from IRIN

LONDON — At precisely the same time as aid lorries pulled into the besieged Syrian village of Madaya on Jan. 11, too late to save those who had already starved to death, convoys also entered the besieged areas of Fua and Kefraya. The timing was no coincidence. Last week's deal to allow aid into Madaya, which is surrounded by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including Hezbollah fighters, was more of a swap by warring parties than a humanitarian gesture: the same militant group inside Madaya surrounds Fua and Kefraya.

That this was the only way the war's belligerents could agree to rescue the estimated 42,000 civilians of Madaya, who had reportedly been eating spiced water and tree leaves, points to the complications of delivering aid through a blockade.

And the small village on the Lebanese border is not an isolated case. In the fifth year of Syria's war, depending on who you ask, there are anywhere between 393,700 and 2 million people living under siege and in desperate need of help.

As aid trucks brought relief to Madaya, IRIN went looking for information on sieges, and found out that even the simplest questions don't have easy answers.


Indigenous Communities Win Consulation Law in Guatemala


by Jeff Abbott, Upside Down World

On September 10, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court ordered the suspension of licenses for the construction of the Vega I and Vega II hydroelectric projects in the Ixil territory. The court made the order following the failure of the company to consult the indigenous communities prior to the issuing of permits for the project owned by the Spanish firm Hidroxil, S.A.

The Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mining to "take the necessary measures to ensure that the consultation of affected and interested indigenous communities is practiced in accordance with applicable international standards, concerning the installation of hydroelectric power plant La Vega I." The court order stated that such consultation "should be seen as an intercultural dialogue in good faith, in which consensus and mutual accommodation of the legitimate interests of the parties is sought."

The two hydro projects were initially approved in 2011, and would have affected the Xamalá and Sumalá rivers in the municipality of Santa Maria Nebaj. Indigenous authorities had first issued filed the cases against the hydro projects in 2012. The authority had requested that the court annul Agreement 99-2011, which was signed during the administration of Álvaro Colom in 2011, and allowed the Spanish firm to construct the Vega project. The community leaders were troubled by the firm's lack of respect for the community's rights upon arrival.



by Annie Slemrod, IRIN

JERUSALEM — The northeast Syrian city of Raqqa is a crucial power centre for the so-called Islamic State, important enough that many call it the group's "capital" and France chose to bomb it repeatedly as its rejoinder to the Paris attacks. Speaking Nov. 16, the day after French warplanes struck the city, President François Hollande promised to step up the military campaign against IS and "destroy" the group.

No civilians were reported killed in the overnight strikes but plenty remain in the area. How are they getting by? Precious little information makes it out of IS territory, but this is what we could establish...


Hocine Ait Ahmed, Algeria's Voice of Conscience, Passes On

Ait Ahmed

by Mansour Bensahnoune Ulhadi, MAK USA

Hocine Ait Ahmed, a hero of Algeria's independence struggle and later a leading opposition figure, died in Switzerland at the age of 89 on Dec. 24. A founding member of the resistance against French colonial rule, he would break from the post-independence regime over its growing authoritarianism—and especially its treatment of his Berber (Amazigh) people of the Kabylia region in Algeria's mountainous east. Mansour Bensahnoune Ulhadi, coordinator of the US branch of the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement, offers this remembrance.

It is with sadness that we heard of the passing of the Kabyle leader Hocine Ait Ahmed. One of the early leaders in the Algerian movement for freedom from French colonialism, his vision for freedom, justice and democracy got him arrested and jailed by both the French and then the new Algerian regime. He was first arrested when the plane transporting him from Morocco to Tunisia was intercepted and forced to land by the French air force in 1956. He would later be jailed by the Algerian government, when he stood up for democracy, justice and freedom for all. In 1963, one year after independence, he formed the country's first opposition party, the Front des Forces Socialistes or FFS. He was backed by the army regiments of Kabylia, a military district called Wilaya III. The Arab regime led by the traitor Ben Bella attacked Kabylia, and the war between the Arabs and the Kabyles lasted two years. The war ended the day he was captured in 1965, marking a defeat for the Kabyle people and democracy in Algeria. But he escaped an Algerian jail later that year, and continued his fight for freedom to the last days of his life.


Rooftop Gardens in Syria's Besieged Neighborhoods


by Youmna al-Dimashqi, Syria Deeply

Rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus have endured more than two years of government blockades aimed at making them surrender or face the prospect of starvation. Disease and malnutrition run rampant and food is scarce.

As in many other such areas across the country, some residents of these besieged areas have mustered the will and energy to adapt and survive, often in ingeniously creative ways.

Notably, rooftop gardens are popping up across the towns that are allowing people to find new ways of feeding themselves and their families. Green patches now dot the rooftops of southern Damascus neighborhoods like Yelda, Babila and Beit Sahem, areas of the capital that have been under government-imposed siege for nearly 24 months.



by Andrew Connelly, IRIN

The gloomy streets of Basmane in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir have long been associated with bordellos and drug dealing, but this year it is the smuggling of souls that has become the neighbourhood's key nefarious industry. Compared to the summer months when Izmir was the main departure point for the roughly 5,000 refugees setting off for the Greek islands by boat every day, the city is relatively quiet. Winter temperatures and rougher seas have deterred some. Following a recent agreement between the EU and Turkey, in which the former will pay the latter €3 billion to stem the flow of refugees into Europe, many more may soon be forcibly prevented from making the journey.

Amer twirls amber-colored prayer beads outside one of Izmir's numerous hotels. With a black money-belt strapped around his waist, athletic shoes and a heap of rucksacks piled up on the floor next to him, his purpose in the city is easy to guess, and sheepishly he admits: "I'm waiting here to swim to Europe! Well, hopefully by boat anyway."



by Mubashar Hasan, IRIN

DHAKA — Al-Amin used to be a rice farmer in the fertile plains of Bangladesh's vast Ganges Delta, but the river washed his land away and now he pulls a rickshaw in a slum in the sprawling capital, Dhaka.

Al-Amin, who uses just one name, is among the approximately 350,000 people that the World Bank estimates migrate to Dhaka each year. Most of them come from the delta, where advancing water levels, increasingly frequent storms and the rising salinity of the soil are destroying farmland. Al-Amin now lives with his family of seven in a one-room shack in a crowded slum called Bhola, which is named after the district that most residents left when their way of life eroded with the land.

Al-Amin's house is still there, but now it sits deserted next to the riverbank where his farm used to be. "We don't go back home in the holidays as there is no home that we can return to," he told IRIN.


by Waqas Malik, Tenant

On July 30, more than 16,000 people were evicted from the Sector I-11 katchi abadi or squatter settlement in Islamabad, Pakistan, near the border with its sister city of Rawalpindi.

More than 1,000 police officers were deployed, along with scores of paramilitary troops and personnel from the Capital Development Authority (CDA), the public corporation in charge of development in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. They were dressed in riot gear, brought armored vehicles, and fired tear-gas shells into the settlement. A 16-day-old baby boy died of asphyxiation from tear-gas after multiple shells burst inside his home. I-11 residents say he wasn't the only child who died from the gas, and that Islamabad police harassed and threatened the baby's parents until they signed a false death certificate.

They bulldozed the modest homes in the settlement, along with the well-tended plants, little shops, too few schools, and four mosques—the threadbare, self-made infrastructure that the residents of I-11 pieced together by themselves, without any government-built infrastructure. (Islamabad's katchi abadis are the only places in the city where solar energy is used, due to the government cutting off electricity, gas, and water supplies.) The people left behind scrambled for what was left before the bulldozers crushed their hard-earned possessions. They were rounded up by the CDA, loaded like livestock into trucks, and told to go back to "where they came from." 

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