Emily Troutman is now a UN Citizen Ambassador

We featured photographer, writer and videographer Emily Troutman in two separate interviews here on The Road: one on her video "Why Congo Matters" and another one on her appointment as "UN Citizen Ambassador" after she made a compelling video message to world leaders.

Above is her interview with CNN after she recently received her award from UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon.

Well done, Emily!

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A distracted mind

Two similar boxes, right? A green and a blue one. For two winters, I have been driving around with the blue box in my trunk, thinking it contained snow chains.

Until today, I found the green box on the shelf in my garage.

So apparently, for two winters, I have been driving around with a "jeu de boules" in the back of my car.

Oh well...

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Ending the year on a sad note: lost two more colleagues.

Liberia War

2007 was bad. 2008 was worse. 2009 topped them all. And the last week of the year was no exception to a very disturbing trend: the aid community lost two colleagues again. Ali Farah Amey was shot dead in Beledweyn (Somalia) and a 24 year national UN staff member was killed in a suicide bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Aidworkers become part of a free-for-all turkey shoot. I can't put it more blunt than that.

In a post reminding everyone on the plight of his two colleagues taken hostage in Darfur, fellow blogger Paul Conneally states:
There is another aspect which niggles slightly and that is the deafening silence that generally meets the news of aid workers being killed or taken hostage. There is not only a relative silence from governments, media or the public but even from the humanitarian sector itself. Compare the death in Afghanistan of aid workers to that of soldiers who, by and large, are armed to the teeth and sent to Afghanistan to kill or be killed. I don't dispute military interventions - not my business - but it is quiet incredible that the media is so keen to eulogize the military as 'fallen heroes' and ignore those who risk (and give) their lives desperately trying to make a difference on the human level without resorting to state of the art munitions and military occupation.
But I want to make it even more black and white: We, the aid community are left clueless what to do with this increased risk we face. The only thing we seem to be doing is piling up those sandbags even higher. Buying more bomb-blast film, bullet-proof jackets and mine-resistant Kevlar layers for our vehicles. Measures which should be taken, but proven to be insufficient.

I will make a prediction for 2010: there will be no end to the killing of aidworkers. And unless the aid community drastically changes its approach toward the risks now inherent to aidwork, one year from now, we will be looking back at the year 2010 and say "This was a bad year....".

My suggestions to any aid organisation who is concerned about security for their staff:
  1. Make it compulsive for all aid staff to follow a two-three days security awareness course. The course is to be re-done, as a refresher, every two years.
  2. Everyone going into high risk area, should get a separate and customized security briefing.
  3. Every agency and NGO should comply with the MOSS (Minimum Operational Security Standards), and ensure the MOSS guidelines are strictly adhered to. MOSS compliance is to be verified by an independent external team.
  4. Security compliance should become part of the normal audit cycle. Complaints about security deficiencies should be handled with the same priority as theft, harassment or embezzlement.
  5. Every agency and NGO should employ a "Dirty Harry" team, with one and only one task: to try and bypass the security systems in order to expose deficiencies.
  6. And most importantly: as you can not reduce the thread, but can only decrease the risk to your staff members: reduce the amount of people we employ in security-risky areas. Resist donor pressure and the aidwork-inherent-testosterone-craze by wanting to rush into any emergency operation, without thinking "are we really needed there?".
Picture discovered via War and Peace

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Yahoo does not exist anymore

They did not tell anyone, to keep them stocks floating high, but actually Yahoo does not exist anymore. It has become a virtual team of pre-teen hobbyists, working from their garage.
At least that is what I can tell from the (lack of) support for some of their products. Yahoo Pipes is one of them.

The Yahoo Pipes servers, previously running in a cloud-environment, have all been replaced by a single laptop owned by Johnny, a volunteer, in Santa Monica. When his mum cleans his room, and accidentally hits the power switch of his laptop, Yahoo Pipes goes down. Down until Johnny comes back from kindergarten. He is 5 years old, and mostly uses his laptop to play the "Musti" DVD.

The support for all their products is done by automated bots saying "Issue solved now, can you try it again, and report back if you experience more problems?".
They did consider to outsource the product support to a single call center in Bombay, which also caters for Johnny's Pizza Take-away, Rent-a-Girl Escort services and Gary's Route 66 Tow-away road service. It was too costly.

Yahoo apologizes for any possible inconvenience, but reminds its faithful clientele: "When reaching the bottom, there is only one way. Up!"

Market experts say this phrase has now shown up in several of Yahoo's press releases, which confirms the rumour all Yahoo services will soon be renamed as "Yahoo Up!", to distinguish from their current service level, which is now commonly referred to as "Yahoo Down!". It is said that the key to Yahoo's increased service level will be Sarah, the 6 year old girlfriend from Johnny. She just got her dad's old laptop for Xmas.

More satire on The Road.

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Neda is the "Times person of the Year"

Back in June, violent protests erupted all over Iran to contest the obvious election fraud. During the time, I reported on the influence of social media in the street fights, and had one article about "Neda", a 26 year old girl who was shot in the heart while in a traffic jam near the protests.

Someone caught the killing on a mobile phone and posted it on YouTube. I predicted then that Neda would become the face of the 2nd Iranian revolution, and it seems Time magazine helped a bit (politically inspired or not): Neda is now the Time Magazine Person of the Year.

Picture courtesy The Times

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Vintage: Looking forward

Can't help it. I love vintage pictures. Found a nice collection on Livejournal.

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Humanitarian News got a facelift


After four months of tweaking the backend systems and RSS feeds for Humanitarian News, my mega news aggregator now collects about 15,000 articles per month from 600+ handpicked sources.

The site is now probably the largest single repository of nonprofit news articles and blogs. It turns out to be quite a resource to look up publications related to aid, development, the environment and the nonprofit sector as a whole. It gets about 6,000 visitors per month.

So it was high time to get out that botox syringe, all liposuction equipment and do an extreme makeover over the site's layout.

Old layout:

New layout:
Humanitarian News new layout

For the techies amongst you: Humanitarian News is my first site running on Drupal, so tweaking the theme was quite a discovery. But I am pleased with the result.

Cartoon courtesy Toon Pool

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The 2009 Humanity's Shame List. Vote Now!

The results are out. See this post.

A week ago, I called for nominations for the "2009 Humanity's Shame List", a top-10 highlighting the last year's events we, humanity as a whole, should be ashamed of.

As of now, until December 31st, you can cast your vote at the bottom of this post, to stress the importance of the individual disgraces.

Here are the nominations:

  1. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): The international community ignored the widespread violence against civilians, mostly women and children. Meanwhile the largest UN Peacekeeping force in the world was unable to make a significant difference in the world's biggest human catastrophy.
  2. Sudan: The international community failed to execute the international arrest warrant for the Sudanese President, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Non-action allowed the Darfur genocide to continue, tolerated the expulsion of a dozen NGOs on allegations of spying. Meanwhile Khartoum arms fractions in South Sudan, preparing for a new war.
  3. Copenhagen: Where the world's political leaders failed to come up with a significant agreement to protect the environment.
  4. Somalia: The international community failed to stop the politicization of the civil war, with the US through its proxy Ethiopia, and some Arab states through their proxy Eritrea who did nothing but put oil on the fire. Meanwhile the donor community failed to provide sufficient aid to sustain the feeding centers and refugee camps.
  5. Zimbabwe: The international community failed to pressure Zimbabwe's government to provide sufficient social security, social safety nets and proper social welfare to its citizens, turning what once was the breadbasket of Sub-saharan Africa, into a well of hunger and human suffering.
  6. Afghanistan: The international community and the UN underestimated the level of corruption during the elections, trying to cover it up while supporting Karzai, ignoring all reports of large scale fraud.
  7. Pakistan: Armed interventions in the Swat province plunged the country into chaos, riddled with suicide attacks, displacing over 2 million people, with no hope of a longer term peace settlement.
  8. US: Continued their short sighted armed interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, plunging any country they touch, into chaos. Further mixing humanitarian and military causes, continues to put the lives of aidworkers at stake.
  9. Sri Lanka: The international community failed to highlight the crimes against humanity and genocide the Sri Lankan government covered up during the last weeks of their civil war in an attempt to exterminate the Tamil population as a whole, locking up all civilians in camps which are rated as 'inhumane'.
  10. Palestine: the Gaza blockade, implemented by Israel and Egypt and endorsed by most governments, collectively punishes 1.5 million refugees by inhibiting education, reconstruction, health and nutrition to allow the people to break out of a vicious circle of abuse. Hamas is cruelly and strategically using the Gaza situation to its political advantage. Israel used the highest grade weaponry to indiscriminately kill civilians, target aid organisations and schools.
  11. Guinee: Where the government violently suppressed protests through whatever means, including widespread rape.
  12. World hunger: We allowed a record of 1 billion people to go hungry, while the world is producing sufficient food.
  13. GMO seed and food market manipulation: Monsanto and Cargill further monopolized the seed market, using the US government to introduce GMO food and seeds into developing countries. Shame on Monsanto for single-handedly causing the autumn corn harvest in South Africa to fail.
  14. LRA: For their atrocities in DRC, Uganda, Chad and Sudan, with an international community unable to stop the abduction of children as sex slaves and child soldiers, widespread rape and indiscriminately killing amongst civilians.
  15. Ethiopia: Wide spread famine taking gigantic proportions, despite a decade of aid efforts. Press and NGOs were closely monitored not to make the disaster "too public". Meanwhile, as a US proxy, Ethiopia continued their shady role in the Somalia crisis, discriminating their in-country political opposition and keeping a close lid on their civil war in Ogaden.
  16. Iran: Rigged elections caused widespread protests, violently suppressed by the government killing innocent civilians to secure the government's handle on internal and external affairs.
  17. Belgium: Administrative Kafka-ian hurdles paralysed the government in providing inadequate shelter and protection for the homeless and the asylum seekers during the severe winter.
  18. North Korea: for their scare tactics, failure to cooperate with any common sense, and their wide spread human rights violations.
  19. ASEAN: looking seeking to improve trade relations, but at the expense of basic rights across the entire region, the US plays along. Genocide in Burma continues.
  20. Neocolonialism: EU, Middle East and Far East countries are buying up and leasing land in Africa either for biofuel production, or production of their own food. Despite the fact that those countries do not produce enough food for their own yet.
  21. Aid agencies: for not being accountable for the $100 billion a year, failing the world's poor.
  22. China: for equivocating in Sudan for the sake of oil resources, circumventing the international arms embargo for Sudan and Zimbabwe, and being a main stumbling block at the Copenhagen summit.
  23. The international community: for being schizophrenic at the cost of human suffering in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, DRC, Myanmar and so on, and so on.

Here is the poll:
(You can vote for several nominees at the same time)

If you are unable to view the poll in your browser, you can also access it directly on PollDaddy.

Spread the word, and let's have a mass voting to show we care, and to give a clear sign these shameful events are to be stopped.

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Security amiss: Firecrackers on plane and pope attacked

airport security cartoon

Further to my post about how security all boils down to "the people who implement it", rather that to "the systems themselves":

The pope was attacked at the start of the midnight Christmas mass, and someone set off firecrackers aboard a US transatlantic plane..

Lunatics in both cases, I am sure. But what if the intent was more serious?

It seems the fire cracker guy was serious, and it was an attempt to blow up the plane. To make everyone feel comfortable: US officials confirmed he was on a terrorist watchlist.

Cartoon courtesy Bob Englehart/The Hartford Courant (via The Moderate Voice)

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Merry Xmas, y'all !

Christmas cartoon

To all fellow lunatics out there: Merry Xmas!

Cartoon courtesy Jeff Swenson and Frenetic Funnies

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The US plan for Afghanistan. Page 22

US plans for Afghanistan - Click on image to enlarge

It's officially called "COIN" abbreviation for "COunter INtelligence".

Should probably be called WIN: "Without INtelligence".
Or HOTOSOFET: "HOw TO Stimulate Our Failing Economy Through foreign wars".
According to a recent figures, one gallon oil costs the invading troops $400. The annual expenditure of one soldier is almost one million US dollar. Yearly, the presence of US troops in Afghanistan costs $103 bn, including the troop surge recently announced by Obama.

According to the Sept 21 2009 Congressional Research Service Report, there are 73,968 private contractors working for the US military in Afghanistan. (Full)

Picture courtesy Incredimazing, discovered via Aidwatchers

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Why that damned war in Afghanistan is so complex

The Afghanistan conflict

No explanation needed.

Source: Ari Rusila

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2009 Humanity's Shame Top 10: Taking nominations now!

Comments are closed on this post, and the nominations are included in the poll.
Cast your vote on this post. The results are out - see this post.

Imagine we have an official mission from outaspace. As they get out of their spacecraft the leaders of our earth welcome them. For two months, the aliens will tour around the world, at their free will. Observing, asking, questioning,...

What according to you would be the things we -as a human race-, we -humanity as a whole- would be ashamed of? Things we would be unable to explain, to justify? Things we would have to bow our head with shame?

In this post, I had a go at MSF's top 10 humanitarian crisis highlights for 2009. So now is the time to prove WE can do better:

Let's make a list, our very own Top 10, our "2009 Humanity's Shame Top 10": things "we" -humanity as whole- should be ashamed of. What shameful 2009 event should we highlight, so we can improve in 2010?

Here is how we will do this:
  1. I will take nominations for the "Shame List", as comments to this post. Deadline December 24th midnight EU time. So start posting your comments on this post NOW. The nominations should concern an event that happened, or peaked, or had a significant humanitarian impact in 2009.
  2. On Dec 26th, I will put out a post with a poll with all nominees on the top 10 "Shame List". Then you can vote for those which you think we should be the most ashamed of until Dec 31st midnight.
  3. On Jan 2nd, I will publish the top 10 with a summary of each "Shame".

To kick off the list, here are the "Shames" I have collected so far:
  1. DRC: shame on us, on the international community to ignore the violence against civilians, mostly women and children, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Shame on the UN in its inability to do anything significant about it.
  2. Sudan: shame on us, the international community in failing to execute the international arrest warrant for the Sudanese President, on account of genocide and crimes against humanity, allowing him to continue his government's genocide in Darfur and arming fractions in South Sudan, preparing for a new war.
  3. Copenhagen: shame on our political leaders to come up with a significant agreement during the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.
  4. Somalia: shame on us, on the international community to stop the politicization of the civil war supported by the US through its proxy Ethiopia, and supported by some Arab states through their proxy Eritrea. Shame on the donor community in its failure to provide sufficient aid to sustain the support of the feeding centers and refugee camps.
  5. Zimbabwe: shame on us, the international community in failing to pressure Zimbabwe's government to provide sufficient social security, social safety nets and proper social welfare to its citizens, turning what once was the breadbasket of Subsaharan Africa into a well of hunger.
  6. Afghanistan: shame on us, the international community, and the UN, in underestimating the level of corruption during the elections, trying to cover it up while supporting Karzai, ignoring all reports of large scale fraud.
  7. Pakistan: shame on the Pakistani government into armed interventions in the Swat province, plunging the country into chaos, riddled with suicide attacks, displacing over 2 million people, with no hope of a longer term peace settlement. Shame of on the US government in bribing the Pakistan's ruling elite to take up arms
  8. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq: shame on the US for continuing the short sighted armed interventions, plunging any country they touch, into chaos.
  9. Sri Lanka: shame on us, the international community in failing to highlight the crimes against humanity and genocide the Sri Lankan government covered up during the last weeks of their civil war. Shame on the Lanka government in trying to exterminate the Tamil population as a whole, locking up all civilians in camps which are rated as 'inhumane'.
  10. H1N1: shame on WHO, for their inability to correctly estimate, leave alone forecast, the impact of H1N1 (not sure about this one. If you agree/disagree, leave a comment)
  11. Palestine: shame on Hamas and the Israeli government in equally ignoring the rights of the civilian population during the recent Gaza conflict.
  12. Guinee: shame on the Guinean government in violently suppressing protests through whatever means, including widespread rape.
  13. World hunger record: shame on all of us allowing a record of 1 billion people to go hungry, while the world is producing sufficient food.
  14. Seed and GMO market manipulation: shame on Monsanto and Cargill for monopolizing the seed market, using the US government to introduce GMO-food and seeds into developing countries. Shame on Monsanto for singlehandedly causing the autumn corn harvest in South Africa to fail.
So add your suggestions as a comment to this post. Nominations end Dec 24th midnight!

Picture courtesy David Gray/Reuters.

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2009 in pictures

Good Morning Afghanistan

It's that time of the year again, where we have "Top Ten's of the year" and "2009 in review" flying left, right and center.

Some good stuff, though: the Boston Globe released an excellent series "2009 in Photos", like this picture showing US troops receiving a "Good Morning, America" wake-up call from Taliban positions in Afghanistan's Kunar province.

Picture courtesy AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

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MSF: Top 10 humanitarian crisis of 2009

MSF: Afghan elder with child

Just like Christmas carols, pennies in the Salvation Army collection tin, loads of booze, turkey experiments in the oven, and presents you never asked for, MSF (or "Doctors without Borders" for the Anglophones) has its annual traditions too: Every year-end, them release theirs "Top Ten Humanitarian Crisis of 2009".

On The Road, we have the tradition of summarizing this Top 10 of "world shame" (see our 2008 and 2007 posts).

Top 10 humanitarian crisis of 2009MSF began with the "Top Ten" list in 1998, when a famine in southern Sudan went largely unreported in the US media. Maybe due to the CNN effect ("no media attention, no aid pesos"), MSF went a more commercial course last year, converting "the most Underreported Crisis" list, to "the Top 10 Humanitarian Crisis".

This year, MSF reports in their top 10:

  • Unrelenting Violence Stalks Civilians Throughout Eastern DR Congo (Tell me something new, DRC tops the list every year)
  • Somalis Endure Violence and Lack of Access to Health Care (been in the top list since.. well, since for ever)
  • Precarious Situation for People in Southern Sudan and Darfur (tell me something new)
  • Thousands Injured during the Final Stage of Sri Lanka's Decades-long War (ok, the Sri Lanka government topped themselves this year, I have to admit. They deserved a special mention for nearing genocide this year.)
  • Civilians Suffer From Violence & Neglect in Pakistan (Mjah... More than last year, I agree. But mostly over-reported news this year.)
  • Politics of Aid Leaves many Afghans Cut off from Humanitarian Assistance (On the hit list since the 70's, but US violence in Afghanistan definitively increased, I agree. Hardly underreported news, though).
  • Civilians Trapped in Violent War in Northern Yemen ("North, South, Left, Right:Yemen is always in the Fight. North, South, Left, Right...." Now that the US and Saudis start bombing Yemen rebels, all will be over soon. Rrright.)
  • Woefully Inadequate Funding Undermines Gains in Childhood Malnutrition Treatment (True. No change.)
  • Funding for AIDS Treatment Stagnating Despite Millions Still in Need (True. No change)
  • Lack of R&D and Scale Up of Treatment Plagues Patients with Neglected Diseases (True. No change).
For as far as I am concerned, the 2009 list could just have been a cut and paste from the 2008 list. Except that for one reason or the other, Zimbabwe was dropped from "The List". Maybe it was considered a hopeless case anyway. How about including violence in South Africa, tribal turbulence in Kenya, sexual violence and child labour in many parts of Africa, increased hunger and malnutrition in the US, large scale displaced people in Colombia, the increase of urban poverty, inaccessibility to food rather than unavailability of food....

Guess MSF might have been a bit short of inspiration and imagination this year. But then again, in all due fairness, their "Top 10 List of Shame" is a must-read. Check out the excellent pictures list which goes with the Top 10.

How about this, why don't we start our own "2009 Humanity's Shame Top 10" list? Stay tuned, will announce it soon.

1. We kicked off our "Humanity's Shame Top 1o". Accepting nominations on this post.
2. Nominations are closed. You can vote for your "Humanity's Shame" on this post.
3. The poll results are out. Check out this post for our "Humanity's Shame Top 10"

Picture courtesy Jobi Bieber/MSF

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Global Hunger Index 2009: no reason to be proud

IFPRI Global Hunger Index

IFPRI, the International Food Policy Research Institute, released its 2009 Global Hunger Index report.
The report is the fourth in an annual series, that records the state of hunger both on a global level, as well as by country.

They conclude that in 2009, high and volatile food prices combined with economic recession posed significant risks to poor and vulnerable households, with often dire consequences for their food security. The 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows that the global economic downturn could make many countries even more vulnerable to hunger and that high rates of hunger are strongly linked to gender inequalities. In summary, they state "limited progress has been made in reducing hunger since 1990."

Between the 1990 and the 2009 GHI, Kuwait, Tunisia, Fiji, Malaysia, Turkey, Angola, Ethiopia (ED: not too sure if that takes into account the latest famine), Ghana, Nicaragua, and Vietnam saw the highest improvements in their scores.
Nonetheless, 29 countries have levels of hunger that are alarming or extremely alarming. Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sierra Leone have the highest 2009 GHI scores. (Full)

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BMW + ice = trouble

Yesterday, in Antwerp... I am glad I don't own a BMW...

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Snapped: Winter landscape in Belgium

winter landscape in Belgium

It has been snowing for a couple of days in Belgium. Apart from -what is said to be a record- 511 km of traffic jams on Friday, it gives nice photo opportunities.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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US troops winning the hearts and minds of Afghans. Foxnews reports...

I love the scene where they use helicopters to stop guys on a motorbike. I guess its one way to deal with traffic congestion in the Afghanistan country side. Sigh.

Discovered via Transitionland and Wired

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Somalia: A way of life lost

Saleban Yussuf Noor in Somalia affected by climate changeWhen we hear "climate change", we think of melting polar ice, raising sea levels. At best, we might imagine violent hurricanes in South Asia.

We don't often consider how changing weather patterns affect the poorest first. We, the lucky ones, have a buffer. We are more resilient, have alternative livelihoods. The majority of people on this planet don't.

For over one billion people, a few degrees more will mean the difference between life or death. Survival of a tribe or starvation.

I was looking for a first hand recount, and asked Jane Barrett to write up something from her last visit to Somalia. Jane is a press officer at Oxfam Novib for Somalia, Niger and Burundi. During a recent field visit in Somaliland, she was met warm and generously by the communities. People were clearly eager to tell their stories to someone who wanted to listen.

Here is a story Jane wrote after meeting SalebanYussuf Noor, a grandfather and probably the last of his pastoral generation:

Somalia: A way of life lost

In Burcao, Somaliland we visited a village called Ununley. Here, in houses spread on either side of the road, live pastoralist families. When the village gathers to meet us, providing an occasion to drink tea and chew khaat, there is a distinct majority of elderly and women. Indeed, many men have gone with their sheep and goats to search for water. The latest information, a village elder tells us, is that it has rained by the Ethiopian border.

It will be busy, as many herders have heard the same. Having missed several seasonal rains, the herders have to go further and further in search of water and vegetation for their animals. Along the way, many livestock will be lost to the drought.

SalebanYussuf Noor is 75. He is one of the oldest in the village and was one of its founding members at age ten. In his younger years, his family was wealthy. “When I was young, my family was most generous. I ran a tea shop and to feed people I slaughtered my goats,” he says.

Then, the village was growing. Saleban himself owned 500 sheep and goats. Now his family of 11 own just 30. In the last ten years, climate change has endangered the pastoralist way of life that has existed for centuries in Somalia. The last four years the drought has intensified, with the most recent summer the worst. “Every place they, the herders, go they lose some cattle.”

Saleban is very concerned about what the future holds for the younger generation of the village: “The young people who are supposed to continue to build the village are leaving to places such as Lybia, the Sahara and Europe to find work and build a family. This changing weather is very bad. The people living here used to be wealthy, now they are very poor.”

He doesn’t quite know how to deal with the impact it has had on himself and his village. “We are proud. We used to live lavishly, we don’t know how to help, it sounds like begging,” Saleban said.

Saleban’s grandson has been sitting nearby throughout our conversation, drawing patterns in the sand. I ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. “Teacher” he says shyly. Then I ask his friends who are sitting around us, “Teacher.” “Doctor.” “Teacher.” “Teacher.” “Big man who can work in the factory.” Not one of them wants to be a herder like their fathers. That outlook is too bleak.

Check Oxfam's climate change blog

Picture courtesy Jane Barrett/Oxfam

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Security... Much blabla, little boumboum.

Berlusconi attacked

Case #1:
Yesterday, Italian prime minister Berlusconi was hit by a guy hurling a statuette at him. He was taken away with blood all over his face. The hospital later confirmed he broke his nose and two teeth.

Berlusconi was amidst a crowd handing out autographs. Only last weekend tens of thousands marched in Rome to demand Berlusconi's resignation, accusing him of conflicts of interest and of tailoring laws to protect him from prosecution in cases involving his media, real estate and sports empire, and links to the mafia.

Greenpeace fools EU security

Case #2:
"EU leaders must show leadership!" shouted one while two others waved yellow flags reading "EU Save Copenhagen" and another started reading out a statement on the red carpet meant for the EU top officials: A bus load of Greenpeace activists stunned security officials at last Thursday's EU-summit in Brussels.

Eleven people dressed in suits, driving hired limousines, displaying look-alike security badges - displaying the Greenpeace logo and their real name -, were waved through at both a police and a private security firm's roadblock, before arriving at the red carpet amidst top politicians.

The reaction from the Belgian officials flabbergasted me: "If we would have thought anyone would be stupid enough to do this kind of dangerous stuff, then probably this would not have happened", said Christian De Coninck, the Brussels police spokesperson. "If people use heavy material like faked police cars, and ditto badges, than of course anyone can get in". He stressed the police had not made a single mistake and "there are no holes in the security system at the EU summit."

Securitas, the private security firm which staffed the last road block before entering the red carpet zone, stated: "It is our duty to check all delegate cars. For security reasons, none of these cars should stand still, so we can only do a superficial check." According to Paul Schoolmeesters, spokesman from Securitas, "we only did what the client asked of us".

My case:
Having worked for years in security constrained humanitarian operations, the comments in the last case have me rolling over in (cynical) laughter.

Both cases prove three things:
  1. If anyone wants to 'hit' anything or anyone, they can do so. Easily. It only takes some guts, creativity and very few means.
  2. Any security system has flows, flows which we don't see because we don't want to see them.
  3. Any security system is only as strong as the weakest link. The weakest links are often the people who implement the security checks.
These instances made me think of the security apparatus in the humanitarian world, where a man dressed up in a police uniform walked into our Islamabad office and blew himself up killing five staff and where gunmen shot the guards at the entrance and blew up truck wih 500kgs of explosives destroying a hotel full of aidworkers, etc....

No matter how good we think our security system are, there are always flaws. For as far as I know, no humanitarian organisation employs a "dirty Bob": a person with the sole task to try and break existing security systems, exposing their weaknesses. The results would be astonishing.

Pictures courtesy BBC and De Redactie

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Security these days

special notice: no shooting at the president

From The Morning Tribune May 9, 1903.
Courtesy The Tribune News.

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The concept of "service" these days

telephone operators

Belgian economy minister Van Quickenborne wants to counter the flood of complaints about the country's telecom operators. He proposes a new law setting "two and a half minutes" as the maximum time before you get a "human person" on the hotlines. If the operators would be too busy, the customer can hang up, and should be called back within 24 hours.

Government owned Belgacom, the largest Belgian telecom operator, called this proposal totally unrealistic. There are already 1,400 people working at the Belgacom's call centre.
Maybe it's the Belgian way to reduce the unemployment rate without efforts to improve the core service: just put more people in the complaints department. ;-)

This morning, I spent 18 minutes on hold, when I wanted to verify why €300 of service cheques we ordered three weeks ago, had not arrived. On December 3rd, we got an email confirmation the cheques would arrive within 3 working days. But until today, nothing. No response on Email neither.
Eighteen minutes of hold time later, I was informed that "We are very sorry, but there is a general delay in the delivery of service cheques. Everybody has the same problem. You will have to wait. Probably you will get the cheques this week." Punto.
So what right of appeal does one have? Nothing. This service has no competition. All I can do, is whine about it on my blog. :-))

The nuissances of a comfortable life. I wonder how Mats is doing in Bor, South Sudan. And Jalal in Islamabad. I hope they are safe.

Picture courtesy The Tribune News

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Volunteering for the planet

volunteering for the planetWe have featured UNV (UN Volunteers) before on The Road. I don't think there is anyone amongst us, aidworkers, who have not come across "a UNV" in the field. Volunteering in a UN organisation via UNV is an excellent way to get started in the humanitarian world. Whilst you get a taste of the aid or development work, they also pay you for your living expenses.

Equally interesting is their online volunteering section, an "market place" linking people who want to volunteer and organisations who need volunteers.

On the occasion of the Copenhagen climate summit, they are totalling the amount of hours people have volunteered "for a better planet" in the past half year. They are almost up to a remarkable 1.5 million hours. Not bad...

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Picks of the Week: Crowdsourcing emergencies, land grabbing and HIV along African trucking routes

Zimbabwe classroom

Here are the interesting links I harvested last week:
  • Not earth shattering articles, but an easy "doctor's waiting lounge" read: Tonic is a news site with a twist. They define themselves as "The place where good lives - good news, good style, and good deeds.."
  • Now here is something earth shocking: A governmental emergency response goes web2.0: "Emergency 2.0 Australia" uses social media and GIS to improve location enabled information sharing between emergency management agencies and the affected community. The latter means you. Have a look. I love it. "Data goes Public, or Data Power to the People".
  • You want an example? Check out Firemash: Web 2.0 in action to spot and disseminate information on Australian bush fires.
  • Food crisis and the global land grab is a great resource for one of the issue we highlighted on The Road before: the neo-colonialism of buying, leasing, bribing, grabbing land in developing countries for food or biofuel production. One of the great dangers for the food production particularly in Africa. A great resource, and very well done site.
  • If pictures are your thing, then you definitively have to check out Gary Chapman's site and his blog. Gary does a lot of work for NGOs and nonprofits. The picture atop this post is one of Gary's: Kids in Zimbabwe taking notes with chalk on the floor, due to lack of benches, note pads or pencils.
  • The Northstar Alliance is an excellent public-private partnership initiative working establishing a network of roadside health clinics at major truck stops and border crossings in Africa, India and Asia. Worth a browse!
Picture courtesy Gary Chapman. Most sites found via NonprofitBlogs.

More Picks of the Week on The Road.

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How to create an aidworkers briefing kit

reliefweb briefing kit

Reliefweb is one of the main repositories of aid news. One of the lesser-known features of Reliefweb is briefing kit creator, an handy pre-mission informationtool.

The briefing kit creates your own overview of a humanitarian situation in a particular country or emergency operation, and puts it all in a single PDF file. You can select the information on basis of the country, the type of information (appeals, assessments, field reports,...), the source of the data (NGOs, government,...), the sector (agriculture, food, refugees,...).

The data includes situation reports, press releases, maps and other information, which can be generated and downloaded on the spot, or can be made in the background, and emailed to you after it is generated.

Here is a video explaining it all:

And of course, while you are on mission, continue to check Humanitarian News. With a simple search you'll get the latest articles on your interested subjects from over 600 different hand-selected information sources. You can even create your own RSS feed based on your search criteria.

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International Human Rights Day: The struggle of Aminatou Haidar

Today, December 10th, is the International Human Rights Day and for the first time, we have a guest writer on The Road. Barbara Becker wrote this gripping article about Aminatou Haidar, a lifelong campaigner for the rights of the people in Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco since 34 years.

A Hunger for Justice: The perilous journey of a modern day Gandhi

Aminatou HaidarSay the words “hunger strike” and many will recall images of an emaciated Mahatma Gandhi enduring several famous fasts to protest British rule of India.

But most Americans are currently unaware of an ailing human rights campaigner from Western Sahara now in the fourth week of a risky hunger strike after being expelled from her occupied homeland by Moroccan authorities.

A month ago, I had the good fortune of spending a week at the side of this often called “Sahrawi Gandhi,” Aminatou Haidar. Aminatou and I share many things: we’re both 42, we’re both mothers of two young children, we laugh at the same stories, and we both love the shrimp dish at our hideaway DuPont Circle restaurant. We are, as Aminatou says, like sisters.

And while we both call ourselves human rights activists, our day to day work is conditioned entirely by our life experiences. A product of the U.S., my brand of human rights activism is all but removed from the day to day horrors of abusive regimes. I develop strategic campaigns for human rights organizations and advocates like Aminatou, making sure their issues are heard in the media and in the corridors of Capitol Hill.

Aminatou, on the other hand, is in the thick of it. For over twenty years, she has led the nonviolent struggle to free the people of Western Sahara from Morocco’s 34-year occupation. In 1988, both parties agreed to settle the dispute through a UN-administered referendum that would allow the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence or integration with Morocco. The vote still has not been held, and UN facilitated peace talks have stalled over disagreements, including who qualifies to participate in the potential referendum.

During this time, Aminatou has spent nearly five years in prison for her peaceful activism, much of it in solitary confinement undergoing repeated torture. I have seen the pictures of Aminatou bloodied and scarred.

As I write this on my laptop in a coffee shop in New York, Aminatou is lying back against cushions on the floor of a waiting area in Lanzarote airport, in Spain's Canary Islands, fading in and out of wakefulness.

I am writing because Aminatou’s life is literally in peril, and this keyboard is, frustratingly, one of my only tools to bring attention to my colleague and friend.

The details of her circumstance are straightforward. After Aminatou’s visit to the U.S. to receive the 2009 Civil Courage Prize from the Train Foundation, she boarded a connecting flight in the Canary Islands to return home to her family in Laayoune, the main city in the Moroccan occupied zone of Western Sahara. As she had many times before, she declared Western Sahara as her country of origin on the immigration entry form. This time, though, Moroccan authorities seized her Moroccan passport (Morocco administers all travel documents for Western Saharans), held her for interrogation, and — claiming she had renounced her Moroccan citizenship — summarily deported her to the Canary Islands. Spain allowed her entry against her will and without travel documents, but insisted she could not travel back to Laayoune because she had no passport.

It is a direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Morocco in 1979, for anyone to be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his or her own country. According to a statement by the New York City Bar, this amounts to a breach of Morocco's international law obligations.

Now Aminatou is, in effect, stateless. She has refused an offer of a Spanish passport, insisting that she will not be a “foreigner in her own country.” The Moroccan Government refuses to reinstate her passport until she publically apologizes for her “act of treason.”

Hunger strikes are last resorts, never to be taken casually – particularly if you have a perforated ulcer and the other residual maladies Aminatou carries with her as a result of the years of beatings. According to Wikipedia, after three weeks of non-stop fasting, the body enters into "starvation mode," at which point the body mines the muscles and vital organs for energy, and loss of bone marrow becomes life-threatening.

Aminatou is prepared to take this hunger strike “to the death.” When I last managed to reach her by cell phone, she told me that her body was failing, but her will was as strong as ever. Mostly, she was preoccupied with the well-being of her children, whom she speaks with by cell phone every day.

Pressure has mounted on Spain to resolve the situation, and Aminatou’s plight has ignited the attention of the media there. Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has lead protests in her name and the actor Guillermo “Willie” Toledo has set up a makeshift office in the airport to be near her.

By stalling in this crisis, Morocco’s standing in the international community is called into question. The situation clearly undermines the ongoing negotiations between Morocco and Western Sahara mediated by U.N. Special Envoy Christopher Ross. And many policy watchers have begun to ask how the U.S. should relate to a solid ally whose human rights record is better than the norm in the region, but is now heading in the wrong direction.

This week Senator Patrick Leahy called the situation “unacceptable” and urged President Obama to defend those whose fundamental rights are denied, wherever it occurs. Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Donald Payne, chairmen of the Senate and House Subcommittees on Africa, also expressed deep concern.

Hanging on the wall of my office is a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu which reads, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Remaining silent or ambiguous for fear of damaging our long-standing relations with Morocco is simply unconscionable.

It is urgent for the United States to help resolve this situation by asking Morocco to return Aminatou’s passport and allow her to return to her family. We must be firm in asking Spain to intercede with Morocco to ensure her safe return. It is also time for the U.S. to use its influence in the United Nations to reaffirm support for the negotiations and the long-overdue referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

U.S. citizens should express their concern to their elected officials, as well as signing an open letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Amnesty International has also launched a letter writing campaign to Secretary of State Clinton and another to government officials in Morocco.

People like Aminatou capture our imaginations and give us hope that the path to peace -- wherever it may be -- is achievable through non-violent measures. Simply put, we must ensure that one of the world’s rare role models, lives to carry out her life’s mission surrounded by her family and her people.

Barbara Becker is a principal of EqualShot. The views expressed in this piece are solely her own and are, in no way, meant to reflect the opinions of her clients.

Follow the latest on Aminatou Haidar via Humanitarian News

Picture courtesy Canarias 24horas

International Human Rights DayThis post is part of "Bloggers Unite - International Human Rights Day". Are you a blogger? Write a post about this cause today!

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Announcing: Shot from the Hip

A different view of reality

Since about half a year, I have posted random pictures I took with my mobile phone, both here on the Road's "Snapped"-series and on Twitpic.

As usual, it all started rather adhoc. I always loved photography (not that I KNEW anything about photography), and always appreciated a good picture (not that I UNDERSTOOD what makes a good picture). But that was not the reason why I started taking picture with my mobile phone... It was like.. "Life is too short": I wanted to share what I saw around me. But there was more. As I could post pictures by email from the mobile, I had each shot online in 10 seconds on Twitpic. So I caught myself looking deeper into things. Differently. More intensely. More thoughtful. First thinking "what I could post", but later on, pure out of appreciation of life around me.

Just like the piece of glass tile I found last weekend, on the beach near Rome. It lay flat. I put it up, and started to go wild at the effect it gave. Or the picture of the tiny plant trying to find its footing on the sand.

Just last week, Vagabondblogger commented on the pictures, and I caught myself saying that maybe I should put them on a separate site. So I did. Have a look at Shot from the Hip. That's the new home of my mobile pictures. A Christmas gift. All posted seconds after I take them. And twittered automatically on @TheRoadTo. I will continue to post a selection of them on The Road.

Hope you enjoy!

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Last month's most read posts

seagull on the Northsea

Last month's most read Rumbles:
The most erotic of all plants
MSF: a video too far
How to become an aidworker?
How to avoid Swineflu infection
Italian Condom Dispenser

Last month's most read News Items:
How many people die of flu every year?
The world's happiest countries
Asia typhoon: Curing is more costly than preventing
The Dubai bubble: Burst, Melt or Expand
Sudan: From the 1994 famine to Darfur

Last month's most read Ebook shortstories:
The day I got deported from the US
Goma, the scent of Africa
Introduction to The Road to the Horizon
From Sand to a City
The real Out of Africa

All time most popular posts:
The day I got deported from the US
The war in Iraq: Happy Anniversary
In case you still doubt the Iraq war was pre-planned
The most erotic of all plants: "Coco de mer"
How many people die of flu every year?

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Snapped: Do you see it yet?

It is amazing how many small things we pass every day, and we don't notice. Take a beach. Just sand right?

beach view

But I guess you have not seen yet what you could have seen. A closer look:

beach view

Not yet? Closer, then:

beach view

Ah... there you go:

beach view

This tiny plant is using the quiet of the winter to pop up. Coming out of nowhere, in the middle of the beach...

How many times do I step past things I should have noticed?

PS(st): This is part of The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip. Pretty amazing detail the iPhone can catch, no?

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Life explained.

funny badgeOn the first day, God created the dog and said, "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years."

The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?"
So God agreed......

On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span."
The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"
And God agreed......

On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years."
The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"
And God agreed again......

On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."
But the human said, "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?"
"Okay," said God. "You asked for it."

So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

With thanks to Jeff.

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Condition Critical: MSF on DRC

Today, 44,000 people are reported to be on the run again in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Do me a favour. Leave a message on Condition Critical, MSF's advocacy and awareness campaign about the plight of people in the DRC.

It is a small deed, as a sign of solidarity. May it help stop the violence.

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News Feed: Somalia Fighting

News feed courtesy Humanitarian News.
Create your own RSS feed based on your search criteria for the latest humanitarian news.

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