Long after guns fall silent, Mosul residents suffer hearing loss

For nearly nine months, air strikes, mortar rounds and car bombs pummeled the Iraqi city relentlessly, and thousands of residents still suffer hearing problems ranging from tinnitus to profound deafness. (AFP)
Updated 26 May 2019

Long after guns fall silent, Mosul residents suffer hearing loss

  • Blasts in conflict zones can propel debris into the human ear and rupture the eardrum, which transmits sound further into the cochlea
  • In Mosul, civilians were exposed to repeated loud blasts that sent between 15 and 20 a day to hospitals complaining of hearing loss

MOSUL, Iraq: For months, Alia Ali endured the din of fighting in Iraq’s second city Mosul. Then a missile slammed into her home, killing her husband and her hearing.
The 59-year-old lost her sense of sound in the final phase of the ferocious battle between government forces and militants of the Daesh group, not long before the guns fell silent in July 2017.
For nearly nine months, air strikes, mortar rounds and car bombs pummeled the city relentlessly, and thousands of residents still suffer hearing problems ranging from tinnitus to profound deafness.
“I lost my sense of hearing two years ago,” Ali recalled.
“A warplane hit our neighborhood in the fight for the western half of the city and my husband died of very bad burns,” she told AFP.
Ali spent two years piecing her life back together, but could not afford to get specialized care for her diminished hearing.
“We lost our home and all our possessions — we didn’t have money to go to private clinics,” she said.
Blasts in conflict zones can propel debris into the human ear and rupture the eardrum, which transmits sound further into the cochlea.
Nerves in the cochlea, which sends sound on to the brain to be processed, can also be destroyed by explosions.
Mines have noise levels approaching 170 decibels — twice the loudness needed to cause permanent damage to ears.

In Mosul, civilians were exposed to repeated loud blasts that sent between 15 and 20 a day to hospitals complaining of hearing loss.
“They were bleeding from their ears because of the shelling, but they had nothing to stop the flow,” according to hearing specialist Mohammad Saleh.
“Some never recovered because their nerve cells were torn by the loud sounds.”
Mosul’s health infrastructure was ravaged by Daesh’s reign and subsequent fighting, with the 6,000 hospital beds available before the militant takeover reduced to just 1,000.
With help from outside charities, hospitals are slowly reopening wing by wing.
At Jumhuriya hospital in west Mosul, a specialized hearing impairment center opened its doors less than a year ago with backing from Iraq’s Dary Humanitarian Organization.
The waiting room is packed with people, young and old, waiting to get long-delayed hearing tests to see how badly the blasts have damaged their ears.
“My hearing deteriorated after three mortars hit my house in west Mosul,” 65-year-old Fathi Hussein yelled.
He can only respond to questions that are virtually screamed, and answers them at the same volume.
“I put off treatment because I’m poor. I don’t have the money for consultations or medicine,” he said.
Since the center opened less than a year ago, it has treated several thousand patients, according to specialist Mohammad Said.
“We have distributed 2,000 hearing aids so far. More complex cases get sent to hospitals in Baghdad for treatment, including cochlear implants which aren’t available here yet,” Said told AFP.
He expects there are thousands more cases that have yet to visit the Jumhuriya center.
“Some patients went to private clinics, others went elsewhere in Iraq or even left the country and still others have received no treatment at all,” he said.

For younger patients, partial deafness means more than just shouting to be heard — it can affect schooling.
“In kids especially, hearing loss can damage speaking ability,” Said said.
“It’s extremely important because it means the hearing aids we distribute aren’t enough, and these children are in need of treatments and speaking rehabilitation that we don’t offer here.”
Five-year-old Mohannad may not remember much of life under bombardment in Mosul, but it will likely mar his education for years to come.
He suffers both hearing and speech impediments from the fighting that were long left untreated.
“I didn’t notice how weak his hearing was until weeks after Mosul was liberated,” his mother told AFP.
She said she was now desperate to get free treatment for Mohannad in time for him to finally enrol in classes this autumn.
“I want to go to school like our neighbor’s son, Ahmad,” Mohannad mumbled with difficulty.


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 39 min 4 sec ago

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.