Monday, August 20, 2007

Underreported Stories

World’s 10 Stories You Don’t (MayBe) Know,Because It’s Underreported

After months of fighting, Islamist militants in June defeated the warlords in capital city Mogadishu and now control most of southern Somalia. The country, which has not had a functioning central government since 1991, has become “the largest potential safe haven for al Qaeda in Africa,” according to the International Crisis Group. This fall a U.N. report detailed how Iran and other countries were smuggling arms to the Islamists and how some 700 Somali fighters were sent to Lebanon to fight alongside Hizballah. Amid all the bloodshed, humanitarian workers are struggling to deliver aid to Somalis, who, after enduring a severe drought, are now dealing with massive flooding.


Worldwide, tuberculosis — a bacterial lung disease spread mainly by coughing — kills one person every 18 seconds. And because HIV activates latent TB infection, tuberculosis has become the leading cause of AIDS-related deaths in the developing world. The TB vaccine is not very effective; diagnostic tests fail to identify at least 50% of cases, and patients often fail to complete the six-month treatment regimen, which contributes to new drug-resistant strains. Of the 9 million or so new TB cases each year, about 425,000 of them are resistant to standard medicines. One severely resistant strain that emerged in southern Africa this year is virtually impossible to treat.


Whatever happened to the post-9/11 push to reform U.S. intelligence gathering and make sure the myriad agencies are all playing nice with each other? Not surprisingly, there has been little information about what’s going on with the spooks. Details from classified documents revealed that the intelligence budget has more than doubled in the past eight years and that the CIA is teaching FBI agents some of its tradecraft. But five years after the World Trade Center attacks, there was also word of new initiatives being launched to eliminate overlap and bring order to the chaotic fight against terrorism. So… uhh… how’s that going?


Although the Democratic Republic of Congo received some attention this year for holding its first free elections in four decades, the war-torn country — where nearly four million people have died as a result of the conflict since 1998 — is still home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Congo is plagued by malnutrition, malaria and other largely preventable conditions that kill 1,200 people a day — a death toll, as UNICEF points out, that is the equivalent of suffering a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami every six months. More children die in Congo before reaching their fifth birthday than in China, a country with 23 times the population.


Not credible. That’s how President Bush described a peer-reviewed study this fall that calculated some 600,000 Iraqis had died from war-related violence since March 2003. The Johns Hopkins study, based on a survey of 1,849 Iraqi households, was dismissed by the White House for its small sample size. But in December, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) lambasted the Pentagon for “significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq.” For example, official accounts tallied 93 attacks one day in July, yet, according to the ISG, “a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.” Maybe those Johns Hopkins academics weren’t so far off after all.


Things are bad in Iraq, but how goes it in Afghanistan? A joint report by the Defense Department and the State Department found that the U.S.-trained police force in Afghanistan is not capable of carrying out routine law enforcement work. Managers of the $1.1 billion training program, the report concluded, can’t keep track of how many officers are on duty, let alone what happened to all the equipment that has gone missing. Another report on contractors, by a California-based watchdog group, detailed such grim outcomes as new schools so shoddy they had to be rebuilt after a winter’s worth of snow and a highway that started crumbling before it was finished.


The Justice Department reported in November that a record 7 million people — or one in every 32 adults in the U.S. — were behind bars, on probation or on parole at the end of last year. Some 2.2 million Americans were in prison or jail on Dec. 31. 2005, but there was little coverage of this population’s 2.7% rise from the previous year or of its eight-fold increase since 1975. Nor was there much discussion of overcrowding (the federal prison system is operating at 34% over capacity) or of the cost associated with keeping so many people behind bars (it costs more than $20,000 per year for every person incarcerated).


While there was much talk about the Army raising the maximum age for new recruits from 35 to 42, the lesser-known development is that the Pentagon managed not only to meet, but to exceed its 2006 reenlistment goals for every branch of the military. Most significantly, the Army met its retention goal of 64,200 in August, with two months to spare before the end of the fiscal year. Another surprising sign of the times: by mid-October, the Marine Corps had received 3,870 re-enlistment applications and thus was on its way to meeting 63% of its annual retention goal less than two weeks into the new fiscal year.


Fueled by rampant poverty in rural areas, a 10,000-strong Maoist army threatens to take the shine off of India’s economic boom. The rebels are known as Naxalites after the eastern town of Naxalbari, where the violent peasant uprising began in 1967. Their attacks in impoverished but mineral-rich regions — on everything from mines and factories to trains and jails — led to at least 625 deaths in the first nine months of 2006, according to the Asian Centre for Human Rights. In August, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ranked the growing Maoist rebellion alongside terrorism as the greatest threats facing the country’s stability.


The percentage of middle-income neighborhoods in the 100 largest metropolitan areas across the country dropped from 58% in 1970 to 41% in 2000, according to the Brookings Institution. The study, which defined moderate-income families as those with incomes between 80% and 120% of the local median, found that these neighborhoods are disappearing faster than the proportion of metropolitan families earning middle incomes, which in three decades has fallen from 28% to 22%. The trend suggests that people are moving out of economically diverse neighborhoods, and the resulting disparities between high- and low-income neighborhoods make it harder for lower-income homeowners to move up the residential ladder.

Original article posted here.

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