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Pulitzer Center Update April 5, 2013

This Week in Review: Tripping the Wire

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With the same ruthless skill it uses to keep its population in check, North Korea also keeps...

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A South Korean soldier looks out from observation post No. 717, the easternmost outpost in South Korea. The two fences on the hillside in the background mark out the mine-filled strip of land at the center of the DMZ. Image © Tomas van Houtryve/VII. South Korea, 2013.


North Korea's recent saber rattling and its alarmingly explicit threat to strike U.S. forces in the region with "cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means," has focused new attention on one of the world's most dangerous borders—the DMZ that divides the two Koreas. Pulitzer Center grantee Tomas van Houtryve has spent months looking into North Korea from its tightly sealed borders. His images along the 154-mile DMZ are stark and compelling.

"I encountered every range of fortification imaginable: triple razor-wire fences, concrete walls, land mines, anti-tank columns, trenches, road blocks, tunnels, bunkers, watch towers, and, of course, South Korean and American military bases," he told Foreign Policy. "There is even an immense dam with an empty reservoir built at a cost of $429 million on the South Korean side of the DMZ—a preventative measure just in case North Korea unleashes a flood from their reservoir on the other side."


In the wake of the last December's shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the Pulitzer Center put out a call for reporting projects that would look at the implications of gun violence in America from an international perspective. We decided to focus on Chicago—where more than 100 children and young adults were killed by guns last year—and selected a proposal from Carlos Javier Ortiz, a gifted photojournalist who has been documenting gun violence in Chicago for more than six years. Carlos, who discussed his reporting project with Dean Reynolds on the CBS Evening News this week, plans to explore how the gun and gang culture of urban America has spread to the streets of Latin America. In both settings, poverty, lack of education, poor employment prospects, and easy access to guns fuel the violence, says Carlos.


The Ituri rainforest in the beleaguered Democratic Republic of Congo has become an unlikely battleground. In what is supposed to be a wildlife reserve, a heavily armed militia backed by powerful figures in the Congolese army has set up a protection racket to profit from illegal gold mining and the lucrative ivory trade. But as Pete Jones reports in The Guardian, the so-called Mai Mai Morgan militia is being met head-on by armed park rangers who are financially backed by conservation groups. In many cases, villagers living in the rainforest tacitly support the Mai Mai Morgans—either out of fear, or because they too profit from the illegal activity. Pete writes that the "[conservationists'] support for the park rangers has led to accusations that they are partly responsible for the militarization of the conflict."


Esha Chhabra, writing in The Guardian, reports on India's remarkably successful polio eradication efforts. She says that UNICEF health workers received help in their latest vaccination campaign in the city of Aligarh from an unexpected quarter: the local Muslim religious establishment. The key to their success? Persuading clerics to have their own children vaccinated.