Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A heart to heart with Haiyan

(How a typhoon recovery operation helped my recovery)

One year ago today, I flew Christchurch-Sydney to Manila to start my new job as country coordinator for the Swiss Red Cross, in support of the Philippine Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it is locally known)
I retired in July 2013 from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies as I had reached the mandatory retiring age, so I  returned to New Zealand to settle in Christchurch with my family.Two weeks after arriving,  my local doctor discovered I had something wrong with my heart. ” It sounds like t has a river is running through it,” said Martin Fisher as he wrote out a referral to a cardiologist.
 I had a major aneurysm  on the aorta valve, it had swollen to 3 times the normal size. A month later heart-surgeon David Shaw operated on me.
 When I arrived in the Philippines, I joined the PRC/Swiss Red Cross team in Bantayan where all building were destroyed and we immediately distributed emergency shelter to 3000 typhoon affected families. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I seemed to be recovering well and I was walking a lot and following carefully the instructions of my cardiologist. For the first time in my life I suffered depression and some days I did not want to get out of bed. I kept asking myself why is this tough Kiwi guy succumbing to depression when he has everything going for him. Then I discovered I had something called post-cardiac blues, suffered by many who have heart surgery. Your heart is a very vital and intimate organ, and when it is plucked out of your chest, and kept outside for some hours while the surgery is done, it clearly doesn’t like it Apparently it takes some months to settle down to the traumatic surgery  the heart has endured, and somehow affects you psychologically.  Additionally  in my case - I had just finished a Red Cross career starting in Vietnam in January 1971 during the war between the North Vietnamese and the USA - spanning a period of  42 years. The heart didn’t like the surgery and my body didn’t enjoy stopping working.

From 5 to 7 November 2013  I saw  the weather satellite pictures  on TV showing Super Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Visayas region of the Philippines and then on 8 October,  watched aghast at the dramatic footage of the typhoon and storm surge annihilating Tacloban and surrounding coastal areas. Typhoon Haiyan just kept going on and on swatting everything in its path. I felt so helpless for in the past, I was usually one of the first up the front line helping coordinating emergency rescue and relief. This time I was a helpless spectator.
I watched the relief operation unfold in the days that followed and knowing the Philippine RC by reputation, I could see and imagine they were doing an outstanding job with their huge cadre of volunteers.

The Philippine Red Cross are building 80,000 shelters for typhoon affected families and here is a typical progressive core shelter in Capiz which is typhoon resistant, and funded by Swiss Red Cross
So when I got up at 2 a.m, on 16 November for my customary comfort stop, I glanced at my mobile phone and saw a posting on Facebook from Ann-Katherine Moore at the Swiss Red Cross saying she was urgently looking for a leader of the Swiss Red Cross Typhoon Haiyan operation in the Philippines. I left 4 days later with a very positive letter from my cardiologist saying that I have recovered very well from my heart surgery and taking on a challenging relief operation in the Philippines would be the best thing for me.
So a year later, I am in Ormoc on Leyte island which suffered the worst of the typhoon furore , looking at the Philippine Red Cross typhoon recovery program where the Swiss Red Cross is supporting a large recovery operation in Ormoc, Capiz and the Calamian island of northern Palawan.
A year later, thanks to the USD 386 million raised by the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Red Cross has built well over 7,000 homes, distributed cash and roofing material to 13,500 households for home repairs and distributed cash to more than 29,000 households as part of the livelihood support programme.
Haiyan had a huge impact on the Visayan economy, wiping out agriculture, fisheries and the livestock people rely on for food and backyard trade.  Nearly 70 per cent of livelihood cash grants so far have been used to buy livestock, mostly pigs and chickens.
 A typical core shelter and latrine built in the remote Calamian Islands of Palawan. A Philippine Red Cross programme supported by the Swiss Red Cross.
Recovery implementation hasn’t stopped there. An important part of the Haiyan operation is ensuring that householders and labourers know how to build back safer so they are better prepared for the next typhoon. As a result Red Cross has employed more than 1,800 carpenters and masons and set up training workshops for community volunteers to ensure that  simple ‘building back safer’ techniques are being taught and disseminated in the hundreds of communities where Red Cross is working.
Haiyan also extensively damaged and contaminated water systems, pipes and hand pumps. Red Cross water and sanitation teams have since repaired or constructed nearly 1,500 water systems and is continuing long-term community awareness raising  of good hygiene practices and disease prevention, with an emphasis on cleaning up breeding sites for mosquitoes.
 Nearly 70 per cent of livelihood cash grants so far have been used to buy livestock, mostly pigs, chickens and to help fisher folk with nets, boats and marketing.
Health and education are also important components of the recovery plan. So far 192 classrooms out of the planned 400 have been repaired and equipped, while 35 health facilities are being rebuilt and refitted.
Closer community consultation and engagement have also been a feature of the Haiyan operation.
To support monitoring and beneficiary selection, Philippine Red Cross has to date established Barangay (community) Recovery Committees in nearly 240 communities.  Members are generally chosen by their peers and must abide by Red Cross guidelines on selecting beneficiaries for shelter and livelihood support. Such committees are playing an important part in their community’s preparedness and response for disasters in a country that experiences scores of annual floods, landslides and typhoons.
One factor hampering the pace of recovery is the legacy of entrenched poverty. This was further exacerbated by Haiyan, which had a significant impact on the economies of Leyte and Samar in region VIII, the third poorest region in the Philippines with one of the highest proportion of landless labourers and tenant farmers.
Now the one year mark of Haiyan has just passed, more work is needed  to sustain the recovery effort. As my old colleague of more than 30 year, Marcel Fortier,head of the IFRC said before his departure yesterday after also serving one year in the Philippines

‘Haiyan's devastating impact was huge but one year on, the recovery effort is well underway and we are seeing communities bounce back,’ Fortier says.
‘Without doubt there are still needs on the ground and that's why the Red Cross is committed to a long-term plan which will see not only houses and livelihoods restored but communities made stronger so they are more able to withstand the next super typhoon when it hits.’

Friday, 14 November 2014

Genghis Khan was father to thousands of children

Genghis Khan:

Over many years while living in Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Persia new research shows he could lay claim to being the most prolific lover the world has ever seen.

Seven hundred years ago, a man almost conquered the Earth. He made himself master of half the known world, and inspired mankind with a fear that lasted for generations.
"In the course of his life he was given many names - Mighty Manslayer, Scourge of God, Perfect Warrior. He is better known to us as Genghis Khan."
So begins Harold Lamb's 1927 book Genghis Khan: Emperor Of All Men, which - 80 years after its publication - remains the best-selling history on the Mongolian warlord.
But what Lamb did not say - because there was no proof of it until this day - is that Genghis Khan could also lay claim to being the most prolific lover the world has ever seen.
After analysing tissue samples in populations bordering Mongolia, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences believe the brutal ruler has 16 million male descendants living today, meaning that he must have fathered hundreds, if not thousands, of children.
And as the geneticists agree, it can be explained only by Genghis Khan's policy of seizing for himself the most beautiful women captured in the course of his merciless conquests.
The Mongol victory feasts were notorious. Genghis Khan and his commanders would tear at huge lumps of nearly raw horsemeat while captive girls were paraded for their inspection.
Genghis Khan chose from women of the highest rank. He liked them with small noses, rounded hips, long silky hair, red lips and melodious voices.
He measured their beauty in carats: if he rated them below a certain number they were sent to the tents of his officers.
On one occasion, his lieutenants were idly debating what was the greatest enjoyment that life afforded. The consensus was leaning toward the sport of falconry - Genghis owned 800 falcons - when their leader offered his own deeply felt view.
"The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters," he announced.
Despite his appetite for women, the findings of the geneticists sound impossible. They suggest that Genghis fathered more offspring than anyone in history.
How could 16 million men, living in an area stretching from China to the Middle East, share the identical genetic footprint of one man?
Yet that vast region precisely matches the range of Genghis Khan's dominion, through which he led his 13th century Mongol armies on the greatest orgy of pillage, rape and slaughter known to history.
It was a phenomenal achievement, accomplished in just 20 years. At the time of his death in 1227, Genghis ruled an empire twice the size of Rome's, and it changed the world forever.
His original name was Temujin, but he took the title of Genghis Khan or 'Universal Ruler' when he united the fractious Mongolian tribes in 1206.
He and his pony-mounted archers then set out on a whirlwind of foreign conquest and destruction.
His armies ravished northern China, Samarkand and the other fabled Central Asian cities of the Silk Road, and much of far-off Russia.
Genghis and his hordes annihilated every community which resisted them, killing or enslaving men, then distributing captured women among themselves and raping them.
"The plundering of enemy territories could begin only when Genghis Khan or one of his generals gave permission," wrote Russian historian George Vernadsky.
"Once it had started, the commander and the common soldier had equal rights, except that beautiful young women had to be handed over to Genghis Khan."
Often Khan took pleasure in sleeping with the wives and daughters of the enemy chiefs. His army commanders believed him to have extraordinary sexual powers, because he would sleep with many women every night.
There was never any shortage of women, for he and his hordes used bone- crushing violence to wipe out all the men who stood in their path.
A year after he and his hordes ransacked Beijing in 1214, an ambassador to the city reported that the bones of the slaughtered formed mountains, that the soil was greasy with human fat and that some of his own entourage had died from diseases spread by the rotting bodies.
When Genghis and his armies laid siege to cities, the besieged inhabitants were forced to resort to cannibalism.
His nomadic tribesmen travelled with battering rams, scaling ladders, four-wheeled mobile shields and bombhurlers in a juggernaut that was something new in history: a growing army which gathered prisoners as it went along and used them as soldiers or in its slave-labour force.
The further it travelled, building its own roads, the stronger it became. Prisoners were used as cannon-fodder - driven forward as suicide troops to fill up the moats and take the full force of the defences' fire.
Where possible, Genghis Khan used local prisoners so that defenders would hold back, unwilling to slaughter people they recognised.
In the Persian city of Merv, an ancient seat of learning regarded as the pearl of Asia, Genghis Khan committed one of the greatest unmechanised mass killings in history, second only to the massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915.
For four days, the population was led out from the city walls to the plains to be slaughtered. A group of Persians later spent 13 days counting the people slain.
The Persian historian al-Juvayni, writing a generation after the destruction of Merv, said: "The Mongols ordered that, apart from 400 artisans, the whole population, including the women and children, should be killed, and no one, whether woman or man, be spared.
"To each Mongol soldier was allotted the execution of 300 or 400 Persians. So many had been killed by nightfall that the mountains became hillocks, and the plain was soaked with the blood of the mighty."
Historians today estimate that more than a million were killed.
In southern Russia, Khan's Mongol armies destroyed a combined Russian army four times bigger. The surviving leaders, including Prince Romanovitch of Kiev, surrendered on the understanding that no blood would be shed. It wasn't.
The captives were tied up and laid flat, where they became the foundation for a heavy wooden platform on which the Mongol commanders feasted and chose which women to bed, while the Prince and his allies were crushed or suffocated.
Aside from these battlefield conquests, Genghis Khan had six Mongolian wives, he established a large harem and he married many daughters of foreign kings who prudently submitted to his rule.
It was on August 18, 1227, during a campaign against the Tangut people of northwestern China, that Genghis Khan died. The reason for his death is uncertain.
Many assume he fell off his horse, due to old age and physical fatigue; others allege he was killed by the Tangut.
There are persistent folktales that a Tangut princess, to avenge her people and prevent her rape, castrated him with a hidden knife and that he never recovered. Whatever the cause, his legacy was astonishing.
His Mongol Empire ended up ruling, or briefly conquering, large parts of modern day China, Mongolia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Moldova, South Korea, North Korea and Kuwait.
His sons and heirs ruled over his empire, and may well have used their position to establish their own large harems, especially if they followed their father's example.
David Morgan, a historian of Mongol history at the University of Wisconsin, says Genghis's eldest son, Tushi, had 40 sons.
Ata-Malik Juvaini, who wrote a treatise on the Mongols in 1260, said: "Of the issue of the race and lineage of Ghengis Khan, there are now living in the comfort of wealth and affluence more than 20,000.
"More than this I will not say ... lest the readers of this history should accuse the writer of exaggeration and hyperbole and ask how from the loins of one man there could spring in so short a time so great a progeny."

Thanks to Chris Hudson of the Daily Telegraph for permission to run this article.