I started this blog for personal matters, to publish my art and literature, Now it seems I am turning this blog to a reporting media of Human abuse and Human being in wretched plight all around the World. I hope, We all citizen should rush to the crying and disturbing souls and help and support them. Protest and publicizing can help stop atrocities on public and bring safety measure to the mass under calamities.

Friday, October 29, 2010

In India, greed creeps into microlending, critics say

Read in this blog relating story, click

In India, greed creeps into microlending, critics say

Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 29, 2010
NEW DELHI - The microcredit revolution has been celebrated for helping poor women in developing countries start small businesses. By lending them money for purchases such as a buffalo or sewing machine, the women were able to help lift their families out of poverty.

But critics say the microcredit model has been perverted by commercial greed in India, with reports of abusive collection methods and sky-high interest rates.

"What began as a simple, innovative model of providing credit for the poor women who were excluded from mainstream banks underwent a paradigm shift in India," said R. Subramaniam, principal secretary for rural development in Andhra Pradesh. "Many of these microfinance lenders morphed into for-profit companies six years ago."

In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which the has the highest number of micro-lending businesses in India, at least 25 defaulters have committed suicide in the past two months, according to the government. At least 31 other suicides are under investigation.

Founded in rural Bangladesh, the Nobel-prize winning microcredit revolution called Grameen Bank became a global phenomenon as a system very small loans to poor people . The industry has boomed in India, growing at 70 percent annually in the past five years.

Critics say that rapid growth has resulted in abuses.

"Each loan agent had a target to fulfill and was knocking on people's door with easy credit without due diligence. That is how the rot set in. It's not unlike the subprime crisis in America," Subramaniam said.

Vijaya Kasipati, who lives in the village of Lachepet in Andhra Pradesh, said she had defaulted on five loans totaling about $ 2,000 from different micro-credit institutions. Loan recovery agents barged into her home last week, she said, with dozens of men shouting insults.

Two hours after the men left, she said, her husband, Jangam Kasipati, a temple priest, suffered a massive heart and died.

"The shock was too much for him. The agents were rude and very insulting. The whole village heard them," Kasipati, 46, said by telephone the village of Lachepet. "I just could not repay, I tried hard. The agents harassed me every week."

India's government is introducing a national law to scrutinize the institutions.

Earlier this month, the Andhra Pradesh government introduced an interim law calling for more disclosures, a ban on coercive loan recovery measures and better controls on multiple loans to one person. The law also mandates displaying interest rates prominently on signboards and setting up of district-level courts to hear complaints.

The microfinance industry has challenged the curbs in the state high court. Advocates say that about 80 percent of the sector is already regulated by India's central Reserve Bank of India and blame informal fly-by-night operators for the abuses.

"The way the rural economy is structured, moneylenders are an integral part of it. The moneylenders do feel threatened by the inroads made by the formal sector micro-finance institutions," said Alok Prasad, chief executive of the Microfinance Institutions Network, the industry association.

Some of the advocates say the new curbs could trigger a meltdown of the industry, with loans worth $6.6 billion and more than 30 million borrowers. "Everybody loses - the banks, the micro-finance institutions and the clients. Where will people go for their credit needs if the tap is suddenly turned off? Stop pushing them back into the arms of the village moneylenders who have been exploiting people for centuries."

But complaints about aggressive tactics abound.

Official say that harassment by agents included beating up defaulters, humiliating them by making them stand in the sun all day and hurling abuses at them outside their doors.

"You need to be very very careful when you are working with villagers. If you show up at their door with easy loans, they accept. They think, 'Money has come to my doorstep, why send it away?' So the same person is given more than one loan by several agents without checking their credit history and capacity to repay," Subramaniam said.

The loan size ranges from about $250 to $500. The borrowers have to pay the interest every week, a dramatic change from the earlier Grameen Bank model of monthly payments. Prasad said that the interest ranges between 24 to 36 percent. But an official said that some charge interest of 50 to 60 percent as well.

Critics said some of the small loans are being used to pay for weddings, pilgrimages and even cellphones.

"Where is the question of a small business? A woman has to immediately start weekly repayments," said Jamuna Paruchuri, project manager for gender at the government's Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty. "The woman is caught in a debt trap. She takes a second loan to repay the first."

In the village of Gangapur, B. Satyamma, 48, said she has struggled to repay a $250 loan she took out for a family medical emergency. She walks 5 miles a day to pluck cotton buds in distant fields because the wages are higher there.

"I have to do this to keep up with my weekly repayments of $6," she said.

Paruchuri said some loan agents create fraudulent accounts.

Savitri Edulu, 40, rolls beedis, traditional cigarettes, for a living in Lachapet village. A few months ago, an agent asked her to sign papers and offered her $25 as commission.

"It was quick money, and all I had to do was sign," she said. "Little did I know that the agent borrowed loans worth $ 2,500 from five different lenders in my name. Now different men are banging on my door every week, and the agent has absconded."

Courtesy : The Washington Post

You can read also a relating news published in The Times of India click !

MFI agents 'forcing' debtors to commit suicide: Study
Jinka Nagaraju, TNN, Oct 20, 2010,

HYDERABAD: In a shocking and disturbing revelation about the methods of the micro finance institutions (MFIs) in disbursing and recovering loans from the rural people of the state, a government study has found that some MFI agents themselves are encouraging the debtors to commit suicide so that their loans are repaid. This happens because the borrowers are covered by insurance.

Till now, there have been at least 45 suicides reported in the state in the last one-and-a-half months allegedly due to the coercive practices employed by the MFIs in recovering the loans. "MFI agents are provoking defaulters to commit suicide as all the borrowers are covered by insurance and if the defaulting member dies, the MFI will get the repayment from the insurance company," said the study that was conducted last week in various villages of the district by Sujata Sharma, project director of District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) of Warangal.

According to sources, the MFIs draw up an insurance cover for the borrower at the time of loan disbursement. In the eventuality of suicide, they recover the amount under the Loan Protection Fund (LPF) by which 10 per cent of the loan amount is deposited with the RBI which repays the remaining loan amount due from the defaulter. In fact, the study demolishes the theory that the MFIs are improving rural credit and, in fact, conclusively proves that the loans were taken only because of the presence of the MFIs.

In most cases, "there was an element of wasteful expenditure by the poor due to the availability of the easy loan from the MFIs....The presence of easy loan at the doorstep has certainly played a stimulatory role," the study said.

The six major reasons for which the loans were taken from the MFIs were for expenditure on marriages, death ceremonies and certain other rituals, medical expenses for those ailments not covered by Arogyasri, repayment of old dues, children's education, income generating activities including agriculture and male members getting habituated to liquor and not contributing to the family's income.

Explaining the methods adopted by the MFIs to trap the rural folk by doling out loans and, Budithi Rajasekhar, CEO of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty ( SERP), the monitoring body of Self Help Groups (SHGs), said: "A major modus operandi is to lure a greedy SHG group member by bribing her with money and gifts to introduce the MFI agents to other members. For example, in Dubbaka mandal of Medak district, all the MFIs formed a syndicate to coerce the members to take loans."

Click 2

The ugly underbelly of Microfinance
Roli Srivastava, Swati Bharadwaj-Chand & Partha Sinha, TNN, Oct 18, 2010,
SKS Microfinance, India's largest microfinance player, arrived with a bang with its hugely successful IPO in August. However, the recent sacking of its MD and CEO Suresh Gurumani has opened up a pandora's box that is now threatening to expose the ugly underbelly of the sector which, many allege, is teeming with players who are no better than moneylenders but have so far been able to operate under the pious garb of poverty eradicators.

TOI spoke to a cross-section of people associated with the sector and found that most are of the opinion that far from pursuing their socalled vision of eradicating poverty and being poor-friendly , private MFIs are actually in it just for profiteering as they are lending to the poor at interest rates as steep as those charged by moneylenders, or 'Pathaani Vyaaj' , a sobriquet derived from the ruthless moneylenders of Afghan origin who operated during the early 20th century.

Those familiar with the functioning of MFIs point out that the lending model of for-profit MFIs is not exactly pro-poor . While offering a loan, they often quote a "10% flat" rate of interest, which, on the face of it, appears like a good deal. However, there is a catch. This 'flat' rate of interest means that it will not be calculated on reducing balance. It implies that even after the borrower has paid a few installments, the interest would still be calculated on the initial sum borrowed, and not on the balance loan amount. The result is a (hidden) final rate of interest of 24-30 %, or even higher for the poor who can barely afford a square meal a day. "Microfinance, as practised by MFIs is unethical to the extent that it evades the truth in lending," said R Balakrishnan, a financial market veteran turned independent adviser . The high rate of interest is also leading to defaults and fraud. Recently , there has been a spurt in suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, allegedly due to harassment by MFI agents who started resorting to strong-arm tactics to recover loans as chances of default rise. M Subba Rao, of NGO Masses, who trained under Grameen Bank founder and Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, describes the cases of alleged harassment by MFIs as the result of 'irresponsible lending' . "There is high pressure on the staff (of private MFIs) to lend. They have targets to meet and they dump money (on people)," said Rao.

Consider this: The loan outstanding , according to the latest estimate by Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN), the organization of 40 MFIs, is about Rs 30,000 crore with about 3 crore poor banking on MFIs for their financial needs. While the four southern states of AP, Tamil Nadu , Karnataka and Kerala account for a chunk of this borrowing, West Bengal and Orissa too have rural poor relying on MFIs. Besides, the sector is also on an uptick in UP and Haryana.

SKS Microfinance founder and chairman, Vikram Akula, is at great pains to ensure that everything is above board in the company. And more so due to the bad publicity the company got after its board sacked Gurumani. "We believe there is a right way to do microfinance and we have been practising it over the past 13 years with not a single case of unethical practice against us." The company, Akula said, clearly communicates to the borrowers that though the loan was at a flat rate of 12.5%, it effectively works out to over 26% because there is an "extraordinarily high cost of doing microfinance" . Since most of its lenders don't understand rate of interest, SKS' agents communicate to its borrower how much they have to pay in terms of rupees per week.

Akula, whose company is the largest MFI in the country with over 73 lakh customers, also denies the possibility of its staff using strongarm tactics or misleading borrowers . Instead, he blames the bad name that the sector is getting to new MFIs jumping into the fray sensing a lucrative business.

Of course, eradicating poverty through the MFI route, for some, is a lucrative business. The IPO document by SKS disclosed that Gurumani was drawing an annual salary of Rs 1.5 crore, an equal amount or more as performance bonus, and also a one-time bonus of Rs 1 crore. Akula is entitled to up to 1% of SKS's net profit, in addition to ESOPs.

Not surprisingly the 'success' of some of the MFIs and the mega-listing of SKS recently have stunned even seasoned bankers. When asked about the success of the MFI business in India, during a recent interview with TOI, SBI chairman O P Bhatt said even he was surprised by their numbers. He wanted to go deeper into their finances and business model to understand how MFIs, which borrow from banks including SBI, can make profits which these very banks can't make. After all, like mobile tariff plans, no financial product is protected by patents and IPRs and the uniqueness of any new and lucrative one cannot last for more than 24 hours.

The problem seems to be with the business model, and not the approach . In India, there are three kinds of MFIs: The government-supported self-help groups, non-profit NGOs and the private for-profit firms. While private MFIs say that the smaller entities have earned the sector a bad name, social workers and industry veterans at the grassroots say that bigger players with bigger targets have led to such incidents. In many instances, multiple MFIs lend to the same clients, resulting in repayment problems and eventually to defaults.

'MFIs have lost ethical values'

ANABARD-funded study says Vijay Mahajan's Basix Microfinance — with funding from Ford Foundation , Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Sri Ratan Tata Trust — became the first MFI with a 'forprofit model' not only in AP but also India.

Industry observers point to a trend: Register a company under Section 25 of Companies Act, 1956 as a not-forprofit entity, use grants — local as well as foreign — and do social lending to build a book, buy an NBFC (preferably a dormant one), do a reverse merger and become a for-profit MFI. Says the head of a financial services company : "The problem starts when shareholders of forprofit companies put pressure for return."

source : The Times of India

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Indonesia tsunami kills

Indonesia tsunami kills

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Source : The Washington Post

PADANG, Indonesia -- Navy ships packed with medicine and food and rescuers in helicopters headed Tuesday to remote Indonesian islands that were pounded by a 10-foot (3-meter) tsunami, sweeping away villages and killing at least 113 people

Rough seas and bad weather have hampered relief operations, leaving villagers to fend for themselves for nearly two days. With not enough people to dig graves, corpses littered beaches and roads, according to district chief, Edison Salelo Baja. Fisherman were scouring waters in search of survivors.

The fault line that ruptured Monday on Sumatra island's coast also caused the 2004 quake and monster Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Disaster officials have been unable so far to reach many of the villages on the hardest hit Mentawai islands - a popular surfer's destination that is usually reachable only by a 12-hour boat ride. But they were preparing for the worst Wednesday.

"We have 200 body bags on the way, just in case," said Mujiharto, who heads the Health Ministry's crisis center, putting the death toll so far at 113 with hundreds more still missing.

Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire - a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

The country's most volatile volcano, Mount Merapi, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east, started to erupt at dusk Tuesday as scientists warned that pressure building beneath its lava dome could trigger one of the most powerful blasts in years.

The 7.7-magnitude quake that struck late Monday just 13 miles (20 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor was followed by at least 14 aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.2, and many panicked residents have been too afraid to return home.

That could account in part for the more than 500 people still missing, said Hendri Dori Satoko, a local parliamentarian who was overseeing a fact-finding missing. "We're trying to stay hopeful," he said.

The first cargo plane loaded down with 16 tons of tents, medicine, food and clothes was expected to arrive by Wednesday afternoon, said Nelis Zuliastri, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

Two helicopters also were on the way, as was a Navy ship and a boat carrying dozens of police and military personnel, said Ade Edward, another disaster official.

Officials say hundreds of wooden and bamboo homes were washed away on the island of Pagai, with water flooding crops and roads up to 600 yards (meters) inland. In Muntei Baru, a village on Silabu island, 80 percent of the houses were badly damaged.

Those and other islets hit were part of the Mentawai island chain, 175 miles (280 kilometers) from Sumatra.

Eight Australian survivors, and American and a New Zealander arrived in the Sumatran city of Padang on Wednesday, recounting their harrowing encounter with the tsunami.

They said they were on the back deck of their anchored boat, the 'MV Midas,' when the wall of water smashed them into a neighbouring vessel, triggering a fire that quickly ripped through their cabin.

"They hit us directly in the side of the boat, piercing a fuel tank," said Daniel North, the American crew member. "Almost immediately, the captain gave the order to abandon ship and everyone got off the boat."

They clung to surfboards, fenders - anything that floated - as they washed in the wetlands and then climbed the highest trees they could find and waited for more than 90 minutes until they felt safe.

Ade Edward, a disaster management agency official, said crews from a tourist boat were found safe after more than 24 hours missing in the Indian Ocean, including up to nine foreigners.


Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Irwan Firdaus contributed to this report.

Source : The Hindu

MENTAWAI ISLANDS (Indonesia): Helicopters with emergency supplies finally landed on Wednesday on the remote Indonesian islands slammed by a tsunami that killed at least 272 people, while elsewhere in the archipelago the toll from a volcanic eruption rose to 30, including the mountain's spiritual caretaker.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut short a state visit to Vietnam to rush home to deal with the dual disasters that struck Indonesia within 24 hours, straining the country's ability to respond.

The first aerial surveys of the region hit by the three-metre tsunami revealed huge swaths of land underwater and the crumbled rubble of homes torn apart by the wave.

Two days after an undersea earthquake spawned the killer wave, the casualty count was still rising as rescuers landed for the first time on the Mentawai island chain, which was closest to the epicenter and the worst hit. Bad weather had kept them away previously.

About 1,300 km to the east in central Java, disaster officials were scouring the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano for survivors after it was rocked by an eruption that killed at least 30 people, including an old man who refused to abandon his ceremonial post as caretaker of the mountain's spirits.

Mount Merapi erupted at dusk on Tuesday, sending up searing ash clouds and killing more than two dozen people.

Authorities warned the thousands who fled Merapi's wrath not to return during Wednesday's lull in volcanic activity.

Among the dead was Maridjan, an 83-year-old man who had been entrusted by a highly respected late king to watch over the volcano's spirits. Maridjan had for years led ceremonies in which rice and flowers were thrown into the crater to appease the mountain. There were reports that the old man was found kneeling face-down on the floor, a typical Islamic prayer position. — AP

The Times of India
The tsunami, which was triggered by a 7.5 magnitude quake, flattened several villages and a surf resort. "The number of dead is now 282 and 411 are missing," West Sumatra provincial disaster management official Ade Edward said over phone.

He said aid such as food, blankets and tents had begun filtering into the affected areas but that clean water was scarce and that the risk of disease was growing.

"We're still looking for those missing. They could be in the hills, buried by rubble or could have been swept out to sea," Edward said.

The bodies were found in districts of South Pagai, North Pagai, Sikakap and South Sipora, he said.

"Fifteen people sustained serious injuries such as broken limbs," he said.

Images reveal Indonesian tsunami destruction

BBC News

Aerial view of North Pagai island, government hand-out picture Government helicopters were able to survey the damage on Wednesday

Flattened villages are plainly visible on the images, taken from government helicopters circling the islands.

Rescuers, who have finally reached the area, say 13 villages were washed away by the 3m (10ft) wave, and 11 more settlements have not yet been reached.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is due to visit the region later.

He cut short a trip to Vietnam to oversee the rescue effort.

A 7.7-magnitude earthquake triggered the tsunami in western Sumatra two days ago.

The first cargo plane loaded with tents, medicine, food and clothes landed on the islands on Wednesday, but rescue teams believe they have yet to reach the worst-affected areas.

Local disaster official Ade Edward said 411 people were still missing.

Bad weather has delayed the rescue effort, with boats carrying aid struggling to make the trip from Padang on Sumatra in choppy seas.

Indonesia's 32 hours of disaster

  • 25 Oct, 0600 local time: Highest alert issued for Mt Merapi eruption; villagers advised to leave.
  • 25 Oct, 2142: 7.7 magnitude quake near Mentawai Islands; tsunami watch issued.
  • 26 Oct, 1300: First reports of people missing after tsunami
  • 26 Oct, 1402: Mt Merapi erupts.

The first images emerging from the islands, taken on mobile phones, showed bodies being collected from empty clearings where homes and buildings once stood.

District chief Edison Salelo Baja said corpses were strewn along beaches and roads.

Locals were given no indication of the coming wave because an early-warning system put in place after the devastating 2004 tsunami has stopped working.

Fauzi, the head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysic Agency, told the Associated Press that the system began to malfunction last year, and was completely inoperative by last month.

"We do not have the expertise to monitor the buoys to function as intended," he said.

However, even a functioning warning system may have been too late for people in the Mentawai Islands.

The vast Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the world's most active areas for earthquakes and volcanoes.

More than 1,000 people were killed by an earthquake off Sumatra in September 2009.

In December 2004, a 9.1-magnitude quake off the coast of Aceh triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed a quarter of a million people in 13 countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

Monday, October 25, 2010

cholera-hit Haiti

Pic. credit :BBC

Haiti cholera outbreak causes not clear, experts say

Vibrio Cholerae, bacterium that causes Cholera in humans
Until the current outbreak, cholera had not been documented in Haiti since 1960

The cholera outbreak in central Haiti that so far has killed more than 250 people and infected more than 3,000 is the worst health challenge the country faces since the earthquake in January.

There had been no documented outbreak of the disease in Haiti since 1960.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said after the earthquake that while cholera testing should be carried out, the disease was "extremely unlikely to occur".

So why has the epidemic struck now?

It is not clear if the cause of the outbreak will ever be identified, but health experts agree that for cholera to occur, bad sanitation and hygiene have to coincide with people carrying the Vibrio Cholerae bacterium.

Sanitary conditions were poor in many parts of Haiti even before the earthquake, and Dr Brigitte Vasset from the international humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Paris is reluctant to link the outbreak directly with the quake.

"Central Haiti - where most people have been infected - was not the region most affected by the earthquake," she says.

While many displaced people might have sought refuge in the Artibonite region after the disaster, cholera bacteria could have been present in the Artibonite river or a stagnant water source even before the earthquake, Dr Vasset says.

She also points out that while no cases of cholera have been reported from rural areas, this does not mean that it has been completely absent.

Start Quote

As soon as people have been infected and excrete the bacteria, the epidemic spreads very quickly"”

End Quote Adam Kamradt-Scott London School for Hygiene

"In many African countries there are sporadic cases during the year, then the weather changes or other conditions change, and all of a sudden there is an outbreak," Dr Vasset says, adding that the disease is difficult to predict.

"I have worked in refugee camps where we expected a cholera outbreak - and it never came," she says.

Sarah Morgan, Senior Health Programme Adviser at aid agency World Vision, agrees that it is possible low-level cholera was present in Haiti all along.

"Surveillance data on cholera in Haiti are not available," she says. However, watery diarrhoea has been common in the country, causing 5% to 16% of the deaths among Haitian children, according to CDC data.

With diarrhoea so prevalent and no stringent monitoring by health authorities and 80% of those with symptoms showing only moderate signs of infection, sporadic cases of cholera might not have registered.

"While there might have been no significant outbreak of cholera, it is possible that there was a background level of the disease", Ms Morgan says.

That cholera has now been picked up so quickly after the outbreak in the Artibonite region is a great success for Haiti's health authorities and international organisations working the country, she adds.

On the rise

Cholera is widespread and on the rise, with three to five million cases worldwide, the World Health Organisation says.

More than 100,000 people die from the disease every year, with the majority of cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Epidemics of Vibrio Cholerae are caused by one of two strains: 01, which has been identified as the cause of the current epidemic in Haiti, and the South-East Asian strain 0139.

It is difficult to get a complete picture of the global spread of the disease, because some countries are reluctant to report cholera for fear of travel sanctions, says Adam Kamradt-Scott from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Mr Kamradt-Scott points out that around 75% of people infected with Vibrio Cholerae do not develop symptoms. But they excrete the bacterium with their faeces for up to 14 days - a potential source of infection for others.

With more people and aid coming to Haiti since the earthquake in January, there is a possibility that the bacterium was brought to the country from the outside, Mr Kamradt-Scott says.

"The bacteria can be resident in water for a quite a while," Mr Kamradt-Scott explains and points to a cholera outbreak in Peru in 1991.

There was speculation that that epidemic, which quickly spread across Latin America, came from bilge water and algae dumped by an Asian cargo ship, contaminating local shellfish.

In Haiti, the disease has more likely been spread because people used the Artibonite river for washing and drinking.

"As soon as people have been infected and excrete the bacteria, the epidemic spreads very quickly," Mr Kamradt-Scott says.

"It is then important to break the cycle of the disease", he adds.

Because Vibrio Cholerae produces toxins that lead to watery diarrhoea, patients need to be rehydrated by with liquids containing sugar and salt or with intravenous fluids.

Those infected need to receive treatment immediately, Mr Kamradt-Scott says. If not treated, the death-rate of cholera can rise up to 50%.

But the potentially deadly cholera cycle can only be broken when people also stay away from the contaminated water source until the bacteria have cleared, he adds.

Cholera sufferers receive treatment at St Nicholas' hospital, St Marc, Haiti (24 Oct 2010)
The hospital courtyard in St Marc is full of families caring for their sick relatives

Learning to survive in cholera-hit Haiti

The Artibonite river in Haiti has turned deadly. Once a source of water for the villagers that live along its banks, now it is thought to be the source of the cholera epidemic.

For those who used to bathe, play and do laundry in the river - or drink from it - life has changed drastically.

Aid agencies deliver bottled water daily and leaflets are being given out to the villagers.

"This is very good information," one man tells me, as he reads about how handwashing is important in combating the spread of the disease.

"If we had learned this before, lives could have been saved," he observes.

A mother and daughter who live in a small shed by the river tell me that they lost relatives to the cholera.

"We would never drink that water now," they tell me, looking askance at the river flowing by.

But how do you carry out your daily lives now, I ask.

"We boil the water," they say.

The public information campaign is well underway. Outside St Nicholas' hospital in St Marc, a song blares out from the sound system, encouraging people to use clean water and clean toilets.

There is plenty of bottled water, courtesy of the aid agencies, but clean toilets are another matter.

Human cost

At the hospital itself, there are urns of water on the way in, so people can wash their hands.

Health worker washing her hands outside St Nicholas hospital, St Marc, Haiti (24 Oct 2010)
People are urged to wash their hands thoroughly as they visit the hospital

A sponge mat on the floor soaked with chlorine is meant to help disinfect the people who might be carrying cholera.

But so many people trample over it, the sponge is turning muddy.

The hospital director tells me he hopes Haitians will now understand just how important basic cleanliness is.

In the crowded hospital courtyard, families tend their sick relatives anxiously, watching the intravenous drips.

The father of eight-year-old Ritchee Camulus is so grateful to the doctors here.

He thought he might lose his son, who had severe dehydration. But now, Ritchee is recovering.

How are you, I ask. Ritchee smiles broadly and asks after me in return.

Cholera can kill within hours. At that back of the hospital I am shown the morgue.

A brand new child's coffin is a poignant reminder of how the most vulnerable are the worst affected by the disease.

I meet Marken in the morgue, searching for the body of his nephew Joseph, who died two days ago.

Haitian authorities hope the epidemic may now be stabilising, but the human cost continues to mount, in a country which has already seen so much suffering.


Women cover their mouths as their children are treated in hospital in Grande-Saline, Haiti, 23 October 2010

A cholera outbreak in Haiti has killed more than 200 people in northern and central Haiti. The BBC's Laura Trevelyan has visited the Saint Nicholas hospital in Saint-Marc, a port town in Artibonite department:

Every corner of this open air courtyard is filled with patients.

A woman weeps, her two children just confirmed as having cholera.

A father cradles his two-year-old, as the mother tries to get their unresponsive son to drink the rehydrating fluid which will help keep him alive.

An elderly woman lies motionless on a camp bed, covered with a blanket. She looks emaciated.

Everywhere I look, I see eyes which have sunk back into their sockets - the sign of advanced dehydration from diarrhoea.

Crowded households

A few hours on an intravenous drip can cure people in this state - or it may not be enough.

A young boy is sleeping, his breathing shallow - his mother watches intently.

Dr Koji Nakashima from Partners in Health, a group working with the Haitian health authorities throughout the country, has spent all day administering intravenous drips to patients.

"The terrifying thing about this disease is how quickly it can kill," he says.

"Patients come in and they're unresponsive. They don't have the resources to get here quickly - they come by donkey, on foot. It is a very challenging environment."

His colleague Dr Louise Ivers has been helping to manage admissions to the hospital.

People are coming in earlier on in the stages of cholera, she says, so there seem to be slightly fewer severe cases than there were. But the people keep coming.

Child with cholera is comforted by a woman in hospital in Grand-Saline, Haiti, 23 October 2010 The doctors say cholera can kill very quickly if patients are is not treated properly

Although the Artibonite river has not been officially confirmed as the source of the outbreak, she says that when the first patients started arriving on Tuesday, staff noticed a pattern: all those infected had used the Artibonite river, whether for play or washing.

This central region of Haiti was not directly affected by the earthquake in January which killed about 300,000 people. But many who lost their homes came here to live.

Dr Ivers says that meant already-crowded households have been taking on even more people, leading to stressful conditions.

The earthquake did not cause the cholera epidemic - but it certainly contributed to the conditions which have allowed it to spread.

The question now is how to contain the disease.

I have brought hand sanitiser and baby wipes - thinking that might help. The doctors explain that as the disease is transmitted by faeces, made watery by the diarrhoea, I must try to ensure that my boots are clean.

Haiti has not seen a cholera outbreak in 100 years, and that is partly why this one is spreading so fast: there is no immunity.

The country has been disproportionately affected by political clashes, natural disasters from tropical storms to earthquakes - and now this.

All eyes now are on the migration of the disease, as it moves towards the capital Port-au-Prince.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~from Washington Post~~~~~~~~~~~

Cholera outbreak threatens Haiti's capital

Sunday, October 24, 2010;

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- A cholera outbreak that already has left 250 people dead and more than 3,000 sickened is at the doorstep of an enormous potential breeding ground: the squalid camps in Port-au-Prince where 1.3 million earthquake survivors live. Health authorities and aid workers are scrambling to keep the tragedies from merging and the deaths from multiplying.

Five cholera patients have been reported in Haiti's capital, heightening worries that the disease could reach the sprawling tent slums where abysmal hygiene, poor sanitation and widespread poverty could rapidly spread it. But government officials said Sunday that all five apparently got cholera outside Port-au-Prince, and they voiced hope that the deadly bacterial disease could be confined to the rural areas where the outbreak originated last week.

"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.

If efforts to keep cholera out of the camps fail, "the worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time," said Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association.

Cholera can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe that it can kill from dehydration in hours.

Doctors Without Borders issued a statement saying that some Port-au-Prince residents were suffering from watery diarrhea and were being treated at facilities in the capital. Cholera infection among the patients had not been confirmed, however, and aid workers stressed that diarrhea has not been uncommon in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake.

"Medical teams have treated many people with watery diarrhea over the last several months," Doctors Without Borders said.

Aid workers in the impoverished nation say the risk is magnified by the extreme poverty faced by people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed as many as 300,000 Haitians and destroyed much of the capital. Haitians living in the camps risk disease by failing to wash their hands, or scooping up standing water and then proceeding to wash fruits and vegetables.

"There are limited ways you can wash your hands and keep your hands washed with water in slums like we have here," said Michel Thieren, an official with the Pan-American Health Organization in Haiti. "The conditions for transmission are much higher."

Aid workers are coaching thousands of impoverished families how best to avoid cholera. Various aid groups are providing soap and water purification tablets and educating people in Port-au-Prince's camps about the importance of hand-washing.

Aid groups also began training more staff about cholera and where to direct people with symptoms. The disease had not been seen in Haiti for decades, and many people don't know about it.

Members of one grass-roots Haitian organization traveled around Port-au-Prince's camps booming warnings about cholera from speakers in the bed of a pickup.

"In a way, it couldn't have happened at a better moment than now because everyone is on the field - lots of [nongovernmental organizations], lots of money. We haven't had any hurricanes so far this fall but people are here, and people are prepared," said Marc Paquette, Haiti director for the Canadian branch of Medecins du Monde.

- Associated Press

Friday, October 15, 2010

As long as Burma isn't free, I am not free.

In Burma, criticising the government is still grounds for arrest, torture and a decades-long prison sentence. There hasn't been an election in over 20 years, and the last time they held one, the results were ignored and the winner locked away.

So as Burma plans to hold its first election in a generation, I've created a powerful act of solidarity:


Upload your photo and see yourself behind bars. The message? As long as Burma isn't free, I am not free.

In 2007, courageous barefoot monks led 100,000 people in peaceful demonstrations through the city streets. The military used bullets and beatings to disperse the crowds - including monks, women, children and students. They killed over 100 people - yet a year later, authorities passed a law granting full immunity to perpetrators of human rights violations, including government officials and security forces.

It's hard to imagine that conditions inside Burma before, during and after the elections will remain calm in the face of such barefaced oppression.

Please create your act of solidarity now: http://3freedoms.amnesty.org/

By holding the first election in 20 years, Burma's military regime is seeking legitimacy in the eyes of the world. So please stand with the Burmese people, and ask that they be guaranteed three basic freedoms: freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association:


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Write a letter to 9 Foreign Ministers from Myanmar’s neighbouring countries

Amnesty International logo

When Myanmar's Not Free, None Of Us Are Free

Myanmar is about to hold its first national election in two decades.

In the last elections in 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a resounding victory — only for the military government to ignore the results and arrest scores of opposition activists who threatened their grip on power.

We cannot let this happen again

Many of Myanmar's 50 million people live in poverty. And those who express views contrary to that of the ruling authorities face harassment, arrest, torture, imprisonment and, sometimes, execution. Many are held in solitary confinement, denied access to medical care and cut off from their families and loved ones.

More than 2,200 political prisoners are behind bars in Myanmar - silenced simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Now is the time to act
Monks march in Myanmar

The eyes of the world are on Myanmar as they prepare for elections. As the moment draws near, foreign ministers of Myanmar's neighbouring countries are under pressure to speak out against the military government.

Now is a critical time to put pressure on these Ministers and defend the three freedoms - expression, assembly and association - in Myanmar.

We cannot let the repression continue while Myanmar's election goes ahead. With your help, we can work towards a global outcry that ensures the people of Myanmar are protected in the lead up to the 2010 elections and beyond.

Write a letter to 9 Foreign Ministers from Myanmar’s neighbouring countries

Send Your Letter Now

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A model letter is given below~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Minister,

Later this year, Myanmar will hold elections for the first time in two decades. However, the human rights situation in the run-up to the polls remains grim. More than 2,200 political prisoners, many of them prisoners of conscience, continue to languish behind bars in Myanmar. Under Electoral Laws enacted in March, none of them can take part in the elections.

I therefore urge your Government, as a member of ASEAN, to work with all ASEAN states to uphold the binding principles of the ASEAN charter, for "respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and social justice", by pressing the Myanmar government to:

  • Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience arrested solely on the basis of their peaceful political activity, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Ensure that all people in Myanmar can enjoy the "Three Freedoms" of expression, peaceful assembly, and association throughout the elections period and beyond it.

ASEAN has a key role to play to bringing these long-overdue human rights improvements to Myanmar.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours faithfully,

Credit : Amnesty International

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Earthquake devastates Haiti

Earthquake devastates Haiti

A most desperate struggle

haiti earthquake
Elderly Haitians and those with disabilities have been disproportionately affected by January's earthquake, which laid waste to the capital, Port-au-Prince, and made essential medical supplies scarce.

If you want to see the heart rending state of elderly people click here and see it in washington post

It was always hard to be old in Haiti, but after the earthquake, to be old and poor feels like a curse, say those who are both.

sOURCE : The washingtonpost

Old and poor in Haiti suffer mightily after the quake

By William Booth
Saturday, March 13, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- It was always hard to be old in Haiti, but after the earthquake, to be old and poor feels like a curse, say those who are both.

"We struggle to maintain a little dignity, but look at us," said Lauranise Gedeon, who sat, embarrassed, in soiled sheets in the ruins of the municipal nursing home here in the capital.

Residents are bathed outdoors with a bucket and try to cover their nakedness. They spend the long, hot afternoons in hospital beds lined up side by side, six to a tent, fanning themselves with pieces of cardboard. They beg for water to drink.

"No water today. We are waiting. We are waiting for medicines, for the doctors, for God to help us," said nurse Yolette Fran├žois. "I am serious. These old people have a lot of troubles."

Her patients, about 80 men and women, were scooping rice and beans from dented metal bowls. Asked what they needed most, one resident said, "Something for the flies." Another complained that her spoon had been stolen and held up her fingers, sticky with food. "Look!"

The nurse whispered, "We have run out of diapers for them."

In Haitian Creole, the old are called "gran moun," and they are relatively few. Those 65 and older make up just 3.4 percent of Haiti's population, compared with 13 percent in a developed country such as the United States, because to attain such seniority in a nation beset by high infant mortality, poverty and disease is an accomplishment.

But in the weeks after the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, the elderly appear to have been forgotten.

"They are invisible, and we need to do more to help, because they are desperate," said Ronald Blain, a Haitian government official working for the U.N. Human Settlements Program.

This week, a working group of U.N. experts has been created to look into the situation of Haitians with disabilities, especially the elderly, who have been disproportionately affected by the disaster.

In a statement, the chairman of the U.N. committee, Mohammed al-Tarawneh, said that "while relief workers are struggling to provide aid to the people of Haiti and while the situation remains difficult for everyone, persons with disabilities are particularly affected by the crisis," especially those whose caregivers were killed or injured.

The elderly hobble through the daily chaos of Port-au-Prince, forced into rubble piles by speeding convoys of aid workers in their big white SUVs. There are few sidewalks now, and no ramps, no rails. To use tap-taps, the ubiquitous public transport that is a pickup truck with a bench in the bed, the old are lifted like luggage.

With a cane and a sack, Pierre Louis Pierre crossed a busy road near the airport, helped by a random younger man who had watched as Pierre tried, repeatedly, to make his way. Pierre said he is not certain of his exact age, as most births and deaths in Haiti are not recorded. "I am old!" he said and opened his mouth wide to show missing teeth. Where does he sleep? He pointed at the ground. "On the earth," he said. In a tent? "When they let me in," he said.

Old women sometimes appear in the food lines, but since the wait for the heavy sacks of donated rations -- what Haitians call "disaster rice" -- can be five or six hours, the frail ones cannot compete with the younger, stronger and just as hungry.

Most elderly Haitians live with family or with caretakers who are paid a few dollars a day by faraway relatives in Miami or New York or Montreal to care for a grandmother or elderly uncle in a back room. The earthquake killed at least 220,000 people in all, according to the Haitian government estimates, and especially disrupted the tissue-thin safety net that protected the elderly.

"They don't really have retirement homes. They are being taken care of by families, and those without families have neighbors or their church. Sometimes they go to the nuns and sometimes the government," said Cynthia Powell of the London-based group HelpAge International, which has begun to deliver food and medical care to a municipal nursing home here and pay workers' salaries.

Before the earthquake, the city-run nursing home was not too bad; there were men's and women's wings, an administration building and a wall that protected a garden. The women's unit was destroyed, and four patients died on that day, and three more later. In the days right after the disaster, the residents slept on the ground, surrounded by rats. Now they sleep five or six to a tent, among clouds of mosquitoes. The ground floods when it rains. A few elderly women have moved back into the hallways of the men's unit, which is still standing, but the edges of the darkened hallways are filthy, littered with excrement and used condoms.

After the earthquake, with no security to stop them, refugees swarmed into the garden compound, where they have now established a rough camp of several hundred people. The elderly have some protections, but not many. "The walls fell down, so people come and go as they like," said Nickson Plantin, a security guard. "It is my personal opinion that if you want to give one of these old people something, you put it in their hand -- and don't give too much." The neighborhood is surrounded by gangs.

Food in the early days came from the charity World Vision, but the soy-enriched bulgur wheat was hard for the elderly residents to digest. So the cooks now buy food at local markets.

Clervana Mondesir said proudly that she is 87 years old. "I've seen a lot," she said. "In 13 years, I will be a hundred." Mondesir said she came to the nursing home a few years ago, when she became confused and despondent after the death of her daughter, who was pregnant and allegedly beaten by her husband. "She fell down and died," she said.

Mondesir said she has two sons who visit. She said that when the earthquake struck, she hid under her bed. "They were surprised when I came out alive," she said. Her worldly possessions are now in a pillow case. Asked whether she needed anything, Mondesir said some milk and malta, a rich carbonated nonalcoholic drink made of barley and hops.

"Look at us. We're getting skinny and weak," she said, pulling at her arm muscles, "and now you need to be strong to survive."

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