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from Photographers' Blog:

Afghanistan – ten years of coverage

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Kabul, Afghanistan

By Tim Wimborne

It's now widely accepted that the latest war in Afghanistan has not gone well. As an intermittent visitor here over the past 10 years, several differences are visible to my western eyes, but I keep realising how much there still is in common with the Kabul of a decade ago.

I had not long been on staff at Reuters when I was given my first assignment in Afghanistan. That was the spring of 2004. Back then, there were perhaps more people of foot in the city and fewer cars. There were certainly not as many cell phones and Internet cafes as there are today.

Now, the country’s presidential election, which is supposed to mark the first democratic power-transfer in Afghanistan’s history, is just a few days away and heightened security ahead of the vote makes a big difference to the way Kabul looks. Security was also an issue in 2004, but the threat of violence was much less great, and I could travel outside the city without too much concern.

But other things haven't changed. Although there’s more barbed wire and a 3G service has become available, overall infrastructure problems don't appear to have reduced. As Kabul's population has boomed, the roads and water supply don't seem to have advanced at all.

from The Human Impact:

Ms Kalashnikovs: Meet Congo’s fearless women fighters

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Copyright and all photographs taken by Francesca Tosarelli.

Brutalised. Repeatedly raped. The first to gather the children and flee attack. Weak, poor and uneducated.

Women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are so often cast as voiceless, nameless victims of a conflict that has raged for decades in the region's lush jungles and hilltops that it is almost impossible to imagine them as fearless warriors.

from The Human Impact:

The dangers of oversimplifying the Central African Republic conflict

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Here’s a story I haven’t heard before: when violence spiralled in Central African Republic’s capital last December, the country’s most senior Muslim cleric sought shelter with the Catholic archbishop of Bangui.

And that month no one was attacked in Lakounga, one of the oldest parts of the capital, where Christian and Muslim leaders worked together to protect the community. Posters were plastered on every street corner with the message: “Christians and Muslims, the same blood, the same life, the same country”.

from The Human Impact:

Roots of South Sudan’s violence must be addressed now – experts

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South Sudan’s conflict has devastated communities and polarised society and, unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed now, the world’s youngest country may find itself once more in crisis, experts said during a recent debate organised by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The government and rebels signed a ceasefire on Jan. 23 to end more than five weeks of fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war. More than half a million people have been displaced and thousands killed in the conflict between government troops and rebels backing former vice president Riek Machar.

from The Great Debate:

Is there a way around the sale of ‘blood gold’?

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for that special person in your life? You can pick up an 18-karat gold designer bracelet at a swanky Fifth Avenue jeweler that is sure to do the trick. Yours for $995.

These days, even if gold prices are down a bit from recent highs, it’s hard to find a trinket that doesn’t swallow the paycheck. Now there’s something else you have to consider: it could be dripping in blood.

from Photographers' Blog:

Bureaucrats in a conflict zone

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Bangui, Central African Republic

By Joe Penney

On Thursday, the volatile Central African Republic was host to a bloodbath. Hours of fighting between the former “Seleka” rebels that took power in a March coup d’etat and local militia and fighters loyal to the deposed president, Francois Bozize, killed over a hundred. As the situation continues to deteriorate, France is set to take a bigger role in its former colony’s security, sending hundreds of troops in the coming days.

Yet while security is what is grabbing the headlines at the moment, CAR’s problems lie much deeper. Already an unstable state in the run-up to the coup, the Central African government is now in tatters and just going through the motions. During the coup, most ministry buildings were looted for cash, computers and anything hungry rebels could get their hands on. Little has since been replaced.

from Photographers' Blog:

Learning to walk again after Afghanistan

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San Antonio, Texas

By Jim Urquhart

With each step he learns to take he is that much closer to achieving independence. All he wants is to once again be able to be a soldier in the infantry.

Sergeant (Sgt.) Matt Krumwiede has endured about 40 surgeries since June 12th, 2012, when he stepped on a IED while on patrol in Afghanistan.

from Full Focus:

After Afghanistan

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On June 12, 2012, U.S. soldier Matt Krumwiede was on patrol in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, which tore away both his legs, damaged his left arm, and ripped open his abdominal cavity. The 22-year-old has since undergone around 40 surgeries and is learning to walk with prosthetic legs. Photographer Jim Urquhart spent time with Matt as he undergoes treatment in Texas. Read Jim's personal account here.

from Photographers' Blog:

Waiting on widow’s island

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Geoje, South Korea

By Kim Hong-ji

After Germany was reunited in 1990, Korea has been the highest profile divided country in the world. The division has separated numerous families and made them miss each other. A few months ago, when the relationship between the two Koreas improved after five months of political tension, North Korea proposed a reunion ceremony for families who have been separated by the Korean War. Then it abruptly cancelled the ceremony, disappointing the families who have been waiting to reunite with long-lost relatives. Lots of separated families in the two Koreas are still living in great hope that they will be able to meet their loved ones some day.

Geoje island is a small and remote place in South Korea where 18 fisherman were abducted by North Korea while fishing in the disputed West Sea in December, 1972. Forty one years later, little is known about these husbands and sons, how they were abducted or where they may be living in North Korea. I only came to know about this incident when I heard one of the abducted fishermen, Jeon Wook-pyo, 68, escaped from North Korea and returned to South Korea a few months ago. I could not locate him and there is an ongoing investigation by the government. He was abducted 10 years before I was born and I had limited information to follow. Instead, I met a few grandmothers still living in a town heavy with grief for their lost family members. A widow who lost her husband and a mother who lost her child; just wishing they can be reunited in the town some day.

from Full Focus:

Inside a German bunker

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Buried in the forests of Thuringia lies a Cold War bunker offering guests an experience they won't soon forget: a spartan night as a soldier in the former communist East Germany's People's Army. Photographer Ina Fassbender spent one night in the bunker. Read her personal account here.

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