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
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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.


Ethiopia pays tribute to slain military chief

Updated 37 min 18 sec ago
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Ethiopia pays tribute to slain military chief

  • Hundreds of soldiers and officers in uniform gathered for the ceremony in a huge hall in central Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia held a memorial on Tuesday for the army chief of staff slain with four other senior officials in weekend attacks that posed the biggest threat yet to the prime minister's reforms.
Abiy Ahmed, who survived a grenade attack at a rally in his honour last year, sat in the front row at the memorial and wiped tears from his eyes with a white handkerchief.
Abiy took power 15 months ago and has won widespread international praise for kickstarting political and economic reforms. But his shake-up of the military and intelligence services has earned him powerful enemies at home.
His government is also struggling to contain discontent from Ethiopia's myriad ethnic groups fighting the federal government and each other for greater influence and resources.
The foiled plot to seize control of the northern Amhara region and the assassinations in the national capital Addis Ababa underscored the threat of spiralling violence in Africa's second-most populous nation.
In addition to the killing of the chief of staff in the capital, Amhara state president Ambachew Mekonnen and an adviser were killed in the region's main city Bahir Dar.
The attacks were led by Amhara's head of state security General Asamnew Tsige, who had been openly recruiting fighters for ethnic militias in a state that has become a flashpoint for violence.
Asamnew, the alleged coup plotter, was shot on Monday near Bahir Dar, according to the prime minister's office. He had served nearly a decade in jail for a previous coup plot, but was released as part of an amnesty last year.
RISKS
Hundreds of soldiers and officers in uniform gathered for the ceremony in a huge hall in central Addis Ababa.
Roads in the capital were blocked for the ceremony and security was tight. Access to the internet appeared to be blocked across Ethiopia for the third straight day, users reported.
The coffins of army chief of staff Seare Mekonnen and a retired general, both shot dead on Saturday by Seare's bodyguard in the national capital Addis Ababa, were wheeled into the hall, draped in Ethiopian flags.
Photographs of the men in formal military dress were adorned with yellow roses. Seare will be buried in his home region of Tigray on Wednesday.
At the memorial, the army's deputy chief of staff General Birhanu Jula spoke of the chief of staff's bravery in the guerrilla war against the Communist Derg regime that was toppled in 1991, and of his leadership role in Ethiopia's war against neighbouring Eritrea in the late 1990s.
The weekend killings came as Ethiopia prepares to hold parliamentary elections next year, although the electoral board warned this month that they were behind schedule and that instability could delay polling.
SECURITY FORCES
Ethiopia's ruling coalition, itself a grouping of ethnically-based parties, is facing an unprecedented challenge from strident ethno-nationalist parties, global think-tank Crisis Group said in a briefing note on Tuesday.
Asamnew, who allegedly orchestrated the killings, had been appointed by state authorities as regional security chief in an effort to claw back support from Amharas supporting more his more hardline policies, including expansion of Amhara's borders, the group said.
"The 22 June killings confirm the dangers in handing security portfolios to hardliners like Asamnew who are ready to pander to extreme ethno-nationalists, from whichever of Ethiopia’s ethnicities," the note read.
Ethiopia analysts say the prime minister must tread carefully to restore security. Too strong a response risks derailing his reforms and angering a polarised population. But failure to punish those responsible could see violence could spiral out of control.
Mehari Taddele Maru, an independent Ethiopian analyst, said the government should channel public anger through dialogue, but if ethnic rivalries spread to the federal armed forces, that could destroy the state, he said.