The best we can do?

June 14 2010

Just been reading the daily World Health Organisation report on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, which lists a breakdown of NGO and official channel activity in the Osh/Jalalabad area as well as ongoing need. It’s a clinical document which hardly conveys the horror on the ground that’s being reported, and reads as though the Red Crescent and Red Cross are pretty much the heroes of the day at the moment (certainly the army isn’t – there have been lots of reports of soldiers simply siding with the Kyrgyz and shooting at fleeing Uzbeks).

I can’t help but be a little underwhelmed by the only mention of foreign government assistance. While the Kyrgyz interim authorities have been pleading with the Russian – and allegedly US – governments for help to keep the peace, they got this:

“One trauma kit (with supplies to treat 100 trauma cases), funded with support from the Italian Government, has been sent to Osh.”

Eeywitnesses say that there are trucks out picking up heaps of bodies off the roads and mass graves being opening up to bury up to 1,000 dead. One trauma kit would be funny, if it wasn’t such a tragic indictment of how the UN is pussy footing around the sensitive security issue (it’s the only country with both Russian and US airbases on its soil) and failing to step into a situation that’s been ongoing since Thursday.

Sex, drugs and Kyrgyzstan

September 4 2009

Just doing the final bits of research before I head off today, and a few things struck me about this article, Women Are a Hidden Population of Drug Users.

First of all, I was under  the impression that drugs were rare in Kyrgyzstan thanks to its strict laws on the subject – which I’d understood were heavily enforced. Then again, its proximity to Afghanistan and the abject poverty of  many citizens logically point to a fairly thriving black market in heroin.

The police attitude described here – demanding cash or sex from female users – while shocking shouldn’t be surprising given the high levels of corruption and treatment of women in the country.

So far, so depressing but also not atypical of ‘transitional economies’ – the highly sanitised borg-speak for these countries which I keep coming across. As usual the transition could as easily be interpreted as ‘into something worse’, as opposed to the more optimistic ‘developing country’ epithet, I guess.

Like most countries in the area, Kyrgyzstan has big problem involving women being trafficked to the West for the sex industry, which I’m hoping to find out more about while I’m there.

Today, though, I’ve been googling for ‘Kyrgyzstan women’ hoping to throw up recent news articles or research papers that might be useful backgrounders.

Naturally, the first few pages are dominated by ads for mail order brides. Ironic, no?

This year we’re all going to sunny… Kyrgyzstan

August 18 2009

Bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, its a small country easily overlooked

Bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, it's a small country easily overlooked

Today I found out where the Guardian will be sending me for the final part of the International Development Competition, and which NGO I’ll be visiting.

It’s been quite an interesting day, just to see inside the Guardian’s offices, which the paper has occupied for a year, was intriguing enough. If you’re curious, they’re open plan with very tall ceilings, to help the natural convection air con apparently, and Network Rail live on the top floor. Strangely sedate, mind you, for a place which is reckoned to be at the cutting edge for modern news gathering technique. I know I should have got pictures, but it didn’t feel like the right thing to do.

The day itself was straightforward, lots of meeting and greeting the other finalists in the morning, a few pointers and advice from the very lovely Sue George, who’ll be editing the section, and finally the drawing of names and assignments out of hat to find out where people are being sent.

I won’t pretend not to be slightly disappointed I didn’t get the ‘Female Child Soldiers’ brief. That sounds like an incredible story to be covering – not something you come across every day.

I am, however, enormously happy with the assignment I do have. I’ll be heading off at the beginning of September to one of the lesser known ex-Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan (pronunciation is easier than it looks) to visit several of the British Red Cross missions there.

The subject I’ll be covering – in 1,000 words and four case studies (and Sue was quite insistent about the latter point. Apparently most of the writers ‘forgot’ them last year) is ‘Female Exclusion’. Initially it’s a bit of a terrifying one – a potentially huge subject in almost any country, which straddles so many areas and could be impossible to get to grips with in just under a week.

After the draw, I headed off to the Red Cross offices in Moorgate to meet the Programme Support Manager for Eurasia, Olga Dzhumaeva, who went through a few of the projects she works with in Kyrgzstan and the issues that she deals with – ranging from helping victims of kidnapping to microfinancing for social entrepreneurs, and the plans to visit as many of them as possible while we’re there. Really – it’s a three cities in four days itinerary which should provide far more to write about than I can ever hope to fit into one article.

Fortunately, Sue’s cleared us blogging about it and so on, which means there’ll be much more going up here over the next couple of weeks. Which means I’ll save some of the many ideas I’m scribbling into notebooks for later.