Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

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Combo image showing Fatima Othman at rest and the alms recovered among her belongings.
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File photo showing a soldier offering water to Fatima Othman during a hot summer day.
Updated 17 May 2018
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Beirut beggar who died with $1 million in the bank

  • Unlike other beggars who could be pushy, Fatima Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.
  • Othman had a family of eight and not one of them knew about her money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting her by forcing her to beg.

BEIRUT: When Fatima Othman, a disabled street beggar, was found dead in an abandoned car in Beirut’s Barbir district on Tuesday night, investigators thought it was simply another tragic death among the city’s poor and homeless.

But internal security forces called to the scene were astonished to find Othman had been carrying bags holding 5 million Lebanese ounds ($3,400) in cash and — even more surprising — a deposit book from a nearby bank that showed she had more than $1 million in savings.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Musallem, director of the Internal Security Forces public relations division, told Arab News that 52-year-old Othman had died of a heart attack.

“Finding the money and the savings book was a big surprise,” he said.

Othman was a well-known figure in the Barbir district. A photograph of the street beggar had won praise with its portrayal of a Lebanese soldier stationed at the nearby Barbir hospital helping her drink because she was unable to use her hands or feet. The soldier was later commended by an army commander for his “compassion and humanity.”

Many on social media mocked begging in Lebanon and derided it as a lucrative profession. But nobody knew Othman as I knew her.



On the pavement where the handicapped beggar used to sit — unable to move her hands due to a birth defect — she had the sympathy of people for decades.

Othman did not talk or beg. She just looked with eyes full of sorrow at passing people.

I used to live in the Ras Al-Nab’a district, and would cross the Barbir district daily on my way to school and, later, to university. Othman used to sit on a newspaper on the pavement near a coffee mill in summer and winter. She would look at me and nod her head, and I would ask how she was. “Alhamdulillah” (“Praise be to God“), she would answer.

The Barbir district was close to the front lines during Lebanon’s civil war and was targeted by artillery, especially during periods of calm when its gold market was crowded with people.

Othman was hit once with shrapnel, but returned to the pavement wearing a bandage. She kept watching us grow up, and we kept watching her grow older.



A week ago, I saw her sitting on the side of the road near the market. Her hair was white and her face full of wrinkles. Her smile had disappeared. I put a coin in her lap as I used to always do, and she held it with her teeth and dropped it inside an open black bag.

After Othman’s death, security forces discovered she was from the town of Ain Al-Zahab in Akkar, northern Lebanon. They contacted her family, and a number of relatives came and took her body to her village. She was buried on Wednesday. 

Othman had a family of eight — a mother, two brothers and five sisters.

The family knew nothing about the money, and her savings proved that nobody was exploiting Othman by forcing her to beg.

After daring not tell anyone about her money for fear of being killed, she died without enjoying the benefits of people’s compassion.


Unmapped roads raise risk to Southeast Asian rainforests — study

An aerial photo of a road running through an palm plantation in Dumai, Riau, Sumatra island, Indonesia. (Antara Foto/Rony Muharrman/via REUTERS/File)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Unmapped roads raise risk to Southeast Asian rainforests — study

  • Researcher Alice Hughes found that roads have penetrated areas previously considered untouched and unreachable by vehicles.
  • An average of 75 percent of roads in five countries were missing from OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping platform widely used by researchers and academics.

KUALA LUMPUR: Forests in parts of Southeast Asia face greater threats than previously thought because researchers often rely on data that ignores new roads, which are precursors to deforestation and development, a study shows.
The paper, published this month by the journal Biological Conservation, showed that an average of 75 percent of roads in five countries were missing from OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping platform widely used by researchers and academics.
“Large-scale forest clearance is preceded by the growth of road networks, which provide a stark warning for the region’s future,” the study said.
Author Alice Hughes, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, studied a total of 277,281 square kilometers by analyzing satellite images and maps showing forest loss and coverage, as well as agriculture concessions.
She found that roads have penetrated areas previously considered untouched and unreachable by vehicles.
“We are deluding ourselves that we still have large tracts of inaccessible, pristine forest, when the reality is highly-fragmented, very accessible forests,” Hughs said on Friday.
Her research examined road networks in parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
“In some parts of the region, up to 99 percent of roads on those global maps, which are used as the basis for a huge amount of further analysis, are not included,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Deforestation and development of forests in the area studied have occurred at a rapid pace since 2000, said Hughes, while maps used by researchers do not regularly update their road data.
“Most of the time these roads are just providing access to forests and up to 99 percent of deforestation is within 2.5 km of road,” she said. “They are clearly the access method.”
She added that the region urgently needs better protection and enforcement for its remaining forests.
Indonesia, which is the world’s biggest palm oil producer, introduced a forest clearing moratorium in 2011 to help reduce deforestation.
Hughes said the ban should be expanded beyond just land designated as natural, untouched primary forest to include all high biodiversity forests.
Hughes’ research methodology should be used to determine whether the same patterns exist in other parts of the world, said Christopher Martius, team leader for climate change at the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.
“It is surprising that nobody ever did that before, and it is shocking that the result shows we grossly underestimated the possible threat to tropical forests from road building,” he said by email.