Thursday, December 31, 2009
Since the first post eleven months ago we have managed to compile over a hundred forty posts in Head Down Eyes Open, the vast majority of which is fully original writing and analysis (i.e. not aggregated from other sites). We have also had the pleasure (and honor) of posts being picked up and linked by different mainstream and online media including CNN and the Irish Times. So now, on the eve of a new decade and a new year for the blog I wanted to Wordle it to see what popped up - I am so pleased to see such a primary emphasis on the word "People" 'cause that is basically what we are about. Enough said - HDEO wishes you all a healthy and happy 2010 and beyond. Sincere thanks for your support and interest, we wouldn't be here without it. Keep fighting the good fight. Happy Hootenanny and Keep the Aspidistra Flying ....
Monday, December 28, 2009
The most recent reliable statistics for 2009 cite 19 aid workers being killed in Sudan and dozens more kidnapped. In 2008, according to the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), some 260 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks. This year's numbers are trending to surpass 2008's record breaking figures. The amount of murderous and hostage taking incidents of aid workers is indisputably surging with the annual average now three times higher than the previous nine years (when systematic documentation of this type of data was first seriously gathered). Interestingly, the figure of aid worker fatalities now exceeds that of UN Peacekeeping troops.
The traditional 'protection' afforded to humanitarians working in areas of conflict (or post-conflict) has its origins in universally accepted norms of war which have been most recently enshrined in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (and their related Protocols of 1977). The Conventions outline the obligation of 'beligerents' to provide protection to civilians and non-combatants and specifically points out their obligations towards facilitating security for people and assets (warehousing, telecommunications, vehicles etc.) engaged in humanitarian activities that are aimed at reducing the suffering of people not taking part in the conflict i.e. the non-combatants (which also includes injured or detained fighters and soldiers i.e. people who no longer pose a threat).
Military 'Heroes' and Humanitarian 'Do-gooders'
This legal and de facto protection has become increasingly eroded and is probably best demonstrated during the war in Iraq when humanitarian organizations were directly targeted (including the Red Cross head office in Baghdad) as they were wrongly perceived by the insurgency to be part and parcel of the occupying forces. What's more, the very work of aid agencies in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia or Sudan, which includes providing clean water, sewage treatment, effective medical care, infant nutrition programs and so on - is now often viewed as contrary to the 'war' aims of insurgency groups in whose interests it may be to maintain chaotic and dire conditions (as the contrary - the success of aid work - might indirectly reflect well on the central powers that be, or want to be).
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.
Ready for risk but not to be a target
This realization - ever rising fatalities among aid workers in recent years - will inevitably affect how aid organizations operate in increasingly insecure environments. Can you, as an operational manager of an aid agency, send your people into danger zones knowing that the risks are unacceptable; knowing that they are likely targets? As is often said, aid workers are ready to accept the risks that come with the context of conflict but can we really accept to be a target?
There are many possible reasons for this worrying trend not least of which are the blurring of the lines as occupying military armies (such as the US and its allies) increasingly resort to what they like to call 'hearts and minds' whereby you have the contradictory scenario of soldiers doing aid work (normally conditional on locals cooperating with military objectives rather than based on urgent humanitarian needs). And then you have the massive increase in private military contractors - as many as 100'000 working directly in Iraq alone - basically guys in tee shirts and jeans (just like aid workers) but part of the occupying power and walking around heavily armed (unlike aid workers - but can armed opposition groups or the public tell the difference?).
Neutral, independent, humanitarian action must be maintained if we are to retain a smidgeon of security, international law, human decency, conversation and understanding between the richly diverse and distinct peoples of our confused, imbalanced world. In the jargon of the aid business, the humanitarian space is shrinking fast. We have surely come too far, learned too much from the 'colonial' type mistakes of aid in the past, to resort to a regressive 'aid through the barrel of a gun' - or am I completely naive?
Meanwhile, spare a thought for Laurent and Gauthière and the good people of Sudan and Chad who are helping to secure their release.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
This was an amazing project to work in. Massive archival research; dispatching tv crews to four different locations within a two week window, identifying people whose stories might resonate and represent (and who were willing to tell these stories), meticulous multimedia production and, not least, sharing a professional and principled approach with the folks at Reuters and Mediastorm so that we could enable people tell their stories in a dignified manner that will stand the tests of time. We hope you enjoy it and let us know what you think.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The Philippines Red Cross (PRC) has been coordinating evacuation drills and the distribution and pre-positioning of relief items with local government units (LGUs). Staff and volunteers in the Albay Chapter of PRC are on high alert and remain on stand by around the clock.
A total of 44,637 persons or 9,276 families have been evacuated our of harm’s way from the municipalities of Daraga, Camalig, Legazpi City, Tobaco City, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, Ligao City and Guinobatan. Volunteers were also assigned to the evacuation centers to carry out health assessment and hygiene promotion activities.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emission rates remain very high and were measured at an average of 6,529 tons per day (t/d) yesterday. Intensified crater glow was observed during a short cloud break last night.
Red hot lava also continuously flowed down along the Bonga-Buyuan, Miisi and Lidong gullies and has reached about 5 kilometers from the summit.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The embedded video here was produced specifically for the Copenhagen Climate Conference with this same purpose in mind i.e. to give a voice to the people whose lives and livelihoods are right now being seriously threatened because of the consequences of climate change in their communities. The idea was to bring them directly into the Copenhagen conference center so that they could speak directly to governments and delegates making decisions that have a very real impact on their survival and the future of their children and communities - this is not a cliché but a fact.
In record breaking time - three weeks from concept to delivery - we dispatched almost a dozen tv crews, all locally hired, to meet with and interview ordinary people trying to cope with climate change - a genuine attempt to use our global presence to give a voice to the voiceless. This has been screened all over Copenhagen and is just now uploaded onto YouTube whose motto "broadcast yourself" has never been so relevant.
The next step or the next challenge is to really really really make it possible for people to broadcast themselves and tell their stories directly without any obvious involvement from organizations such as ours. For this we are putting the finishing touches on a partnership with Thomson Reuters and others built around empowering communities affected by disasters to communicate directly to the outside world without need for meddling intermediaries - the intermediaries will simply build capacity and facilitate pushing out the message of the people who are too rarely heard.
As Rupert Murdoch correctly predicted when he first came across MySpace "For fuck sake - the people have taken control"! Right you are Rupert - power to the people. Exciting times have just kicked off. This vid is only 5 mins but we have hours of footage which we will repackage and reversion to influence the decisions beyond Copenhagen. Its a drop in the ocean I know, but what an ocean .... really interested to hear what you think, not just of the video, but of the aspiration.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Flamengo Hexacampeão Brasileiro from Gustavo Pellizzon on Vimeo.
For those interested to know the nuts and bolts about how this video was produced, Gustavo Pellizzon, the Brazilian photographer and multi-media artist who created this impassioned tribute to football, tells us that the gear used was a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon lens 600mm 4.0, 70-200 2.8, 35mm 1.4 and a 12mm Sygma. Video tripod and a little monopod to help stabilization on his shoulder. Audio recording with Zoom H2. Edited in Final Cut and Adobe Camera Raw.
"Football is not a matter of Life and Death .... it is more important than that" (Bill Shankly)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Just under three billion people live in 46 conflict-affected countries, where climate change could create a high risk of violent conflict, according to International Alert's research.
In its latest report the NGO urged policy-makers to take into account the interaction between the impact of climate change and "the social and political realities in which people live that will determine" their capacity to adapt.
The political dimension of adapting to climate change, and the underlying causes of vulnerability in a fragile state that cannon carry out its core functions has to be factored in, as "technical fixes will only act as sticking plasters" cautioned the report’s authors, Dan Smith and Janani Vivekananda.
He cited conflict-ridden Yemen where the water situation is "dire", to illustrate the impact of stress on essential resources in a fragile country. Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, is expected to run out of water in 10 to 15 years. "The consequences for the people of Yemen of worsening water shortage could be catastrophic. The risk of the state ceasing to be effective cannot be discounted.
The ground reality
The Arab region - the Middle East and North Africa - is home to five percent of the world's population but has access to only one percent of global fresh water resources; according to the UN it is the most water-stressed region in the world.
Some of the world's biggest and longest-running conflicts are also playing out here: in Iraq, Sudan and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories.
A rising number of droughts, lower water levels in rivers, stunted agricultural production, and sea level rise brought on by climate change will turn millions of people, particularly in the Nile River Delta and the coastal areas in the Persian Gulf, into "environmental refugees", warned the UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2009.
Tensions over natural resources not only pose a threat to security among communities, but also nationally and regionally. The UNDP report cited Sudan, which has "experienced internal conflicts in Darfur ... between pastoralists and farmers over access to water sources", and Palestinian farmers, who "suffer because Israeli settlers monopolize most ground water sources".
Climate-Proofing Peace Builing
International Alert recommended that adaptation strategies should be more conflict-sensitive, so that water management in water stressed countries was shaped by understanding the systems of power and equity: involve everyone and avoid pitting groups against each other.
Peace-building needed to be climate-proofed by paying attention to the availability of resources for livelihoods such as agriculture - which could be under pressure because of climate change - for returning ex-combatants or people displaced by conflict.
The International Alert report cited Liberia, which is in the process of recovery from war. Many returnees and ex-combatants will come back to villages and make a living from agriculture, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global scientific body, has projected that crop yields in parts of West Africa could halve by 2020.
"The prospect arises of returned fighters becoming resentful unemployed farmers, and thus potential recruits, with their combat experience, in a new conflict," the authors commented.
The efforts of rich countries to shift to a low-carbon economy must be peace-friendly and supportive of development. The International Alert report noted that the diversion of food crops and land use to biofuel production had played a role in pushing food prices up in 2007/08, causing conflict in many countries.
The capacity to absorb is absent
Vulnerability to climate change is also about the capacity to adapt and many countries do not have the money to make themselves resilient. The UNDP report noted for instance that the Arab region would need around US$73 billion, an annual average of $2.6 billion over the next three decades, to enhance its desalination capacity to provide fresh water.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
The French and the Irish established a provisional government in Castlebar. Then, a bit like last week, the Irish took their eye of the ball and, as we are wont to do, went on the lash. Humbert and his boys were wined and dined on a most lavish scale by the people of the Castlebar and environs. Those who did not sign up for active service came loaded with gifts of meat, butter, poultry, eggs, fish, etc., for the troops. One party came with a steer that had been cooked in a quarry near the town on heated slabs of limestone, a custom dating back to Hannibal's time. Gifts of clothing and footwear donated by merchants from Castlebar and the nearby towns also arrived.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
We meet Pamela at a snackbar near the place she lives. “Housing is one of the first problems transgenders like myself keep facing”, Pamela explains. “Nobody wants to rent a flat to a transgender”.
Even if she officially became “Pamela” only a few years ago, since the age of 6, the boy that she was at that time immediately felt that he was different from the other boys and wanted to be considered as a “she”.
From stylist to sex worker
Pamela became a stylist and a hairdresser. However, she had a serious accident that left her slightly disabled and she could no longer do her job. “At the age of 35, I became a sex-worker”, she explains, telling us also about the long legal battle she had to face with the authorities to allow her to change her name to Pamela. “The civil servant who received my request just laughed at me and said he would never allow such a change”, she recalls. However, she took the matter to the Supreme Court who finally allowed her to change her name to Pamela. But on her identity card, she is still considered as a “male”. Pamela had thought about a change of sex but she gave up when she was told she was told that after all she might not be allowed to have surgery despite living as a woman for at least 10 years and having faced dozens of medical and psychatric appointments.
However Pamela kept her fighting spirit by creating a network of support for all transgender people. From just a dozen at the beginning, her small NGO called “Transmujer” now gathers around 700 people.
Tripling the price for unprotected sex
“We need to help each other because we are faced with a high level of stigma and discrimination” says Pamela. “Men love us at night but they hate us during the day”, she sums up, explaining how besides being insulted on the streets, they also need to face numerous requests from men ready to triple the price to have unprotected sex. “I always say “no” because I am fully aware of the danger of being infected by HIV and other sexually-transmissible diseases. However, some transgenders need money so badly that they say “yes”, putting themselves into a highly dangerous situation.”
“Most of my customers are actually heterosexual men”, she says, “so in a way we are sometimes even more protected than our costumers’ wives who have no control at all on their own sexuality. I have seen terrible things like a girl who was providing sex without condoms against money while she was already infected with HIV. I managed to convince her to finally use condoms but my other concern is especially to make sure that transgender people who are not infected don’t catch the virus through unprotected sex”, she adds.
Pamela fought very hard to get access to condoms she could distribute to the other transgender sex workers. However, she never managed to have her status as an activit fully recognized. A while ago, she held a sensitization meeting in Cali and it happened that a Colombian Red Cross volunteer attended. The connection between her NGO and the Red Cross was quickly established and they are currently developing projects to provide a better access to condoms, to promote safe sex and voluntary testing as well as developing new prevention tools.
Working with the most vulnerable groups
“We won’t have a lasting impact on HIV infection if we don’t reach the most vulnerable groups such as the transgender sex workers,” says Dr. Yacid Estrada, coordinator of the Colombian Red Cross HIV programme. "Not only we will try to support Pamela in her prevention initiatives but we are even thinking of developing specific tools that will take into account the specificities of transgender sex. By doing this, we are in no way encouraging sex work but we believe no lasting breakthrough in reducing HIV infection can happen unless we take care of people such as transgenders who are highly affected by stigma and discrimination".
When asked how she sees her future, Pamela remains quite vague. She would like to become a full time activist for her community but her status is still not recognized by the authorities.
But for the time being, Pamela is back in the “Calle del Pecado” facing an uncertain future. With several packs of condoms she can share with other sex workers who now are even looking for her at night since they know she has a better access to condoms.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The killings triggered a humanitarian crisis as thousands of albinos were either trapped in their villages, too frightened to move, or in the case of children abandoned in special schools for the disabled and shelters guarded by the police.
The spontaneous local humanitarian response to this emergency was coordinated by the Red Cross societies of both countries. It sharply highlighted the long-standing social and health problems of Great Lakes albinos, above all the skin cancer to which so many of them succumb. One of HDEO's intrepid friends, Alex Wynter, has just finished producing a ten-minute web documentary on this tragic story (below) as well as comprehensive advocacy report.
A few figures
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Over the last 12 months or so violence in South Sudan has steadily increased. Rumours are rife that militias are being armed in the south to create fear and tensions in the run up to one of the most anticipated referendums in world politics scheduled for 2011 – to determine whether South Sudan secedes from Khartoum and opts for independence as stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005. One thing is certain - the road to the CPA referendum vote will be bumpy if not potentially lethal.
Comprising some 48,000sqkm of green uplands and farmland, the area is part of northern Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State, but remains politically dominated by the southern-led Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Tensions and mistrust have remained high between Sudan’s north and south - major political, ideological and religious differences are unresolved – not least in the Nuba region.
"Security is a big problem, with violations and hostility between two parties - the SPLM and the NCP [National Congress Party], and a lot of conflict between tribes," said Kamal al-Nur, commissioner of SPLM-controlled Heiban County in Southern Kordofan.
"We are concerned that violence will escalate as we come closer to the elections - and in the period after the elections - to the referendum," al-Nur added. General elections in Sudan are slated for April 2010, before a southern independence referendum in 2011.
During the war, the Nuba population suffered aerial bombardment, isolation, shortages, land expropriation and forced population movements, according to international human rights groups.
The area is characterized by a mix of ethnic groups and coexistence between Muslim, Christian and traditional believers.
"We fought for long years… for equality, for the right to live as we want and not under the [Islamic] Sharia law of the north," said Younan Albaround, the SPLM chairman in Kauda, the party’s former headquarters for Nuba during the war.
Unlike Southern Sudan and the oil-rich region of Abyei which are due to vote on independence and self-determination in 2011, the 2005 peace deal only set out arrangements for interim power sharing and ”popular consultation” in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile are sometimes referred to as Sudan’s “three areas” – transitional and contested-zones straddling the north-south political, military and cultural fault lines.
The SPLA’s ranks in the Nuba Mountains were largely filled by local people, but those forces have officially pulled out of the region under terms set down by the peace agreement, with only special joint north-south units remaining.
Tensions have also risen following recent comments by senior Southern Sudanese officials in favour of separation, including a speech by the Southern president, Salva Kiir, that voting for unity would make southerners "second class" citizens.
"The Nuba people fear the breakaway of the south because they will be left as an isolated minority in the north - and will also be on the frontline of any future north-south conflict," Moszynski said.
"There are huge concerns that the Nuba Mountains could return to fighting," said Sudan analyst, John Ashworth. "They have no referendums - but many ordinary people are not aware of that yet and will be angry when it finally dawns on them. The `popular consultation’ is vague and probably meaningless."
Sentiments flagged already in October 2008 by International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report on Southern Kordofan entitled The Next Darfur? "If the NCP, SPLM and international community fail to pay the required attention to the divided region," the ICG warned, "their inaction could come back to haunt them in a way that threatens the stability of the already divided country."