Friday, January 11, 2013

6 Habits of Highly Empathetic People



According to new research, empathy is a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives. But what is empathy? And how can you expand your own empathetic potential?

by     posted Jan 10, 2013
people on beach by Kirsty Andrews

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential?

Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.

That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.”

Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.
We can nurture empathy’s growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation.
Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People!

Habit 1: Talk with strangers

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927. Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.
Highly empathic people expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives.
In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model.  After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his book Down and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.
Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.
But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Boy with Crayon photo by ND Strupler
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Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.
The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves by becoming interested in the lives of others.
Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathy initiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.


Roman Krznaric is a cultural thinker and writer on the art of living. He is a founding faculty member of The School of Life in London, which offers instruction and inspiration on the important questions of everyday life, and advises organisations including Oxfam and the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change.
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Haiti: How the U.N. created an epidemic -- then covered it up

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How the U.N. created an epidemic -- then covered it up.

BY JONATHAN M. KATZ | JANUARY 10, 2013

 


The horror was in the stomach, an empty, draining pain. All the way up the highway, Rosemond Lorimé had felt it running out of him. It was like the river running out of him, getting worse with every turn around the mountains.


Rosemond lived in a thatch-and-mud house in Meille, a small village on Haiti's central plateau, built along a little river of the same name. There wasn't much to do there, among the bean plants and banana trees, for a man of 21. You could swim or take a bath in the river. You could help the older folks raise pigs and turkeys, or plant cassava. Rosemond and his cousin would sell rum and kleren moonshine to the soldiers at the U.N. base, and introduce them to the neighborhood girls in exchange for a few dollars. But that was about it. Even the earthquake had been boring in Meille. The ground had just groaned and rumbled and stopped.

The sickness came nine months after. Rosemond's father fell ill first. A low, hard pain formed in his gut and radiated all over his body. Then the diarrhea began, then vomiting, torrential like a fall storm. Soon everyone in the house was sick: Rosemond, his four brothers and sisters, his mother. The illness then moved into the neighboring houses. The family gathered up its money and sent Rosemond's father to the hospital in the nearby town of Mirebalais. But it soon became clear that Rosemond's sickness was the worst. Pain gripped his gut, and heat rose in his head and cut his intestines as if he'd eaten a stick of thorns. His stomach became a rejecting vessel. The water he drank would come back up or go straight out. Rice did the same. Even the garlic tea and cotton leaf that the women in the village gave him to settle his stomach ended up vomited or run out onto the ground. The diarrhea kept flowing; Rosemond became thirstier and thirstier. Neighbors whispered that it must be a spell.

The family looked for money to send Rosemond to the hospital too, but it took days to find enough. The day after his father returned home, weary but alive, Rosemond's brothers put the slumping young man on the back of a motorcycle taxi to go to Mirebalais.

Under an arid sky, arms carried Rosemond into the little hospital with green-painted walls. A voice cried out in the room. Struggling for air, Rosemond closed his drying eyes and never opened them again. It was Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010.
***
I was grinding up Route Delmas toward the AP bureau in Pétionville with my fixer, Evens Sanon, when a news report came over on the radio:

"…the hospital in Saint-Marc. The Ministry of Public Health and Population reports that 41 people have died. Many are children. The patients arrive at the hospital with symptoms of vomiting, fever, and strong diarrhea. The Ministry of Public Health and Population urges all citizens in the Department of the Artibonite to watch for symptoms and report them"



I suddenly felt sick too. Though experts at the World Health Organization, medical NGOs, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been emphasizing that a major epidemic would be unlikely after the quake, they pushed out vaccinations to be sure. I'd dutifully chased down every lead, increasingly joining the experts in their skepticism. But something about this -- the number of people, the specificity of the symptoms, and the pinpointing of a locale -- was different. This sounded real. We pulled out our phones, Evens dialing the health ministry to try to confirm the report.

I did what I always did when major news broke in a part of Haiti I couldn't reach immediately: I called the United Nations.

Yes, a spokeswoman said: There is a situation in Saint-Marc. An international team was making the 60-mile trip north from Port-au-Prince to Saint-Marc to investigate. And yes, there were dead: 19 confirmed. It was Wednesday, Oct. 20; three days, unbeknownst to us, after Rosemond Lorimé died.

Saint-Marc lies an hour up the coast from Port-au-Prince, just below the Artibonite River delta. The main hospital was overwhelmed with patients; more than 1,000 had flocked there from across the river valley. The sick and dying lay on soiled blankets in the parking lot, nurses darting around to put IVs in their arms. Police barricaded the hospital gate, letting only urgent cases through; relatives watched helplessly as their loved ones went in. The policemen covered their noses and mouths with surgical masks and bandannas, in case this mysterious disease was spreading through the air.

Cases of severe diarrhea, often terminal, began quickly showing up hospitals across the Artibonite Valley and into the neighboring Central Plateau. Health investigators took eight stool specimens to the national laboratory in Port-au-Prince. All tested positive for cholera. Health officials' phones lit up all over the capital, then at the CDC in Atlanta, at the Haiti desk at the State Department in Washington, and at the U.N.'s WHO headquarters in Geneva. They all knew: Cholera was a remorseless killer, and it could move fast.
By weekend's end, 200 people were dead.

The cameras were back on Haiti. Brian Williams set the tone on NBC: "It's what all of us worried about when we arrived in Haiti just hours after the quake … beyond the death toll, the inevitable spread of disease. Now it's happening in Haiti, an outbreak of cholera in that nation struggling every day, still, just to survive."

But the narrative didn't make sense. If cholera was the inevitable result of the earthquake, centered 15 miles southwest of the capital, why had the first concentration of cases appeared in the countryside, some 45 miles to the north? And why had it taken nine months to appear?

***

After natural disasters, survivors, responders, and journalists tend to assume that a disease epidemic may be imminent, due to the collapse of sanitation or simply the feeling that misery comes in bunches.
In Haiti after the quake, there had been thousands of corpses in the streets, the stench of their decomposition filling the air. Though their fear was misplaced, already frightened survivors imagined the smell itself might prove a vector for disease. That was how a preacher convinced the people of a Port-au-Prince slum to give up their children to a group of U.S. Baptist missionaries (who would soon after be arrested for human trafficking at the border).


If the locals were scared of the dead, the foreigners were terrified of the living. The squalid camps home to millions of homeless Haitians were portrayed by the media as breeding grounds for infection, and the distribution of clean water and vaccinations there became central goals of the relief effort. Hollywood star Sean Penn -- the most famous, if unexpected, of the post-quake campaigners -- set off a panic by warning of a diphtheria epidemic after finding a single fatal case in May. After his warning proved overblown, the scares all but ended. Many aid groups began highlighting the lack of an epidemic as a rare victory for the humanitarian effort. Others called it a miracle.

In fact, researchers have consistently found that the risk of post-disaster epidemics is wildly overstated. A team of French researchers has found that out of more than 600 disasters between 1985 and 2004, only three resulted in significant outbreaks of disease. The risk is only slightly larger when large numbers of people are displaced. This was the reason the WHO and other health organizations had attempted at every turn to tone down the alarm raised by Sean Penn and the media.

Moreover, if a disease were going to spread, it would almost certainly have been already present before the earthquake. Because it spreads through contamination of food or water by human waste -- emblems of bad sanitation -- cholera is often associated with poverty. But poverty doesn't cause cholera. You can have the world's poorest people, the worst sanitation, hurricanes, earthquakes, frogs falling from the sky. Without the presence of Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes the disease, you will not have cholera.
And there hadn't been cholera in Haiti for at least 100 years.

*** 
From the outbreak's first days, rumors coursed through Haiti that a U.N. base was the source. Some said they heard the sickness had begun when a U.N. soldier emptied a latrine into a water source. Others swore a white U.N. helicopter was seen dumping black powder into the Artibonite River -- shades of Haitian folk sorcery, where a kou d poud, or powder attack, can cause death or zombification.

Then, on Oct. 25, a friend in Port-au-Prince sent me a link to a post on an epidemiology blog. It was titled: "Nepal: Cholera Outbreak in Kathmandu."

The post linked to an article from the previous month in the Himalayan Times. Although Nepal is a cholera-endemic country -- the disease is always present -- there had been recent flare-ups. Doctors at a Katmandu hospital had warned that an outbreak was under way.

The U.N. soldiers stationed along the Artibonite River were from Nepal.

The next day, a U.N. press release arrived in my inbox. It was composed in the ultraformal diplomatic French of all U.N. memos in Haiti, but I could imagine it read in the bouncy Dominican-Italian lilt of its sender, Vincenzo Pugliese. The MINUSTAH press office was in flux -- the last spokesman off to Darfur and the new spokeswoman not yet arrived -- leaving Pugliese, the deputy, in charge. A teddy bear-shaped man with a receding hairline of brown, closely clipped hair, he talked with high animation and amiability that seldom concealed his disdain for the press.

The note made a series of claims: that the Nepalese base had "seven septic tanks" built to "construction standards of the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency," emptied "every week by four trucks from a private contractor." They were "250 meters from the river … representing more than 20 times the distance required at the international level." The management of the waste was "consistent with established international standards."

It was a lousy attempt at damage control -- acknowledging the rumors and backing them up with a list of claims anyone could prove or disprove simply by heading to the base.

***
The village of Meille is a collection of concrete houses and thatch shacks thinly spread alongside National Road No. 3. The homes stretch out over the rolling knobs of earth along the road, peeking out through the trees. The U.N., meanwhile, built its base there to be seen. In a clearing, wedged between the highway and the Meille River, the soldiers had installed a high white gate and a series of even higher watchtowers surrounded by walls topped with concertina wire. The gate read:       

UN
NEPALESE BATTALION
MINUSTAH HAITI
ANNAPURNA CAMP

Young men from the village were standing in front of the gate wearing backpacks and ball caps. Evens greeted them, approaching with open arms. "We heard someone dumped kaka in the river. Know anything about that?"

Heads nodded.

"Can you show us where?" 

At once they turned and walked toward the base. We followed. Nepalese soldiers in green-and-brown camouflage and sky-blue helmets watched us from a guard tower. Just before the gate, the young men turned right and walked toward the back of the base, where only a steep, narrow slope of mud and rock separated the compound from the river. As we neared, they covered their noses and mouths. A second later, I realized why. The stench of rotting human filth was debilitating. We held our breath and crossed a concrete embankment along the ridge. Standing at the end was a U.N. solider with a blond ponytail sticking out of her blue cap, a Guatemalan flag on her epaulet. At her feet was a thick-sided black plastic case topped with security clasps.

"This isn't good, is it?" I asked her in Spanish.

"No," she replied. She opened her mouth to say more, and then looked away.

Down the ridge, exposed, lay a broken PVC pipe. Running from near what looked like a building of latrines inside the perimeter, it leaked a black liquid toward the river. It stunk from several feet away. Farther down the ridge, Guatemalan military police took a sample of the waste, put it in a jar, and sealed it with a sky-blue lid. Then they brushed past us and left.

The Nepalese soldiers were staring through the base's chain-link fence. One leaned over and took a concrete lid off an underground tank, releasing an overwhelmingly pungent blast of odor.

"WHOA! KAKA!" one of the villagers shouted. They started laughing.

Another villager tapped Evens on the shoulder. He was slightly older than the others, in a polo shirt, blue shorts, and galoshes speckled with what I hoped was mud.

"You and the blan should come with me across the road," he said. 

The farmer led us past the concrete house he shared with his wife and five children; his wife held the youngest in her hands on the porch. Up a small hill, past a bony mule and some pigs, the smell returned. Ahead were two shining pools of feces, filling pits dug directly into the ground. "This is where MINUSTAH leaves their kaka," the farmer said.

A truck would come every few weeks from a Haitian company called SANCO, the farmer said -- the contractor Pugliese had referred to. The truck would go into the base, suck out the septics, then drive across the street and dump the waste into the pools by his house. When it rained, the pools overflowed. Sometimes they ran down the hill into the river. Sometimes they flowed the other way, toward his house, and the smell would get so bad the family couldn't sleep.

Then he led us down the hill to what looked like another pit full of human waste. This one had pigs and ducks swimming in it. A few weeks before, a new SANCO driver had shown up and dumped the excrement from the base in the wrong spot. Some of it had run down here. The farmer said he wasn't sure exactly when -- the days tend to run together in the countryside.

It did not take long for a key piece of his story to check out: Soon after, a green tanker truck marked SANCO Enterprises S.A. appeared at the base. The company vice president from Port-au-Prince followed in a white luxury pickup. I watched the truck hose up the contents of the U.N.'s underground tanks, drive across the street and up the hill, and stop at the pits. A worker jumped out of the truck, opened a valve in the rear, and took a big step back as a stream of black liquid surged into the open pit. Then, using an orange canister outfitted with a spray nozzle, he doused the surface of the new pool with bleach.

SANCO is one of the main waste disposal contractors in Port-au-Prince -- the U.S. Department of Defense also contracted the company to handle some of its post-quake detritus. I learned later that SANCO had acquired the contract at the Nepalese base several months before by underbidding the preceding contractor. The truck driver told us that MINUSTAH had not called him to come in a month.

Could the septic tanks at the base have overflowed because they weren't emptied on schedule? I tried to talk to the SANCO executive in the pickup, but she wouldn't get out, rolling down the window only long enough to say: "It's a very difficult client." 

I asked the farmer if people had gotten sick drinking from the river. Some had, he said, days before. Many in Meille had stopped using the river's water altogether. "You can't even wash in it," he explained. Millions downstream hadn't known that.
***

"Excuse me," I said, knocking on the base's gate. "I'm a reporter with the Associated Press. We'd like to speak with the base commander."

Through gaps in the metal I could see Nepalese soldiers. Evens got back in the car and started honking. Finally a speakeasy-style flap opened and a soldier asked for my credentials.

An eternity passed. One of the village men started singing a song: "Ko-ko-kolera. Ko-le-ra MIN-U-STAH." His friends laughed. Finally a door opened, and a soldier beckoned us through. The base commander, slightly older, with stringy black hair and a camouflage uniform, was standing under a gazebo. He handed back my badges and motioned for us to sit down. He did not look pleased.
I asked him when his unit had arrived at the base.

He paused. "We came in shifts -- three shifts. The first Oct. 9. Then Oct. 12. Then Oct. 16."

The unit had been in country for less than a month, which meant that its members had been in Nepal during the cholera outbreak. And the base would have been in the midst of rotation -- with more personnel on hand than usual -- right before the Haiti epidemic began.

"Could you show us around the base?"

"It is not possible today. You must go." He pointed to the digital recorder I was holding next to my notebook. "Put that away."

"It's not on," I said. It wasn't. I turned it on.

The commander had every reason to be nervous. U.N. peacekeeping is a cornerstone of the Nepalese defense budget. The U.N. pays countries more than $1,000 per peacekeeper per month, eight times the base pay for a private in Nepal. The soldiers are paid so well that Nepal obliges them to pay nearly a quarter of their U.N. salaries into a general welfare fund for the country's soldiers and their families.

Evens and I took turns making our case. Each time the commander grew more insistent that we leave. I told him we had photos and video of the dump pits and leaking pipes, and that an Al Jazeera English crew that showed up after we did was filming too. Evens chimed in with the hard sell: "You'll look very bad today. Today you'll look very bad. Tell us the truth. We'll put out the truth." 

The commander shook his head. "What can I do?" he muttered to no one.

"Is anyone at the base sick?" I asked.

"No. You must go."

"Has anyone here been sick? Are there cases of cholera at the base?"

The commander rose to his feet. "I do not know cholera."

"You know cholera. There is cholera in Nepal, right? In Katmandu?"

Now, I will never be able to prove this. But if you ask me, right then, there were tears in his eyes.

"No. There is no cholera," the commander said. "Only dengue."

***
Because Haiti had never seen the cholera strain before, its people had no immunity to it. Moreover, the country was wholly unprepared: As late as February 2010, the CDC had insisted, "Cholera is absent from the Caribbean" and "extremely unlikely to occur

By the night of our visit to Meille on Oct. 27, at least 303 people had died and 4,722 had been hospitalized. For the second time in a year, Haitian bodies were being piled into mass graves, nine months after the earthquake had claimed a government-estimated 316,000 lives. The most important river in the nation had become an artery of disease, and, as people fled the valley, the infection spread with them to every corner of the country.

As the disease spread, NGOs leapt into action, calling for donations and setting up mobile treatment centers. But the people in the communities did not trust them. Because the clinics would arrive just before families grew ill, many thought the clinics themselves were spreading the disease. Furious men pummeled aid stations with rocks and Molotov cocktails, burning tires and slashing the clinic tents. U.N. soldiers were sent to disperse the crowds.

The day after our story ran, CNN.com posted a follow-up, quoting Pugliese, that claimed all the Nepalese soldiers had tested negative for cholera before taking up their posts.

It took me a day to reach Pugliese. "When were the tests done?" I asked. "How many soldiers were tested? How were the results verified?"

Well, he said -- CNN hadn't gotten it quite right. It wasn't that the soldiers tested negative. It's that none of them tested positive. Because they had never been tested.

This turned out to not be unusual. The Medical Support Manual for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations lists neither diarrhea nor cholera as conditions precluding service. Worse, a standard medical examination has to take place only within three months of deployment, leaving plenty of time to be exposed to the disease.

On Oct. 29 -- 12 days after the first hospitalized death from the disease, and two days after my first story from the base -- protesters marched on the Nepalese installation. "The Nepalese brought this disease to the center of Mirebalais," a student shouted through a megaphone. The crowd chanted: "Like it or not, the U.N. must go." Among the marchers were cousins of Rosemond Lorimé. 

The U.N. and its allies went on the defense. The peacekeeping mission had been stung by a series of scandals in Haiti in the six years since it arrived in the wake of a coup, and was resented by many Haitians as an occupying force. But for its faults, MINUSTAH was the vanguard of international aid and relief in Haiti, and a major investment by the world's powers. From 2004 through 2012, the U.N. would spend more than $4.75 billion on mission, about a quarter paid by the United States. The Security Council often advertised the Haiti mission as a positive example of its works. If the U.N. were discovered to have caused the epidemic in Haiti, its credibility would be catastrophically compromised -- Haitian lives destroyed by the very people sent to protect them.

"It's not important right now," one WHO spokesperson said in response to a question I'd posed about the epidemic's cause. It's "not a priority," said another. But if figuring out where an infection comes from isn't critical to containing an epidemic, what is?
***
Immediately after the protest, the U.N. invited my AP team to take a guided tour of the base. It was Oct. 31, half a month into the epidemic, and the mission wanted the rumors, and our previous reporting, squashed.

Pugliese greeted us at the gate alongside the Nepalese contingent's chief officer. Young soldiers fresh from the Himalayas milled in polyester workout shorts and T-shirts. There was no sign of Commander Dengue.
It was immediately apparent that the soldiers had literally covered up the most incriminating evidence, starting with the smell. They admitted to having undertaken repairs, including replacing the broken PVC pipe from the back of the base and scrubbing a drainage canal that emptied into the river. Yet the repairs had been superficial at best. A series of aboveground pipes that originated at the latrines still ran over the drainage canal, their cracks showing. One pipe was held together with what looked like electrical tape. In the river below, where the canal let out, a soupy brown mixture bubbled along the bank. Flies swarmed over it.

"What is that?" I asked Pugliese.

"That that could be anything."

A villager was swimming a few yards away.

"It -- it does not mean it is from the base," he said. "The people here, they swim in the river. They bathe in it." He pointed to the swimming man. "They -- you know how they are!"

That was the end of the tour. The U.N. team refused to go across the street with us to see the dump pits.
The next day, less than two weeks after the outbreak was first confirmed, the CDC put out the results of an analysis it had undertaken: The cholera in Haiti matched strains circulating in South Asia, including Nepal. It refused to investigate further.

The death toll passed 400.
***
Authorities defended their refusal to investigate the origin of the outbreak on grounds that pursuing the source would detract from fighting the epidemic. So on Nov. 3, I called one of the most prominent public health experts in Haiti, if not the world. Paul Farmer's medical NGO, Partners in Health, was taking a leading role in tackling cholera. I asked if there was a public health rationale not to investigate. "That sounds like politics to me, not science," Farmer replied. 

Health officials look into the source of cholera outbreaks all the time. In fact, the modern practice of epidemiology was built on the disease in 1854, when a physician named John Snow set out to find the source of one of London's worst cholera outbreaks. Such investigation is still the practice. In a 2004 guide, the WHO recommended investigating each outbreak's origin "so that appropriate control measures can be taken."

Those seeking to protect the U.N. -- the WHO and CDC, sympathetic journalists, aid workers and diplomats who depended on the U.N. for protection on the ground -- kept coming back to a three-word phrase: "the blame game." The journal Science would later note that cholera experts' "passion for traditional shoe-leather epidemiology [had] been tempered by diplomatic and strategic concerns."

Most journalists, particularly those not based in Haiti, seemed to feel the same way. They stayed away from the story until there was too much evidence to ignore, and then did their best to beat it back. When the New York Times published a story about the U.N. defending its anti-investigation stance, three weeks after our visit to the Nepalese base, health reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr. wrote a Week in Review piece titled "Cholera's Second Fever: An Urge to Blame." He gave past examples of cholera "blame games," including 19th-century New Yorkers accusing Canadians and the Irish. He warned of danger: "Scapegoating provokes violence."

The U.N. was not a threatened minority, but the most powerful military force in the nation, if not the region. In fact, as the dramatic events of November 2010 would soon show, it was stonewalling that would provoke the Haitian crowds. By refusing to take the concerns seriously, investigators would cede inquiry to the very agitators and xenophobes they feared.
***
In two years, more than 7,800 Haitians have died of cholera. One in five people in a nation of roughly 10 million has fallen seriously ill with the disease, while the unusually virulent strain has spread across the Caribbean, into South America, and the United States.

The United Nations has made grandiose, if seemingly empty, promises to fight and eradicate the disease, but refuses to consider its own accountability in starting the epidemic. Aid workers and donor governments have lost a critical opportunity -- to demonstrate that they took Haitian lives and welfare as seriously as their own.


Jonathan M. Katz is a former Associated Press correspondent in Haiti and author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, from which this article was adapted.

U.S. Businesses. Doing Business Overseas. Private Sector Security Issues

http://www.state.gov/m/ds/terrorism/c8650.htm

Overseas Security Advisory Council


OSAC logoThe Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) was created by the Secretary of State to promote an open dialogue between the U.S. Government and the American private sector on security issues abroad. OSAC is directed by a council of 34 representatives from companies and government agencies concerned with overseas security. The Director of the Diplomatic Security Service is one of the co-chairs of OSAC, and a DS Special Agent serves as OSAC's Executive Director.

With a constituency of 4,600 U.S. companies and other organizations with overseas interests, OSAC operates an Internet web site, www.osac.gov, which is one of its principal means of information exchange with the private sector. The web site offers its visitors the latest in safety and security-related information, public announcements, warden messages, travel advisories, significant anniversary dates, terrorist groups profiles, country crime and safety reports, special topic reports, foreign press reports, and much more.

The OSAC information exchange mechanism also includes a staff of international security research specialists that is dedicated solely to serving the U.S. private sector. Additionally, OSAC has a network of country councils around the world that brings together U.S. embassies and consulates with the local U.S. community to share security information.

Nigerian engineers to design, test and build a satellite by 2018

Satellite Today

The Nigerian Center for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD) is launching an initiative to train Nigerian engineers to design, test and build a satellite by 2018, CSTD Director Spencer Onuh confirmed Jan. 4.

   Onuh said the center would work towards building a human capacity that would enable the country to meet the target build date. “Capacity building was a core module in the manufacture and launch of NigeriaSat-1, NigeriaSat-2, NigeriaSat-X and NigComSat-1-R, which are owned by Nigeria,” said Onuh.
 
   Overall, the CSTD center has trained more than 50 Nigerian scientists, who were involved in the design, testing and launch of NigcomSat-1 and its replacement. The center trained 15 scientists for the NigeriaSat-1 program and 27 engineers for the NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X programs.
 
 
 

..Haiti. We will not forget.

Drink Life Beverages ....A Woman Owned Enterprise

Drink Life Beverages ....A Woman Owned Enterprise
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BEMA International ONLINE STORE

BEMA International ONLINE STORE
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