Saturday, 29 November 2014

Red tape a threat to Coast to Coast

In 1995 I wrote a book on the history of the  'Coast to Coast - The Great New Zealand Race.'  I remarked at the time there was no need for Government intervention or certification because high safety standards were used. Today we are seeing gross Government interference. Here is an article from today's Star Sunday Times.
FOUNDER ROBIN JUDKINS: ‘‘Why screw with it when it’s worked so well? It will be the death knell for people who have always wanted to help.’’
FOUNDER ROBIN JUDKINS: ‘‘Why screw with it when it’s worked so well? It will be the death knell for people who have always wanted to help.’’

One of New Zealand's toughest and best-known sporting events is under threat from government regulation.

The annual Speight's Coast to Coast - founded in 1983 - could struggle to get enough entrants due to a shortage of affordable kayak instructors required to tick off race certification requirements.
Multisport New Zealand president and Sport Central coordinator Bill Godsall said the impact of new adventure tourism regulations on multisport events such as the Coast to Coast were of "huge concern".
NEW DIRECTOR: Richard Ussher, pictured at the finish of the kayak leg last year.
 NEW DIRECTOR: Richard Ussher, pictured at the finish of the kayak leg last year.

The 243-kilometre event, which sees competitors race by boat, bicycle and on foot from Kumara Beach on the South Island's west coast to New Brighton Beach in Christchurch, was in danger because gaining the grade two certification requirements to paddle the river legs would be too expensive for many competitors, he said.
The event is set for February.
Under the new regulations due to come into effect on December 12, all adventure tourism operators must pass audits and register with Work Safe NZ.
But the regime was forcing many smaller operators, such as Godsall, to quit. Small or solo operators had to pay between $3000 and $5000 to go through the auditing process, he said.
"We don't make anything, or a lot, so the only people able to or who want to carry on with the grade two process are the big providers.
"They will now have a monopoly on it and their fees are already as much as four times a solo operator."
Kayaking events in the past had been "really big", and to lose that was a "huge concern", Godsall said. Other events such as the Clutha Classic could also be hamstrung by the new regulations.
"The Clutha Classic is the second-biggest kayak race in the South Island. We have good numbers but in the future the sport will take a big hit because of the lack of certified instructors providing a service at a reasonable cost people can afford. It is going to make life quite hard for multisport," he said.
And the man who for decades was the face of the Coast to Coast has also questioned the need for the changes.
Robin Judkins, who last year sold the event he created, said a certification requirement he introduced to the Coast to Coast in 1984 had proven to be "very successful", with no fatalities happening during the event's 30-year history.
"It's certainly not a positive thing for multisport, that's for sure. Why screw with it when it's worked so well?" he said.
"It will be the death knell for people who have always wanted to help."
New Coast to Coast director Richard Ussher shared concerns about the impact of the regulations on the race.
"It has raised a whole lot of grey areas for us. We are trying to work through and how best we move forward with that."
The auditing regime was nothing more than a paper trail, he said.
"All it is doing is adding to the costs and compliance, and not actually adding to the safety.
"It is more of a paper trail than critiquing actually what people are teaching, how they are teaching and what people will go away from that with."
Wanaka adventure tourism operator Guy Cotter said he was concerned highly qualified single operators would decide it was too hard and drop their concessions, leaving the adventure industry to be run by corporates.
The audit regime was a "knee jerk reaction" by the Government after British tourist Emily Jordan died in a river boarding accident in Queenstown in 2008 and the Fox Glacier plane tragedy in 2010 that killed eight skydivers and the pilot, Cotter said. Both events were governed by existing Maritime and Civil Aviation safety regulations but instead of tightening those laws, the Government had got stuck into the whole industry and the typical $800 three-year audit cost leapt to $10,000 to complete just one WorkSafe audit, Cotter added.
Canterbury Kayaking owner and instructor Sam Milne said as a solo, full-time operator he had gone through the auditing process, but because of the high costs he would be forced to increase prices.
"I could just afford to do it and not go broke but this summer I will not make any money because of the costs associated this year."
Despite the cost, he saw the auditing process as positive for the industry.
WorkSafe New Zealand project manager Bryan Smith said the new regime would improve safety and the department had created "a robust and practical scheme".
"The regulations are raising the bar for safety in the sector, and the independent audit process is a key part of that."
The costs were in line with those associated with professional administration of the audit process, appropriate assessment of the high level of risk that exists within the adventure activities industry and the level of liability undertaken by audit providers, Smith said.
 
JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN AND MARJORIE COOK - Sunday Star Times

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.
genghis
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.

Bob McKerrow, 66, Aid Worker New Zealand

 This is a blog by men, for men, and for the women and men who love them. It exists for itself and of itself, as a testimony to remarkable men that have been in my life, and have influenced the man I am. I, and the other authors, hope that any man or boy, young or old, will come here and find inspiration and wisdom, and grow to be "a good man". On this blog you will find examples of how you can be, pitfalls you might avoid, culled from hundreds of years of cumulative experience of "being a man".
This blog has been over two years in the making. I finally found some impetus to kick its ass out the door this week. As I was applying some finishing touches I got a text saying one of the best people I have ever known, was dead. This project is dedicated to the memory of Blair Sheridan, 3 Dec 1964 - 30 Sept 2014: musician, friend, father, man, 
This is the link to Joe Lowry's blog 'How to be a man.'

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Blessed, Amongst Women

Bob McKerrow, 66, Aid Worker
New Zealand
 

It took me a while to find a picture of Bob that exemplifies this larger-than-life man as I know him. He's a polar explorer, writer, manager, humanitarian, bon-vivant... but most of all he loves life with an infectious enthusiasm. 

I find being a man is a mixture of roles: protector, provider, clown, outdoor educator, trainer to my children and wife (I have seven children), sensitive to all the females in my life, and a good friend to my mates.
The biggest influence on me was my Mum. She was the one that really shaped me and led me to humanitarian work. Eileen, was born deaf, as was her younger brother Ray, and in those days, anyone born deaf was considered deaf and dumb. But my Mother was a bright woman, she enjoyed Shakespeare, read poetry and she taught me to sew and knit, and to write well.
I loved my Mother dearly and was horrified by children’s cruelty towards her. I remember older kids throwing clods at her and then as a five year old, running down the road chasing after them and trying to knock the shit out of them, but often they would knock the shit out of me. I learned that being a boy (man) was defending yourself and other less fortunate. Bloody knees, black eyes and continuous cuts and bruises were my medals of honour.
When you have a disabled member of your family, someone you love dearly, and people discriminate against them, you grow up with a huge awareness of discrimination and where it occurs.
For me, being a man, is knowing where you come from and drawing strength from that. Explorers, surveyors,  blacksmiths, ploughmakers, shoemakers, labourers, clerks, sailors, miners, bushmen, and strong sensitive woman linked me through the past 150 years across the water to the highlands of Scotland, to the rivers of Prussia, the theatres of England.  My Auntie spoke of having Maori blood  through the village of Colac Bay in Southland and my family tree shows I am related to Buffalo Bill Cody and Charles Laughton, the Shakespearian actor. Perhaps, the most famous connection is to King James V, from whom the McKerrow historian says we have descended, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket.
Thinking of my heritage make me feel strong in the many difficult situations I have had to face. These have included Taleban soldiers threatening me with rifles, thieves in Colon Panama trying to knife me for my money and the cold barrel of an AK 47 pushed against my temple at night in Vietnam. I find my background gives me the cool-headedness to look them in the eye and ‘be a man.’  I find antagonists back down when you stand up to them. I suppose I have never been afraid of men particularly when comparing them to my tough Father. He was a strict disciplinarian and used to bring out a WWII German belt and beat us very hard if we misbehaved. But he was also an excellent handyman and I recall many happy days helping him do repairs around the house,  grow vegetables, cut hedges, lawns and resole shoes. He had two books on how to repair motor cars but being a labourer with five children, a car was beyond our family finances. 
 I go to my diaries from my early 20s and this is what I rediscover.
“For nearly two years I had been a part of all male mountaineering expeditions to Peru, Antarctica, and between times, on all male trips to Mount Cook and Fiordland.
“After nine months in Antarctica I looked in the mirror, and I realised a man without a women around him, is a man without vanity. Winsome, how I loved her. I wrote hundreds of letters to her during that dark, long winter’s night. She was at the airport with her new boyfriend to greet me when I returned from Antarctica.
Mountains and women – they were, and are, a huge part of my life. Brasch, our great New Zealand poet said “Man must lie with mountains like a lover, earning their intimacy in a calm sigh” . In “Leaves of Grass” Walt Whitman’s says “ A woman contains everything, nothing lack, body, soul.”
The a close relationship I had with my Mum, with two older sisters and my Nana (and the distant one I had with my Dad) convinces me that women were the one who encouraged me, gave me my reference points in life.
Why was I spending so much time with men ? Was I having to prove myself? Well I had proved I was physically capable of climbing some of the highest mountains in the world, running marathons, and surviving a year in Antarctica with only three other people.
Yet I felt at a cross road. There was something compelling about leading a life of an itinerant mountaineer, explorer or traveller. I cast back my mind Peru to 1968 and the poverty that moved me so much . My first adult poem was prompted by the injustices I saw throughout Peru in 1968. I flirted with Marxism, read Nietzsche, Che Guevara.  Thoughts from Bolivian diary by Che  Guevara swirled in my head. In New Zealand Norm Kirk was emerging as a national leader, an engine driver who was about to railroad our country away from the clutches of racist conservatism. Being a man was being aware of the wider world around me.
These were heady times.  The music -  Dylan, Joan Baez, The Beatles, Joplin, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. The Vietnam war was becoming ugly - why the hell did New Zealand have troops there? Protests were strong.
During these weeks of running and frequent bouts of drinking at the Captain Cook pub, I came across an advert in  December 1971 in  the Otago Daily Times  wanting personnel to work in South Vietnam for a “ New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Welfare Team”. They wanted nurses, an agriculturalist, water-sanitation special, rehabilitation guidance officer, and a mechanic. Shit, this was for me. I could travel and do something structured for the people like those I saw in Peru.
Chris Knott and I had just got back from our miserable trip to Fiordland and we were together licking our wounds. We had miserably failed to climb Mt Tutoko and after a week of torrential rain we almost died of exposure and later were swept away when a swollen river picked up our tent as we slept.
The doorbell rang, and there at the front door was the telegram man with a message for each of us, inviting us to go to Wellington, for interviews for the New Zealand Red Cross Refugee team to South Vietnam.
A few weeks later I was elated on receiving news I had been selected to go to South Vietnam.
Chris missed out. He was to go back to England and spend the next three years working for the British Antarctic survey. I was the lucky one to have broken out of the mould being set for me to continue the lonely life of an adventurer
Defending my Mum on a number of occasions made me realise at a young age that discrimination is to be found everywhere, and that committed and motivated people were needed to stand up against it. That led me to the Red Cross, at the age of 22.
I wanted to be the protector, rescuer and change agent for all these people brutalised by uncaring soldiers in war, and to change the minds of the uncaring bureaucrats who were designated to care and help them.
Forty one years later I am still  working for Red Cross.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why I’m staying in Afghanistan

As western troops withdraw from Afghanistan, a small number of foreigners remain. They talk about the war-torn country they have come to love. 
I spent three years in Afghanistan and knew Alberto and Nancy Dupree very well so I am delighted The Guardian put this excellent article together.
Nancy Hatch Dupree with science students outside the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University
Nancy Hatch Dupree with science students outside the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University: ‘The young have found their voices,’ she says. Photograph: Joel van Houdt for the Guardian
Few people now move to Afghanistan to start a new life. Visitors once came for tourism or trade, but these days most arrive for work postings of a few months or a few years at most, to fight or deliver aid, take pictures, or flit from meetings in barricaded ministries to embassy cocktail parties. They do not expect to fall in love with a country that, in the west, more often makes headlines for its violence, extremism and corruption.
The past four decades of conflict have driven away millions of Afghans, and almost all the foreigners who had made a home here. But as British troops withdraw after a 13-year military occupation, and other Nato allies send their forces home, a small band of expats has stayed throughout the turmoil. Some have been seduced by the natural beauty of the country, the hospitality and extraordinary history – the stupas and temples, mosques and forts, decaying but still spectacular. Others kept coming back over the years, and eventually settled – staying for love, or for work – often seeing another side of Afghanistan. They may be worried about the future, in a land where the Taliban has stepped up its fight for both territory and Afghan support, infiltrating stretches of the countryside, where they control the roads, levy taxes, run schools and dispense justice. But they are not leaving the country they now call home.

Nancy Hatch Dupree, cultural centre director, Kabul University

Dupree arrived with her husband, a cultural attache, in the 1960s. They lived in Kabul, where foreigners mingled at parties with the Afghan elite, then took morning horse rides through grass meadows.
“We met all these beautiful people: sophisticated, elegant, dressed in the latest fashions,” she remembers. “[President Mohammad] Daud Khan insisted they all brought their wives, because that’s what you did in a modern nation. The highlight was the Queen’s birthday party at the British embassy, where we would dance until dawn, then go up to Qargha lake with our bottles of champagne and watch the sunrise.”
Kabul should have been just the first of many postings as a diplomatic wife, but her life was upended when she asked anthropologist Louis Dupree to edit a tourist guidebook she had written, the country’s first. She walked into his office, and found the love of her life. The cultural attache became an ex.
“I didn’t have any sense that I was going to stay here for so long, but when I married Louis I caught the bug with him,” she says.
The couple spent years travelling through the Hindu Kush and the deserts of the south, seeking traces of prehistoric civilisations and exploring villages for anthropology research. Those years were a golden age for the country. “Louis and I would go in one car, and never think about security.” But in 1978, Daud Khan was toppled in a Soviet-backed coup, Louis was briefly imprisoned, and the Duprees were expelled. They moved to Pakistan, where Nancy worked in refugee camps.
Louis died of cancer in 1989, and when Nancy flew back to Kabul, in 1993, it was to a city battered by civil war. She helped salvage the national museum’s treasures, and after the Taliban were toppled, in 2001, she returned for good. Already in her 70s, she secured the backing to build the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, a home for the couple’s collection of historical documents.
Despite the current conflict, her optimism endures. “The young have found their voices,” she says.

Alberto Cairo, physiotherapist

Alberto Cairo
‘To see all these patients with terrible wounds was quite tough. But strangely, I have felt since the beginning that I’m in the right place. I realised I was really useful,’ says Alberto Cairo. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
Cairo’s office sits a few paces from a metal workshop, near rooms full of plaster casts of legs, arms and hands. More than 130,000 disabled Afghans have passed through the simple rehabilitation clinic over several decades.
Cairo grew up in northern Italy and trained as a lawyer, but realised, at 30, that he did not want to spend his life in courtrooms and offices. He went back to college to study physiotherapy, spending days in a wheelchair to better understand his future patients, then joined the Red Cross. His first assignment in Afghanistan, in 1990, was at a hospital for war casualties. Given just three weeks’ notice, he asked what language the locals spoke and what the weather would be like. “I did not know anything,” he admits.
He worked 15-hour days for several months to get to grips with his work. “I was in Africa before, for three years, but it was not a war situation,” he says. “So to see all these patients coming with terrible wounds, it was quite tough. But strangely, I have felt since the beginning that I’m in the right place. I realised that I was really useful.”
Alberto Cairo refereeing a game of wheelchair basketball
Alberto Cairo refereeing a game of wheelchair basketball. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
Foreign staff were evacuated when a rocket hit the hospital in August 1992, but less than two months later, Cairo was back, driving ambulances across frontlines and working at the rehabilitation centre where he is still based. He has always pushed the Red Cross to be more ambitious in their efforts to help the country’s disabled. He threw out old rules and began helping people whose injuries were not caused by the war. Now, only one in seven people treated at the centre are victims of conflict; others are maimed in car crashes, industrial accidents, or difficult home births.
Cairo started the Red Cross’s first rehabilitation projects, offering education and job training, and he insists that all staff at the centre are disabled themselves – from the security guards to the teams that make prosthetic limbs.
“It’s society that makes the life of disabled people impossible,” he says. “In Afghanistan, the disabled are not rejected, but they are given pity, not rights. They are not given a chance to restart their lives. So we have to fight.”
Recently, he introduced wheelchair basketball to the country, after finding a Chinese firm that makes the special wheelchairs cheaply, and an American willing to coach.
“Physiotherapy is painful. Prosthetic limbs are not easy. But sport is fun, it’s joyful,” he says.
There is not much about Italy he misses, though he sometimes longs for theatre or cinema. He taught an Afghan at the centre to make Italian food, and when he returns from a visit to Italy, his cases are loaded with parmesan and coffee.
“I will never be an Afghan, but when you ask me where is home, I say Kabul. This is the place where I want to be.”

Alexander Levenyets Yurivitch, former Soviet soldier, now a taxi driver

Alexander Levenyets Yurivitch
Alexander Levenyets Yurivitch in a field near the airport in Kunduz, where old Soviet military equipment has been left behind. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
It was an unpromising introduction to Afghanistan. Alexander Levenyets Yurivitch’s plane had taken off from a Soviet Union airbase with no destination given; he and the other conscripts on board were not warned they were heading into a bloody, protracted war. When he stepped off the aircraft in windy Kunduz, he recognised the Afghan flag fluttering beside the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle.
The young Ukrainian was primed to face squads of ruthless foreign fighters and hostile locals, but found himself chatting to Afghan teenagers who peddled hashish to bored soldiers, and he realised the war was much more complicated than he had expected.
Yurivitch started selling Soviet ammunition to his mujahideen enemies, but got caught. In detention he was barely supervised, because the guards thought that the prisoners’ fear of the men waiting outside the gates of their military base was security enough. And so, one night, Yurivitch slipped out.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was born in Ukraine but these are my people – I felt it as soon as I escaped,” he says. “I converted on the first day.”
Alexander Levenyets Yurivitch
‘I was born in Ukraine but these are my people – I felt it as soon as I escaped,’ says Alexander. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
Alexander became Ahmad, and within a month he spoke fluent Dari, the only trace of his origins a thick Russian accent that has lasted over three decades. He sent a letter home to his only relatives, his mother and brother, after he absconded, telling them he was alive but had switched sides. His mother, whom he never saw again, replied, “I want you to be happy. You don’t have to come back – forget your debt to me.”
Yurivitch has left Afghanistan just once, to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, travelling on an Afghan passport. He spent six years in the mountains fighting his former comrades, once barely escaping a village ambush in which the only other convert in the group was killed. But he found a band of brothers, after growing up desperately poor and fatherless.
“It wasn’t so tough,” he says. “We had heaters, electricity, everything was well planned; we even had a cook, a baker...”
In 1989, Moscow finally ordered its soldiers home, so he was able to give up his guerrilla life, move into Kunduz and turn his thoughts to marriage, a challenge for an outsider in a country where most people’s partners are chosen by their parents.
“The mujahideen looked for an Afghan woman for me. A radio operator gave me his daughter,” he says. His wife is a teacher, and they live with their four daughters in a small village 20 minutes’ drive north of Kunduz. The land there was left to him by his commander from jihad days. The legacy is testament to Ahmad’s popularity, bolstered by his reputation as a devout Muslim.
“I didn’t have any problems with the Taliban because I was one of them,” says Ahmad, who drove trucks for them in a time he looks back on as a golden age. “I had a fixed salary then.”
Now a taxi driver, he is ambivalent about the past decade. “Back then, people were honest, good Muslims. Nowadays, people want democracy and open society,” he says.
Still, sitting among the rusting wreckage of military transport planes and helicopters, on the airbase where he first set foot on Afghan soil, he is hopeful.
“I think things are getting better because the Americans are leaving, and we are all tired of fighting. This is a holy land, which can’t accept foreigners. Just like the Russians, they have been forced out.”

Father Giuseppe Moretti, Catholic priest

Father Giuseppe Moretti in his church at the Italian embassy
Father Giuseppe Moretti in his church at the Italian embassy. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
To Father Moretti’s Afghan friends, the bishop of Kabul is “mullah sahib”, a token of respect for his status as a man of God, even if his God is not the one they believe in. Conversion to Christianity still carries the death penalty in Afghanistan, so Moretti’s diocese is a single church inside the grounds of the Italian embassy, its construction authorised nearly a century ago.
Communist secret police, civil war militias, Taliban vice police and now Nato soldiers have all passed through its gates in the years since 1977, when Father Moretti first flew into the city.
“I realised when I arrived that I could work from the presumption that I was European and therefore superior, and understand nothing; or I could open myself completely to this country and love it. And it was the latter,” he says.
His small house is crammed with mementoes of his life as an Italian priest in a war zone. When the country spiralled into civil war after the departure of the Soviet troops, he refused to leave – at first naive, then stubbornly committed.
“On 28 April 1992, the first night there was fighting, I thought it was a party with fireworks, beautiful. The second night, I thought the fireworks were continuing. The third night, our chargĂ© d’affairs said to me, ‘There are no fireworks, that is fighting.’”
Undaunted, Moretti stayed to minister to the handful of nuns still doing charity work in the battered city. “We had nothing for our defence. I remember the boom, boom, boom, so close around.”
Two years later the shells hit his home and he barely escaped alive. “When I opened my eyes, my dog, Benji, was there in the ruins; he helped me cross to the ambassador’s residence. When the watchman saw me, he fainted. I must have been covered with blood.”
Moretti was ordered home to Italy to recover. When security returned to Kabul it was under the Taliban, and although they left the church and the nuns who prayed there in peace, there was no priest until the Taliban fell in 2001. That year, Pope John Paul II sent Moretti a simple message. “He said, ‘Father, it is time to go back.’”
The two celebrated mass together, and on the journey to Kabul, Moretti stopped to look around a small shop in eastern Afghanistan. With a surprise still evident, he found an oil painting of the pontiff there; it now has pride of place on his wall.
Newly invested with the authority of a bishop, he leads an eclectic congregation that has at times included ambassadors and Nato commanders. The only people he has not tried to reach out to are Afghans. “We are forbidden from proselytising, and I would not say anything about Christianity to my assistants, even as a joke. But they have respect: they change the flowers every day, ask me how many people came to the service.”
At 75, he is due for retirement, but has volunteered to stay on despite growing security problems. There have been two suicide bombings just metres from his gate, which have made him a virtual prisoner in his house. He no longer wanders freely through the city he remembers from decades ago. “It was not a splendid city, but every day you could see the mountains. It was a pleasant life. You could walk everywhere peacefully.”
His main worry is not the violence but his shrinking congregation. He feels an affinity with the Afghans because they are religious people. “For the Afghans, it’s impossible to think of a man without God. In the west, it’s the contrary: impossible to think of a man with God,” he says. “This is the most difficult thing for me as pastor of the international community: people are proud of their religious indifference.”

Hiromi Yasui, photojournalist

Hiromi Yasui in her garden with a bird in a cage
‘This is my home,’ says Hiromi Yasui. Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Guardian
Yasui’s garden is a shady escape from Kabul’s dusty, frenetic streets. A fountain sits among fig and mulberry trees, and two giant guard dogs given to her by nomad families loll on the lawn, longingly eyeing a small aviary.
“It’s comfortable to have a house of your own,” says Yasui, a photographer who was first drawn to Afghanistan by its wandering tribes of livestock herders. She had been captivated by an old book of photos of the country’s Kuchi nomads, and in 1993 she hitched a ride on an aid truck to the eastern city of Jalalabad. After a sheltered childhood in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto, she was shocked by the violence she found.
“I crossed the border and I was so excited, thinking, ‘This is Afghanistan.’ I only knew it from the book. I thought there would be caravans of nomads, and I looked and looked but couldn’t see a single one. There were just burning trucks and tanks, and then I realised: there is still a war here. I had never seen war,” she says. “I had to report these facts to Japan, instead of the Kuchi.”
After two weeks covering a sprawling, squalid refugee camp, Yasui travelled to Kabul, crossing the frontlines between several warring factions. Undaunted by her inexperience, or by the horrors she had already seen, she joined a handful of other journalists in the city’s dilapidated German Club and became a war correspondent almost overnight. “It was so surprising, so sad,” she says. “I was crying a little bit at the beginning… It was not necessary for so many children to die. But I was not frightened. It looks very dangerous being at the frontline but the [other soldiers] were a long way away.”
She returned to Afghanistan every year after that first trip, eventually photographing nomads in the Panjshir valley, and then befriending one of the war’s most famous commanders, Ahmed Shah Masood, known to his admirers as the Lion of the Panjshir.
“When his bodyguards introduced me, saying, ‘The Japanese female journalist is here’, he would joke: ‘She’s not a girl, it’s a boy.’ If you see the pictures, I have very short hair and I’m wearing men’s clothes for my work.” She laughs.
Masood gave her a Persian name, Mursal, which means rose. “After the war finished, all the mujahideen came to Kabul, everyone knew me. Every street, passing by, I’d hear ‘Mursal’ – someone calling to me.”
In 2002, after both her parents passed away, Yasui moved to Kabul full time. Months later she fell in love with an Afghan colleague, but dating was a challenge in a city so conservative that many couples don’t even meet until they are engaged.
“It’s difficult to secretly be boyfriend and girlfriend in this country, so in the end we decided to get married. We went to Turkey,” says Yasui, who converted to Islam for the marriage and sometimes worries that she is a “lazy Muslim”.
A decade later she has become famous in Afghanistan with a new generation, this time for her cooking and hospitality. Encouraged by an unconventional Japanese tour firm keen to invest in Afghanistan, she opened a small but immaculate hotel in the historic Bamiyan valley, looking out over cliffs studded with ancient Buddhist caves.
“At the beginning it was quite difficult, because I’ve no experience of being a hotelier,” she says. “But I have been a customer, so I try to put in what I think is comfortable.” That included introducing Japanese and Chinese food to a once-cosmopolitan valley that had fallen off international trade routes centuries earlier.
The Hotel Silk Road became the closest thing Afghanistan has to boutique accommodation, booked out for government retreats, charity workshops and diplomats’ holidays. Guests told her that, once back in Kabul, they missed her teriyaki chicken and tempura, so she opened a restaurant in the capital, and a handicraft business to provide jobs for local women whom the small hotel could not support.
She still works as a journalist, but her side projects now employ nearly 100 people. Security worries have already affected her business: roads into Bamiyan have been periodically cut off to foreigners and most government officials. But having endured one Afghan war, she is prepared to ride out another – and is still hopeful she won’t have to.
“I am ready to fight for things to go the right way,” Yasui says. “Sometimes I’m a little bit tired, but still I want to stay here. This is my home. We believe the future will be bright.”
Thanks to the Guardian for permission to reproduce this article.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Resilience, Recovery and Reputations one year on.in Typhoon Haiyan

                                      Taken just after typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban




                                        One year later taken from the same spot.

 If the emergency relief operation is daunting in so many ways, so too of course will be the longer term recovery and reconstruction” wrote Mike Woolridge from the BBC on 13 November 2013.

Today, 8 November 2014, one year since Typhoon Haiyan struck. The before and after photos above show the resilience of the people and the land.  

I was involved in my first major typhoon in 1972 in Fiji when Hurricane Bebe ripped the heart out of Western Fiji and its outer islands. In 1999 I played a key support role after the Super Typhoon or Cyclone hit the coastal Indian state of Orrisa. As my Red Cross career nears an end, I never expected to be involved in the most power typhoon ever recorded, but here I am having worked for a year with the Philippine Red Cross through the emergency to the long term recovery phase. How has the Red Cross performed?

 Now working as part of a Philippine Red Cross recovery effort  I am country coordinator for the Swiss Red Cross, and feel proud of the collective RCRC achievement after one year. The RC has completed over 6000 core shelters with latrines and should steadily reach our target of 90,000 shelters. In addition we have 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. The core shelter above is one funded by the Swiss Red Cross in Palawan.


A year on from Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines’ deadliest natural disaster, the Red Cross and Red Crescent is making a real difference in the lives of people devastated by the typhoon.
As soon as the extent of the devastation became clear, the Philippine Red Cross mobilised more than 8,000 volunteers, as well as rescue trucks and equipment, and distributed prepositioned food and water supplies.  Meanwhile, in one of the Red Cross’ biggest global relief efforts, National Societies all over the world sent delegates experienced in emergency response, including logistics, health, water and sanitation and psychosocial support, while dozens more launched fundraising appeals.

Since distributing emergency relief, including shelter and cash, to 1.3 million people in the first months following the terrifying storm,  the Philippine Red Cross is now implementing a three-year recovery plan, erecting and repairing homes and giving people back their livelihoods.

Cash grants were provided to fisher folks which they used to buy fishing boats and gears to help them rebuild their livelihoods.

The IFRC’s Head of Delegation in the Philippines, Marcel Fortier, says: ‘Red Cross has a lot of experience in complex operations following natural disasters. The impact of Haiyan was huge, but it has not affected the normal pace of relief and recovery activities, because we are used to working in such contexts  – that is one of our key strengths.’

 A year later, thanks to the USD 386 million raised by the Red Cross and Red Crescent (as of 31 August 2014), the Red Cross has built well over 6,000 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.
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.

 
Carpenters receiving on the job training while building Philippine Red Cross houses in Ormoc to   ensure    that the new houses are typhoon resistant.

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. 

Every shelter built by Red Cross has a latrine and a water supply. See photo below.


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.
As the one year mark of Haiyan approaches, more work is needed  to sustain the recovery effort. 
‘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.’
Thanks to Kate Marshall of IFRC for permission to use excerpt from her article.