Happy 2012 everyone. Now start changing the world, will you?

Since we kicked off our Kiva microfinance project "Change Starts Here" in November 2008, our Kiva Lending Team has already funded over 1,500 projects, for a total value of US$54,000. Check out our project score card on our Have Impact! blog.

In 2011, I had a wide range of sponsors for the blogs I manage. After deducting the running costs for my blogs, I want to invest the left-over funds in our microfinance project "Change Starts Here" . Seems like a good way to start 2012 off on a good footing!

So, from January 1 to 15, I will run a promotion campaign for AidJobs, my newest blog, while helping to boost our micro finance projects. How? Pretty simple:
  • For every comment left on this blogpost, I will donate US$5.
    Just leave your name and where you live. Add any wishes you have for a better world in 2012.
  • For every new Twitter follower on @AidJobs, I will donate US$5.
    (we're starting at 147 followers)
  • For every new "like" on our AidJobs Facebook page, I will donate US$5.
    (we're starting at 22 likes)
  • For every new Email subscription, I will donate US$5.
    (we're starting at 4 subscriptions)
Again, the end date is midnight January 15, and all funds go to our Kiva micro finance projects. A good way to start 2012, no?

Over the next weeks, I will publish updates on this blog post.

Happy New Year everyone!


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Looking for a job as an aidworker? Here is a good start!

Ever since I wrote the post on "How to become an aidworker", I get mail from people asking for advice. Most struggle with getting into "the system", which is indeed the hardest part: "getting through that solid iron gate".

Part of the problem is that people don't know where to look for vacancies. Job announcements in the aid and nonprofit sector are spread in many different places. I tried to change that, and built an aggregator. AidJobs collecting job vacancies in the international aid sector, the humanitarian and development field as well as in the nonprofit area.

The job offers range from part time volunteering to internships, consultancies, and staff employment. About half of the jobs are for local positions (mostly in the US and Europe), half are international  positions (mostly in Africa, Asia and South America).

To really get started, I also list offers for online volunteers: volunteering work you can do from your home, for a few hours per week - a great way to help out many nonprofits, to get additional experience, give something back to society, and also to get "a foot in the door" of the nonprofit world.

AidJobs also features a map, with the locations of the latest job offers.

You can follow the updates via @AidJobs on Twitter, and via the AidJobs Facebook page. I also publish a daily digest.

Since I started the site a week ago, 1,700 positions were collected, from development specialists in Haiti, to social media internships in New York, a human rights consultancy in Argentina and a camp manager in South Sudan.


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Teased bull frog eats finger

An African bull frog is trying to catch ants on an smartphone screen. Kinda funny. Is even more funny when he takes revenge..

Discovered via AllTop

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Where the hell is Matt?

This is really sweet. 

From his website:
Matt is a 35-year-old deadbeat from Connecticut who used to think that all he ever wanted to do in life was make and play videogames. Matt achieved this goal pretty early and enjoyed it for a while, but eventually realized there might be other stuff he was missing out on. In February of 2003, he quit his job in Brisbane, Australia and used the money he'd saved to wander around Asia until it ran out. He made this site so he could keep his family and friends updated about where he is.

A few months into his trip, a travel buddy gave Matt an idea. They were standing around taking pictures in Hanoi, and his friend said "Hey, why don't you stand over there and do that dance. I'll record it." He was referring to a particular dance Matt does. It's actually the only dance Matt does. He does it badly. Anyway, this turned out to be a very good idea.

A couple years later, someone found the video online and passed it to someone else, who passed it to someone else, and so on. Now Matt is quasi-famous as "That guy who dances on the internet. No, not that guy. The other one. No, not him either. I'll send you the link. It's funny."

The response to the first video brought Matt to the attention of the nice people at Stride gum. They asked Matt if he'd be interested in taking another trip around the world to make a new video. Matt asked if they'd be paying for it. They said yes. Matt thought this sounded like another very good idea.

In 2006, Matt took a 6 month trip through 39 countries on all 7 continents. In that time, he danced a great deal.

The second video made Matt even more quasi-famous. In fact, for a brief period in July, he was semi-famous.

Things settled down again, and then in 2007 Matt went back to Stride with another idea. He realized his bad dancing wasn't actually all that interesting, and that other people were much better at being bad at it. He showed them his inbox, which, as a result of his semi-famousness, was overflowing with emails from all over the planet. He told them he wanted to travel around the world one more time and invite the people who'd written him to come out and dance too.
The Stride people thought that sounded like yet another very good idea, so they let him do it.

And he did. And now it's done. And he hopes you like it.

Thanks for the link, Jan!

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Hans Rosling: The only way to stop population growth.. is to increase child survival rates.

... even if it sounds contradictory: Increasing child survival rates will stop population growth. With thanks to GB for the link!

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The UN debate of the day: Where is the 7 billionth baby born?

From our UN-correspondent: In 1999, the UN decided the 6 billionth (is it 6 billionth or 6th billion or 6th billionth?) human being would be born in Sarajevo (picture). The fact that the Balkan area was still recovering from a nasty war, made that decision easy.

For months now, the UN member states have been debating when and where the 7 billionth member of our human community was to be born.

The US veto'd any country which had more than 10% of muslim population, forgetting that would not only outrule the Middle East, half of Asia and Africa, but at the same time would make most of European countries un-eligible.

It seems most other UN member states agreed the 7 billionth baby should be put somewhere with a symbolic value, a developing country. So most member states voted for the US, as a country with the world's highest rate of food-stamp-dependent people, though China veto-ed.

The finger was then pointed at Somalia, but the chances were the baby was going to die pre-maturely from malnutrition, shelling by Kenyan fighter planes, or in the hands of Al-Shabaab, Al Bashaab and Al Babaash extremists, thus limiting the PR-value of the baby. It was agreed the baby had to exceed a lifespan of at least six months. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq were consequently immediately ruled out. Most of the ex-USSR satellite states too, as nobody would be able to pinpoint Armenia or Uzbekistan on the map.

Sudan was a good candidate, but when the UN called Sudan's president Al Bashir, the latter did not pick up. He does not pick up anymore if he sees the UN's number on his cell phone.

The big runner-up was the Democratic Republic of Congo, providing the baby was not to be born in the East, which was too difficult to access, for the press, and too vulnerable for tribal areas. The baby was to be a good vehicle for a PR machine on the plight of sexual abuse of Congo's women and blood minerals (though they are still trying to make the link with the latter).

So after months of hot debates, the member states decided, but they are still awaiting Ban ki-Moon's decision.  Which could take years, even though today was chosen as the "7th billion"-day. 

Picture courtesy BBC

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Video: Wear your seat belt

Amazing what emotional impact a good video clip can make, no? PS: Updated the post. Video fixed.

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The status of the world, according to the Global Hunger Index 2011

IFPRI (The International Food Policy Research Institute) just published its 6th annual Global Hunger Index. If you want an overview of the state of the world, related to poverty, hunger, and overall development achievements, I think this is a must-read.

The Index combines three equally weighted indicators into one score:
  • the proportion of people who are undernourished, 
  • the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and 
  • the under-five child mortality rate.

The 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) is calculated for 122 developing countries and so-called "countries in transition".
The most interesting, is the evolution of the index, per country, over the years. From the 1990 to the 2011 Index, the hunger situation worsened in six countries:the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, North Korea, the Comoros, Swaziland, and Cote d’Ivoire. Among these six countries, the DRC stands out. Its GHI score rose by about 63 percent. (Sometimes, I am ashamed to be a Belgian)

Here is an interactive map with the Hunger Index data, over the past 11 years:

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Steve Jobs: Lessons on life

Steve Jobs (RIP) talking about his lessons on life, to young Stanford University graduates.

About dropping out to drop in at college, about the trust that one day the dots in your life will connect. About to love doing what you do. About not loosing the limited time you have on Earth, by living someone else's life.

Truly inspiring. Reminded me of Randy Pausch's Last Lecture.

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Calling on the good and willing

dead cattle in Horn of Africa

After 17 years in the field, working in front line humanitarian emergency response, of which 15 years in food aid relief, I took a sabbatical break. Taking a distance allowed me to discover an other side of the humanitarian work, something more longer term, but with no less impact: agricultural development.

Over the past sabbatical year, I had the opportunity to work with a team at CGIAR, mostly on social media related projects. That work brought me to the field, talking to farmers about ways they adapt (or don’t) to the economic and climatic changes, their needs, their wishes,… I wrote about it, made videos, published pictures.. I realized the impact even small things can have, on their daily lives. I talked to researchers, to extension agents, to suppliers… In short, I got hooked.

At this moment, I have the opportunity to work with CGIAR on an event taking place in Nairobi on Sept 1st, highlighting the importance of longer term agricultural research to augment the resilience of farmers confronted with a rapidly changing world, specifically related to the current drought (again) in the Horn of Africa.

The work of the CGIAR is not well known to the outside world. Having worked in food aid for the better part of my professional life, the CGIAR was certainly an unknown to me. It is part of my job is to make it known. And this is where you all can help, even though the effort is still at its early beginning (isn’t it great to be part of something from the start?).

We have set up a repository (in the form of a blog), in which I post simple examples of agricultural research the CGIAR is doing, particularly in the Horn, leading up to the Sept 1 event.

At the same time, we are “populating” a brand Twitter account @cgiarconsortium , using the hashtag #Ag4HoA (Agriculture for the Horn of Africa) for all tweets related to agricultural development. We started publishing development projects related to the Horn, but after Sept 1, we will broaden to other projects the CGIAR does, as time goes by.

On Sept 1st (followed by another event on Sept 2nd and 3rd), I will be live blogging/tweeting from the event, using the same Twitter account.

Now where can you help?

Just as I called out to the social media community for the Addis Sharefair, I am calling out to you now. I am looking for people active in the social media community to help spreading our worthwhile message. You don't have to be related to development or agricultural research, but any reach you have within your own social community, can help.

I am looking for people who are willing to retweet, reblog, post our articles on Facebook, Google+, in short "make some social media noise". I have assembled a good list of people in an email list already, whom I update daily of the new events and posts we are broadcasting.

Are you willing to help? Leave a comment, or email me via peter (at) theroadtothehorizon (dot) org and I will include you on our mailing list.

I hope with this effort, we can do some good, make a change, and maybe contribute our small bit to make sure droughts and floods no longer turn into famine.

Maybe one day, we won't need to put up pictures of cattle starving due to a drought. Maybe one day, we will be able to publish pictures of thriving crops and well-fed cows, even though the area has been hit by yet another drought, or a flood.

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The importance of bio-diversity.

A sweet, unpretentious, yet significant TEDtalk by Cary Fowler, the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, on the importance of preserving the bio-diversity of our seeds, and the role of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in this.

While often dubbed as "the Doomsday Vault", the half a million seeds stored at Svalbard guarantee a future rather than a doomsday: As the natural conditions under which we grow our food continuously change, our seeds also need to adapt. As these changes happen much faster now than before, also the seed adaption needs to go faster, and more targeted.

Unless if we store all varieties of seeds for every crop we grow, they will get lost. Check out my previous article about the ICRISAT genebank, to understand the true implication of this.

In this TEDtalk, Gary explains it in simple terms, but the message can't be misunderstood: "If agriculture does not adapt to climate change, neither will we". And crop diversity is the key to that adaptation.

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A move towards ethical advertising?

An article in the press made me chuckle at first, and afterwards, made me think..

Ads featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington for a beauty product of giant L'Oreal were banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA stated the retouched images misled consumers by exaggerating the results the beauty products could achieve.

The advertising agency admitted the images had been "digitally retouched" to lighten the skin, clean up make-up, reduce dark shadows and shading around the eyes, smooth the lips and darken the eyebrows. Maybelline argued that despite the techniques used, the "image accurately illustrated the results the product could achieve".

"Bullocks", said the ASA, and both ads had to go. (Source)

So... I was thinking.. After The News of the World scandal where reporters hacked mobile phones, and bribed police to "ping" locations of people through the mobile network, maybe a movement started for more ethics in the press.

After all, think about it. How many ads do we know which are NOT misleading? Which washing powder does not claim it gives the whitest or most colourful garments? Which hamburger joint does not claim to give you the biggest, juicy-est? Which deep-freeze fish manufacturer does not claim their products go straight from the sea (ploop) into the deep-frost?

I always thought it would be fun to make a TV show challenging those claims, and confronting the company executives with the truth.. Would that not be worthwhile?

Pictures courtesy L'Oreal and Photoshop.

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So who is the dude in the suit?

Okay.... self sensoring prevailed.

Figured out who the dude was.

Post deleted.

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Another drought. Is the development failing?

When I started working in the Horn of Africa, in the mid 90's, my first emergency was a drought operation. Between 1900 and now, the region had more than 18 famine periods. This year, we have another one. And I am sure - unless we change things drastically - there will be another drought emergency a few years from now.

As an aidworker, I always worked in emergencies. Droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, were my daily work... Some of these calamities are hard to anticipate, leave alone mitigate. But other, climate change related emergencies, are. At least partially. The question is: "Are we doing enough?".

My answer is: NO. According to me, both the humanitarian community neither the donors put enough emphasize on agricultural development, which -to me- is the core of climate change mitigation for farmers in many parts of the world.

In the past year, I travelled through Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and India, interviewing a dozen farmer communities on climate change. I recorded their views on the current state, their wishes, their fears, and condensed it in about 30 videos (the videos you can watch here, some of the stories, you can read here). The problems differed from region to region, and so do the possible solutions.

What got to me is not only the struggles of the farmers themselves, but also the social implications of the failing agriculture in many parts of the world. In Kenya, most of the men went off to work in the cities, leaving the women to farm, and to raise their families. In Burkina Faso, whole villages migrated due to repeated failing crops. In India none of the people I spoke to, saw farming as a viable way to make a living anymore. All but one family saw the future for their kids as getting a "proper" job, somewhere in a remote city. Where will that leave us, ten-twenty years from now? Farming is the basis of many developing countries. No farming, no food, as simple as that. But even more importantly, without proper targeted agricultural development, farmers will even have it harder in the years to come. Already many live on the edge of survival. It does not take much to push them over the edge. As what happens in the Horn of Africa, this year once again.

And yet, it does not take much. Locally adapted solutions make a big change. Be it a dam, constructing low walls to avoid water running off and taking the top soil with it, planting trees to avoid erosion, micro-dosing fertilizer,.... Or wider solutions in breeding crop varieties, better adapted to the changing environment.

But little is invested in agricultural development. I broke a bone before on how cutting agricultural development, is like digging our own grave. The most frustrating part, for me, is to see how the budgets for aid emergencies, like the current drought in East Africa, beats that of agricultural development in the same area, by a ton. How everyone is beating the press drums once a drought hits a region again, but the same drums kept silent for the years before that. How the press is all over the current drought, but hardly made any room to show sustainable solutions, in the past. Everyone cries foul now over the drought, but hardly anyone was interested in the same region, in the past. And still, the impact of the current drought could have been avoided. But we failed to do so. The humanitarian community failed, the press failed, the public interest failed,...

Emergency aid relief is a plaster on a wooden leg. Sure, we have to help the people dying of famine right now, but our interest will fade out once the peak of the emergency is over.

And that gets to me.

More posts about agricultural development on The Road

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Dog and man: "I ate it all"

...because it is Saturday, something lighter.

Discovered via: @bethkanter

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The worst photoshopped press pictures

Gone are the times where the press was the only source of information. Social media is here! So when state run press agencies think of getting away with mis-information or propaganda, social media kicks in.

As when this string of Photoshop woo's got exposed through social media:

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, is made to believe he swore in the newly appointed governor of the troubled Hama region, last week. However, the photoshop artist who doctored this picture should rethink his career development plan.

This one was done better: The Egyptian state-run Al-Ahram newpaper photoshopped image of President Hosni Mubarak and other leaders at the 2010 Middle East peace talks. Mubarak clearly leads the pack:

All was fine, until the original photo came out, with Mubarak and his short legs trailing behind:

(Un-)Luckily, Mubarak has other worries right now.

The Chinese head the "booboo"-pack with this And one would think they could do better, at a time where they hack half of the world's computers, and are a serious competitor in space... But apparently not.
In this picture, Huili local officials "inspect" a highway project in China's Sichuan province:

Talking about floating in space, hey?

And then there is of course this classic: A photoshop boo of Baroness Ashton, given a less revealing outfit by an Iranian newspaper last year:

Would've been better for everyone if they'd covered her face entirely, me thinks...

Sources: Guardian, The Horizon and BoingBoing

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The world at 1,000 frames per second

Today... because there is too much misery in the world, a post of beauty in small things.

Discovered via Laughing Squid

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So why did the West push for South Sudan's independence?

75% of the oil reserve in Sudan, perhaps 6.5 billion barrels, is located in South Sudan (Source).

Since the "second" Sudan war between the North and South started in 1983, an estimated 2 million civilians were killed, and at least 4 million were displaced at least once.

During the war, aid agencies set up one of the largest, most costly and complex humanitarian relief operations ever, "Operation Lifeline Sudan", running a "relief pipeline" from Kenya (and partially Uganda) into the South. An operation which was often criticised as "fueling the conflict".

True or not, I guess "Operation Bulletline Sudan" fueled the conflict much more: While Russia -mostly through proxies- and China -mostly thru "oil-for-bullets" deals- made good business of arms deals with the North, the "West" kept "an extensive arms pipeline" running to the South during the whole conflict.
For years, the world kept their eyes closed, as business was good: selling weapons dearly, and getting cheap oil, I mean, what more can one wish?

This US arms supply to the South continues to run up to this very day, mostly through Kenya, one of the strongest US proxies in the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to supply Khartoum. What will this lead to? An expanded conflict border zone where North and South Sudan dispute oil fields.

Aren't we lucky there is an embargo for selling arms to Sudan?

PS: this map might indicate the oilfields more clearly (Tnx @MFB)

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How egoistic can people be?

A video showing two motorcyclists who got entangled on a busy highway in China... Nobody seemed very eager to help...

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Yeaah, It's a Party in the CIA

yeah, we’ve got our backups all over the world,
from Kazakhstan to Bombay;
payin’ the bribes like yeah, pluggin’ the leaks like yeah;
interrogating the scum of the earth,
we’ll break them by the break of day!

yeeeaaahhh, it’s a party in the CIA!

by Weird Al Yankovic

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Which countries are the happiest?

GOOD's World Database of Happiness has tracked down how happy people over the past 30 years.

Check out the interesting infographic on the state of happiness in the different countries, over the past years.

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Video: The Girl Effect

We have covered advocacy campaigns by nonprofit organisations in the past. Here is a very simple non-pretentious video by The Girl Effect.

Simple is powerful.

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US, UN and the Taliban: An invitation to dance.

How many children have you killed today, Mr.President?

There are no coincidences in life. Certainly not if they concern politics. Once again, UN and US politics have only one letter of difference.

KABUL: The United States and other foreign powers are engaged in preliminary talks with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the near decade-long war in Afghanistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday. (Source)

and on the very same day:
The UN Security Council has split the international sanctions regime for the Taliban and al-Qaida to encourage the Taliban to join reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. (Source)

So, all of a sudden, the Taliban is no longer the arch-rival of neither US, UN or the Afghan government anymore...? All of a sudden, they are not the harbour of terrorism anymore? Is it because the Taliban have become good boys? Starting to behave, and wear suits and ties as they are now become devoted Catholics?

Or might we just have another Vietnam and "Black Hawk Down"-Somalia scenario, where the US is trying everything possible, to bail out of Afghanistan, using no matter what means. After all, why not? "If you can't beat them, you might as well join them (again)", the US will be thinking. What the flip to they care what happens to the country after they leave?

So Mr.USA: after a decade of war in Afghanistan, what will you have accomplished? Did the threat of terrorism get any less? Was the Taliban or Al Qaeda eradicated? Any less threat for another 9/11?
What have you accomplished Mr.USA, apart from having plunged yet another country into disarray, pushed it further down into poverty and insecurity, killing tens of thousands along the way, and causing suffering to zillions more? Did the women's right flourish? Burqa's being massively exchanged for bikini's? Every child now goes to school, and is properly fed? Open freedom of speech? Drug fields completely eradicated? None of the above, Mr.USA, so shame on you.

Shame on you.

Picture courtesy Free Republic

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Sri Lanka's killing fields. The video.

Sri Lanka Killing Fields

We have been highlighting the plight of civilians caught up in the Sri Lanka civilian war since 2007. Back in 2009, after the last Tamil stronghold fell into the hands of the government, I published a post called "The killing fields of Sri Lanka".

Channel 4 just released a video, with the same title, documenting repetitive and systematically executed war crimes committed by both the government and Tamil fighters against unarmed civilians, clearly marked medical facilities and other non-combat targets.

It shows a forensic investigation into the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the secessionist rebels, the Tamil Tigers.

Captured on mobile phones, both by Tamils under attack and government soldiers as war trophies, the disturbing footage shows the extra-judicial executions of prisoners; the aftermath of targeted shelling of civilian camps; and dead female Tamil fighters who appear to have been raped or sexually assaulted, abused and murdered.

The film is made and broadcast as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faces growing criticism for refusing to launch an investigation into 'credible allegations' that Sri Lankan forces committed war crimes during the closing weeks of the bloody conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

In April 2011, Ban Ki-moon published a report by a UN-appointed panel of experts, which concluded that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the final weeks of the war between the Tamil Tigers and government forces.

It called for the creation of an international mechanism to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by government forces and the Tamil Tigers during that time.

This film provides powerful evidence that will lend new urgency to the panel's call for an international inquiry to be mounted, including harrowing interviews with eye-witnesses, new photographic stills, official Sri Lankan army video footage, and satellite imagery. (Full article)

You can watch the 50 minute video here, but please beware the scenes are horrific and extremely graphic.

Picture courtesy Channel 4.

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Khadaffi's daughter launches law suit against NATO

Aisha Khadaffi

Aisha Khadaffi, "the man's daughter", filed a law suit against NATO. Legal papers were submitted to the prosecutor's office in Brussels her French lawyer.

Ms Khadaffi's four-month daughter, Mastoura, was one of Khadaffi's four grandchildren killed during a NATO bombing raid. (Even though Berlusconi - for one credible news source- alleges this to be propaganda)

The lawsuit is quoted saying "The target was a civil building inhabited by civilians and was neither a command post nor a military control [centre] of the Libyan regime" (Source)

It will be interesting to see how the Belgian court system will react, knowing how fast they backed out of the lawsuit against Bush, Powell, Cheney et al, during the Iraq war. It only took Bush to hint at moving NATO out of Brussels, for Belgium to change the law on war crime law suits.

At least Khadaffi's lawsuit might shed a juridical light on whether NATO steps out of its legal boundaries by providing a tad more than a mere air blockade and safeguarding of humanitarian corridors. Which it grossly does, according to me.

And mean while, we stand by and watch worse happening in Syria and Bahrain.

Picture courtesy Mohamed Messara/EPA

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Multi Millionaire, several times a day.

slumdog limousine

Man, this is a good day. A great day! I won't have to work anymore, for the rest of my life!
Your winning Price of One Million Five hundred usd.($1.500,000USD) has been forwarded to Western Union Department for immediate transfer to you as soon as possible.
Contact: Customer Care Department Tel: 00 233 543 49 6991
Email: (customerservice.dept@qatar.io )
My name is Mrs.Beatriz Yusi, The wife of Albert Yusi who was coordinator of Bayan Muna for Misamis Oriental and Chairman of MOFA. He was gunned down and killed in our home in the Philippine on July 20th, 2008. Before my late husband was killed, I inherited from his estate a total sum of ($ 9.5 Million Dollars) Nine Million five Hundred Thousand Dollars (..) I made up my mind to give you 15 % of the total money for your help after the money has been transfer to your account.
Je voudrais solliciter votre accord à recevoir le transfert de 13.850.000 dollars,en tant que proche parent d'un de mes clients qui est décédé dont le compte est actuellement en veille, pour reclammation. Si vous voulez traiter cette affaire avec moi contactez moi immediatement. +2285249574

Picture discovered via GeoGum

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How NOT to moor a yacht. Take 3

With the summer approaching, it is time to switch to another subject. Sailing.

"Master Steve", the instructor who guided me through most of my RYA theoretical qualifications, and brought me up to the level of a powerboat instructor, send me the video link above, shot in the British Virgin Islands by Wind In My Sails.

It is an ode to the "Credit Card Captains", those who have the financial means to charter a vessel, but have no freaking clue what sailing or navigating is all about.

In the past I wrote two similar stories about "Credit Card Captains", witnessed during our previous two trips to the BVI. One was from one from Anegada and an even worse case we witnessed in Virgin Gorda.

Of all the areas I have sailed so far, the BVI has the most dense population of "Credit Card Captains". Most of them, Americans who might never have sailed before, taking a yacht to sea, endangering others and themselves.

Oh well,.. Enjoy the video.

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Living in Italy - Part 18: Mobile phones

In Italy, talking on a mobile phone without an earpiece or microphone is punishable by law.

But I am not sure if the law actually has provisions if you talk on one phone, held in your right hand, while at the same time, you set the Email configuration of an other phone with your left hand.

While you are driving.

Let me correct that: While you are driving a bus full of people. In the middle of Rome.

I mean, after all, God gave men two hands, right? How else would you use the spare time in a traffic jam than calling up a helpdesk to configure the "Backke Barry" (sic) Email settings. Right?

Discovered via Repubblica, tipped by @GeoMmm

Read more in the Living in Italy series

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A historic overview: The US involvement in Iran

Via St Pete for Peace. Discovered via Pros before Hos

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Civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11

Graph Civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11

Putting the amount of innocent victims into perspective...

This also means by invading Iraq and being unable to guarantee civil stability (a responsibility enforced by the Fourth Geneva Convention), the US has directly or indirectly killed more Iraqi civilians than Sadam ever did (989,788 versus about 600,000).

Graph courtesy Prose Before Hos

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Libya and bin Laden,... is the West on a new killing spree?

No matter how horrific the 9/11 attacks were. No matter how repressive the Ghadaffi's regime was - including clusterbombing his own people. Still, we, "the civilized world" should show higher ethics.

And we don't. We use "an eye for an eye" tactics, meeting violence with more violence, having our hate and mass hysteria lead us. That's why I have been upset with the world lately.

I think it is immoral to wildly celebrate the murder of a man, even if he was a criminal brain who killed thousands. The more so as Bin Laden was not a cause. He was a symptom. A symptom of a divided world, mostly caused by decennia of frauded US foreign policy. A policy rooted in expansionism, religious discrimination and a hunger to dominate economically and politically.
Now bin Laden is dead, will the world be a better place? I don't think so.

Even worse, what happens in Libya. I have no respect for a repressive leader. I have no respect for any leader turning his arms against his own people to stay in power. But I also have no respect for an international community who miss-uses a pretty clear Security Council resolution to topple a government. Even if it is a repressive government.
The mandate given by the UN Security Council resolution on Libya (#1970) is very clear: protect civilians under threat of attack, enforce a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and a freeze of assets.
This is not what NATO does. NATO is executing a clear support operation for the "rebels", in their attempt to topple Ghadaffi. And that includes attempts to kill Ghadaffi. And nobody cries foul, because Ghadaffi is the bad guy.

Not even if one of the assassination attempts kills Ghadaffi's 29 year old son, and three of Ghadaffi's grandsons. All younger than 12. Only the West can get away unpunished with killing three young boys without being accused of war crimes.

After toppling the Afghanistan and Iraq regime, it seems we are all too eager to open up new war fronts. Wars to which we know no end. Wars which will lead to years long of human suffering. As in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

I am upset with the West, right now. And sad. Even more so when I see people celebrating the death of a person, when I hear all the joy on Twitter, when I hear all the cries of "This is a good day for the nation, God bless America". Just like "Gott mit Uns", the motto of the German Nazis.

If there is a God, I am sure he does not bless wars. I am sure he does not bless the killing of three small boys. Even if they were the grandsons of a cruel dictator.

Meanwhile innocent civilians are getting slaughtered in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. A civil uprising met with violent repression, very much like the one in Libya. But there... "Sssshhht, don't say a word! They are our allies!".

Despicable, that's all I can say. And we are all guilty of not crying foul.

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Breaking news: Obama is an American Citizen

(to view the video, you might have to first click the "close" button in the top right corner, to close the ad)

For the elite not following the news: Trump and others claimed that Obama was not born in the US, which created a US media hype...
This showed once more there is no end to the hot air US media can sell.

Here is Jon Stewart taking a piss at them all. "This man should run for president!" Love it!

PS: Now the only issues remaining:
- Obama's christianing certificate ("He really is a Muslim")
- Justification for his extensive stay in several Muslim countries ("He really attended a madrasas instead of kindergarten")
- Obama's DNA testing to show he is really who he says he is ("He can't be")
- Media claims that the island of Oahu is actually an independent state, and not part of the US Commonwealth ("See the lawsuit of the Single State of Oahu versus the United States of America, for the protection of the Inherited Pacific Guano Reserves")

Video courtesy MediaIte

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Three cups of tea. And a lot of bullshit?

Greg Mortenson with AK47

Often I can't explain why I feel something about certain things. But there is not doubt I felt something strongly about "Three cups of tea". Now I might know why:

Greg Mortenson, the high-profile advocate of girls' education in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been forced to defend his best-selling book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time," against charges that key stories in it are false.

Mortenson shot to international fame with the book, which describes his getting lost in an effort to climb K2, the world's second-highest peak, being rescued by Pakistani villagers in the village of Korphe and vowing to return there to build a school for local girls.

He also claims to have been captured by the Taliban and held for several days before being released. (...) however -- Jon Krakauer of "Into Thin Air" fame -- told a CBS "60 Minutes" investigation that aired Sunday that the story is not true.(..)

Mortenson's record of charity and his tales of derring-do have helped fuel the Central Asia Institute. The organization recorded income of $14 million in 2009 (...) However, in 2009, less than half of that money -- 41 percent -- actually went to building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the institute's board of directors.(...)

The institute also says $1.7 million went to promote Mortenson's books in the form of advertising, events, film and professional fees, and some travel. It said the contributions generated by Mortenson's promotional events "far exceed the travel expenses." (Source)

Over the past years, several people recommended I should read Mortenson's book, "Three cups of tea". A Friend lent me the book, saying "You might not like it". And I didn't.

I read the first twenty pages and had to put it aside. I tried to continue reading it several times, but I could not. I can't say why exactly. There was a fake ring to the whole story. There was a fake smile on the guy's face. And I surely have an issue if anyone promoting girls' education, likes to pose with his wife and kid, and a couple of AK47's... And proudly publishes the picture in one of his books.

Above all, I smelled "CIA" all over. Winning the hearts and minds of people. With loads of American dollars.


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Song of the Day:
Lotus Flower by Radiohead

watch on youtube

Because all I want is the moon upon a stick
Just to see what it is
Just to see what gives
Take the lotus flowers into my room
Slowly we unfurl
As lotus flowers
All I want is the moon upon a stick

(Click on the picture to watch the video on YouTube)
Discovered via Matt Brown, who shot the video.

More Songs of the Day on The Road

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About adaptation, mitigation, floods and the need for information

Punjab farmer on dam

Climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture is more than merely “the need for better seeds”. It needs a way to exchange information so we can re-apply proven solutions rather than re-inventing the wheel every single time….

In a wide, slow gesture, Gurbachan Singh shows me a panorama of lush fields. It is as if he hand touches the abundant, young wheat sprouts from afar. They are bright green, showing a promise for a plentiful harvest. Wide fields are bordered with tall poplar trees whose leafs softly whisper in the light wind, chasing away the early morning mist.

“All of this”, says Gurbachan, “All of this was gone. Flooded. As far as you can see. All of it. People had fled to higher grounds, but the twenty-four hours notice we had before the flood, was not sufficient to evacuate all live stock. Most buffalo and cows drowned. The harvest was lost.”

We are standing near the village of Bhoda in Punjab, North West India. From a large dike, made of sandbags, probably five metres (15 ft) high, we see the river, flowing slowly beneath us. It is hard to imagine that in July last year, this small stream had swollen with a mighty force, digging a hole in the dike, half a mile long. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog

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Aid-y-Wood: Celebrities' Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough

Madonna in Malawi

Next to Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood, we also have Aid-y-wood: the way that celebrities throw money at humanitarian causes.

Here is one. Read in the New York Times:

("Raising Malawi",.. ) A high-profile charitable foundation set up to build a school for impoverished girls in Malawi, founded by the singer Madonna and fellow devotees of a prominent Jewish mysticism movement, has collapsed after spending $3.8 million on a project that never came to fruition.(...)

Madonna has lent her name, reputation and $11 million of her money to the organization. (...)

(...) the plans to build a $15 million school for about 400 girls in the poor southeastern African country of 15 million (...) have been officially abandoned.(...)

(...) an examination found that $3.8 million had been spent on the school that will now not be built, with much of the money going to architects, design and salaries and, in one case, two cars for employees who had not even been hired yet.(...)

So they planned to build a $15 million boarding school for 400 girls in Malawi, hey?
That is about 10% of the annual budget for the Malawi Ministry of Education.. catering for 8.1 million kids.

Celebrities lending their name, voice or face to make publicity for a good cause is one thing. It all starts to go wrong when they decide to "do it themselves".

"Good intentions" are really not enough. Good aid is complexer than just "giving something". And the more you give wrong, the more adverse the impact you might have.

It also takes a turn for worse if some hawks "assist" the Aid-y-Wood's efforts in development and rip the charity off. The aid world as such, but certainly the celebrity charities, are such a fertile soil for con-men: Loads of money with no clue, what more do you want? The good feeling of giving, the good feeling of "hey at least we tried" even if all goes wrong, and the forgiveness of "Well, at least you tried.." gets them off the hook.

Eight workers at Madonna's Malawi charity are suing the U.S. pop star for unfair dismissal and non-payment of their benefits. (Source) - Another thing celebrities underestimate: "Be ready to get ripped off. If is not a question of "if", but of "how much".

Picture courtesy Mark Richards via Social Earth

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US military hijacks social media

CENTCOM on Facebook

The United States military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence Internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by Web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the Internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. (Source)

Original picture courtesy Evan Vucci/AP

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You have been an aidworker for too long (Part 14)


You have been an aidworker for too long...

...if you can sum up the names of all political parties in Zambia, but can't remember which parties formed the government in your own home country. (*)

(*) which is not valid for Belgian aidworkers, as we haven't had a government for almost a year.

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You've been an aidworker for too long (Part 13)

on a relief flight

You have been an aidworker for too long...

...if you can curse fluently in Pashtu, Swahili and Urdu but forget the translation for the word "assessment" in your own mother tongue.

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In the shadow of the news: 1940's US syphilis experiments on humans

US ethics cartoon

Guatemalans subjected to U.S. syphilis experiments in the 1940s are suing federal health officials to compensate them for health problems they have suffered.

The lawsuit comes after revelations that U.S. scientists studying the effects of penicillin in the 1940s deliberately infected about 700 Guatemalan prisoners, mental patients, soldiers and orphans. None was informed or gave consent. (...)

The Guatemalan experiments were hidden for decades, until a medical historian uncovered the records in 2009. (Source)

Why does this remind me of the experiments on humans another nation did around the 1940's?

Guess the earlier US apology did not help.

Cartoon courtesy Indiana University

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Teak trees or food crops: Will climate change force farmers to make a choice?

teak seedling

One or two generations ago, smallholder farmers might have grown food crops mainly to feed their own families. But those days are gone. Farmers are looking more and more for cash income.

Like in Bihar, North-Central India: farmers still value the “yield” of a crop, but the “revenue” becomes increasingly important. It is not just because of the “Modern Times”, where electricity bills and school fees are to be paid, and people want to buy a mobile phone, a television or a tractor.
No, there is more than that: climate change has chased up the expenses: boreholes, mechanical or electric pumps, hybrid seeds… Each of these has a price ticket attached to it. A price ticket, farmers are scrambling to pay, but a necessity for any land to bare any crop.

The droughts
A good crowd had gathered in Rambad, a small village in Bihar. Both young and old, from the better-off farmers to the day labourers, all were sitting around us. We were talking about the change in weather, the effects it had on this farmers’ community and ways these people have tried to adapt over time.

When we asked who of the farmers had experimented with new things in the past years, they pointed out a slim man, probably in his late thirties, standing in a bit of a distance. As we all looked at him, he came nearer, stood up straight and held his arms stiff along his body as he said his name, “Vidyabhushan Kumar”, in a loud voice. As if a teacher had just summoned him. We asked Vidyabhushan to sit with us and tell his story. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog

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Climate change, smallholder farmers and the cycle of poverty

Indian woman

When discussing climate change, we often discuss about the technical part of “agriculture”: crop varieties, irrigation or farming methods. But climate change also has a profound social impact within the rural communities, which rely mostly on agriculture. Climate change will push many smallholder farmers over “the edge”, back into poverty.

Arti Devi from Rambad in Bihar, India, is one of them.

Arti is married and has three children, two girls and a boy. Up to some years ago, she owned a small plot of land where she cultivated wheat and some vegetables, and had two buffaloes. This was sufficient to provide food and an income to her family.

“As the weather changed, we had less rain in this region. The yearly floods which used to bring in new fertile soil to my fields, just stopped. So my field yielded less and less.”, Arti explains, “As the lands dried up, it also became more difficult to find fodder for the buffaloes”. (...)

Read my full post on the CCAFS blog

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Pimp my aid worker

Oh God...

Video via www.pimpmyaid.org, no kidding!

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Wanted: humanitarians with a conscience
- About the small steps from UNICEF to NESTLE, from PEPSICO to WHO

Humanitarian aid cartoon

Within the humanitarian world, there has always been a debate about the professional profile of development or aid workers. While the world often has an image of aidworkers resembling "the long-haired hippie singing 'We are the world' with a bunch of black kids on our knees, wearing hand-knitted goat-wool socks", many of us agree that the profile of a humanitarian should be different. Rather than "Good Intentions-only" we often look for "professionals", people who can bring an aid organisation to a operational level comparable to the commercial sector.

But somewhere there is a trade-off. We can not only hire shark-like business people, "to cut our overhead and bring more aid for less money", as often this would conflict with our humanitarian mandate. Simple example: We might buy those schoolbooks at 50% of the price, but those are made in sweat shops.
Understand the dilemma?

So, the ideal profile of a humanitarian, in my book, is a "professional with a conscience".

While my ideals stand, I can only validate them up to a certain point. Beyond that, "humanitarian executives" will, more often than not, be career politicians or even mere business people...

According to an interesting article in India Today, quoted below, Ann Veneman -the ex-chief of UNICEF- might be one of those. Switching from the UN agency mandated for child nutrition, promoting breast feeding, to joining the board of Nestle.

Nestle being the very same company which has been heavily critized for its low-faith/low-ethics campaigns luring women in the developing countries into to powder milk for babies... Nestle is the very same company which has been accused by UNICEF of using commercial methods below WHO standards.

As I said, an interesting article:

The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has just released a glossy report on the state of the world's children. Senior officials of the UN body made the right noises about children, the need to improve their nutritional status and so on, at media dos in several important capitals across the globe.

At a similar occasion a couple of years ago, Ann Veneman - who was Executive Director of the agency till April 2010 - had articulated Unicef's position on how exclusive breastfeeding for toddlers is critical to combat hunger and promote child survival. Post-retirement the UN official has undergone a change of mind.

She will now be on the board of a company which has been accused of subverting efforts to promote breastfeeding by flouting laws in order to market its formula foods. Yes, Veneman is joining the Board of Directors of Switzerland-based food giant - Nestle.

Veneman's transition from advocating nutrition and health to the board room of a multinational food company has been rather smooth, but has shocked health advocates all over.

It is nothing short of a coup for the food industry which is increasingly under attack for promoting unhealthy snacking and eating habits among children.

Veneman has had an 'illustrious' past.

In 2005, when she was appointed to the top post in Unicef, not everyone was comfortable because of her past connections with agrobusiness as secretary of agriculture in the Bush Administration.

"Veneman's promotion by the Bush Administration - Unicef is traditionally headed by an American - was greeted with concerns by some grassroots activists because of her good relations with big business and her limited experience in child welfare issues", medical journal The Lancet had noted in 2006.

While at the UN body, Veneman consciously emphasised the use of ready-to-use foods as a strategy to counter malnutrition.

As per her own admission made a few months before her term ended, " Unicef has significantly contributed to accelerating the use of ready-to-use therapeutic foods for treatment of acute malnutrition, with Unicef purchases of the product increasing from 100 metric tons in 2003 to over 11,000 metric tons in 2008". Veneman's appointment is part of the trend which has seen junk food makers trying to position themselves as marketers of healthy and nutritious foods.

A few years back PepsiCo appointed Derek Yach, former Executive Director of non- communicable diseases at the World Health Organisation (WHO), as its head of health and nutrition policies.

Yach frequently writes or coauthors review articles and comments in medical journals, pushing the industry point of view.

Such articles are then cited to influence policy makers.

PepsiCo got the head of cardiovascular diseases at Centre for Disease Control (CDC) - a US government arm - to head its own division on heart health. By appointing people connected with top health bodies, these companies want to portray themselves as part of the solution and not problem, and also want to influence policy making in health and nutrition.

At this rate, the day is not far off when junk food makers will position themselves as 'health and nutrition research' outfits and start dictating national health policies. (Source)

And there is loads more we can say about the positioning of junk food and junk drinks companies within the humanitarian organisations... Right? Right?

H/T to I.T. having the courage to tweet this link...

Cartoon courtesy Polyp.org and Speechless - The Book

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The subjectivity of war hunger

US tank cartoon

A week ago, it seemed that a military intervention in Libya was far fetched. Less so today.

That raises the question of the norms the international community uses to determine for which countries it should intervene.

If it is:
- use of unreasonable armed force against civilians
- atrocities against civilian population
- instigating civil war
- causing a mass exodus of civilian refugees

... then Israel should have been "invaded" a long time ago, I guess.

Certainly when we think of using internationally banned weapons against civilians and civilian targets (use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza), economic sanctions against Israel would have been justified. As well as expelling them from all kinds UN committees, a Security Council condemnation, engaging the ICC to prosecute Israeli government officials, and implementing a no-fly zone over the country...

So what are the prediction when this will all happen? For Libya, probably within the next week. For Israel, probably never.

Ok, but then how about a military intervention in Ivory Coast? Or a no-fly zone above Sudan?

Cartoon courtesy Al Jazeerah

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Musing on India - Part 5:
Faces from Bihar

Here are some people we met in Bihar, North India

Bihar farmer

Ramiwash is a small farmer, but probably one of the most create ones we met. On his plot, he combined fruit trees and several vegetable crops. He also implemented convervation farming, planting crops in small holes rather than ploughing his entire field. That way, he could preserve more water, a very scarce resource.

Bihar farmer

Anil talked to us about the dire need for water, now that the rains have become more scarce and the water level decreased over the past years.

Bihar farmer

Indramani is a widow taking care of her grandson. Her son, daughter in law and another grandson moved away to the city. She had a small plot with wheat and one buffalo to barely make ends meet.

Bihar farmer

Susila had to rent out one of her plots, as she had no access to water. Her husband has a mobile temple which he drives around to bring in a bit of extra money. She could read and write, and stressed the importance of educating her children, so they could move to the city and "get proper jobs".

Bihar farmer

Vidyabhushan invested in a set of teak tree seedlings, which he wanted to plant along his land, so he could harvest the timber and sell it in the years to come.

Bihar farmer

Arti lived alone with her three children. Her husband worked in the city and came home only once a year. She worked as a day labourer on other people's farms. She told us how the opportunities to work have drastically decreased as people leave their land barren in the summer due to lack of access to water for irrigation.

Bihar farmer

Arjun is the village chief (or "president") from four villages. He is also the chairmain of PACS, a cooperative bank who gives micro-loans to its members, and allows the farmers to ensure their crops against calamities.

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Predicting revolutions in Arab countries

The Economist predicts which Arab countries are most vulnerable to revolutions...

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Khadaffi: Born to confuse

Khadaffi cartoon

Just to start with: how the hell do we spell his name?

Kaddafi (ANP)
Kadhafi (AFP, Le Monde)
Khaddafi (Parool, VRT)
Gaddafi (Reuters, BBC)
Qadhafi (Wikipedia)
Qadaffi (ABC News)
el-Qaddafi (NY Times)
Kadhafi (NOS, Volkskrant)
Kadafi (LA Times, Trouw)
Gadhafi (AP, Canadian Press Stylebook ,Huffington Post)
Ghadaffi (Spits)
Gadaffi (Telegraaf, Nederlands Dagblad)
Khadaffi (Algemeen Dagblad)
Al Gathafi (his official website)
Al Qaddafi (further down his official website)
Algathafi (A few pages further on his official website)
Al-Gathafi (also on his official website)

I'll just call him "Mulazim Awwal Mu’ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi", or "Mu" for short.

Cartoon courtesy Toonpool

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"Inside Job", a must see documentary

On the way back from India, I watched the documentary Inside Job, which tells the story of the global financial meltdown of 2008. Through a series of interviews, knitted together like a thriller, it shows the different issues directly or indirectly related to the burst of the bubble, leading up to a domino-like collapse of the financial pyramid scheme the US government had tolerated to exist.

In a nutshell, loan sharks were encouraged to approve mortgages (even worse, "to chase people aggressively to take a mortgage), for people who had no collateral, nor any means to pay off the mortgage.
As it was an easy way to make a quick buck (for the banks, the bank reps, etc..), these mortgages were issued on a massive scale, even though everyone knew these loans were going to fail. And once a mortgage failed, there'd be no way for a bank to get something of value against the loan failure, as there was not collateral.

That was the basis: a bubble-loan. Or even worse: a bubble everyone concerned, knew would burst. But banks were happy: on paper, they issued loads of loans, cash was flowing, turn-over peaked. Bank reps got commissions on the loans, and the economy got a (short-term) boost.

The banks concerned where AAA-rated giants, so when they were selling those mortgages amongst each other, nobody asked any questions. Worse, those banks invented a financial scheme, valued as first class investments, where they insured themselves against the losses of the loans, and traded that insurance amongst each other, as real values, again on a massive scale.
In short: they were betting on a horse to win and at the same time, they were betting on the same horse to loose. But there was no real horse. Everyone just pretended.

The US treasury and US oversight mechanisms knew what was going on, were warned about the bubble, but did not want to regulate the whole pyramid scheme, as it involved that much money, they feared regulation would break the speed of the economic revival. So bankers were left to do as they pleased.

Of course, the bubble burst, and the whole pyramid scheme collapsed in no time, pulling down all foreign investors in those banks, and causing the first real international financial meltdown. As a consequence millions of people around the world lost their job as all of a sudden, the economy was left with no liquidity and companies had to close their business. Banks went out of business, and many people lost their savings, real savings.

This is not a happy-happy movie. I can not believe how it is possible for a government to allow the financial industry to free-wheel, purely for the short-term gain of the economy, knowing on forehand that it would only be a few years before it collapsed.

On top of that, it is impossible for me to imagine how such a large part of the US economy could have been based on "void". On something which was not real, had no real value. But then again, we are talking about the same government that allowed the Internet bubble to be built in the late 90's, collapsing in 2000.

Worse is the realization that because of the US' greed for easy money, the rest of the world suffered. It is not only the greed, but the deeply instilled financial and economic individualism pulling everyone in for a quick buck. The documentary has a short sideline about the academici, who knew what was going on, but did not say anything... Simply because there was a revolving door mechanism where economic experts from different universities were consultants for the banks involved, and paid high fees to write academic papers glorifying the bubble itself.

And to top it all off, many people who sat at the core of the 2008 meltdown, are still in power, either in corporations, or in the current Obama government.

Fast food, Fast money, Fast wars,... As they say.. "only in the US!"...

Disgusting. The only good thing that came out of it, is that internationally, the US is getting more and more resistance. A dynamic that Bush started in 2003, while invading Iraq, continues: nations are starting to realize that the "US way" is not the way to go, and move back to their own ground, economically, financially, culturally...

And that is a good thing for the equilibrium of the world.

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Cartoon: Khadaffi's political system

Khaddafi cartoon

Cartoon courtesy The Dry Bones Blog

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Libya: American Neo-con see opportunities for a new war. (Iiiie-haa..)

Neocons and Khadaffi cartoon

In a distinct echo of the tactics they pursued to encourage U.S. intervention in the Balkans and Iraq, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives appealed Friday for the United States and NATO to "immediately" prepare military action to help bring down the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and end the violence that is believed to have killed well over a thousand people in the past week.

The appeal, which came in the form of a letter signed by 40 policy analysts, including more than a dozen former senior officials who served under President George W. Bush, was organized and released by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a two-year-old neo-conservative group that is widely seen as the successor to the more-famous – or infamous – Project for the New American Century (PNAC). (Source)

Amongst the co-signees was former Bush Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in more moderate circles better known for his distinguishly short stint as the president of the Worldbank. While that nomination disgusted anyone with a sound mind, we all danced on his ashes when Old Pal Paul had to resign after it became clear he abused his position to give his girlfriend a highly paid job (within the same poverty-fighting organisation).

Article discovered via Aid News. Cartoon (slightly modified) by Jim Morin, discovered via The English Blog

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Musing on India - Part 4:
Faces of Punjab

Here are some people we met in Punjab, each with their own story on how they were coping with the changing climate:

faces of Punjab India

Gurbachan Singh is the village chief of Bhoda, a town which was flooded in the middle of last year. He told us the story of how they got 24 hours notice a flood was coming in, how they evacuated the villagers and constructed an emergency dam with sand bags.

faces of Punjab India

Mohamed is a dairy farmer who migrated from the north. Last year, his house and that of his neighbours got flooded, and they moved to a new location. He told us of his difficulties to find feed for his animals.

faces of Punjab India

Dilbar Singh (R) and his neighbour Paramjit Singh (L) explained how new hybrid seeds helped them to cope with the changing rainy season. Paramjit was planting poplar trees so he could harvest the timber as an extra income.

faces of Punjab India

Dr. R.P.Singh works at the Punjab Agricultural University where they have an active breeding programme, selecting varieties of wheat which need less water, yield more and can grow over a shorter period.

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Food prices are at a record high again.

International food commodity prices

The warning lights came on several months ago, and now we are at a point where the basic food commodity prices are at a new record high.

Prices on the international markets are even beating the prices of the 2008 food crisis, which caused severe unrest in many countries:

FAO International food commodity prices

For more details, check out the FAO World Food Situation page

While the record food prices have not hit the mainstream news, it is worthwhile considering that in the past centuries, many revolutions were rooted in the lack of food availability. Now relate that to the current turmoil in Libya, Egypt, Tunesia, Bahrain and Yemen. There seems to be a strong link between the food prices and the current civil unrest. In most cases, it was even predicted.

I think 2011 will be a tough year. But the situation is not hopeless. The Economist just published an article "What is causing food prices to soar and what can be done about it?", in which they highlight the importance of non-profit/non-commercial agricultural research, something which has come dear to our heart, here on The Road (read my earlier article "Cutting agricultural aid research or how to dig your own grave")

Check the latest articles about food prices on Humanitarian News, and get updates via a customized RSS feed.

More articles on The Road about the international food crisis

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After Tunesia, Egypt and Libya, is the US next?

Wisconsin protests


The battle against Republican attempts to undermine trade union rights is spreading with Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state of Indiana in a bid to block anti-union legislation, and workers' rights protests swelling in the US Midwest.
Thousands of protesters have occupied the state Capitol in Wisconsin for eight days now in an attempt to block a bill that would strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.

Governor Scott Walker insists he is unbowed by the protest -- which reached a peak of 65,000 people on Saturday -- but the bill's passage was stalled by 14 Democratic state senators who fled to Illinois Thursday to deny the necessary legislative quorum. (Source)

The state capital occupied for over a week, mass protests, lawmakers fleeing the state, governing bodies remaining unbowed... Hmm... does that not make it a bit of a mix between Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya?

But contrary to the latter, the Wisconsin protests hardly got any international press. Just imagine things were different and the press would pay more attention. Let's play sarcastic for a while here. In the form of news bulletins.

AFP: After two weeks of mass protests in Wisconsin, the governor turned over control of the state to the federal government. President Obama is quoted as saying, before he flushed, "Right, more shit on my lap, that is juuust the thing I needed at this moment!".

Reuters: In a decisive action, President Obama is said to have given the order to "shoot the protesters". In an act of sudden lucidity, the White House called Cheney, asking for the telephone number of Blackwater. Since Iraq, that company had changed names fifteen times already, and their telephone numbers got lost between all other post-Bush files which were muffled away.

Al Jazeera: In the mean time, all foreign and domestic press was banned from the state. As the Blackwater helicopters (part of a new multi billion dollar contract) circled around the Wisconsin capital, the commanding officer asked Obama, if indeed, they could shoot. Obama said "Yes we can!".

Al Jazeera: (which obtained exclusive footage from Wikileaks) aired the shooting ten minutes later. It showed Blackwater operatives shooting unarmed people, saying -quote- "Hey this is better than a turkey shoot". "Here, eat this, bastard" and "Yeah, I can see it is a pen he is holding, but let's pretend it is an RPG, like in the Baghdad times, and nuke the bastard".

Al Jazeera: UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon read a statement on live UN TV (Yes, it exists, but nobody watches it, and the Serbs hijack the channel at night to broadcast porn): "We find this situation totally unacceptable. This is a violation of basic human lights, showing a cleal dislespect for individuality, democlacy and civilization. We can not accept UN staff folced to pay for palking tickets in New Yolk City!.. (later it was clear someone gave him the wrong speech).

Google: Google went undercover, and using a dial-up line to a free Internet service in the Netherlands (as all US Internet were cut), they showed mobile phone footage of protests spreading to Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota. And also Mexico and Venezuela. But that was on the rising oil prices)

Al Jazeera: Three hours after the turkey shoot, Obama came on national television with the following statement: "In a clear breakdown of communications.." (crowd shouts "Yes we can!") "I gave the order to shoot pictures of the demonstrators" (crowd shouts "Yes we can!") "..An order which was misunderstood as to shoot the demonstrators with bullets" (crowd shouts "Yes we can!"). "I take full responsibility for the casualties" (crowd shouts..) "..and have decided to hand over the power of the nation to vice president "Hilary -La Bitch- Clinton", while I take my family for a short vacation to Hawaii."

Al Jazeera: Violent protests spread all over the country, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. People are seen smashing windows of cars (seems later, it was footage from a documentary "One day in LA South"), massive civil disruptions (Was old footage from the Katarina floods), and missile launches (the average space shuttle launch attempts). Nothing really happened, as the public was too busy hamstering food from the local McDonald's and Wendy's, and watching the play-offs.

Al Jazeera: Four days later, the government blamed the Russians and Iran for the instability. The army took over control officially, and handed it over to twenty rich industrialists (who always had control over the country anyway), with the instructions "Blow me another economic bubble, like the one with the prime mortgage".

MNBC: One month later, aired an exclusive interview with Obama, now living in the village "Toeternietoe" in North Kenya. Obama proudly showed his wife working in the garden and his kids attending the local school. He stated "I have always felt like a Kenyan, and now I am a Kenyan. Next year, I will run in the elections for village chief (crowd shouts "Yes we can!")."

Three months later, Ushahidi arrived on the spot, asking "Crowdsourced information gathering, anyone?"


Next on The Road: The Weather.

Picture courtesy De Wereld Morgen

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