological. He also maps them out as well. Excellent job, Kevin!
Picture courtesy Martin Walsh (WFP)
It must be sad to leave a job after 8 years, knowing most of the people you dealt with, think badly of you, and your performance.
Even more so when there's a couple of billion people thinking you are the worst ever.
Picture courtesy Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
I experimented collapsing posts on The Road so people get a faster overview of the different posts, while one could still read the post clicking the "Full Post +/-" button.
I ran a poll in the side column for a while, asking for feedback.
3 answered they wanted to see the full post straight away
8 liked the collapse feature
5 had no preference.
Taking into account also the feedback I received on this topic on The Road's discussion forum, I decided to implement this feature "in production".
I am still experimenting a bit with the layout of the button, but we're almost there.
Thanks all for the feedback!
Picture courtesy my brother Kris.
In their 564-page World Report 2009, Human Rights Watch reviews the human rights practices around the globe, summarizing major human rights issues in more than 90 countries.
The report documents ongoing human rights abuses by states and non-state armed groups across the globe, including attacks on civilians in conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, and political repression in countries such as Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.
It also highlights violations by governments trying to curb terrorism, including in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The report also addresses abuses against women, children, refugees, workers, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, among others.
The human rights crisis in Gaza, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in fighting between Israel and Hamas, underscores the need for concerted international attention to the rights abuses that plague today's armed conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. (Full)
An extract of the annual report:
Governments that care about human rights worldwide retain enough clout to build a broad coalition to fight repression—if they are willing to use it.More on The Road about human rights.
Instead, these governments have largely abandoned the field. Succumbing to competing interests and credibility problems of their own making, they have let themselves be outmaneuvered and sidelined in UN venues such as the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, and in the policy debates that shape multilateral diplomacy toward Burma, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and other trouble spots.
For the United States, that withdrawal is the logical consequence of the Bush administration’s decision to combat terrorism without regard to the basic rights not to be subjected to torture, “disappearance,” or detention without trial.
Against that backdrop, Washington’s periodic efforts to discuss rights have been undercut by justifiable accusations of hypocrisy. Reversing that ugly record must be a first priority for the new administration of Barack Obama if the US government is to assume a credible leadership role on human rights.
Washington’s frequent abdication has often forced the European Union to act on its own. Sometimes it has done so admirably, such as after the Russia-Georgia conflict, when its deployment of monitors eased tensions and helped protect civilians, or in eastern Chad, where it sent 3,300 troops as part of a UN civilian protection mission.
But the EU did a poor job of projecting its influence more broadly, to places like Burma, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. It often sought to avoid the political fallout of doing nothing by hiding behind a cumbersome EU decision-making process that favors inaction. Moreover, its frequent reluctance to stand up to the Bush administration in protest against abusive counterterrorism policies opened the EU to charges of double standards that poisoned the global debate on human rights and made it easier for spoilers to prevail. (Full)
Picture courtesy Patrick Andre Perron
I live half a mile from the beach in Fregene, near Rome. As today was such a gorgeous day, I went for a walk around sunset... Look at the movie the Gods played on the beach this evening:
And to make it all picture perfect, they injected
this "guy fishing in the sea" into the script:
Watch this evening's pictures in a Flickr slideshow
More on The Road about Rome, Italy, or living in Italy.
Today, about 3,000 people took to the streets protesting the Israeli incursion of Gaza.
Our local reporter "E" was present on the spot, reporting on what she called "a peaceful demonstration". She sent these pictures live from the rally.
Our blog's social project, allocating micro-finance loans through Kiva, contributed to a success story it seems:
Up to date, Kiva allocated loans worth a total of $56,393,860 to entrepreneurs around the world.
Only this week, 3,299 businesses were funded. 14,000 lenders gave over $1,000,000 of loans. Again: in ONE week.
To date, we fundraised $3,725 on our blog and the Road's team members contributed another $585 directly.
The people we gave loans to already paid back $482, a sum I'm allocating to new micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world.
The Road's lenders team now has 11 members (Alexander in Canada was the latest to join in. - Welcome Alexander!)
The Kiva project is that big a hit that today they ran out of projects to be funded: "Currently, we are experiencing a traffic spike and all previously fundraising loans have been fully funded."
The snowball effect of doing good...
Follow the progress of The Road's Kiva project and join the project's discussion thread on our discussion forum.
Collateral damage is defined as: "Unintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time. Such damage is not unlawful so long as it is not excessive in light of the overall military advantage anticipated from the attack."
Now look at this extract from the latest UN situation report in Gaza:
As of 12 January, there were five UNRWA [Ed: UN Relief and Works Agency] staff fatalities and three UNRWA contractor fatalities due to the fighting since 27 December.
There were also four UNRWA staff and four UNRWA contractors injured. One WFP [Ed: UN World Food Programme] contractor was killed and two others were injured.
At least 49 UN buildings have sustained damage during the fighting; one international NGO partner clinic has reportedly been destroyed; and several NGO compounds have been damaged. There have also been at least four incidents of aid convoys being hit by gunfire. (Full)
Now I ask you: how collateral is this really? Can this still be understood as "unintentional" and "incidental"?
See also Civilian and aid worker casualties on the rise in Gaza.
Picture courtesy AFP
The UNRWA headquarters in Gaza was shelled by Israeli forces today, injuring three employees and setting fire to warehouses of badly-needed aid.
This happened while UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Israel, who commented to be "outraged". The UN operations in Gaza were temporarily suspended.
The fire, which was still raging hours later, destroyed an estimated "tens of millions of dollars worth of aid," the UN spokesperson said.
The UN is trying to evacuate the 700 people who took refuge in the compound.
The UN claims an other phosphorous shell landed in the compound, near the fuel depot.
Under international law phosphorous bombs can not be used in the vicinity of civilians. (See earlier post)
Another humanitarian group, CARE International, said it too had been forced to suspend all deliveries of food and medical supplies due to heavy bombardment in and around its warehouses and distribution sites in Gaza City. (Full)
More posts on The Road about Gaza
Picture courtesy Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency
Whenever it all gets too much, I make soup.
Input: a couple of kilogrammes of zucca (pumpkin), pomodori (tomatoes), porri (leek), cipolle (red onion), carote (carrots), peperoni (bell peppers) etc..
One of the outputs:
I have enough zuppa di zucca (pumpkin soup), zuppa di porri (leek soup) and minestrone (mixed vegetable) to last for a couple of weeks. Think we're having "a soup-only dinner", to raise funds for our social project.
PS: and for the connoisseurs of my soups: Yep, as per traditions, all of the soups had "balls" !
From our reporter in Gaza:
As we monitored the two webcams at the Gaza/Israel Keram Shalom border crossing today (this post), it soon became apparent that the camera pointing towards Gaza had a chronic problem with a fly walking over the lens. The camera pointing towards Israel's side of the border was fly-free.
The Palestinian authorities immediately launched an official objection at the UN Security Council, calling for a resolution to have the Gaza camera fly-free too.
This prompted the UN Secretary-General to deploy an online UN monitoring force, the UN International Fly Observers (UNIFO), who reported the following:
[Gaza side]: 09:15- Fly walks over. Stops.
[Gaza side]: 09:17- Fly sits on side of screen
[Gaza side]: 09:19- Fly walks to the other side
(..) goes on until 10:17 when things get heated up:
[Gaza side]: 10:17- Two flies have sex. Duration 1.12 sec
[Gaza side]: 10:25- Two flies have sex. Duration 1.54 sec
[Gaza side]: 11:05- Two flies have sex. Duration 10.04 sec
After the report was shared with the reporters in the late afternoon, Hamas called a press conference, claiming the two flies were Palestinian - as they were on the Gaza-pointed camera.
Israel officially objected by claiming the fly-act. The spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Information stated that.. "10.04 seconds of sex for a fly is equal to 10 hours of sex for humans. We have detailed ..euh.. information that no Palestinian fly can have sex for 10.04 seconds. The third fly-sex record was indeed done by Israeli flies."
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society made things more complex by stating they evacuated two entangled flies around 11:10, confirming they were indeed Palestinian. Israel resolutely claimed the flies were under-cover Mossad agents, asked for their release, and called for an impromptu fly-embargo on Gaza.
Egypt extended its solidarity to the Palestinian cause by sending a container full of flies to Gaza, a shipment coordinated by the UN. Hamas consecutively confiscated the shipment and sold the flies to Israeli farmers, claiming they were bees.
Israel replicated by spraying the flies on the Gaza-pointed webcam with "BAM", a US-supplied insecticide. This drastic move was condemned by WTF, the World Trustfund for Flies, as a war crime.
The Arab League started the "Free the FLIES" campaign which, apparently, already has 100,000 registered signatures, even before the website came online.
George Lucas will make a movie out of the incident, apparently to be called "Sex on the Fly".
More satire on The Road.
While the political rhetoric, misinformation and propaganda about the Israel-Palestinian conflict continues, we should not forget the human aspect of the suffering. Let's put faces on a war:
From Times online: "Gaza families eat grass as Israel locks border".
As a convoy of blue-and-white United Nations trucks loaded with food waited last night for Israeli permission to enter Gaza, Jindiya Abu Amra and her 12-year-old daughter went scrounging for the wild grass their family now lives on.
“We had one meal today - khobbeizeh,” said Abu Amra, 43, showing the leaves of a plant that grows along the streets of Gaza. “Every day, I wake up and start looking for wood and plastic to burn for fuel and I beg. When I find nothing, we eat this grass.”
Abu Amra and her unemployed husband have seven daughters and a son. Their tiny breeze-block house has had no furniture since they burnt the last cupboard for heat.
“I can’t remember seeing a fruit,” said Rabab, 12, who goes with her mother most mornings to scavenge. She is dressed in a tracksuit top and holed jeans, and her feet are bare.
From CNN: "Aid worker: Gaza blockade lacks all humanity"
I arrived in Israel yesterday to work with Mercy Corps, an international aid organization, to assist the Gazans who are suffering from the conflict and over 18 months of harsh blockades that have left their cupboards bare and their banks empty of cash. (...)
In 2007 an average of 500 trucks a day entered Gaza with food and supplies. In comparison, yesterday, just 36 humanitarian trucks were allowed access to Gaza. With almost the entire population of 1.5 million Gazans dependent on humanitarian assistance, it is obvious that the incoming aid is not even remotely adequate.
We have spent the past 11 days working through Israeli red tape and protocols that seemed to change daily, to secure the permission to deliver food aid. We have a truck filled with rice, cooking oil, canned tuna fish and edible dates that will feed 2,000 people for about a week.
Yesterday the delivery was supposed go through but at 2:00 a.m. we received notice from the Israeli authorities that the delivery was being postponed because it contained edible dates as part of the package.
From AP: "Gaza medics face war's carnage daily"
Few are more exposed to the carnage of Israel's two-week military offensive than Gaza's medics, who number around 400 including volunteers. They work long hours, get little sleep and risk their lives daily. Many have lost friends and family, but the overwhelming workload leaves no time to process what they've seen.
Awaiting coordination with Israel often delays access to the injured, medics said. Some reported finding people stranded in their homes for days, or bodies lying in the streets uncollected.
"Disgusting is not the word," said Shawki Saleh, 24, a volunteer medic at Kamal Adwan hospital. "If it's not a dog, it's rats around the bodies. ... I've been doing this volunteer work for two years but I never imagined I'd see this. Who knows how many people are still under the rubble. We were carrying them out screaming."
In one long workday, medic Haitham Adgheir carried five corpses, saw six more at a Gaza hospital, and his medical convoy took Israeli tank fire that showered a driver with glass.
"My mind is like a video of body parts and injured people," said Adgheir, 33.
Picture courtesy Ismail Zaydah/Reuters
Here is a summary of The Road's 12th social project:
the Quirudis Altagracia Women
in the Dominican Republic.
The leader of this group, Quirudis Altagracia, is an experienced and confident businesswoman. She owns and operates a successful grocery store located in her community, Guanuma, in Yamasa (Dominican Republic).
About a year ago, she received a loan to strengthen her business, allowing her to restock her store, adding new products which were in high demand in her neighborhood.
With profits from her business, Quirudis was able to start the concrete foundation for her house. She would like to expand her business to finish her house construction, and to support her family.
Quirudis is joined in her group by: Santa Acevedo Henrique, a high-spirited and hard-working woman who sells women's clothing; Silvestrina Mariano, who operates a fruit stand; and Yocelin Estevez and Miliota Milien, who sell clothing and underwear in the neighborhood.
The photo shows from left to right: Santa, Quirudis, Silvestrina, Yocelin and Miliota. (See also the group's full profile on Kiva)
This loan goes through "Fundación San Miguel Arcángel", the local micro financing partner of Kiva.
Loan Request: $1,525
Repayment terms: 5 months (Deadline June 15 2009)
We gave her a loan of US$50
This is The Road's 12th social project. The funds for this loan were donated by the VK0IR Heard Island expedition team.
More on The Road's social project "Change Starts Here".
You can keep track of our project via our score card.
A bitter-sweet story from Pyjama Samsara, one of the blogs I follow:
Back in Australia, I have been regaling friends and family of tales of my (mis)adventures. There is one tale I hadn't blogged about at the time, as it was all a bit raw and close-to-heart. But now, three years later, with some distance, it's time to tell the tale.
It was early 2006, and I was in Afghanistan. My estranged husband had e-divorced me. No other relationship seemed to work. I was 32, and was convinced that I would never find love again. I would sit at my desk in the frigid office I shared with three Afghan staff, and tears would fall from my face. My colleagues were worried about me. "Is there a problem? Are you sick?", they would ask. "No", I replied. Trying to explain things in Afghan terms, I explained, "My husband left me, and I am growing old. I don't know if I will be happy again". News spread fast. Before I knew it, all the women in the office were praying for me. Much to my horror, others were trying to matchmake me to brothers or cousins.
One morning, when we were alone in the office together, an Afghan colleague came up to me and said, "I have spoken to my wife. We would like to propose marriage to you. You are a divorced woman, and are now too old to marry. You can be my second wife. My wife is pregnant, and will give birth in one month. We can give the baby to you because you are too old to be pregnant. Also, it's already her fifth child. We live on a hill and the well is at the bottom of the hill. But do not worry, we will not make you carry the water".
I only wish I was able to meet his wife to thank her for her generosity.
This story brings back memories from my time in Afghanistan. One of my most vivid recollections, I described in the short story In Pace.
To the date, two years ago I published my first post on this blog. "How did we get here, where are we going to?", I ask.
Mid 2006, I took a 13 months' sabbatical. I needed a break from work, re-evaluate where I stood, reconnect with my family, sail the Atlantic, and write down the stories in my mind. Stories of people I had met and situations I had lived through.
As I was writing, I missed something. Without anyone reading the stories, it felt pointless.
I did not want to go through the agony of publishing them on paper neither so I thought of the Internet.
I had never published anything on the Internet. Did not know where to start. I downloaded a copy of Dreamweaver and tried to design my own webpage. It was too cumbersome.
By coincidence, I discovered something called "blogs". So I tried it out. It took a few days to figure out this was probably the right way "to give access" to the stories.
Several weeks later, all stories were online.
While I was at it, I took a book I wrote years ago, about my past expeditions to the Antarctic and the Pacific, and published it on Verslaafd aan de Horizon (Addicted to the Horizon).
As I got familiar with the blogplatform, one fine day, I realized I could continue writing and publishing on this blog. That day, The Road transformed from a static eBook, to a dynamic blog.
I started writing about stuff I experienced around me, in daily life. I started to publish news I found interesting. Pictures, videos and sites I discovered.. Before I knew it, the blog started to create an audience.
The look and feel of The Road started with a very simple blog template. Learning about HTML and all that stuff, as I went along, I tweaked it bit by bit, and for almost a year, this is what The Road looked like:
Many tweaks later, with a lot of blood and tears in trying to understand "webstuff" and Internet publishing, what you have today is the result of "a road" of two years.
So, today The Road celebrates its second birthday. A cake with 955 candles on it, one for every post published.
222,000 people from 208 countries visited The Road in the past two years. 23,000 came back at least twice. 6,000 of you came to read updates at least 100 times. About 100 of you drop by at least once every two days. About 150-200 of you subscribe to daily updates via email or RSS feeds.
Apart from ego-tripping on how proud that makes me feel, what do I want to do with all this?
Well, it seems gradually we form a community around this blog. A loosely knitted connection of people either interested in travel, adventure, or the humanitarian issues. I would like to take this community a step further..
That is what I tried with Change Starts Here, the blog's social project, where we raised over US$4,000 for micro-financing projects. I'm happy with the results. It is feasible to start some "action" with you all.
That's also why I started The Road's discussion forum, to start more interactivity in 'our community'.
Summarizing, these are my goals for this blog:
- continue inspiring people
- have the community gathered loosely around The Road, to make a small change in the world. For the better.
And that is my wish as we're blowing out the candles on The Road's birthday cake.
Thank you for walking The Road with me in the past two years. We still have a long way to go before we reach The Horizon, but let's enjoy what we experience while walking along this road, this path of life. And do good for those around us, as we discover the world on our path.
Pictures courtesy Sleepishly (birthday cake) and my brother Kris (winter beauty).
The war in Gaza escalates. Civilian and aid worker casualties on the rise. Words "Crimes Against Humanity" coming up.
Today Israel dropped bombs and leaflets on Gaza, pounding suspected rocket sites and tunnels used by Hamas militants and warning of a wider offensive despite frantic diplomacy to end the bloodshed. It is clear this conflict is nowhere near to the end (Full)
Rejecting Friday's UN Security Council resolution that called for an immediate and durable cease-fire, Israel and Hamas continued to fight. Israeli jets and troops attacked Hamas targets in Gaza, and Palestinian militants fired about 30 rockets into southern Israel. (Full)
Meanwhile, the international community is building up criticism on Israel's indiscriminate targeting of civilians and aid workers:
- ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross) stated Israel has violated its obligations under international humanitarian law by refusing to assist civilians wounded in its attacks on the Gaza Strip. In the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City, ICRC workers found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. ICRC stated "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded." (Full)
- On December 30, several Israeli gunboats intercepted a ship with aid supplies, the SS Dignity, in international waters. The ship carried international medical aid workers and three tonnes of medical supplies. One Israeli gunboat is believed to have rammed the boat on the port bow side, heavily damaging her. (Full)
- On Friday night, an Israeli drone missile hit a car from the Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), an international NGO. NPA stated the car was clearly marked with the NPA logo, and that it was impossible not to recognize that this was a humanitarian vehicle. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated the incident as a clear violation of international law. (Full)
- Earlier this week, an ambulance belonging to an Oxfam partner organisation was hit by an Israeli shell, killing one aidworker, and injuring two others. (Full)
- A CARE aidworker was killed on January 6th in an aerial bombing. Mohammed Ibrahim Samouni, a father of six, was killed and his son was critically injured. (Full)
- Also last week, an Israeli tank shelled a clearly marked UN school, leaving 43 Palestinians civilian dead and almost 150 injured. 1,600 people were taking shelter in the school, according to the UN, who confirmed there were only civilians in the school, which was clearly marked with a UN flag and its GPS location was duely reported to the Israeli authorities. (Full)
- Human Rights Watch accused Israel of using white-phosphorus munitions during its offensive in the Gaza Strip and warned of the risk to Palestinian civilians who live near the fighting. The use of white-phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates international humanitarian law (Full)
- On Thursday a aidworker was killed after a UN relief agency convoy came under fire from Israeli forces. The attack took place as the lorries travelled to the Erez border crossing to pick up supplies. The incident happened during an Israel approved three hour seize fire aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to move into Gaza. This eventually caused UNRWA, the main UN agency providing aid to the Palestinians, to suspend all food aid. (Full)
- Israeli forces shelled a house in which they had moved around 110 Palestinians into 24 hours earlier. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called it "one of the gravest incidents" since the beginning of the offensive. 30 people were killed. (Full)
- Similar incidents were singled out by Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She called for independent investigations into possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. "I am concerned with violations of international law. Incidents such as this must be investigated because they display elements of what could constitute war crimes," Pillay told the press. (Full)
- As many as 257 children have been killed and 1,080 wounded (a third of the total casualties since Dec. 27) according to U.N. figures released on Thursday. (Full)
Picture courtesy Mohammed Salem (ABCNews)
A sad start-of-year balance: violence, wars, political turmoil and natural disasters forced 11 million people in Central and East Africa out of their homes.
9.1 million became refugees within their own country ("internally displaced persons (IDPs) in humanitarian lingo). Half the IDPs 4,576,250 are in Sudan. 2,700,000 of them in the war-torn Darfur region.
1.8 million people were forced to seek haven outside their homelands, most of them hosted by Chad, Tanzania and Kenya.
Displacement in the region is triggered mainly by armed conflicts and natural disasters such as floods and drought. Frequently, several of these hit a country at the same time, creating complex humanitarian emergencies. Scarcity of resources, limited access to land and inconclusive peace and reconciliation processes create multiple challenges blocking the return home.
Humanitarian response to both acute and long-term displacement is often hampered by lack of access to the affected people due to ongoing conflict and persistent high insecurity including the targeting of humanitarian workers. (Full)
There are a total of 26 million internally displaced people throughout the world, and approximately 13.9 million refugees are forced to live in a country other than their own. (Full)
Picture courtesy ABCNews
Today, I allocated the final balance for the funds raised via the "Change Starts Here" kick-off post.
I also re-invested US$141 received as repayments for loans we gave in the past two months.
The loans given today were:
- Olawuni Emmanuel in Nigeria: $25 to increase stocks in her shop.
- Tinuke Tajudeen in Nigeria: $50 to increase her soft drinks stock in her shop.
- Mery in Peru: $50 for her shop's beauty product stocks.
- Samon Chork Women in Cambodia: $75 to buy more cattle.
- Hermelinda Sinarahua in Peru: $50 for more food ingredients for her small restaurant.
- Mawusse Attila in Togo: $50 for her shop's stock increase.
- Khalida Parveen Women in Pakistan : $100 for the repair of a rikshaw, a new donkey cart, and different tools.
- Nupcia Suarez in Nicaragua: $50 for a fence around her home so she can live more secure.
- Luaiva Tiamamana in Samoa: $50 to start her ice-cake business.
- Magdalena in Peru: $50 to increase the stocks of her shop.
- Sharofat Turaqulova in Tajikistan: $50 to buy a new stock of winter clothing for her shop.
Don't just sit there! Join our Kiva lending team. It takes 10 minutes and you can allocate loans as small as $25 to any project you like. There is no overhead, you pay via your credit card, and when loans are repaid, they are repaid to YOU and not to the team.
Monitor our project's progress on our score card.
Join the "Change Start Here"-thread in our discussion forum.