'Russian roulette': A Photojournalist Spells Out The Risks Of Reporting In Syria

Following the deaths Wednesday of two more journalists in Syria, veteran French war photographer Patrick Chauvel offers an inside look at the perils - and appeal - of covering the Arab Spring uprisings. In Syria, he says, the protesters "are like

Journalist Marie Colvin was killed Feb. 22 while reporting in Syria (YouTube)
Journalist Marie Colvin was killed Feb. 22 while reporting in Syria (YouTube)
Delphine Roucaute

PARIS -- Two journalists died on Wednesday, February 22, in Syria, during continuing government attacks on the district of Baba Amr in the rebel stronghold of Homs. One of them, Rémi Ochlik, a Frenchman, was killed at the media center which had been under rocket attack since early morning. He is the seventh journalist to have been killed in Syria since the conflict began. Patrick Chauvel, a veteran photojournalist and war correspondent with 40 years of experience, has been covering the Arab revolutions. In March 2011, he was in Libya at the same time as Ochlik. He talks about the risks of photojournalism and the successive stages of violence in the conflicts since January 2011.

Le Monde: Why have so many young photographers been covering the Arab revolutions since they started?
Patrick Chauvel
: Everything began with Tunisia – it doesn't cost a lot to travel to North Africa from Europe, so many young people had enough savings to pay their way on their own. They didn't need a press card, or to be known; any photojournalist could decide to cover events. Unlike Afghanistan or Iraq, you didn't have to show your credentials. In Libya, the rebels were completely disorganized, and it was a real opportunity for young professionals to get exposure. It was similar in Yugoslavia, where new talent also distinguished itself.

There were probably some 50 of us in Libya. I liked seeing all these young people coming in. Sure, they were full of themselves – hungry, fired up by the adventure. But it was great to see them tackle the job. They asked a lot of questions about the nature of the work itself. But they also questioned whether the Libyan cause was just, if France was right to intervene militarily. They wanted to know if -- particularly as independent journalists -- there was any future in photojournalism in terms of earning a living, what with the development of the Internet. They were good people.

But you also had the ones who showed up completely unprepared, with a lack of awareness due to their young age, no idea about things like first aid in case of injury, with poor survival reflexes. When bullets are flying in all directions, trying to hide behind a car is like trying to hide behind a sheet of paper. The only option is to run.

How is Syria different from the other Arab conflicts?
Up until Syria, it was war, but the conflicts weren't very violent. In Syria on the other hand the conflicts are intense. In Tunisia, only one photographer -- a 32-year-old Frenchman named Lucas Mebrouk Dolega – was killed. Egypt was dangerous. If you ended up alone with the police they'd grab you, take you into a side street, and beat you up. There were some terrible stories, like the two journalists Caroline Sinz and Mona Eltahawy who were sexually assaulted right in the middle of the crowds. But there was never any question of summary executions.

In Libya, it was a war with some dangerous moments. There were mortar projectiles with completely random trajectories. Five journalists were killed. In Syria the level of violence goes up a notch. Syrian authorities don't want images of what's going on getting out, so they have no hesitation about arresting journalists, torturing them or executing them.

Under what conditions do journalists work under, particularly in Syria?
Getting into Syria is not easy. You have to crawl under barbed wire at a border patrolled by snipers, then yomp for miles on a motorcycle or on horseback – like that New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid did, the one who died of an asthma attack just recently. Then it's cold, and there's nothing, not even electricity, which complicates things further still if you want to send photographs. So you have to find whatever way you can to get them across the border, the way you did back in the days when we still used film. On top of that, the Syrian army really doesn't want you to be there. In January, when Gilles Jacquier was killed, a lot of people got cold feet.

And then there's the question of money. I remember when I left for Libya, I managed to get two different papers to give me 1,800 euros. But I had to shell out 1,700 euros for a taxi to drive me 18 hours to get to the combat zone, and then I only had 100 euros to live on. Fortunately, journalists in field situations like that help each other out. If somebody has the money to pay for a car and driver, for example, they'll take the others along.

But you work alone. On the front line, you try to be on your own so your pictures aren't the same as the others. You're there to work. It's only when you get back to the hotel that there's time for jokes or discussion. I remember once a young journalist came to see me and he asked how to stay safe in this job. "Stay in Paris," I told him.

And despite everything, you still feel like going on?
Yes. This isn't actually a job -- it's a way of life. When I see what the Syrians are going through now, I just want one thing and that's to go to Syria and tell their story. They're like people drowning, calling for help. Not to go would almost be like not coming to the help of an endangered person.

The death of these journalists Rémi Ochlik and Marie Colvin is very sad. Rémi was sincere, a young man with a whole future ahead of him. But both of them died doing their jobs, nobody made a mistake. When you're in an armed conflict with civilians, it's Russian roulette. The crucial thing is continuing to send journalists to Syria so that they can go on telling the story.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - YouTube

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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