From the Philippines to CAR…


Well, my holiday is officially over, and there’s no more time to dwell on the post-holiday comedown, as I’m right back into the swing of things again!

I got back to the Philippines a week ago, and had a couple of days with my manager in Manila, before travelling to Ormoc via Tacloban. I had a nice couple of days catching up with some peeps in Tacloban over the weekend, and generally getting back into work mode. The night I arrived there was a fantastic torchlight parade through the streets of Tacloban to celebrate World Water Day, complete with fire-dancers and all sorts of fun performances.

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It’s very hot and humid now, and still pissing with rain most of the time. Apparently this is the “dry season”, and by that I mean that it’s generally a bit less wet than the typhoon season. Or as several colleagues have informed me, there are two seasons in the Philippines, Wet and Very Wet. So this would be the Wet Season.

On Sunday the office was locked when I came down after breakfast, so I was forced to have a “meeting” with a colleague in Tacloban’s new office annex/meeting room!

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It was so much fun, although my ping-pong skills clearly need some serious attention!

Then I hopped in a car and drove to Ormoc, where I am going to be based for the next 3 weeks. I realised it’s the first time since arriving in the Philippines that I know I will be in one place for an extended period, and I could actually unpack my stuff! Such luxury!

I have literally been living out of my rucksack for the last 4 months, and have never once been able to properly unpack. I’m so sick of having my stuff just explode out of my bags all over the place in a big messy heap everywhere I go. So on Sunday night I sorted all my clothes, put everything away in cupboards and drawers, and basked in the glory of having a tiny bit of order restored to my life. Of course naturally I had a call the next morning telling me I was in the wrong hotel, and I needed to pack up and move the next day, so my basking was very short-lived. That’s what happens when you tempt fate….

And so the last two days have been filled with cash-for-work planning, discussions about proper chainsaw maintenance and repair, exploring post-typhoon fluctuations in the migrant labour market, and explaining to the volunteers what informed consent means if beneficiaries don’t want to have a free tetanus vaccination.

Anyhow, moving on from all the fun and games to far more serious things.

Today’s grisly and depressing global news landed in my inbox this morning in the form of an update from the Central African Republic (CAR), and I feel the need to share it because as miserable as it is, I am positive that it is getting 0% news coverage worldwide. Which is a travesty, and the horrors that are unfolding there demand the world’s attention urgently. Sadly the world is busy with other news, like the missing Malaysian airlines plane, and mudslides in the US, and the unfolding situation in Crimea. I can’t help feeling that if the atrocities happening in CAR were happening on Europe’s doorstep, the world would snap to attention pretty damn fast.

Here are some of the highlights from the UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s recent visit to the Central African Republic:

“The inter-communal hatred remains at a terrifying level, as evidenced by the extraordinarily vicious nature of the killings. This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered….and the humanitarian agencies are grappling with enormous problems, as well as with terrible dilemmas such as choosing between unwillingly aiding the “cleansing” of trapped Muslim populations, or leaving them – against their will – in places where they are in real danger of being slaughtered en masse….

The economy has collapsed, health care is virtually non-existent in many areas, as is education…. there is also a food crisis, with food security threatened by lack of funding, difficulties of access and a long rainy season likely to start in just a few weeks time…. there is, in effect, no State: no coherent national army, no police, no justice system, hardly anywhere to detain criminals and no means of charging, prosecuting or convicting them. The so-called ‘penal chain’ is not only missing links, it is not functioning at all…. people apprehended with blood on their machetes and severed body parts in their hands, have been allowed to go free, because there is nowhere to detain them, and no means to charge them with the crimes they have clearly committed….

The Central African Republic is paying a very heavy price for 50 years of extraordinarily bad governance. With fertile soil and valuable mineral resources, it should be rich. Instead, even before the current disaster, it was one of the poorest countries in the world. A country that, despite many rivers, and a lengthy rainy season, is still having to buy drinking water from its neighbours….

Creating an effective justice system, prisons, police forces and other key State institutions, virtually from scratch, is a massive and complex enterprise that cannot be done on the cheap. The international community seems to have forgotten some of the lessons it learned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor – to mention just a few.

Civil society organizations told me they rang the alarm bells long before the crisis turned into a calamity, but nobody listened….I cannot help thinking that if the Central African Republic were not a poor country hidden away in the heart of Africa, the terrible events that have taken place – and continue to take place – would have stimulated a far stronger and more dynamic reaction by the outside world. How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?”

Those of you interested in finding out more can read the full press release here:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14411&LangID=E

Sorry for the sombre end this particular post, but that’s just the world we live in, and the more of us who stand up and shout about the atrocities that are happening in the forgotten corners of this earth, the more likely it is that someone somewhere will listen…..

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