In January, Iraqi Security Forces reclaimed the eastern half of Mosul—Iraq’s second largest city—from the Islamic State, or ISIL. Today, communities on the east side of the Tigris River, which snakes through the centre of Mosul, are crawling back to life after two years of brutal ISIL rule. But the deep scars of ISIL’s long-held grip on the city and the conflict are everywhere.
That is how far Shiraz Shoibi, 38, traveled—mostly by foot and aided by smugglers—from her home town of Deir er-Zour in eastern Syria to A’zaz on the Turkish border. The journey took four months, walking through olive groves and on backroads before creeping into safe houses at night for a few hours’ sleep. She worried constantly about landmines and being caught by ISIS.
“The situation was very terrifying,” she recalled. “There were times when we were right in the middle of the battle. We couldn’t leave our house for three days…We never slept. We held our children and stayed awake until sunrise.” Read more.
When Zahra’s family heard Islamic State ISIL forces had captured the nearby northern Iraqi town of Sinjar in the summer of 2014, they fled their home with just the clothes on their backs. Like tens of thousands of other members of an ethno-religious minority known as Yazidis, they set off on foot to seek refuge in the mountains not far away, their children in their arms and Zahra pregnant with their seventh child.
“ISIL saw us and shot at us, but we kept moving,” Zahra recalls, referring to the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which views Yazidis as heretics, who should be killed. Read more.
It was just after 6 am when the first raft was spotted, a bobbing dot visible through the predawn gloom only by the florescent reflections of life jackets. The sun still had about an hour to rise and the waters that divide western Turkey from the Greek island of Lesvos were ink-black and calm.
“A lot of people will come today,” Vaios Polichronidis, the leader of the Praksis paramedic team in Lesvos tell me. “When conditions are like this, they always come.” Read more.
When the call came through that a 39-year-old woman was allegedly sick with Ebola-like symptoms, Dr. Diomande Zingbe Ahmed and his colleagues were sent to investigate. Equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and chlorinated water, the team set out to the Fula Madina neighborhood of Conakry, Guinea’s seaside capital, in a pick-up truck, their ambulance following closely behind.
When government health worker Brima Kamara arrived in Pate-Bana, a small town of some 2,000 souls in north-central Sierra Leone, it was eerily quiet, the sun-baked, red dirt streets empty. He went straight to the community health post, where he opened the doors to find nine corpses, all still on IV fluids. Spilled blood covered the floor.
“They had locked up the hospital and people ran away,” says Brima. “The remaining nurse ran away because her colleagues had died.”
The date was September 12, 2014. Ebola had just exploded on the community like a silent bomb. Read more.
There were so many opportunities for the Ebola virus to invade Guinea-Bissau. A farmer unknowingly carrying the disease could come in undetected from neighboring Guinea to tend his crops. An infected trader could arrive by bus from Senegal to the north to sell his wares in the capital. A fishermen from Sierra Leone with symptoms could dock on the islands just off the coast unbeknownst.
Yet the virus never came. Read more.
She had spent the past 17 days in the ETU fighting for her life. When she learned that her blood tested negative for the virus, on October 3, 2014, Comfort became the first female to emerge from International Medical Corps’ ETU in Bong County in north-central Liberia.
But after Comfort was home with husband, children and grandchildren, her eyesight started to falter. Read more.
Corine, 30, remembers waking up in her home to the sounds of gunshots. It was before daybreak. Then the screaming began. She grabbed her three children and ran in the direction of the airport, hoping to find some protection there. Bullets ripped through the sky. “I saw people being killed on the way,” she says. Read more.
We snake our way deep into the Himalayan foothills along a dirt-and-rock path carved out of the mountainside. Terraces fan off the steep slopes, dipping down to emerald green rice patties nestled in the valleys. The snow-capped peaks of the Ganesh Himal mountain range peep through a layer of clouds in the distance.
But the stunning scenery is a stark juxtaposition from the loss and devastation left by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled these hillsides more than one week ago, triggering landslides and leveling thousands of homes. Read more.
The ground didn’t just shake — it rocked back and forth violently. The earth groaned as rock and dirt crashed down the hillsides around us, consuming everything in its path. Across the foothills, puffs of dust rose to the sky, marking the collapse of homes into masses of mud and stone.
It was a day like any other. Noemia Mario was working around the house with her four children when a wave of water suddenly came crashing down around them. Within seconds, a flood engulfed the family’s home. Noemia had no time to collect food or belongings. She clutched her children and boarded a passing canoe, surrendering their home and all that they owned to the milky brown deluge.
Celestino, 49, was at work when he learned the Licungo River burst its banks. He ran home to find the milky-brown current had devoured nearly everything he owned. “Our chickens, everything, were washed away,” he says.
The family of nine slept on the floor of a local health center in Moneia, a remote community in Zambezia province in central Mozambique, until the water receded. They are now living under a small shelter made of dried palm leaves and sticks, surviving on mangoes. All of their corn, rice, and cassava fields were destroyed. Read more.
The vast majority of the more than two million people in South Sudan facing severe food insecurity – the worst food crisis in the world – are not living in camps. Major logistical issues and concerns about security continue to make it impossible for humanitarian organizations to reach those most in need, leaving people stranded in isolated pockets, completely cut off from aid. The mind-boggling scale of such a vast and diffuse crisis can render the whole situation a blur, but through the harrowing stories of increasingly hungry families the reality of their suffering comes into sharp focus. Read more.
Mary Nyalipe Yoac has lived through five famines and four wars. Her brown eyes, now fading into a bluish grey with age, have witnessed more brutality and suffering than most can comprehend. Tragically, the last 10 months were no different, her community devoured by fighting and all that she owned destroyed or looted.
Chol, 22, barely spoke for four days for fear that even a single word could make her a target.
In early August, Chol, her husband, and their two children, ages one and three, decided they could no longer live knee-deep in rain flood water in the camp on the UN base in Bentiu. Outside the base, clashes sporadically continued in Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity State and a key battleground in South Sudan’s now eight-month-long conflict.
Orlando Albinho spent much of his 40 years collecting coconuts from the tops of leafy palm trees and selling them in the local market or to nearby factories that made soap and oil from the dried white flesh. Three years ago, everything changed. What used to be miles upon miles of coconut groves in and around Quelimane, the provincial capital of Zambezia in central Mozambique, are now forests of matchsticks, their slender trunks barren and stripped of their leaves. Read more.
Shukri Sheikh Ali thought this year would be different. It was to be a time of rebuilding, of recovering, of returning home. Instead, she is starting over once again from scratch, her land thirsty for rain and her village emptied by conflict as Somalia once again faces the threat of a cascading and critical food shortage. Read more.
When asked about his childhood, Jean Bosco Ngwabije, 33, remembers two things — fighting and running. In 1991, clashes broke out across the hills surrounding his home in northern Rwanda. His family scattered. Jean Bosco’s memories of the events that followed are that of a child’s, sporadic and blurred by the passage of time. He recalls following a crowd as they ran for a neighboring hill.
What started as a power struggle between the South Sudanese president and former vice president sparked an armed conflict that spread across the country, leaving more than 1,000 dead and forcing 200,000 more to flee their homes. The women of South Sudan have seen loved ones killed, neighbours beaten, and their property looted and destroyed. They now face the herculean task of simply keeping themselves and their children alive as their country continues to unravel. Read more.
It is olive season here in Lebanon. In Akkar, the northernmost district in Lebanon, many of the olive orchards have been passed down from generation to generation. Fueled by September and October rains, the window for olive-picking runs from mid-October to December, a time when farmers dot the hillsides, picking and shaking olives from silvery branches. Read more.
The rain started as a drizzle and then fell in sheets, filling the patchwork shelter of Abdul and his wife, Nasra with the loud clamor of raindrops pelting their canvas roof like bullets from the sky. The couple sits beside each other on a well-worn mat, expressionless. Their only belongings — a handful of pots, dishes, pillows and blankets — are stacked neatly in plastic crates atop concrete blocks to keep them dry as water trickles into their tent. Read more.
Here in Gonaives, it’s often hard to tell the living from the dead. So many are somewhere in between, their bodies limp and pupils rolled back in their skulls. Their pulses are a meek patter and their breath so faint that you have to lean in closely to see the chest rise and fall with strained gasps for air. Read more.
The late night hours were filled with panic, dread, and death. It was midnight on January 13 in Port-au-Prince. Just seven hours earlier, a 7.0-earthquake shredded the capital, leveling whole city blocks and burying thousands in concrete tombs. But in the tragedy and destruction, one woman was fighting to bring new life into the world.