Pulitzer Center Update

This Week: A Hostage in Somalia

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Michael Scott Moore surrounded by his Somali captors, who demanded a $20m ransom. Image taken from hostage video made by kidnappers.

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE’S LONG ORDEAL

Pulitzer Center grantee Michael Scott Moore endured 977 days as a hostage in Somalia. His gripping account of the ordeal appears for the first time in The Guardian and Der Spiegel.

Michael, who holds both US and German citizenship, traveled to Somalia in early 2012 to report on the pirates who were wreaking havoc on the shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa. He is an experienced reporter and knew his subject well. Careful plans for his security were in place. But even the most careful plans can go awry, as they did for Michael when the car he was traveling in was ambushed by a dozen gunmen along the airport road in Galkacyo.

“Months passed, then years. The (pirate) bosses thought I could make them rich while I slept in their houses in chains,” writes Michael. “They hit up every conceivable source of cash—governments, families, employers, institutions of any kind. The demands were outrageous, fanciful, and for a long time I sensed negotiations had stalled. During one rare phone call with my mother in 2013 I blurted in German that a rescue ‘would be welcome.’ By then I didn’t mind getting killed.”

In light of the US’s no-ransom policy, Michael’s case was particularly tricky. “Two governments had to be prodded for help; two governments had to jostle for command. I spent 32 months as a hostage, and it is possible that the oscillation between US and German responsibility lengthened my time in Somalia. In the end I owed my freedom to a ransom cobbled together by my family and a number of US and German institutions.”

Michael will be talking about his experiences in Somalia later this month at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

LESSONS OF THE RAINFOREST

The Amazon rainforest along the border of Peru and Brazil shelters dozens of tribes of isolated people who have never had contact with the modern world. These people are hardy survivors with extraordinary abilities to live off the land, but they are also very vulnerable. In addition to the inevitable disruptions to societal order that occur with the intrusion of the 21st century, these primitive people are also highly susceptible to diseases brought from the modern world. A simple flu virus could wipe out an entire community in a matter of weeks.

Both countries have established government agencies charged with protecting these tribes, but as Pulitzer Center grantees Heather Pringle and Andrew Lawler report in a fascinating package of stories for Science magazine, these protections are crumbling—the result of budget cuts and growing pressure to exploit the resources of the rainforest habitat.

“(A)s the pace of economic activity in the Amazon accelerates, the protection system that was once the envy of South America is falling apart,” writes Heather. "Brazil has the world's seventh largest economy, with a gross domestic product in 2013 of $2.24 trillion. To fuel this vast economic engine, public and private enterprises are pushing deeper into the Amazon, constructing dams, transmission lines, mines, pipelines, and highways. Meanwhile, drug smugglers cross isolated groups' territories to transport Peruvian cocaine to Brazil, triggering attacks.”

TRAFFICKING LIVES IN CAMBODIA

When Cambodia passed an anti-trafficking law in 2008 that shut down the country’s flourishing brothels, it had the unintended consequence of driving the sex trade underground and increasing the HIV infection rate among sex workers.

In this video report for NPR, Steve Sapienza, Pulitzer Center senior producer, shows how one activist group is trying to counteract the problem by reaching out to these women in the shadows, providing free condoms, HIV testing and an opportunity to learn a skill that can provide an alternative lifestyle.

“Reaching the unreached is critical because the HIV rate among Cambodia sex workers is among the highest in South East Asia,” says Steve.

POOR PEOPLE IN A RICH LAND

This week, Pulitzer Center grantee Matt Black and our partners at MSNBC launch an ambitious project called the "Geography of Poverty" that will take an in-depth look at poverty in America, an issue of growing global concern. Matt, an award-winning photographer, will travel across the US “from coast to coast, border to border, visiting more than 70 cities and towns connected by the simple fact that more than 20 percent of their residents fall below the poverty line.” He documents the struggles and triumphs of the people at the heart of these communities.

Over the course of the journey, Matt will be publishing stories and photographs on MSNBC’s website. Photographs will also be posted in real time on Instagram, and you can follow him using interactive tools that highlight poverty statistics by county, city and state.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor