Thursday, 9 October 2014

Reminder - Flood talk TONIGHT

A reminder that I'm giving a talk entitled 'Are floods getting worse?' at Swiss Cottage Library, 88 Avenue Rd, London NW3 3HA tonight, October 9, at 1830, based on my book Flood: Nature and Culture. (Reaktion Books) Admission free.  All welcome.   

For full details, see my post of Sept 20.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The march of ebola

This is now by far the worst ebola outbreak the world has ever seen, with 3,400 people dead, and 7,500 confirmed cases, though the true figure is thought to be much higher. The deadliest until now saw 280 people die in 1976 in Zaire, now Congo.

Most of the deaths have happened in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the World Health Organisation expressing concern at the poor state of the health services in those countries. Liberia says it is short of ambulances, and that it has only a third of the number of treatment centres it needs.

Now alarm is sweeping through Spain after a nurse who had been treating two missionaries who caught ebola in Africa, was found to be infected herself. It had been hoped that the stringent safety precautions available in modern hospitals would prevent the virus spreading.

Her husband and five other people are now in quarantine and another 50 are being monitored, while the European Commission has asked Spain for an explanation as to how the nurse became infected.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Where AIDS began

The origins of the AIDS pandemic have been traced back to 1920s Kinshasa in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 60 years before the disease first came to international attention. It has now infected nearly 75 million people.

Researchers from Oxford and Leuven used mutations in the virus’s genetic code to discover its roots. It is thought to have originated in chimpanzees before making the jump to humans.

When it arrived in Kinshasa, the city was growing rapidly. Thousands of male labourers had poured in, so that they outnumbered women by two to one. A thriving sex industry developed and medical records show that sexually transmitted disease was widespread.

It seems the virus then travelled via the railway network, and through vaccination campaigns where unsterilised needles were used. The researchers describe the conditions prevailing in 1920’s Kinshasa as a ‘perfect storm’.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mediterranean boat people

More than 3,000 migrants have died so far this year trying to cross the Mediterranean – the highest total on record. The official figure for 2014 so far is 3,072, though some claim the true number is three times as high.

Across the world, the official figure is 4,077, meaning three in every four of those who perished were trying to get to Europe. Since 2000, 40,000 migrants are said to have perished worldwide – more than half of them trying to get to Europe.

The worst incident of 2014 was the apparently deliberate ramming of a ship earlier this month by people traffickers off Malta, which resulted in 500 people being drowned.

The ship had been carrying Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese, and survivors said it was rammed after a ‘violent confrontation’ on board.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Diary Date - flood talk October 9

I'm giving a talk entitled 'Are floods getting worse? at Swiss Cottage Library on October 9 at 1830, based on my book Flood: Nature and Culture.  Admission free.  All welcome.   

Last year, the UK’s Environment Agency issued a record number of flood warnings, while also in the last few years, Pakistan has had its worst monsoon floods in eight decades, Thailand suffered one of the costliest inundations in history, Colombia and Brazil experienced the severest in living memory, and Australia’s prime minister declared the Queensland floods perhaps the worst natural disaster ‘in the history of our nation’.

So are things actually getting worse? I will be revealing that floods are the natural disasters humans are most likely to experience, and that some of the most ambitious structures ever built have been put up to defend us against them.

I will also be telling how stories like that of Noah’s ark, about an apocalyptic flood which almost wipes out humanity, feature in dozens of religions all over the world. Floods caused by rain, melting snow, storms, tsunamis, tides, the failures of dykes or dams, or deliberate act of war all feature.

The talk will also look at the way floods have been portrayed in films, literature and art.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blaming people for earthquakes

I've just been quoted in an interesting article from Newsweek (for link, see below) about the dangers that human activities such as fracking might cause earthquakes.

I talk about two quakes - the first hit Antioch in what is now Turkey, but was then one of the biggest cities in the Roman empire, in AD 115. It nearly killed the emperor Trajan and the future emperor, Hadrian, commissioner of the famous wall.

Trajan believed it had happened because the spread of Christianity had made the old Roman gods angry, so he had the local bishop thrown to wild animals at the Colosseum in Rome. An estimated 300,000 people died in another earthquake in Antioch in 526, after which the city never recovered its former greatness.

The other earthquake I mention is the one that hit Lisbon, then the centre of a great global empire, on November 1 - All Saints' Day - 1755 (pictured). After the quake, fires burned for six days, destroying 85 per cent of the city including scores of convents, 30 monasteries, many churches and the headquarters of the Inquisition. The red light district emerged unscathed, to the amusement of many in Protestant countries.

For more details on both, see A Disastrous History of the World.

This is the Newsweek story -

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Egyptian government accused of crimes against humanity

Israel’s assistant in the illegal blockade of Gaza, the Egyptian government, has been accused of crimes against humanity by the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch.

The group claims it committed mass murder in its violent suppression of protests in Cairo last summer, which cost more than 1,000 lives, and calls for the country’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and at least nine other senior security officials to be investigated for their role in the massacres.

According to its report, the Egyptian authorities presided over ‘one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history’ when they forcibly dispersed two big protest camps on August 14, 2013, leaving about 900 people dead.

One of those HRW wants investigating is Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, who met US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Washington in April.