January 31, 2010
Orphaned, Raped and Ignored
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs. The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake.
Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.
That’s why I’m here in the lovely, lush and threatening hills west of Lake Kivu, where militias rape, mutilate and kill civilians with a savagery that is almost incomprehensible. I’m talking to a 9-year-old girl, Chance Tombola, an orphan whose eyes are luminous with fear.
For Chance, the war arrived one evening last May when armed soldiers from an extremist Hutu militia — remnants of those who committed the Rwandan genocide — burst into her home. They killed her parents in front of her. Chance ran away, but the soldiers seized her two sisters, ages 6 and 12, and carried them away into the forest, presumably to be turned into “wives” of soldiers. No one has seen Chance’s sisters since.
Chance moved in with her aunt and uncle and their two teenage daughters. Two months later, the same militia invaded the aunt’s house and held everyone at gunpoint. Chance says she recognized some of the soldiers as the same ones who had killed her parents.
This time, no one could escape. The soldiers first shot her uncle, and then, as the terrified family members sobbed, they pulled out a large knife.
“They sliced his belly so that the intestines fell out,” said his widow, Jeanne Birengenyi, 34, Chance’s aunt. “Then they cut his heart out and showed it to me.” The soldiers continued to mutilate the body, while others began to rape Jeanne.
“One takes a leg, one takes the other leg,” Jeanne said dully. “Others grab the arms while one just starts raping. They don’t care if children are watching.”
Chance added softly: “There were six who raped her. One raped me, too.”
The soldiers left Jeanne and Chance, tightly tied up, and marched off into the forest with Jeanne’s two daughters as prisoners. One daughter is 14, the other 16, and they have not been heard from since.
“They kill, they rape, burn houses and take people’s belongings,” Jeanne said. “When they come with their guns, it’s as if they have a project to eliminate the local population.”
A peer-reviewed study found that 5.4 million people had already died in this war as of April 2007, and hundreds of thousands more have died as the situation has deteriorated since then. A catastrophically planned military offensive last year, backed by the governments of Congo and Rwanda as well as the United Nations force here, made some headway against Hutu militias but also led to increased predation on civilians from all sides.
Human Rights Watch estimates that for every Hutu fighter sent back to Rwanda last year, at least seven women were raped and 900 people forced to flee for their lives. “From a human rights perspective, the operation has been catastrophic,” concluded Philip Alston, a senior United Nations investigator.
This is a pointless war — now a dozen years old — driven by warlords, greed for minerals, ethnic tensions and complete impunity. While there is plenty of fault to go around, Rwanda has long played a particularly troubling role in many ways, including support for one of the militias. Rwanda’s government is dazzlingly successful at home, but next door in Congo, it appears complicit in war crimes.
Jeanne and Chance contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Like other survivors in areas that are accessible, they receive help from the International Rescue Committee, but Chance still suffers pain when she urinates.
Counselors say that most raped women are rejected by their husbands, and raped girls like Chance have difficulty marrying. In an area west of Lake Kivu where attacks are continuing, I met Saleh Bulondo, a newly homeless young man who was educated and spoke a little English. I asked him if he would still marry his girlfriend if she were raped.
“Never,” he said. “I will abandon her.”
A girl here normally fetches a bride price (a reverse dowry, paid by the husband’s family) when she marries. A village chief told me that a typical price would be 20 goats — but if the girl has been raped, two goats. At most.
Thus it takes astonishing courage for Jeanne and Chance to tell their stories (including in a video posted with the on-line version of this column). I’ll be reporting more from eastern Congo in the coming days, hoping that the fortitude of survivors like them can inspire world leaders to step forward to stop this slaughter. It’s time to show the same compassion toward Congo that we have toward Haiti.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
February 7, 2010
The World Capital of Killing
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It’s easy to wonder how world leaders, journalists, religious figures and ordinary citizens looked the other way while six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. And it’s even easier to assume that we’d do better.
But so far the brutal war here in eastern Congo has not only lasted longer than the Holocaust but also appears to have claimed more lives. A peer- reviewed study put the Congo war’s death toll at 5.4 million as of April 2007 and rising at 45,000 a month. That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.
What those numbers don’t capture is the way Congo has become the world capital of rape, torture and mutilation, in ways that sear survivors like Jeanne Mukuninwa, a beautiful, cheerful young woman of 19 who somehow musters the courage to giggle. Her parents disappeared in the fighting when she had just turned 14 — perhaps they were massacred, but their bodies never turned up — so she moved in with her uncle.
A few months later, the extremist Hutu militia invaded the home. She remembers that it was the day of her very first menstrual period — the only one she has ever had.
“First, they tied up my uncle,” Jeanne said. “They cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs, and left him like that. He was still alive.
“His wife and his son were also there. Then they took all of us into the forest.” That militia is known for kidnapping people and enslaving them for months, even years. Men are turned into porters, and girls into sex slaves.
Jeanne and other girls were regularly tied spread-eagle and gang-raped, and she soon became pregnant. The rapes continued, sometimes with sticks that tore apart her insides and left her dribbling wastes constantly. Somehow the fetus survived, but her pelvis was too immature to deliver the baby.
One of the people the militia had kidnapped was a doctor who was forced to treat the soldiers. The doctor, seeing that Jeanne was close to dying in obstructed childbirth, cut her open with an old knife, without anesthetic, and removed the stillborn baby. Jeanne was delirious and almost dead, so the militia dumped her beside a road.
“She was completely destroyed inside,” said another doctor, Denis Mukwege, who saved her life after she was brought here to Bukavu. Dr. Mukwege, 54, presides over the 400-bed Panzi Hospital, supported by the European Union and private groups like the Fistula Foundation. He is sometimes mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his heroic efforts to fight the war and heal its victims.
Dr. Mukwege operated on Jeanne nine times over three years to repair the fistulas that were causing her to leak wastes. Finally he succeeded, and she returned to her village to live with her grandmother.
“He told me to stay away from men for three months,” Jeanne remembers, to give her body time to heal. But three days after she returned to the village, the militia came again and raped again. The fistula reopened.
Jeanne, kept naked in the forest and stinking because her internal injuries had reopened, finally managed to escape and eventually found her way back to Panzi Hospital. Dr. Mukwege has already started a second round of surgeries on her, but there is so little tissue left that it is not clear she can ever be continent again.
About 12 percent of the raped women he treats have contracted syphilis, and 6 percent have H.I.V. He does what he can to repair their injuries and help them heal — until the next time.
“Sometimes I don’t know what I am doing here,” Dr. Mukwege said despairingly. “There is no medical solution.” The paramount need, he says, is not for more humanitarian aid for Congo, but for a much more vigorous international effort to end the war itself.
That means putting pressure on neighboring Rwanda, a country so widely admired for its good governance at home that it tends to get a pass for its possible role in war crimes next door. We also need pressure on the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, to arrest Gen. Jean Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges. And, as recommended by an advocacy organization called the Enough Project, we need a U.S.-brokered effort to monitor the minerals trade from Congo so that warlords can no longer buy guns by exporting gold, tin or coltan.
Unless we see some leadership here, the fighting in Congo — fueled by profits from mineral exports — will continue indefinitely. So if we don’t act now, when will we? When the toll reaches 10 million deaths? When Jeanne is kidnapped and raped for a third time?
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
February 7, 2010
Many in Ivory Coast May Be Left Out From Vote
By ADAM NOSSITER
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — The pictures plastered on school walls all over the country offered a stark reminder of the divisions in this identity-obsessed nation.
On one side were the faces of people the government has deemed true members of society, the ones eligible to vote in the first election here in a decade. On the other side were snapshots of the multitudes — about a million in all — whose identities have fallen under official suspicion.
Ten years of war and riots lie behind those fateful doubts, and soon after the pictures went up the astonishment at being excluded gave way to an urgent reality. To vote in the long-postponed election, many of these one million excluded residents had to troop to registration offices, clutching yellowing documents in a race to prove they belonged here. Sometimes even a birth certificate was not enough.
“I was surprised and shocked” to be barred from voting, said Serge Bayoro, 31. Waiting at a vote center to challenge his status, Mr. Bayoro said with quiet insistence, “I’m a pure-blood Ivorian.”
Those are loaded words in a country where the contrary has been fatal. After years of violence and delays, Ivory Coast, once West Africa’s economic star, is stumbling toward a presidential election. Peace is the hope, expressed over and over in markets and in offices: hold the election and the country can begin to recover. Officials insist that preparations are now ending and that the million residents in dispute, in a country of 18.5 million, will either be integrated into the voter rolls or not.
The question has fueled coups, riots, an armed uprising and thousands of deaths yet still has not been settled: who is and who is not Ivorian in a country that once attracted millions of African migrants because of its prosperity. When global prices for the country’s cocoa, coffee and cotton fell in the 1990s, the economy soured and so did Ivorians’ feelings about the foreigners’ place here.
That xenophobia has been exploited by the government for years. The term foreigner is often so loosely applied that political rivals, voters from the largely Muslim north and a broad array of others have been cast as outsiders simply to keep them out of the political process.
“He who lies about his origins is a danger to the people,” a headline in a pro-government newspaper, Notre Voie, blared recently, next to a photo of a leading opposition candidate, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, who for years has been labeled a closet foreigner by people in the non-Muslim south.
The country split in two in the fall of 2002, as soldiers and officers in the north rebelled against the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. The revolt was the culmination of years of tension between the regions, based on sharply felt feelings of persecution among many northerners.
The war was over in a matter of weeks, but years of instability and flare-ups followed, including the bombing of rebel targets in 2004, the killing of French soldiers by Mr. Gbagbo’s government, retaliation by France and violent anti-French riots.
The election will finally help resolve these issues, officials here say. “The war was actually a welcome thing,” said Alphonse Koffi of the electoral commission in a recent interview. “Now, we can figure out the true identity of people. It was a necessary evil.”
But from the streets to the seats of power, the old preoccupations with identity persist, and the election — whose date has been changing, with regularity, for years — seems to offer little chance of an easy resolution.
In late January, President Gbagbo accused the national electoral commission of trying to surreptitiously add hundreds of thousands of disputed names to the list. Now some 465,000 “contentious ones” — as those in dispute are officially known — who have been added to the electoral list will be rechecked.
“Candidates of the foreign power” would be “revealed” by the election, Mr. Gbagbo promised at his re-election announcement in October, a veiled reference to interference by France here in its former colony.
The anger over the vote has started to boil over. On Friday, 5,000 people rioted in a western town over fears of being removed from the voter list by pro-government judges, a spokesman for the local military commander said.
“The people are afraid that the government is biased against them,” said the spokesman, Lacine Mara. The authorities also reported clashes over the electoral list in a northern town.
Those who support the process offer no apologies for it. “We must know, in the population, who are the nationals, and who are the foreigners, who don’t vote,” said Henri Konan Bédié, a former president. Mr. Bédié has been blamed for — or credited with, depending on the perspective — inventing the explosive concept of Ivoirité, according to which the patriotism of those in the north is considered suspect. The ideology helped set off the crisis, but Mr. Bédié is running again, 10 years after his overthrow in a military coup.
At the elections offices, each voter’s national identity is minutely scrutinized, and if a person has not been found on previous lists — an old elections list, or a list of pensioners, for example — it may make voting difficult.
“I gave them everything, but they won’t let me vote,” said Lancina Soumahoro, a welder in Yopougon, a working-class district here. “If you come from the north, there are big problems.”
Though Ivory Coast still has the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, poverty has increased to nearly 50 percent from 38 percent since the troubles began.
“Nothing has happened in over 10 years,” said Jean-Louis Eugène Billon, president of the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a country living on past achievements.”
Mr. Gbagbo’s term officially ended in 2005. A vote has been postponed half a dozen times, by some counts, with nearly as many peace agreements.
The president, a former history professor once linked to death squads by the French secret services, has clung to power. He leads a rump country in the south, bolstered by armed militants, nationalist rhetoric and profits from the cocoa-bean sector, while rejecting international impatience over the election delays, analysts say.
The warlords who control the north, succored by illicit tax schemes, also seem to have little reason to hurry. The crossings into their domain resemble border points between nations; striding about market stalls are northern soldiers toting guns.
They carry them in and out of the elections offices in a rebel stronghold, Bouaké, 190 miles north of Abidjan, and not much suggests that they will lay the guns down and reunite with the south after the election.
The Abidjan government’s prefects have “no administrative power” in these areas, according to a recent report by experts for the United Nations. The report said that the north was rearming, noting also that Mr. Gbagbo’s government had “invested heavily in riot-control equipment.” Mr. Bédié’s party recently formed its own militia, “to counter those loyal to” Mr. Gbagbo’s party, according to the report.
Hostile sentiments are commonplace. “All Muslims are thugs!” a street orator, surrounded by rapt listeners, shouted at a trembling young man in a park.
Nonetheless, popular longing for a vote is strong. “We want the elections to be held now, so that this state of crisis can finally be over,” said Adou Kobenan, who runs a restaurant in Yopougon.
“For the sake of the Ivory Coast, we must proceed quickly to elections,” said the president of the elections commission, Robert Beugré Mambé, though he was unable to give a date.
“They’ve put it off so much, we’re skeptical,” said Hervé Gouamené, a lawyer who runs a local human rights group.
But “should we have the elections as long as there is no disarmament?” he added, referring to the plethora of armed militias in the country. “This is a worry.”
Could you please refrain from posting ridiculously large articles EVERYWHERE that are not of your own typing, and instead, offer your own insight into what the topic is about...and oh, I dunno, link it as an URL?
Could you please refrain from posting ridiculously large articles EVERYWHERE that are not of your own typing, and instead, offer your own insight into what the topic is about...and oh, I dunno, link it as an URL?
The URLs can break and be inactive. These are not artciles that have been picked up randomly. They are carefully chosen to reflect the respective threads.I believe there is a great deal of interest in them as shown by the numbers.
February 8, 2010
On Afghan Road, Scenes of Beauty and Death
By DEXTER FILKINS
SAROBI, Afghanistan — Even in a nation beset by war and suicide bombings, you would be hard-pressed to find anything as reliably terrifying as the national highway through the Kabul Gorge.
The 40-mile stretch, a breathtaking chasm of mountains and cliffs between Kabul and Jalalabad, claims so many lives so regularly that most people stopped counting long ago. Cars flip and flatten. Trucks soar to the valley floor. Buses play chicken; buses collide.
The mayhem unfolds on one of the most bewitching stretches of scenery on all the earth. The gorge, in some places no more than a few hundred yards wide, is framed by vertical rock cliffs that soar more than 2,000 feet above the Kabul River below. Most people die, and most cars crash, while zooming around one of the impossible turns that offer impossible views of the crevasses and buttes.
Indeed, driving on the Kabul Gorge seems a uniquely Afghan experience, a complicated dance of beauty and death.
“I sit right here and watch people crash all day long,” said Mohammed Nabi, who fries fresh fish in an open-air stall along the road. “The course of history has proved that the Afghan people are bullies. This is why we cannot drive safely.”
One day last week, 13 accidents unfolded on the road in a mere two hours, all of them catastrophic, nearly all of them fatal. The daylong drizzle made the day slightly more calamitous than most. At one scene, a bloodied family grieved for their kin trapped in a flattened car. At another, a minibus lay crushed beneath the hulk of a jackknifed truck. At still another, the bottom of a ravine was filled with a car’s twisted remains.
And yet even as those accidents spread themselves across the roadway, the cars sailed heedlessly past. Taxis and buses weaved and passed one another at bone-chilling speeds, with only millimeters separating them from bloody catastrophe.
“The fighting with the Taliban lasts only for a day or two, but the crashes are every day,” said Juma Gul, who owns a fabric shop in Sarobi that looks directly out onto the highway. “It’s a kind of theater. Sometimes, a car will fly by in the air.”
The lethality of the roadway stems from the unique mix of geography, the road itself, and the drivers’ disregard for the laws of physics.
The two-lane highway is barely wide enough for two cars to pass. On the inside lane, less than a yard outside your window, stands a wall of treeless rock that climbs upward in a nearly perpendicular line. A foot-high ledge guards the outside lane, behind which lies a valley floor as far as 1,000 feet down.
For the drivers, of course, that means there is virtually no margin for error: they go into the wall, or over the edge, or into each other.
The only note of caution is provided by children, who live in the impoverished villages nearby. Often as young as 4 or 5, they stand bedraggled at the bends, using flattened green Sprite bottles as flags, waving the drivers through when the way is clear.
Under the circumstances, you might imagine that drivers in the Kabul Gorge would proceed slowly, crawling and craning their necks to guard against oncoming traffic whipping round the next curve. In fact, for most of history, they did.
Over the centuries, countless invading forces passed through or near the gorge on their way to the Khyber Pass. Among them were a group of 17,000 British troops and civilians, who were massacred as they beat a retreat from Kabul at the end of the first Anglo-Afghan War in 1842. Dr. William Brydon, who rode into Jalalabad on a horse, was the only European to survive.
The Kabul-to-Jalalabad road was paved for the first time by the West German government in 1960. In the 1980s, it was almost entirely obliterated during the insurrection against the Soviet invasion. In the decade that followed, when the Taliban and other armed groups fought to control the country, the road was a blasted moonscape. The craters were so large that taxis would disappear for minutes at a time, only to reappear as they struggled to climb out.
It was a tough road, and it had its own dangers — stretches of roadway often collapsed or washed away — but speed was not among them. That changed in 2006, when a European Union-backed project finally smoothed the road all the way through. Now Afghans could finally drive as fast as they wanted.
And they do! The cars zoom at astonishing speeds, far faster than would ever be allowed on a similar road in the West, if there was one. Like Formula One drivers, the Afghans dart out along the sharpest of turns, slamming their cars back into their lanes at the first flash of oncoming disaster. Most of the time they make it.
The danger is heightened by other things. On paper, the government of Afghanistan requires that drivers pass a test to get a license, but few people here seem to have one.
Then there are the cars themselves, battered Toyota taxis and even Ladas from bygone Soviet days. A typical Afghan car has bald tires and squeaky brakes—not exactly ideal for zigging and zagging through the mountains.
But perhaps the gravest threat, apart from speed of the cars, is the slowness of the trucks. The massive tractor-trailers that move cargo in and out of Pakistan are often overloaded by thousands of pounds. They cannot move fast; if they are climbing one of the gorge’s thousand-foot hills, they cannot move at all. They get stuck. They fall back. They fall over.
So the cars and their drivers stack up behind them, angry and impatient, and rush and maneuver and pass them at the first chance.
And so the cars crash, one after the other.
Each day, the broken and bloody arrive at the Sarobi Hospital, a small clinic in the town at the head of the gorge.
“Most of our patients were injured in accidents,” said Ros Mohammed Jabbar Khel, the chief surgeon.
Dr. Jabbar Khel has a plan to buy a fleet of ambulances and stage them at various points along the gorge. That way, he figures, he could save a lot of lives. He said he was waiting for the money to come from the government in Kabul.
Dr. Jabbar Khel himself drives the gorge several times a week. And each time, he said, he is filled with fear — not for his own abilities, but for those of the others.
“I have a license!” the doctor said. “I took lessons!”
February 11, 2010
The Grotesque Vocabulary in Congo
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
I’ve learned some new words.
One is “autocannibalism,” coined in French but equally appropriate in English. It describes what happens when a militia here in eastern Congo’s endless war cuts flesh from living victims and forces them to eat it.
Another is “re-rape.” The need for that term arose because doctors were seeing women and girls raped, re-raped and re-raped again, here in the world capital of murder, rape, mutilation.
This grotesque vocabulary helps answer a question that I’ve had from readers: Why Congo? After a previous visit to eastern Congo, a reader named Jim D. objected. “Yes there are horrible things happening in Africa,” he wrote on my blog. “None are anything we can do anything about by ourselves.”
“My question is why do you not concentrate on this nation’s poor,” he asked. “Yes, Africa suffers, but you need to look in your own house first.”
Jim D. has a legitimate complaint, echoed by other readers: We have enormous needs at home, and we shouldn’t let foreign crises distract us from them.
But do we really need to say that we can’t address suffering in Congo or Haiti, or anywhere else, because we have our own needs? Particularly when the Congo war has claimed so many lives (perhaps more than six million), isn’t it time for the U.S. to lead a major, global diplomatic push for peace?
Sometimes it’s said that women and children bear the brunt of the brutality in Congo. That’s not quite right; a United Nations official estimates that the population here in South Kivu Province is 55 percent female because so many men have been executed. Women are less likely to be killed but more likely to be tortured.
So can anything be done about this abattoir, or is Jim D. right that it is just one more tragedy to which we must wearily resign ourselves?
One answer is simple: Some people are already showing that it is possible to make a difference here. International Rescue Committee is helping rape survivors recover. The World Food Program averts starvation with its food distributions. And Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” is working with Unicef to build a City of Joy here to train women — some of them shattered by war — to transform their communities. City of Joy will teach legal rights, self-defense and skills for economic empowerment, and a team of female construction workers is helping build it right now.
“The intention is to transform pain into power,” explained Christine Schuler Deschryver, who manages the project in Congo.
As for whether it is possible to end the war itself, it helps to understand why Congolese civilians are subjected to autocannibalism and re-rape. It’s not just mindless savagery. Rather, after talking to survivors and perpetrators alike over the years, I’ve come to believe that the atrocities are calculated and strategic, serving two main purposes.
First, they terrorize populations and shatter traditional structures of authority.
Second, they create cohesiveness among the misfit, often youthful soldiers typically employed by warlords. If commanders can get their troops to commit unspeakable atrocities, those soldiers are less likely ever to return to society.
So don’t think of wartime atrocities as some ineluctable Lord of the Flies reversion to life in a natural state but as a calculated military strategy. We can change those calculations by holding commanders accountable.
A four-step approach would be:
• Pressure on Rwanda to stop funding its pet Tutsi militia in Congo. Rwanda also should publish a list of those facing criminal charges for its 1994 genocide so that more Hutu militiamen not on the list might go back. A Rwandan war shouldn’t be fought in Congo.
• An international regime to monitor mineral exports from Congo so that warlords do not monetize their militias by exporting minerals through Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Legislation to do this, backed by an advocacy group called the Enough Project, is pending in Congress.
• A major push to demobilize Rwandan Hutu fighters and return as many as possible to civilian life in Rwanda or settlements in Congo or Burundi. That should be coupled with a crackdown on leaders in Congo and those who direct action from Europe and the United States.
• A drive to professionalize the Congolese Army and end the impunity for murder, torture and rape, starting with the arrest of Jean Bosco Ntaganda on his warrant for war crimes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to eastern Congo last year was a landmark, but it needs more follow-up from the Obama administration. What is required isn’t some new formula but much greater political will. Otherwise, the fighting will go on for years to come — and this lovely, lush land will spawn even more horrific vocabulary.
Some 5,000 women are murdered in honour killings every year, the UN's top human rights official said Thursday, calling it an "extreme symptom of discrimination."
"It has been estimated that as many as one in three women across the world has been beaten, raped or otherwise abused during the course of her lifetime," said Navi Pillay in a statement. "Amongst the most extreme forms of abuse is what is known as 'honour killing'," added the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
March 10, 2010
Nigerians Recount Night of Their Bloody Revenge
By ADAM NOSSITER
JOS, Nigeria — Dispassionately, the baby-faced young man recounted his killings: two women and one man, first beaten senseless with a stick, then stabbed to death with a short knife.
The man, Dahiru Adamu, 25, was crouching on the floor in the sprawling police headquarters here, summoned to give an accounting of the terrible night of March 7, when, he said, he and dozens of other herdsmen descended on a slumbering village just south of here and slaughtered hundreds with machetes, knives and cutlasses in a brutal act of sectarian retribution.
On Monday and Tuesday, 332 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the village of Dogo Na Hawa, the Nigerian Red Cross said Wednesday. Human rights groups and the state government say that as many as 500 people may have been killed in the early hours of Sunday morning, in three different villages.
Sunday’s killings were an especially vicious expression of long-running hostilities between Christians and Muslims in this divided nation. Jos and the region around it are on the fault line where the volatile and poor Muslim north and the Christian south meet. In the past decade, some 3,000 people have been killed in interethnic, interreligious violence in this fraught zone. The pattern is familiar and was seen as recently as January: uneasy coexistence suddenly explodes into killing, amplified for days by retaliation.
Mr. Adamu, a Muslim herder, said he went to Dogo Na Hawa, a village of Christians living in mud-brick houses on dirt streets, to avenge the killings of Muslims and their cattle in January.
The operation had been planned at least several days before by a local group called Thank Allah, said one of Mr. Adamu’s fellow detainees, Ibrahim Harouna, who was shackled on the floor next to him. The men spoke in Hausa through an interpreter.
“They killed a lot of our Fulanis in January,” Mr. Adamu said, referring to his ethnic group. “So I knew that this time, we would take revenge.”
His victims were sleeping when he arrived, he said, and he set their house on fire. Sure enough, they ran out.
“I killed three people,” Mr. Adamu said calmly.
He and the other detainees showed no sign that they had been maltreated; some confessed to killings, and others denied them, speaking in front of the police.
The police quickly arrested about 200 people in connection with the killings, and many of them were crouching anxiously in rows on a bare concrete floor, outside the police headquarters on Wednesday morning. The police have confiscated 14 machetes, 26 bows, arrows, 3 axes, 4 spears and 44 guns. Victims, many of them women and children, were cut down with knives, short and long; few survived.
Usually in such attacks, there are twice as many injuries as deaths, said Ben Whitfield of the Doctors Without Borders team in Jos. “It’s unreal,” he said. “These people were definitely caught in the middle of the night and meant to be killed.” Like others in Jos, police officials say they are hoping for peace after years of sectarian killings in the region.
But they are not sure they will get it. The streets in this metropolis of several million were largely deserted Wednesday. Residents spoke of fear and anger, and about 4,300 have fled.
Christians, in interviews, voiced suspicion of the intentions of Muslims and associated them with the taint of terrorism. The state attorney general, Edward Pwajok, a Christian, said that on Wednesday morning he had prosecuted a Nigerian Muslim man living in a Jos suburb who had “acknowledged” being “a member of Al Qaeda.”
Mr. Pwajok said there was no indication that the man, Samsudeen Sahsu, was connected to the killings; he said DVDs of Al Qaeda’s activities had been discovered in the man’s home. The group is not previously known to have penetrated Nigeria, though Mr. Sahsu, in a written confession provided by the attorney general, named other members of the “AlKaida Islamic Association.”
He said the headquarters were in Maiduguri, where last summer a radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, was bloodily suppressed by Nigerian security forces.
“Suspicion is still rife,” the state police commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, said in an interview in his office in Jos. “We are appealing to the youth to sheath their swords and give peace a chance.”
Mr. Aduba sharply disputed the elevated death toll reported by others, saying that the police could confirm only 109 deaths.
But a Nigerian Red Cross official in Jos, Adeyemo Adebayo, deputy head of disaster management, said that the number of dead was “possibly” even greater than the 332 buried in the mass grave, since many fled into the bush and could have been cut down there by their attackers. A respected Nigerian human rights group, the Civil Rights Congress, said Monday that its members had counted 492 bodies.
Their attackers had come on foot from nearby villages and had made no preparations for a getaway, said Adebola Hamzat, chief superintendent of the Jos police. “Many of them were still running around,” he said, when they were picked up by the security forces. And many were carrying “cutlasses” — long lethal-looking knives that the police produced for visitors on Wednesday — still stained with blood, he said.
“The person was coming toward me; I killed him with a cutlass,” said the young man next to Mr. Adamu, Zakaria Yakubu, 20, insisting that he was defending a fellow Fulani who had been shot. His victim “did not die right away,” Mr. Yakubu said. “When we got to Dogo Na Hawa, we were just looking for our cattle.” He was clutching some bread distributed by the Red Cross.
Next to him, Ibrahim Harouna, also 20, would say only that he had “killed some of the people’s pigs,” though the police said he was also suspected of having taken part in the killings.
On Wednesday, the mood in Jos was tense among Muslim traders, who complained of a sharp drop in business, and it was anything but forgiving among Christians. They complained that Muslims wanted to supplant “indigenes” — Christians long native to the region.
“Some people want to be rulers everywhere,” said Yohanna Yatou, a businessman. “It’s the Muslims. They said they are born to rule.” Williams Danladi said that Muslims “believe that if they die during this war, they will go to heaven.”
“We Christians, we don’t believe this,” he said.
Others expressed puzzlement and exasperation with the never-ending conflict. “This is a Christian, an indigene,” said Moussa Ismail, pointing to his friend sitting next to him on a downtown stoop, Jacob Ayuba. “We have done business for more than 20 years. How would I attack him?”
DR Congo rebel massacre uncovered
By Martin Plaut
Africa editor, BBC World Service
Evidence of the massacre of at least 321 people in Democratic Republic of Congo has been uncovered by the BBC.
The killings took place last December but have not previously been reported.
Fighters from the notorious Lord's Resistance Army raided several villages in a remote part of north-eastern DR Congo, killing and abducting children.
Human Rights Watch says this is one of the worst massacres carried out by the LRA, whose fighters roam across several countries after spreading from Uganda.
The rebel leaders initially claimed to be fighting to install a theocracy in Uganda based on the Biblical Ten Commandments, but they now sow terror in Sudan and Central African Republic, as well as DR Congo.
In the latest attack, the rebels hacked to death villagers and made others carry looted goods.
“ He warned me because he is an Azande, like me ”
One abductee, 17-year-old Jean-Claude Singbatile, was captured with a group of friends and spent days carrying bags of salt.
"As we marched, the LRA killed people - two at one village, three at the next and then four at the next," he told the BBC.
"They wanted to kill me, but the leader said I should be kept alive, as they needed strong soldiers."
Eventually, one of the rebels warned him that he would also be killed and should take his chance and run for it.
"He warned me because he is an Azande, like me," said Jean-Claude, referring to his ethnic group.
Posing as soldiers
The United Nations had heard rumours that an attack was to be launched around Christmas, and reinforced their troops in the area.
“ The son of our chief was among them, so we felt we had to give them a burial ”
Jacques Akoba Red Cross volunteer
But they were deployed to towns like Dungu and Niangara rather than the remote villages where the killings finally took place.
On 13 December, a contingent of LRA rebels crossed the Uele river, before arriving at a market in the village of Mabanga Ya Talo.
Dressed in military uniforms, they pretended to be Congolese soldiers who had spent months in the forests and asked local people for food and other goods.
They then asked people to carry the goods back to where they had crossed the river, and when the villagers refused, the rebels turned on them.
Adults were attacked, captured, imprisoned in huts, then taken out and made to act as porters.
Anyone who was unable to keep up with the pace of the forced march was "left behind" - a euphemism for being tied up and battered to death with wooden stakes or killed with machetes and axes.
Those who refused or tried to escape were also brutally killed.
It was a pattern repeated in villages all the way to Tapili, some 45km (30 miles) away.
Lt Jeanvier Bahati, a Congolese army commander in the Tapili area, was one of the first to arrive at the massacre site and helped to bury the dead.
"I saw with my own eyes 268 dead bodies, because we buried them - there was no-one else to do it," he said.
May 2002 Eastern Equatoria, Sudan 450 killed, activists say some villagers forced to walk off a cliff
January 1997 Lamwo, northern Uganda More than 400 die, roughly 100,000 displaced
December 2009 Makombo, DR Congo Estimated 312 killed in village raids
December 2008 Doruma area, DR Congo About 300 die in worst incident of campaign of violence known as "Christmas massacres"
Jacques Akoba, a Red Cross volunteer, said he buried seven bodies in a shallow grave 2km south of Mangada, along with nine skulls he found by the side of the road.
"We were scared as we were burying them, but the son of our chief was among them, so we felt we had to give them a burial," he said.
Human Rights Watch, working with local groups, has verified 321 deaths - but other activists have given far higher estimates.
Witnesses say the stench of death hung over the area for weeks.
Children were a particular target of the LRA.
At least 80 were taken by force - boys to become fighters, girls to be used as sex slaves by LRA combatants.
Quite why they killed so many of their victims is a mystery.
"We don't understand what their strategy really is, but they clearly like killing, like destroying things," said Father Joseph Nzala, the Catholic priest at Tapili.
Many villagers are still too frightened to go home, and they continue to live in a makeshift camp on the edge of Niangara.
Local people question why the UN, Congolese and Ugandan forces do not co-operate more closely to halt the LRA, who have now returned to their camps north of the Uele river.
Ugandan army commanders claimed they had all but eradicated the LRA after launching a joint operation with South Sudanese and Congolese troops in December 2008.
With logistical and intelligence support from the US, the operation was meant to kill LRA commanders, including its leader, Joseph Kony.
But the attack failed to achieve its aims and the LRA dispersed, attacking churches and villages during Christmas 2008.
Uganda continues to maintain substantial forces on Congolese territory, sometimes conducting joint patrols with the army.
The Congolese soldiers receive support from UN troops who have a number of small peacekeeping bases in the area.
But Anneke van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch said the massacre provided "clear evidence" of the LRA's ongoing capabilities.
"Rather than ignoring the facts, the governments of the region and UN peacekeepers should co-ordinate their efforts to protect civilians and develop a comprehensive strategy to resolve the LRA problem once and for all," she said.
April 11, 2010
Young Superheroes in a Hut
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe
Why is Africa poor?
Is it a legacy of colonial exploitation? Tropical diseases and parasites? Or is it that local mammals, like the zebra and the African elephant, were difficult to domesticate and harness in agriculture?
There’s truth in each of these explanations. But a visit to Zimbabwe highlights perhaps the main reason: bad governance. The tyrannical, incompetent and corrupt rule of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has turned one of Africa’s most advanced countries into a shambles.
In a village less than a day’s drive from Victoria Falls, I stumbled across a hut that to me captured the country’s heartbreak — and also its resilience and hope. The only people living in the hut are five children, orphans from two families. The kids, ages 8 to 17, moved in together after their four parents died of AIDS and other causes.
The head of the household is the oldest boy, Abel, a gangly 10th grader with a perpetual grin. He has been in charge since he was 15.
At one time, the two families reflected Zimbabwe’s relative prosperity. One mother was a businesswoman who traveled abroad regularly. A solar panel that she brought back from Zambia lies in the courtyard.
One of the fathers was a soccer coach who named his son Diego Maradona. Diego may have inherited some of his father’s talent, but he has no soccer ball and no soccer shoes — indeed, no shoes at all. And here, as in much of Zimbabwe, a once-impressive system of schools and clinics has pretty much collapsed, along with tourism, agricultural production and the economy itself.
The household stirs to life each morning when Abel rises at 4 and sets off barefoot on a nine-mile hike to the nearest high school. He has no watch or clock, so he judges the time from the sun, knowing that it will take three hours to get to school.
Abel and the other children have no money to pay school fees or buy notebooks. But the teachers allow them to attend class anyway, because they are brilliant students who earn top grades. They’re a reminder that talent is universal, although opportunity is not.
After Abel leaves for school, responsibility shifts to Diego Maradona, who is 11. He wakes the three younger children, feeds them cold cornmeal mush left over from the previous night’s dinner, and walks with them to the elementary school they all attend a few miles away.
When Diego and the younger children return in the afternoon, they gather firewood, fetch water, tend the chickens and sometimes search for edible wild plants. Abel returns by about 7 p.m. and cooks more cornmeal mush for dinner. He dispenses orders and affection, nurses the younger ones when they are sick, comforts them when they miss their parents, spanks them when they are naughty, coaches them with their schoolwork, begs food from neighbors, fixes the thatch roof when it leaks, and rules the household with tenderness and efficiency.
Abel’s goal is to graduate from high school and become a policeman, because the job will provide a steady salary to support his siblings. He does not know how he will come up with the modest fees to take graduation exams.
I asked Abel what he dreams of. “A bicycle,” he said. Then he would be able to get home from school more quickly and manage the household better.
“Life was a lot better when I was younger,” he said, a bit wistfully. “From what my parents used to tell me, life was a lot better under white rule. There was a lot more food and clothes, and you could afford to buy things.” But Abel insisted that he was optimistic that life would eventually get better again.
Westerners sometimes think that Africa’s problem is a lack of initiative or hard work. Nobody could think that after talking to Abel and Diego Maradona — or so many other Zimbabweans who display a resilience and courage that left me inspired.
I found Zimbabwean superheroes like Abel often in my week of surreptitious reporting in Zimbabwe. (Mr. Mugabe subjects journalists to imprisonment, so it seemed best not to advertise my presence.) Parents sacrifice meals to keep their children in wretched schools (one teacher showed me his two textbooks for a class of 50). And a growing number of Zimbabweans risk crocodiles, drowning and violence to sneak into South Africa in search of work.
So Zimbabwe’s tragedy isn’t its people, but its leader. Likewise, Africa’s failure has been, above all, one of leadership. It is telling that Africa’s greatest success story, Botswana, is adjacent to one of its greatest failures, Zimbabwe. The difference is that for decades Botswana has been exceptionally well and honestly managed, and Zimbabwe pillaged.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
This artcile is about risk assessment in complex technological systems...
May 27, 2010
Drilling for Certainty
By DAVID BROOKS
In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the political debate has fallen into predictably partisan and often puerile categories. Conservatives say this is Obama’s Katrina. Liberals say the spill is proof the government should have more control over industry.
But the real issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody crossroads where complex technical systems meet human psychology.
Over the past decades, we’ve come to depend on an ever-expanding array of intricate high-tech systems. These hardware and software systems are the guts of financial markets, energy exploration, space exploration, air travel, defense programs and modern production plants.
These systems, which allow us to live as well as we do, are too complex for any single person to understand. Yet every day, individuals are asked to monitor the health of these networks, weigh the risks of a system failure and take appropriate measures to reduce those risks.
If there is one thing we’ve learned, it is that humans are not great at measuring and responding to risk when placed in situations too complicated to understand.
In the first place, people have trouble imagining how small failings can combine to lead to catastrophic disasters. At the Three Mile Island nuclear facility, a series of small systems happened to fail at the same time. It was the interplay between these seemingly minor events that led to an unanticipated systemic crash.
Second, people have a tendency to get acclimated to risk. As the physicist Richard Feynman wrote in a report on the Challenger disaster, as years went by, NASA officials got used to living with small failures. If faulty O rings didn’t produce a catastrophe last time, they probably won’t this time, they figured.
Feynman compared this to playing Russian roulette. Success in the last round is not a good predictor of success this time. Nonetheless, as things seemed to be going well, people unconsciously adjust their definition of acceptable risk.
Third, people have a tendency to place elaborate faith in backup systems and safety devices. More pedestrians die in crosswalks than when jay-walking. That’s because they have a false sense of security in crosswalks and are less likely to look both ways.
On the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a Transocean official apparently tried to close off a safety debate by reminding everybody the blowout preventer would save them if something went wrong. The illusion of the safety system encouraged the crew to behave in more reckless ways. As Malcolm Gladwell put it in a 1996 New Yorker essay, “Human beings have a seemingly fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another.”
Fourth, people have a tendency to match complicated technical systems with complicated governing structures. The command structure on the Deepwater Horizon seems to have been completely muddled, with officials from BP, Transocean and Halliburton hopelessly tangled in confusing lines of authority and blurred definitions of who was ultimately responsible for what.
Fifth, people tend to spread good news and hide bad news. Everybody wants to be part of a project that comes in under budget and nobody wants to be responsible for the reverse. For decades, a steady stream of oil leaked out of a drill off the Guadalupe Dunes in California. A culture of silence settled upon all concerned, from front-line workers who didn’t want to lose their jobs to executives who didn’t want to hurt profits.
Finally, people in the same field begin to think alike, whether they are in oversight roles or not. The oil industry’s capture of the Minerals Management Service is actually misleading because the agency was so appalling and corrupt. Cognitive capture is more common and harder to detect.
In the weeks and hours leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, engineers were compelled to make a series of decisions: what sort of well-casing to use; how long to circulate and when to remove the heavy drilling fluid or “mud” from the hole; how to interpret various tests. They were forced to make these decisions without any clear sense of the risks and in an environment that seems to have encouraged overconfidence.
Over the past years, we have seen smart people at Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, NASA and the C.I.A. make similarly catastrophic risk assessments. As Gladwell wrote in that 1996 essay, “We have constructed a world in which the potential for high-tech catastrophe is embedded in the fabric of day-to-day life.”
So it seems important, in the months ahead, to not only focus on mechanical ways to make drilling safer, but also more broadly on helping people deal with potentially catastrophic complexity. There must be ways to improve the choice architecture — to help people guard against risk creep, false security, groupthink, the good-news bias and all the rest.
This isn’t just about oil. It’s a challenge for people living in an imponderably complex technical society.
June 4, 2010
Disaster in the Amazon
By BOB HERBERT
BP’s calamitous behavior in the Gulf of Mexico is the big oil story of the moment. But for many years, indigenous people from a formerly pristine region of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador have been trying to get relief from an American company, Texaco (which later merged with Chevron), for what has been described as the largest oil-related environmental catastrophe ever.
“As horrible as the gulf spill has been, what happened in the Amazon was worse,” said Jonathan Abady, a New York lawyer who is part of the legal team that is suing Chevron on behalf of the rainforest inhabitants.
It has been a long and ugly legal fight and the outcome is uncertain. But what has happened in the rainforest is heartbreaking, although it has not gotten nearly the coverage that the BP spill has.
What’s not in dispute is that Texaco operated more than 300 oil wells for the better part of three decades in a vast swath of Ecuador’s northern Amazon region, just south of the border with Colombia. Much of that area has been horribly polluted. The lives and culture of the local inhabitants, who fished in the intricate waterways and cultivated the land as their ancestors had done for generations, have been upended in ways that have led to widespread misery.
Texaco came barreling into this delicate ancient landscape in the early 1960s with all the subtlety and grace of an invading army. And when it left in 1992, it left behind, according to the lawsuit, widespread toxic contamination that devastated the livelihoods and traditions of the local people, and took a severe toll on their physical well-being.
A brief filed by the plaintiffs said: “It deliberately dumped many billions of gallons of waste byproduct from oil drilling directly into the rivers and streams of the rainforest covering an area the size of Rhode Island. It gouged more than 900 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor — pits which to this day leach toxic waste into soils and groundwater. It burned hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere, poisoning the air and creating ‘black rain’ which inundated the area during tropical thunderstorms.”
The quest for oil is, by its nature, colossally destructive. And the giant oil companies, when left to their own devices, will treat even the most magnificent of nature’s wonders like a sewer. But the riches to be made are so vastly corrupting that governments refuse to impose the kinds of rigid oversight and safeguards that would mitigate the damage to the environment and its human and animal inhabitants.
Pick your venue. The families whose lives and culture are dependent upon the intricate web of waterways along the Gulf Coast of the United States are in a fix similar to that of the indigenous people zapped by nonstop oil spills and the oil-related pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Each group is fearful about its future. Both have been treated contemptuously.
The oil companies don’t care. Shell can’t wait to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska, an area that would pose monumental problems for anyone trying to deal with a catastrophic spill. The companies pretend that the spills won’t happen. They always say that their drilling operations are safe. They said that before drilling off Santa Barbara, and in the rainforest in Ecuador, and in the Gulf of Mexico, and everywhere else they drill.
Their assurances mean nothing.
President Obama has suspended Shell’s Arctic drilling permits and has temporarily halted the so-called Arctic oil rush. What we’ve learned from the BP debacle in the gulf, and from the rainforest, and so many other places, is just how reckless and inept the oil companies can be when it comes to safeguarding life, limb and the environment.
They’re dangerous. They need the most stringent kind of oversight, and swift and severe sanctions for serious wrongdoing. At the same time, we need to be searching with a much, much greater sense of urgency for viable energy alternatives. Treating the Amazon and the gulf and the Arctic as if they were nothing more than toxic waste sites is an affront to the planet and all life-forms that inhabit it.
Chevron doesn’t believe it should be called to account for any of the sins Texaco may have committed in the Amazon. A spokesman told me that the allegations of environmental damage were wildly overstated and that even if Texaco had caused some pollution, it had cleaned it up and reached an agreement with the Ecuadorian government that precluded further liability.
The indigenous residents may be suffering (they’re in much worse shape than the people on the gulf coast) but the Chevron-Texaco crowd feels real good about itself. The big money was made, and the trash was left behind.
Hahahaha...this time, North Americans and the West Europeans are f***d big time, not just the middle easterners…remember the early days of bush thugministration…within two weeks in the office, the greatest tragedy was hatched behind the closed doors by that motherf***g Dick Cheney and the rest of the Big Oil cronies…in the name of Energy Task Force.
Remember that son of a b*tch Rumsfeld, who said France and Germany is “Old Europe”…
June 7, 2010
India Steadily Increases Its Lead in Road Fatalities
By HEATHER TIMMONS and HARI KUMAR
NEW DELHI — India lives in its villages, Gandhi said. But increasingly, the people of India are dying on its roads.
India overtook China to top the world in road fatalities in 2006 and has continued to pull steadily ahead, despite a heavily agrarian population, fewer people than China and far fewer cars than many Western countries.
While road deaths in many other big emerging markets have declined or stabilized in recent years, even as vehicle sales jumped, in India, fatalities are skyrocketing — up 40 percent in five years to more than 118,000 in 2008, the last figure available.
A lethal brew of poor road planning, inadequate law enforcement, a surge in trucks and cars, and a flood of untrained drivers have made India the world’s road death capital. As the country’s fast-growing economy and huge population raise its importance on the world stage, the rising toll is a reminder that the government still struggles to keep its more than a billion people safe.
In China, by contrast, which has undergone an auto boom of its own, official figures for road deaths have been falling for much of the past decade, to 73,500 in 2008, as new highways segregate cars from pedestrians, tractors and other slow-moving traffic, and the government cracks down on drunken driving and other violations.
Evidence of road accidents seems to be everywhere in urban India.
Highways and city intersections often glitter with smears of broken windshield and are scattered with unmatched shoes, shorn-off bicycle seats and bits of motorcycle helmet. Tales of rolled-over trucks and speeding buses are a newspaper staple, and it is rare to meet someone in urban India who has not lost a family member, friend or colleague on the road.
The dangerous state of the roads represents a “total failure on the part of the government of India,” said Rakesh Singh, whose 16-year-old son, Akshay, was killed last year by an out-of-control truck in Bijnor, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, as he walked along a highway to a wedding.
The truck crushed Akshay so completely that his father could identify his son only by his shirt. The truck also ran over a second man and drove away.
Reckless driving and the juxtaposition of pedestrians and fast-moving heavy vehicles is common. The expressway that runs southeast from Delhi to Greater Noida, a fast-growing satellite city, cuts through farmland interspersed with new industrial parks and shopping malls. Small settlements of huts piled with cow-dung patties fringe the road.
During a 40-minute ride on that highway, a tractor hauling gravel was seen driving the wrong way, a milk truck stopped in the road so its driver could urinate and motorists swerved to avoid a bicycle cart full of wooden tables in the fast lane. Drivers chatted on mobile phones as they steered stick-shift cars and wove across lanes. Side mirrors were often turned in or were nonexistent.
A cluster of women in saris holding small children waited anxiously for a gap in traffic so they could race across the highway. Opposite them, a group of young men in office attire waited to cross in the other direction.
The breakdown in road safety has many causes, experts say. Often, the police are too stretched to enforce existing traffic laws or take bribes to ignore them; heavy vehicles, pedestrians, bullock carts and bicycles share roadways; punishment for violators is lenient, delayed or nonexistent; and driver’s licenses are easy to get with a bribe.
Kamal Nath, India’s minister of road transport and highways, said in an interview that highway safety was a “priority” for the national government. “Road safety is one of the major issues” the ministry is addressing, he said. The ministry is reviewing the Motor Vehicles Act and, three years after a government-backed committee recommended that a national road safety board be established, it has introduced legislation to that effect in Parliament.
International safety experts say the Indian government has been slow to act. Bringing down road deaths “requires political commitment at the highest level,” said Dr. Etienne Krug, director of the department of violence and injury prevention at the World Health Organization. India’s government is “just waking up to the issue,” he said.
Mr. Nath, who was India’s commerce minister before moving to the Highway Ministry last year, has increased highway expansion plans and is raising $45 billion from private investors to extend India’s 3.3-million-kilometer, or 2-million-mile, road network. The expansion is an integral part of keeping the economy, now at about 9 percent growth a year, humming, Mr. Nath says.
Government planners warn that fatalities are unlikely to decline soon.
When highways are built, “there are always more accidents,” said Atul Kumar, chief general manager of road safety with the National Highways Authority of India, part of Mr. Nath’s ministry.
Mr. Kumar said that his agency had spoken with local residents before building and expanding roads near towns and villages but that it could not always satisfy them. “If we accept all their demands, we’d have an underpass every kilometer,” he said. The expansion has to be “viable for bidders,” he said, and “underpasses and flyovers are expensive.”
In the rest of the world, a rise in high-speed roads does not always have to mean a rise in deaths. In Brazil, for example, new, privatized highways have much lower rates of fatal accidents than other roads.
Private companies building and running new highways in India say that their hands are sometimes tied. From his office overlooking a 32-lane set of tollbooths, Manoj Aggarwal, chief executive of the road-building company Delhi-Gurgaon Super Connectivity, says he witnesses hundreds of traffic violations every day that he cannot stop.
“Look at this man in the middle of the road,” he said during an interview, pointing to a pedestrian slowly weaving his way through the traffic. “I can’t fine him. I can’t punish him.”
Only the police can ticket or fine speeders, or people who are on the roads but should not be. But, over-burdened and understaffed, the police are rarely available, Mr. Aggarwal said, even though he has offered to pay them extra to work on off-duty hours.
In 2008, 73 people were killed on just this 27-kilometer stretch of highway, earning it the nickname “Expressway to Death.” The death toll dropped as Mr. Aggarwal added safety features outside the government contract.
Shivani, a 15-year-old student, recently landed in St. Stephen’s Hospital in Old Delhi with a fractured right leg after just such a highway dash.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I was trying to cross the road.” Her forehead and knuckles were blackened and scraped, and her eyes were glazed after a four-day coma.
She has to cross a busy highway during her one-kilometer walk to school. There are no crosswalks, no underpasses and no stoplights.
As cars increase, those who cannot afford them and continue to travel on foot, bicycle or rickshaw are more vulnerable, safety experts say. Dr. Mathew Varghese, the head of St. Stephen’s orthopedics department, said he saw hundreds of patients a year like Shivani. The government is building “economic growth on the dead bodies of the poor on these highways,” he said.
Frustrated Indians often take matters into their own hands, forming impromptu mobs to beat up offending drivers. “Road rage” incidents, where drivers step out of their cars and get into physical altercations, have become common. Some people have begun campaigns to curb unsafe driving.
“People don’t understand the value of life here,” said Manoj Gupta, a consultant from Chandigarh, whose wife was riding a motor scooter when she was crushed by a speeding bus two years ago. Helmet laws apply only to men, and she was not wearing one. The bus driver was out on bail in four or five days, Mr. Gupta said. Now Mr. Gupta stops reckless drivers to tell them about his wife and to ask them to drive more carefully.
Safety “needs to be an important part of the driving culture, and that is still lacking,” said Harman S. Sidhu, president of ArriveSafe, a road safety awareness group in Chandigarh. He started it after he was left paralyzed by a car accident in the Himalayas.
Last year during Raksha Bandhan, a festival celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, ArriveSafe enlisted thousands of sisters to beg their brothers to drive carefully.
Mr. Singh, the father of Akshay, the boy killed by a truck in Bijnor, said he had spent days searching for the driver who ran over his son after the local police refused to help, finally taking the police in his own car to make the arrest. Megh Singh, the investigating police officer for the case, said in an interview that the police were eager to investigate but hampered because the station has only one jeep for its 18 to 20 inspectors.
The truck driver, now awaiting trial on charges of negligent death in Akshay’s case and murder in a second man’s case, has been released on bail. The truck, which appeared to be carrying an illegally heavy load, was returned to its owner without incurring any fees or fines.
Dozens of letters Mr. Singh wrote to local and national politicians asking them to investigate overloaded trucks in the area have not been answered.
“No one wants to be responsible,” he said. “They are all passing the buck.”
June 26, 2010
Death by Gadget
By Nicholas d. kristof
“Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.”
An ugly paradox of the 21st century is that some of our elegant symbols of modernity — smartphones, laptops and digital cameras — are built from minerals that seem to be fueling mass slaughter and rape in Congo. With throngs waiting in lines in the last few days to buy the latest iPhone, I’m thinking: What if we could harness that desperation for new technologies to the desperate need to curb the killing in central Africa?
I’ve never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo’s, and it haunts me. In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.
Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think “sleek,” not “blood.”
Yet now there’s a grass-roots movement pressuring companies to keep these “conflict minerals” out of high-tech supply chains. Using Facebook and YouTube, activists are harassing companies like Apple, Intel and Research in Motion (which makes the BlackBerry) to get them to lean on their suppliers and ensure the use of, say, Australian tantalum rather than tantalum peddled by a Congolese militia.
A humorous new video taunting Apple and PC computers alike goes online this weekend on YouTube, with hopes that it will go viral. Put together by a group of Hollywood actors, it’s a spoof on the famous “I’m a Mac”/”I’m a PC” ad and suggests that both are sometimes built from conflict minerals.
“Guess we have some things in common after all,” Mac admits.
Protesters demonstrated outside the grand opening of Apple’s new store in Washington, demanding that the company commit to using only clean minerals. Last month, activists blanketed Intel’s Facebook page with calls to support tough legislation to curb trade in conflict minerals. For a time, Intel disabled comments — creating a stink that called more attention to blood minerals than human rights campaigners ever could.
Partly as a result, requirements that companies report on their use of conflict minerals were accepted as an amendment to financial reform legislation.
A word of background: Eastern Congo is the site of the most lethal conflict since World War II, and is widely described as the rape capital of the world. The war had claimed 5.4 million deaths as of April 2007, with the toll mounting by 45,000 a month, according to a study by the International Rescue Committee.
It’s not that American tech companies are responsible for the slaughter, or that eliminating conflict minerals from Americans’ phones will immediately end the war. Even the Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization that has been a leading force in the current campaign, estimates that only one-fifth of the world’s tantalum comes from Congo.
“There’s no magic-bullet solution to peace in Congo,” notes David Sullivan of the Enough Project, “but this is one of the drivers of the conflict.” The economics of the war should be addressed to resolve it.
The Obama administration also should put more pressure on Rwanda to play a constructive role next door in Congo (it has, inexcusably, backed one militia and bolstered others by dealing extensively in the conflict minerals trade). Impeding trade in conflict minerals is also a piece of the Congo puzzle, and because of public pressure, a group of companies led by Intel and Motorola is now developing a process to audit origins of tantalum in supply chains.
Manufacturers previously settled for statements from suppliers that they do not source in eastern Congo, with no verification. Auditing the supply chains at smelters to determine whether minerals are clean or bloody would add about a penny to the price of a cellphone, according to the Enough Project, which says the figure originated with the industry.
“Apple is claiming that their products don’t contain conflict minerals because their suppliers say so,” said Jonathan Hutson, of the Enough Project. “People are saying that answer is not good enough. That’s why there’s this grass-roots movement, so that we as consumers can choose to buy conflict free.” Some ideas about what consumers can do are at raisehopeforCongo.org — starting with spreading the word.
We may be able to undercut some of the world’s most brutal militias simply by making it clear to electronics manufacturers that we don’t want our beloved gadgets to enrich sadistic gunmen. No phone or tablet computer can be considered “cool” if it may be helping perpetuate one of the most brutal wars on the planet.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum