Saturday, April 19, 2014

Responding to disasters in urban areas vs rural ones

The IRIN news service has a good piece about how responding to the devastation wrought by disaster in urban areas offers very different challenges than responding to disasters in more rural areas. Worth a read.


Friday, December 06, 2013

Mandela's legacy was about human dignity

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela

South Africa's first democratic president Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday. Mandela is the most important world statesman of the last 70 years.

Much has been said about the great man's contribution to justice and reconciliation, so I'll focus on something different.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Anyone can overcome adversity. If you really want to test a man's character, give him power."

And this is perhaps the most significant way in which Mandela distinguished himself: by NOT pretending he was indispensable to his nation's fate.

He could easily have erected a cult of personality around himself. So many liberation leaders around the world fell into that trap. His insistence on instead choosing the greater good is one of the biggest reasons he is so universally admired.

He was denounced as a terrorist by misleaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But as state sponsors of terrorism themselves, they were in no position to cast judgment on a man who was fighting for freedom as they fought against it.

But much like with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela's legacy is usually oversimplified, at least in western countries. It's oversimplified into his role in the fight for legal equality for black people. In fact, his real quest, much like Dr. Lking's was for the complete, fundamental dignity of human beings. That included legal equality but was much broader.

He argued that poverty and inequality "have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils."

That was his legacy.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Syria suffering awful but NOT 'unparallled in recent history'

In a rather shocking statement statement from someone in a position to know better, the head of the UN refugee agency described the situation in Syria as involving “suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history."

Perhaps António Guterres should get off YouTube and speak to his staff in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, home of what is widely acknowledged to be the deadliest war and worst humanitarian catastrophe anywhere on the planet since World War II.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

How the Baghdad bombing changed humanitarian affairs

Ten years ago today, a bombing obliterated United Nations headquarters in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing 22 aid workers and UN staff members. This piece on the BBC website highlights how this attack fundamentally changed the work of not only the UN, but also of humanitarian aid organizations around the world. A subsequent bombing of the facilities of the Red Cross, generally considered the most respected humanitarian organization in the world, also had a shattering effect. In the subsequent decade, aid workers have increasingly found themselves the target of combatants, not merely bystanders.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Are anti-AIDS programs based on a false premise?

The public radio show This American life has a fascinating story on how counterintuitive behavior sometimes save lives and how many AIDS prevention programs in Africa are based on flawed conventional wisdom.

(Click here to access theshow... see Act One)

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Mali became a failed state

The Washington Post has a good analysis of Mali's rapid descent into a virtual failed state following a  military coup d'Etat three months ago that overturned 20 years of democracy.

Mali was hardly a paragon prior to the coup that brought to power a junta headed by Capt. Amadou Sanogo to power. The government was increasingly corrupt and ineffectual. The military was poorly armed in the face of a combined insurgency of Tuaregs who wanted a separate state in the north and of Islamists who wanted all of Mali united under a harsh form of Sharia.

However the coup rapidly accelerated, rather than halted, Mali's slide into chaos. The junior officers couldn't decide if they wanted power or not, though they did decide to help themselves to government laptops and other office equipment as part of their looting 'strategy.' The rebel groups took advantage of the indecision to seize most of northern Mali, including the culturally significant city of Timbuktu, where the Islamists have blown up ancient statues and started imposing Taliban-esque punishments.

Meanwhile, the military leaders have certainly gotten comfortable with the lavish perks of power (even as the regional body ECOWAS doesn't recognize the coup) as their country burns. The Post articles concludes: Businessmen are still waiting in front of [Sanogo]'s office to see him, with the customary suitcase of cash, a sign of his enduring influence.

Update: The Post ran another article a few days ago on a mysterious crash in Mali that killed three US Army commandos. The soldiers were engaged in anti-terrorism operations in the Sahara against the Islamists. The crash occurred *after* the US suspended military cooperation with Mali following the coup, 

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Evil scum war criminal pats himself on the back

In his sentencing hearing yesterday, evil scum and war criminal Charles Taylor pleaded for mercy from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone... without acknowledging any guilt. The former Liberian dictator was convicted by the court of knowingly aiding and abetting war crimes in that country’s civil war (he’s never been charged for his role in the barbarity in his own country).

Taylor had the gall to praise himself as bringing healing and reconciliation to Liberia. He is correct.... sort of. Healing and reconciliation arrived in his country, but only after he fled the country in disgrace.

Prosecutors called for an 80 year sentence for the convictions, a term which defense attorneys called ‘disproportionate.’ They are correct, it is disproportionate. Taylor’s reign of terror which destabilized an entire region merits a much harsher sentence.

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