Virtually every time the U.S. fires a missile from a drone and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were “militants” — even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed.
They simply cite always-unnamed “officials” claiming that the dead were “militants.” It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.
This practice continues even though key Obama officials have been caught lying, a term used advisedly, about how many civilians they’re killing. I’ve written and said many times before that in American media discourse, the definition of “militant” is any human being whose life is extinguished when an American missile or bomb detonates (that term was even used when Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen two weeks after a drone killed his father, even though nobody claims the teenager was anything but completely innocent: “Another U.S. Drone Strike Kills Militants in Yemen”).
This morning, the New York Times has a very lengthy and detailed article about President Obama’s counter-Terrorism policies based on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” I’m writing separately about the numerous revelations contained in that article, but want specifically to highlight this one vital passage about how the Obama administration determines who is a “militant.” The article explains that Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths “did not significantly change” the drone program, because Obama himself simply expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by his drone strikes. Just read this remarkable passage;
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
For the moment, leave the ethical issues to the side that arise from viewing “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; that’s nothing less than sociopathic, a term I use advisedly, but I discuss that in the separate, longer piece I’ve written. For now, consider what this means for American media outlets. Any of them which use the term “militants” to describe those killed by U.S. strikes are knowingly disseminating a false and misleading term of propaganda. By “militant,” the Obama administration literally means nothing more than: any military-age male whom we kill, even when we know nothing else about them. They have no idea whether the person killed is really a militant: if they’re male and of a certain age they just call them one in order to whitewash their behavior and propagandize the citizenry (unless conclusive evidence somehow later emerges proving their innocence).
What kind of self-respecting media outlet would be party to this practice? Here’s the New York Times documenting that this is what the term “militant” means when used by government officials. Any media outlet that continues using it while knowing this is explicitly choosing to be an instrument for state propaganda — not that that’s anything new, but this makes this clearer than it’s ever been. More
Ned Breslin believes that too many organisations who are providing clean water and sanitation are chasing numbers. He wants to see them be bold enough to operate towards a long-term vision for clean water for everyone. This may seem simple, but he says this is not the way most in the sector operate. He believes these short-term achievements do not always contribute towards solving the systematic issues. I am inspired by Ned and his organisation because they don’t rely on short-term outputs to build legitimacy regardless of outside pressure to do so. They are not afraid to say that real solutions take time.
The problem is clear. Three decades of support for water projects from NGOs, governments and large and small donors alike have not transformed people’s lives and country’s economic trajectories as such massive investments should.
Few celebrate the report from the World Health Organisation and Unicef (pdf) that shows progress on water supply worldwide – as contradictory evidence paints a much more unfortunate story. The European Union’s scathing audit of water aid investments and the Dutch government’s brave evaluation of their own work (pdf) offer sobering insight into water-sector history and challenges moving forward.
The impact of such failure is also sadly clear. Girls continue to fetch polluted water from muddy puddles and rivers, walking past broken hand-pumps and schools they would be attending if they had the time. To break this cycle, Water For People, the IRC, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, One Drop, and some members of the Millennium Water Alliance are partnering with governments and the local private sector to change the water sector narrative.
We are testing this initiative – called Everyone Forever (EF) – across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The concept is that districts maintain water services for everyone without the need for further philanthropic aid or support.
EF takes a page from polio and smallpox eradication efforts that saturated entire districts, consisting of millions of people and hundreds and thousands of villages. “Everyone” is only achieved when every family, school and clinic in a target district has access to water services, that includes the hardest to reach, the poorest, the disabled, the politically marginalised and the socially ostracised. The poorest in those areas are receiving water services because other residents are covering their tariffs. “Forever” is only achieved when districts show they can sustain these investments over time as populations grow, water resources are threatened, economies change and infrastructure ages.
EF works with governments and insists that their financial support is essential for success. We have seen a 39% increase in government investments towards EF in the past year, with examples like the district of Rulindo in Rwanda now spending over $1m a year on water infrastructure.
Two districts – Chinda, Honduras and Cuchumuela, Bolivia – have reached full coverage verified by the national government. Another five areas are close, including an island in the Ganges in India where half a million pilgrims use the local sanitation system every year (pdf).
One mayor in Bolivia now brags about his district achieving “everyone” status. As a result, other mayors across the country are replicating EF, channeling their investments towards full district coverage. Similar spread is happening in India, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda and Honduras.
Momentum is now building scaled work that excludes nobody, transcends individual communities and is focused on sustainability. Everyone Forever offers a model that is hard to argue against by politicians and development agencies. The alternative – more projects and hollow slogans of coverage delinked from investments – is simply not good enough anymore. More
Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari uses local building techniques to rebuild villages in the flood-stricken Sindh region.
Yasmeen Lari is Pakistan’s first female architect and one of the most successful providers of disaster relief shelters in the world. She has built over 36,000 houses for victims of floods and earthquakes in Pakistan since 2010.
Shunning the structurally weak, mass-produced houses offered by international organisations, Lari uses vernacular techniques and local materials such as lime and bamboo. Her houses have a tiny carbon footprint and are simple enough for people to build themselves. With this, she hopes to demonstrate the role that architecture can play in humanitarian aid.
“I often tell my colleagues, let us not treat disaster-affected households as destitute, needing handouts … but with dignity,” she says.
Lari once built giant concrete and steel buildings for clients like the Pakistani State Oil company. But when disaster struck in 2005, she turned to traditional techniques to design flood and earthquake proof buildings for people in remote regions.
She returns to the Sindh region to see how her homes survived the 2013 floods and helps villagers in Awaran after the 2013 Balochistan earthquake.
By Faiza Ahmad Khan
Just a week before I left for Pakistan to film this documentary, the chief minister of my home state Rajasthan in India (which, incidentally, borders Sindh, the part of Pakistan that I was about to visit), pledged that within the next two years, there would be not a single mud house left standing in the state.
For many years the central government in India has already had a programme in place, which gives those in rural areas a sum of money to replace their traditional mud houses with brick and cement structures. Traditional is seen as poor and inferior and the fast track to “development” cannot, God forbid, be lined with mud and thatch houses.
While filming in Pakistan, I shared our chief minister’s announcement with an artisan who works with Yasmeen Lari at the Heritage Foundation in a village called Moak Sharif in Sindh.
“Thank God we’re decades behind India in this development business,” he said.
On one of my travels in Orissa in India, to a village called Govindpur that is resisting land acquisition for the mega steel company, POSCO, I met a woman who was rebuilding her kachcha house (made of natural materials, such as mud, bamboo and leave) despite being able to access government funding for a concrete house.
“We depend on this land for everything, we take what we know can be replenished. People in cities have no connection with the land so they don’t think twice about cutting down trees, mining the earth hollow. You think you’re separate from nature but you’re not. If this goes, you go,” she said.
What I am constantly being reminded of, as this country builds the capitalist dream, is that we stand to lose the wealth of traditional knowledge that pivots around this belief – ways to farm, heal, learn and live.
At the Heritage Foundation centre in Moak Sharif, Yasmeen Lari has been working to preserve traditional ways of building. The centre was set up by Yasmeen and her team in 2005 and has evolved to include a women’s centre, a small learning centre for children and a clinic to provide health care for the residents of the village.
Yasmeen believes that her role as an architect should not be restricted to designing houses and buildings. Instead, things should grow in an integrated way.
While I was there, they managed to get the government school, once barely functioning, in working order. Women from the village had organised themselves into a ‘mothers committee’ to oversee the school’s daily operations. And after I returned to India, every once in a while, Yasmeen would call and explain, with great delight, something new they were experimenting with – organic farming, bio fertilizers and natural soaps.
Through the making of this film I realised that building the “earth-way” means fluidity, not concreteness. It means working with the community, integrating it with structures of support and togetherness. Building homes, for Yasmeen, is about situating them. She guides her team to create this kind of space. Traditional, yes, but by no means can this approach be deemed irrelevant. More