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Pulitzer Center Update March 2, 2015

This Week: Strange Twists in the War on Polio


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After dozens of vaccination workers were killed in Afghanistan, polio once again began to spread...

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Relatives mourn a female polio health worker murdered in Peshawar. In Pakistan many of the polio vaccinators are women, who earn as little as five dollars per day. Image by A. Majeed, AFP/GETTY. Pakistan, 2014.


Pulitzer Center grantee Tim McGirk looks at "the strange twists the war on polio has taken" since U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. Pakistani health workers posing as vaccinators helped identify bin Laden's whereabouts, contributing to a major coup in the war on terrorism—but also a setback in the war on polio, as every vaccination worker fell under suspicion.

Tim reports on evidence that militants and their families brought the crippling disease with them when they "left hide-outs along the Afghan-Pakistani border and set off to join in the foment roiling the Middle East." The same strain of polio virus that plagues Pakistan is now appearing in Iraq and Syria.

This dispatch is part of a four-part series for National Geographic on the war on polio. The second part examines the the role of the health worker considered both a traitor and a hero—Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani native who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden. In 2012 a Pakistani tribal court sentenced Afridi to 33 years in prison. The U.S. State Department is now lobbying for his release.


"Usually, one king comes and one king goes and nothing changes. But this time it's different," says the chair of Al Yamamah University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Pulitzer Center grantee Caryle Murphy reports for Foreign Policy on concerns that King Salman bin Abdulaziz may roll back the tentative reforms enacted under Abdullah, his predecessor, especially concerning the rights of women.

The new king is "more friendly to the ultraconservative religious authorities than his predecessor," Caryle reports. Dissent is discouraged. It is unlikely that the kingdom will end "its crackdown on human rights activists and political dissidents anytime soon."


In another story for Foreign Policy, Ty McCormick looks at the humanitarian crisis created by South Sudan's civil war and asks: Did the U.S push too hard for the independence South Sudan celebrated in 2011—and did it do too little to stop the factionalism that has since torn the country apart? Ty discusses the consequences of nostalgia, ethnic tensions, fleeting visions, tough remarks, the collapse of negotiations, and the souring of relations under three different U.S. administrations and over almost two decades.

"Now that South Sudan has imploded in spectacular fashion, however, it offers a case study in the limits of American power," Ty writes. "Not only have its tremendous state-building efforts failed to bear fruit, but the U.S. government now finds itself with virtually no ability to shape events on the ground."


Pulitzer Center grantees Matthew Niederhauser and John Fitzgerald launch their Megacity Initiative with a photo essay in The Atlantic's Citylab on Dharavi, the teeming Mumbai community made famous by the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The essay goes beyond the caricatures to reveal a place that is vibrant and culturally rich, with a focus on the Dharavi Biennale, a festival of art, design and performance.

Upcoming work in the Megacity Initiative (also supported by the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism) will examine the sustainable development of other cities of 10 million inhabitants or more through all forms of media, including virtual reality technology.

Until next week,

Kem Knapp Sawyer
Contributing Editor





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