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16 October 2006

the ugly little details, warts and all, of Planet Earth's humanitarian disasters

Jakob Fugger the Rich
by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)

Was he really rich?
Did Albrecht Dürer ever paint you?

Porträt des Jakob Fugger "the Rich" (1459 - 1525)
Wasserfarben, Leinwand
Staatsgalerie, Städtische Kunstsammlungen, Augsberg DE

A worldwide network of accurate news -- aye, that's what Planet Earth needs!

The first one in European/Western history appears to have been organized by the Fugger banking family. Their far-flung network of correspondents covered, among other things, the Protestant Reformation and the ferocious Catholic-Protestant wars that followed, and tensions, wars and fragile peace treaties between Christian and Turk. Also earthquakes, floods, famines, volcanic eruptions, plagues.

The Fuggers, from Augsburg in Swabia (wherever that might be -- Agence-Vleeptron Presse would greatly appreciate any geographical assistance, etc.), wanted accurate on-the-ground information to steer the wisest course for their investments, which frequently were to bankroll bankrupt royalty.

(The Great Prince will probably never pay back the loan, but he'll be happy to ennoble your son or permit your daughter to marry Prince Charmant. Fortunately for Kings and Queens, Social Climbing is worth lots of money. If everything was strictly business, nobody would ever loan money to princess, kings or dukes. They're terrible investment risks.)

Consequently the Fugger Newsletters weren't published for ordinary people, but had a very limited subscription readership. We got our modern hands on them when a cache of these unknown ancient news bulletins turned up in a royal library in Spain in the 20th century. The news was a little stale, but proved to be a wildly rich and entertaining source of previously unknown but clearly pretty accurate historical detail. (Some of Fugger's men-on-the-ground sent back reports about -- but no photos of -- Religious Miracles.)

What -- you think a schlub like YOU is important enough to know what's going on in Barcelona, Stamboul and Prague? That's treasonous talk -- and the punishment for that is Drawing and Quartering.

So behold one of the historical blessings of Capitalism and Democracy, and a special tool it developed for people who want to know the ghastly details of Earth's ongoing humanitarian disasters. Reuters perceived that larger numbers of people than necessary were suffering, starving and dying just because those in the Relief Business didn't have access to accurate, up-to-date information about each specific crisis.

Governments have extensive information- and intelligence-gathering networks, but are just as likely to hide what they know from, or to lie about what they know to Relief Agencies as to share it with them. Politics and policy dramatically distorts news and information. Accurate, freely disseminated on-the-ground information is viewed by governments as a direct threat to their wishes. (In fact journalists practice one of the deadliest of all the world's professions, and get whacked and thrown in dungeons all the time.)

Reuters AlertNet

FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Oct 16
16 Oct 2006 16:32:47 GMT
Source: Reuters

Reuters -- Following are security and other developments in Iraq reported on Monday as of 1615 GMT:

Asterisk denotes a new or updated item.

* BAGHDAD - Two near simultaneous car bombs killed 20 people and wounded 17 in the mixed neighbourhood of Ur in northern Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said. The attacks took place at sunset shortly before Iftar, when Muslims break their fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

MAHMUDIYA - A Shi'ite family of five was killed after gunmen stormed their home in the town of Mahmudiya, in the Sunni "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad, police said.

SUWAYRA - At least 10 people were killed and 15 wounded when a car bomb went off near a bank in a market in the town of Suwayra, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Two U.S. soldiers were killed and two others were wounded on Sunday after coming under fire in the restive province of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Three roadside bombs exploded, killing three civilians and wounding seven other people, including a policeman, near a bank in central Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A total of 46 bodies, with gunshot wounds and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad since Saturday night, an Interior Ministry source said.

BAGHDAD - Clashes between police and gunmen killed three people and wounded five in central Baghdad, police said.

MOSUL - Police found the bodies of two men in Mosul, northern Iraq, a hospital source said.

MADAEN - Gunmen killed a policeman in an attack on police guarding electrical infrastructure in Madaen, 45 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.

KHALIS - Gunmen opened fire at shops, killing four shop owners and wounding five others in the town of Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

KHALIS - Gunmen killed two bodyguards of former Prime Minster Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Khalis, police said.

KHALIS - A bomb placed inside a Shi'ite mosque wounded seven worshipers on Sunday in Khalis, police said.

NEAR BAQUBA - Gunmen killed four policemen and kidnapped three others near Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BASRA - Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at a parked vehicle belonging to the security detachment of the British Consulate in Basra, southern Iraq. A foreign security guard was wounded in the attack, a consulate spokeswoman said.

MOSUL - Gunmen attacked a police patrol and wounded two in Mosul, police said.

MOSUL - Gunmen killed the media director of the education department, Raad al-Hayali, on Sunday in Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army arrested 30 "terrorists" and 69 suspected insurgents in different parts of Iraq during the last 24 hours, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

NAJAF - A roadside bomb targeted the convoy of Mohammad Daeekh, the head of the police crime department, wounding one of his bodyguards in the Shi'ite city of Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Gunmen killed Farouq Atta, an air force brigadier, and wounded two of his companions on Sunday in northern Waziriya district of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.


BAGHDAD - A U.S.-backed court trying Saddam Hussein for the killing of Shi'ite villagers in the 1980s could deliver a verdict on Nov. 5, officials said, a ruling which could send the ousted leader to the gallows

* WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush assured Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during a telephone conversation that Washington had not set any deadline for the Iraqi government to get control of sectarian violence threatening to plunge Iraq into civil war, the White House said.


About Reuters AlertNet

What is AlertNet?
Why was it set up?
Why Reuters?
The AlertNet community
What does AlertNet cover? And why?
Who uses AlertNet? And what do they use?
AlertNet in the media
What do our readers think about us?
Content Partners
Contact us

What is AlertNet?
Reuters AlertNet is a humanitarian news network based around a popular website. It aims to keep relief professionals and the wider public up-to-date on humanitarian crises around the globe.

AlertNet attracts upwards of three million users a year, has a network of four hundred contributing humanitarian organizations and its weekly email digest is received by more than 17,000 readers.

It was started in 1997 by Reuters Foundation - an educational and humanitarian trust -- to place Reuters' core skills of speed, accuracy and freedom from bias at the service of the humanitarian community.

AlertNet has won a Popular Communication award for technological innovation, a NetMedia European Online Journalism Award for its coverage of natural disasters and has been named a Millennium Product by the British Government -- an award for outstanding applications of innovative technologies.

To read what our users think of us, visit our feedback page

Why was it set up?

During the Rwanda crisis of 1994, the Reuters Foundation became interested in media reports of poor coordination between emergency relief charities on the ground. It surveyed charities on what could be done to remedy this. The conclusion was that there was a need for a service that would:

* Deliver operation-critical information to relief charities worldwide
* Incentivise relief charities to swap information with one another
* Raise awareness of humanitarian emergencies among the general public

These overlapping objectives are summarised in the Reuters AlertNet tagline - 'Alerting Humanitarians to Emergencies'.

Why Reuters?

Philanthropy has been a feature of Reuters' 150-year history and the Reuters Foundation was set up in 1982 to recognise and formalise such activity. Reuters AlertNet is just one of a number of Reuters Foundation projects, all of which are designed to employ Reuters' skills to help disadvantaged communities around the world.

See the Reuters Foundation website for details of our other projects.

When researching the viability of a humanitarian news network, Reuters Foundation Trustees concluded that, for a number of reasons, Reuters was unusually well placed to support such a project:

* An unrivalled reputation for providing speedy, accurate reporting from its worldwide network of journalists

* A unique reputation for independence enshrined in the company's 'Trust Principles' (see details of Reuters independence safeguards

* World class news production skills

* Technical publishing skills honed in the fiercely competitive business of supplying information to the financial markets

* An ability to create networks of contributors and to incentivize them to share information - a key feature of many Reuters financial markets services

The AlertNet community

The cornerstone of the AlertNet community is the AlertNet membership. Our members are non-discriminatory, non-profit organisations that are actively involved in emergency relief.

Currently, we are not recruiting for new members, as we will be focusing on deepening relationship with our current membership community.

Members get access to a password-protected area and with it a range of benefits including:

* A simple, form-based publishing system which allows relief charities to publish their news from emergency hotspots directly to the website

* Humanitarian news from dozens of other media outlets around the world via our partner Factiva

* Emergency alerts via email customised according to users' preferred 'channels'

* Downloadable Reuters photographs for use in appeals and publications

See full list of member benefits

What does AlertNet cover? And why?

The subject of humanitarian crises is an enormous one. As in most specialist areas, there are lively debates about definitions, standards and the best way of working. In particular there is a basic division between short-term humanitarian crisis relief and long-term economic development.

AlertNet focuses its resources on covering fast-moving humanitarian emergencies and on the early warning of future emergencies. In so doing we provide relatively little on economic development which is a closely related subject and makes up the majority of the work of AlertNet member NGOs.

The reason for this focus is that Reuters has traditionally been strong in handling fast-moving information and that our chosen medium - the online world - is particularly well-suited to alerting services.

AlertNet countries

These are nations believed to be of particular interest to those following humanitarian crises because they fulfill one of more of the following criteria:

* They are low- or medium-income and thus likely to find that their capacity to handle large emergencies depends on international assistance

* They are particularly prone to humanitarian crises

Of the world's 190 or so countries, more than 150 fulfill these criteria. You can find a full list of nations covered by clicking the country profiles drop-down menu in the left-hand side of any AlertNet page.

AlertNet emergencies

There are four types: health, sudden onset, food-related, and conflict. In practice, emergencies don't fit neatly into such categories, frequently overlapping in a complex manner in which it is difficult to separate cause and effect. AlertNet's presentation of emergency material aims to make clear these areas of overlap.

In the spirit of Reuters' commitment to independent, unbiased coverage of news, we aim to track all such emergencies for which it is possible to find reliable information. In particular, you will find coverage of emergencies that, for a variety of reasons, receive only sporadic coverage elsewhere in the media - so-called 'forgotten' or 'hidden' emergencies.

See full list of AlertNet emergencies

AlertNet themes

There are issues which underpin all AlertNet emergencies. And there are other topics that are the subject of lively debate within the humanitarian relief community. AlertNet aims to provide news, background and opinion on the key topics and you can find a full listing in the 'Topics' drop-down menu on the left-hand side of every AlertNet page.

Who uses AlertNet? And what do they use?

Based on a survey conducted in late 2005, the breakdown of users is as follows:

Government development officials 3 percent
Students 18 percent
Teachers/academics 4 percent
In relief work or development 40 percent
In the media 6 percent
None of the above 27 percent
Don't say 2 percent

Under 18 4 percent
18-24 20 percent
25-34 45 percent
35-44 19 percent
45-54 7 percent
55 or older 3 percent
Don't say 2 percent

Africa 7 percent
Asia 7 percent
Australasia 7 percent
Europe 28 percent
Latin America 2 percent
Middle East 2 percent
North America 46 percent
Don't say 2 percent

Based on an analysis of our web server logs in July, 2004 usage of the site breaks down as follows:

Newsdesk - 32 per cent
Member content (NGO reports, jobs, NGO directory, training) - 18 per cent
Country profiles including online mapping - 14 per cent
AlertNet background and analysis - 9 per cent
Homepage - 5 per cent
Imagery (satellite images, Reuters photos, members' photos) - 4 per cent
Other - 18 per cent

AlertNet in the media

On this page, we bring you a selection of AlertNet's appearances in the media. Some of them talk about the services we provide to the NGO community, and many cite us as a respected source. Others have invited us to comment from our unique position between the worlds of journalism and humanitarianism. Click here to access the page.

What do our readers think about us?

To read what our users think of us, visit our feedback page

Content Partners

At the request of member charities, who would like relevant news sources to be aggregated by AlertNet, we aim to create a network of contributors who have valuable content but do not fulfill the membership criteria. These organizations are known as 'content partners' who make use of the AlertNet channel to give their content a wider audience.

Among our content partners are:

* Factiva - a database of more than 10,000 publications from around the world, of which about 110 appear on AlertNet. Access to Factiva material is restricted to AlertNet members.

* Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) - a USAID-funded service that provides timely and rigorous early warning and vulnerability information on emerging or evolving food-security issues

* Human Rights Watch (HRW) - a U.S.-based organisation that conducts fact-finding investigations and reports on human rights abuses around the world

* International Crisis Group - a non-profit, non-governmental organisation working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict

* Global Voices - an online non-profit media project pulling together conversations, information and ideas appearing around the world in various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites and videoblogs

* Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) - a storm-tracking service that forecasts risks from tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons worldwide

* Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - a U.N. agency mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide

* United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) - a humanitarian news agency covering sub-Saharan Africa, eight countries in Asia and Iraq

* United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) - a U.N. programme that provides access to satellite imagery for use in humanitarian relief, disaster prevention and post-crisis reconstruction

* United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) - a U.N. agency dedicated to providing emergency food relief and supporting the economic and social development of the poor and hungry worldwide


AlertNet is hosted at Reuters' world class Docklands Technical Centre which is responsible for the systems that support Reuters financial information business.

The website makes use of open source technology where possible: a mySQL database, Apache webservers, pages written using Perl-based 'Mason' modules and has been developed by Wrenhill Ltd.

AlertNet uses all best practice security methods:

* Two 'demilitarized zones' between public users and the backend system to exclude hackers

* . A development and integration platform entirely separate from the live service allowing performance testing and site additions to be handled safely

* Within the software, members (users who can submit content) are authenticated against a members database before they can publish.


The main AlertNet site is mostly compatible with the WorldWide Web Consortium (W3C) accessibility standards. Low Graphics AlertNet, designed to meet the needs of those working in areas with poor telecommunications links, is fully W3C compliant.


AlertNet receives its core funding from Reuters Foundation. However, in seeking to act as a catalyst for humanitarian news sharing, it also seeks partnerships with organizations sharing its humanitarian values and willing to provide direct financial support or in-kind donations.
Current sponsors include:-

* The European Space Agency supports AlertNet's satellite imagery and satellite-powered mapping services

* Sun Microsystems provides the hardware upon which the AlertNet service runs

* ESRI provides the mapping software upon which the AlertNet mapping service runs

How to contact us
General enquiries
Fax: +44 20 7542 8599

Postal address:
Reuters AlertNet
30 South Colonnade
London E14 4EP
United Kingdom

Membership enquiries
Project administrator -- Nina Brenjo (Tel: +44 20 7542 2432)
Administrative assistant -- Rachael Taylor (Tel: +44 20 7542 8716)

News and features
Deputy Editor -- Tim Large (Tel: +44 20 7542 9484)
Journalist -- Ruth Gidley (Tel: +44 20 7542 2412)
Journalist -- Emma Batha (Tel: +44 20 7542 6237)
Journalist -- Megan Rowling (Tel: +44 20 7542 3405)

Web Project Manager -- Chris Parker (Tel: +44 20 7542 3506)
Junior Developer -- David Diego (Tel: +44 20 7542 7453)

"Who works where" enquiries
Researcher -- Ruben Andersson (Tel: +44 20 7542 3764)

Sponsorship, partnering
Editor -- Mark H Jones (Tel: +44 20 7542 3334)

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