Since 2015 Taiz is besieged by Houthi rebels who pound the city with mortars and Katyushas. It’s a humanitarian disaster. People are unable to attend to their most basic needs. Drinking water is barely available. Food is scarce. Severe malnutrition is on the rise. Snipers shoot anything that moves.
War has wrecked and impoverished the once thriving port city of South Yemen. Tens of thousands of displaced civilians suffer from hunger, cholera, unemployment, power blackouts, insecurity and armed clashes.
Not much has really changed in the Horn of Africa from Rimbaud’s times…The war is raging in Yemen and Somalia. Pirates roam the sea. Arms trafficking is booming. Khat is still the big business. And migrants, the new slaves, run for their life on the old caravans’ trails.
On my way to Northern Ethiopia I took a couple of days off the track to visit Lalibela, the revered Coptic holy ground where churches are carved out in single rocky blocks and pilgrims gather to worship and perform the ancient rites. Off season, no tourists in sight and mystical vibes all around.
Guerrero state is the country's largest producer of raw opium and the port-city of Acapulco is the main transit route for the heroin bound to the Usa. Narco cartels fight for the prize, and the once glamorous Pacific resort is now ranked the most violent city in Mexico and among the most violent cities in the world, with homicide rates above 100 per 100,000 people each year.
The Iraqi army is struggling to recover since it was badly defeated by Daesh in Mosul and elsewhere in 2014. But for the time being the battle lines around Baghdad are manned by a bunch of powerful Iranian-sponsored Shia militias: they are in fact the only organized forces willing and capable to challenge the Caliphate on the verge of the capital and on the many fronts of the war. In the North it's up to the Kurdish peshmergas to hold the line from the Mosul dam to the Syrian border.
The streets of San Salvador are littered with bodies. Since the collapse of the truce between the gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and the Pandilla 18 are again at war. Murder rates have soared at levels not seen since the civil conflict of the 1980s. The toll is set to reach 7,000 by the year’s end, overtaking Honduras as the highest in the world.
In the broken barrios of Estado de Mexico, the overpopulated suburban belt of the federal capital, organized criminal gangs make the law. Killings and feminicides are on the rise. Drug lords run their business while policemen look away. Medias are kept at large: journalists are threatened or quite simply paid off.
Yazidis have been killed by the thousands in their villages on the Iraqi hills of Sinjar. Islamic State’s murderers have cut throats, raped and filled the mass graves trying to wipe out the entire community. Now forced into exile, Yazidis flock to the holy shrine of Lalish in Kurdistan where one of the oldest religion on Earth struggle to survive.
Migrants are pushing on: undeterred by the drones, the iron fences, the vigilantes or the police they keep trying and jump into the American dream. But as the crossing becomes more difficult the cartels and the smugglers are making more money.
Ten of thousands of refugees flee to the Minawao camp in northern Cameroon where food, shelters, healthcare and security are in short supply. The camp is flooded by orphaned boys, pregnant women and girls, destitute children. Water is a major concern: wells are drying up and diseases, mostly malaria and lung-stomach infections, are gaining ground.
Viewed by the fanatics of the Islamic Caliphate as polytheists and pagans, the Yazidis of Mount Sinjar, a centuries-old religious community, have been slaughtered and chased from their villages, whilst at least 7,000 of their women are now enslaved and given as concubines to the jihadi fighters.
In the past months Christians in Iraq and Syria were brutally targeted by militants of the Islamic Caliphate. Mosul and the old Christian villages in the Niniveh plain are in the hands of the jihadists. Tens of thousands of refugees poured into Iraqi Kurdistan seeking shelter in camps, churches and unfinished buildings, vowing never to go back. This may well herald the end of Christianity in the Middle East.
The Christian quarter of Hamidyeh is the ground zero of the Syrian war: buildings are turned into nothing; mosques, churches, shops, schools, restaurants, banks and houses are empty shells riddled with rockets and shrapnels, wildly ransacked and burned to the ground.
Sexual exploitation of children is a lucrative and growing industry which thrives all over the world. Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. Parents often sell their children into conditions of forced labour with many ending up in brothels, often sold to meet the demand for virgin girls that is common in Cambodia from locals and international sex tourists. Widespread corruption hinders prosecution of offenders and feeds the environment of impunity.
The Moken "sea gypsies" are one of the last surviving nomadic people on the planet. For centuries they have lived on their wooden boats, roaming from island to island to collect sea products: a peaceful animist tribe of Malay stock almost unknown to the outside world. Now they face extinction. Commercial fishing, illegal logging, drug abuse, economic and anthropic pressure are quickly destroying their identity and way of life.
As the night falls “fake anti-balaka” gangs roam the streets. High on beers, marijuana and pills, they loot and spread fear. A methodical ethnic and religious cleansing is under way. The majority of the muslim population has been forced to flee: in few islamic pockets, supposedly protected by soldiers of the Misca, the african stabilization mission, families camp out in grass and mud under the constant threat of grenades.
In a stunning 24 hours push the insurgents jump the barricades, storm the parliament, chase the president and draw Europe and Ukraine into a risky confrontation with Moscow.
The war goes on. Despite the chemical weapons agreement and the renewed international diplomacy drive the end of the bloodshed is not in sight. As the army strengthen its hold in Damascus and the urban centers opposition forces still control large sectors of the countryside and fight a ferocious street battle in the capital's suburbs. The death toll continues to rise and the civilians pay the heaviest price.
I happened to be around in Tadamun on Tuesday, September 24th, when a carbomb went off in a narrow street killing at least three people. Not big news in Damascus nowdays.
In the aftermath of the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood churches and christian institutions have been attacked and torched, rising the ghost of a renewed sectarian and religious conflict. Scapegoated for supporting the ouster of former elected president Mohammed Morsi, the Copt minority - 10 per cent of the Egyptian population - feels increasingly targeted. And the police looks the other way.
Northern Nigeria sits on a dangerous fault line: a turbulent region where the fight between the Cross and the Coran has sunk into a bloody armed conflict. Fueled by ethnic tensions, poverty, political wrangling and the surge of the radical Boko Haram islamic movement, the war has killed thousands of innocents and displaced many more.
Music is how many kids in the black townships try to escape the hard life in the slums and Odwa is determined to take his chance. With no family and no other job in sight he bets on his soul, his writings and improvised hip hop performances in the local shebeens.
Millions still live a hard life in the townships on the Cape Flats. In the poorest sections rapes, Hiv and armed robberies are rampant and the tin-cardboard shacks have no water, no toilets, no electricity. Few kids go to school. Many get hooked in drugs. Housing is a major problem. Urban development has been sped up but not enough to cope with the constant influx of job seekers. Illegal occupation of public soil is met with harsh law enforcement measures. Dozens of destitute squatters have been forcebly evicted by the police: their dwellings pulled down and removed.
Thousands of peasants have been killed in the Masisi hills. Ethnic tensions, political divisions and territorial grievances are fueled by the rush to the rich mining grounds of the region. Diggers and smugglers flock to the mines. Renegade soldiers and gun men ravage the countryside. Civilians are caught in the middle. The wounded and the sick have little or no access to healthcare. So the Msf team in the field resorts to mobile clinics to reach the patients in far away places.
In one of the most war ravaged province of the Democratic Republic of Congo I find half destroyed villages, impassable roads, hungry gold diggers, displaced people, run down health posts and dozens of raped women. Sexually abused girls are usually thrown out of their families and marginalized, but Esther was able to reverse her fate and find a husband. There was a big party at the wedding.
It's the biggest dumpsite in Kenya, one of the largest in Africa. Thousands of people come every morning to comb the garbage and collect everything they can sell: plastic bottles, metal scraps, old shoes, tin cans, cloth, glass, rotten food. They risk their life on the shaky garbage heaps, inhale the toxic fumes and are exposed to infections and diseases.
Life is hard in the Nairobi slums: no services, no sewage, no hospitals. Boys are sucked into violent street gangs, young girls and women are frequently assaulted and raped. A former gangster turned politician is now fighting crime giving some hope to the people of his community.
Every Thursday Father Rick goes to the Central Hospital’s morgue and collects the bodies. He starts with the babies and the kids, puts them in the bodybags and loads a couple of trucks. Then drives to the freshly dug graves in a field outside town and bury them. No one else will do it. Father Rick Frechette is a physician and missionary who heads the Haitian branch of NPH (Nuestros Pequeos Hermaños, Our little brothers and sisters), represented in Italy by Fondazione Francesca Rava (www.nph-italia.org).
Three years after the devastating earthquake Haitians struggle to cope with a crumbling economy, the slow pace of reconstruction, corruption, poverty, renewed gang violence and a cholera epidemic. Hurricanes and torrential rains ravage the slums and spread the disease. Msf's doctors and nurses work full time in hospitals and treatment centers.
Because of an obscene low cost US made movie insulting the Prophet Muhammad dozens of people were killed in violent demonstrations all over the islamic world. Soon after the French magazine Charlie Hebdo published more insulting cartoons. Fresh clashes erupted in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Tunisia was no exception.
The death toll rises sharply on both sides as the civil war creeps into the heart of the Syrian capital. Damascus looks increasely like Saddam’s Baghdad, with carbombs, IEDs, nighttime gunfire, check points, suicide attacks. Religious minorities fear the ghost of a bloody sectarian conflicts. Thousands of shias and christians have already fled their homes. Unverified reports of massacres and atrocities are used by the army and the insurgents to fuel the propaganda while more arms and ammunitions enter the country.
Dramatic increases in cancer, leukemia, birth and genetic defects in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Infant mortality is found to be 80 per 1000 births which compares with a value of 19 in Egypt, 17 in Jordan and 9.7 in Kuwait.
Thousands of refugees are sheltered in tents on the Syrian-Turkish border in the Antakya region. Fighting is raging in the nearby villages and wounded insurgents pour into local hospitals. A military solution is unthinkable, but even a political settlement is far away. The war will go on.
After months of sectarian clashes in which dozens of Christians lost their lives, Egyptian coptic community is frightened by the sweeping victory of Islamic parties in the first round of parliamentary elections.
After weeks in the streets protesters are determined to stay on and keep fighting peacefully. The movement is going global and reaches dozens of US cities. Politicians in Washington, with an eye at the election year, begin to pay attention.
The last check point is some 50 km north of Bani Walid where negotiations are on the way for a peaceful surrender of the Warfallah tribe's stronghold. Talks are stalling and the fighters get ready for the battle.
The city was the scene of the longest battle of the civil war and shara Tarabulus looks like Grozny or Beiruth in the Seventies...This was the frontline and there is no undamaged building in sight: crumbled houses and burned shops, abandoned tanks, weapons, rounds of spent ammunitions, UXOs, people searching the rubble.
Nato's missiles have destroyed the main buildings but some are still in good conditions: lots of files and top secret documents are kept in the rooms or scattered on the floors. The empty prisons are a chilling sight. There are names and desperate calls for help scribbled on the black iron doors.
They shout Allahu akbar! as they carry the caskets to the graveyard on the seashore. The jeep was full of ammunitions and the explosion left four dead bodies on the tarmac near a check point in Gargaresh, west Tripoli. They were young, 22-26, from Misurata.
After the fall of Bab al-Aziziya there is still fighting in the Abu Salim district. It's a nasty place to move around, with snipers firing from the roofs and dead bodies in the streets. This morning the first team of volunteers starts to collect the corpses and carry them to the morgue.
The staff at the Tobbi Hospital celebrates at the gate but it's a dire scene inside with WIAs and wounded civilians hastily rushed into the emergency rooms and dead bodies arriving in car's trunks at the morgue. Most of them from the Abu Salim district where fighting is still on the way.
As more reporters and tv crews pour into town the hotel where they are staying becomes a target. Snipers are positioned somewhere in the tall buildings on the seaside and fire randomly: the overreaction of the security guards is somehow messy and looks more like a camera show. But it serves the purpose. And it's a thrill for some journalists who never set foot out in the field.
The fighters push inside the stronghold under heavy fire. They reach the main building and celebrate under the symbolic monument Gaddafi built after the US bombing in 1986: an iron fist crashing an american warplane. But there is still fighting in other parts of the compound. I take shelter behind a concrete block and watch the last battle inside Bab al-Aziziya.
By late afternoon most of the city is in the rebels' hands. As they take possession of the Green Square, the fighters prepare to launch the decisive push on the Bab al-Aziziya compound where Gaddafi's forces took a last stand. Mortar shells and rockets are pounding the stronghold and a cloud of black smoke is rising from the battle field.
Music can be a life raft in Juarez. El Principe was a drug addict and a member of a local gang. Then he set up a rap group and began to write songs. He stays on tracks, even if his best friend and music partner has been killed in a shootout at the corner of the barrio.
"Imagine a city with five hundred corpses and not a single shred of evidence explaining their slaughter. No one even knows where those people from the death houses have gone".
This is what happens most days and nights in Ciudad Juarez. You get a word on the radio and rush to the scene, hoping to be there before the cops surround the place and kick you out. You find beheaded corpses, sometimes just heads, or bullet riddled bodies of women and young men. No one is ever jailed or indicted. No one speaks. But everyone knows it's the narcos. Or the military. Or the police.
"The police had found her wandering around on the street one morning. She had been raped and she lost her mind...The facility hosts a hundred inmates. A doctor drops by on Sunday to check on the health of the crazy people, and the whole operation is sponsored by a radio evangelist in Juarez, a man all the inmates call El Pastor".
The drug war is claiming a terrible toll in the City of the Dead. There are common graves for the unknown victims at the San Rafael cemetery. And a huge ground for children's graves. In another section I see workers digging and people mourning. At the funeral a mariachi-style band is performing: it sings narcocorridos.
The insurgents have reached Ras Lanuf and prepare to advance on Sirte but Gaddafi's forces strike back. A Libyan Mig appears in the sky and target a check point outside the city. Anti-aircraft batteries mounted on jeeps fire at the plane. More fighters rush in from Benghazi.
The Court Square in Benghazi is the epicenter of the Libyan uprising. On a cold and windy Friday morning a huge crowd gathers for the prayer and listens to the imam. He speaks words of freedom and struggle, praises Allah and the martyrs, urges his people to strenghten for the upcoming battles.
It goes on burning for hours through the night: an ammunition depot explodes at Jamra, just outside Benghazi. Dozens are killed. Rumors hint to a sabotage or a Mig's raid. But it's most likely an accident.
Thousands of African and Asian workers trying to flee the country squat in filthy warehouses on the docks of Benghazi's port. They were mainly employed in the oil industry and in foreign companies in East Libya. Left to fend for themselves with little food and water they wait a ship to carry them to safety.
While Benghazi is liberated the fighting is still going on around Ajdabiya and along the main coastal road to Marsa Brega and Ras Lanuf. Casualties fill the city's hospitals and dead bodies pile up in the morgue. I go to the prisons and descend in a fortified underground tunnel.
In a massive and joyful gathering the people take to the streets and fill Benghazi's main square. The city is finally free: Gaddafi's army has been pushed back. The war moved away to the West towards Ajdabiya and Ras Lanuf.
Cairo the day after Mubarak’s fall. People flock to Tahrir Square to celebrate and assess the situation. In a show of civic responsability dozens of students and activists start to clean up all the mess, the dirt and the wrecks, the bullets and the trash. Opposition figures debate at the alternative parliament behind the Groppi cafè.
Christian leaders gather to discuss the end of the regime and their future. Thirty thousand christian copts live in a filthy slum at the footsteps of the Moqattam hill in Cairo. They collect the garbage of the town, sort out all the useful items and sell them to recycling factories.
It’s the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Fireworks fill the sky, music all over through the night. The people have won. Flags weaving, cars honking and chantings. The soldiers on their tanks shake hands with the people. Nobody knows what will happen next. But tonight it’s just joy and freedom.
A million people fill the Square: youngs and women, kids and fathers. There are speeches and sit-ins, places were you can recharge your phone or laptop, have a free drink or show your paintings. Christians march with muslims. As the night falls the regime looks at the verge of the collapse.
Preachers roam the place, prayers are held. The wounded are treated in makeshift hospitals. Another day of confrontation and incertitude. By the evening more people converge in Tahrir and prepare to spend the night there. A man whose son was killed by the police cries loud his name and walks away.
Thousands of Mubarak’s followers, plain clothes policemen and thugs rally in the streets and try to attack the people in Tahrir Square. The Army stands still. Some journalists and foreign aid workers are beaten. I am arrested, brought to a station, interrogated and released. People battle with stones. In the end the mob turns away and the crowd in Tahrir gets ready for another round.
There's a Mission in the forest: seven sisters and scores of battered souls. The Devil doesn't warn when it comes across the borders of Congo. They are the killers of the Lord's Resistance Army. And in God's name they slaughter, they rape, raze villages, kidnap boys and girls. The peasants formed a militia to defend their families. The Mission has been stormed twice, but the sisters are still there.
A new African country is taking shape: South Sudan. After decades of bloody civil wars, two millions dead and countless villages and crops destroyed, Juba's new rulers still face huge problems: poverty, deseases, internal fighting, ethnic clashes, contested oil reserves and an ongoing rivalry between the muslim North and the Christian South.