Monday, 5 October 2015

Malaria - progress in the fight

Malaria is projected to kill more than 430,000 people this year. That's bad enough, but it represents a cut of around 60 per cent since 2000, the year the disease was targeted by the UN's Millennium Development Goals programme.

The WHO says 6 million lives have been saved. Its director general, Dr Margaret Chan, describes this as 'one of the great public health success stories of the past 15 years. It's a sign that our strategies are on target, and that we can beat this ancient killer.' 

Nearly 70 per cent of the reduction is put down to the distribution of a billion insecticide-treated bed nets. But there are some worrying signs. The mosquitoes that carry the disease are becoming more resistant to some insecticides, and the rate at which cases are being reduced is falling. 

Africa still accounts for about 80 per cent of all cases. (See also my posts of 11 June 2009, 23 May 2012, 23 Sept 2011, 29 April 2013.) 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Memory Lane

Back in the 1970s, I used to be industrial correspondent at ATV in the English Midlands, appearing mainly on ATV Today. Two of my film reports from that era have just appeared online:-

The effects of the British Leyland toolmakers' strike on supplies of the Mini in 1975 -

The British hot rod team practising in 1974 -

Friday, 25 September 2015

Yet another Hajj tragedy

How strange that just as I was writing yesterday’s blog about the crane collapse that killed more than 100 pilgrims in Mecca, an even worse disaster was unfolding at the Hajj, with a stampede killing at least 717.

It happened at the last major rite, when pilgrims throw stones at pillars representing the devil. This event has caused major casualties before – at least 118 died in 1998, and about 250 in 2004.  After the latest accident, the Saudi Arabian king, Salman, has promised a safety review, but already countries who have lost people, such as Nigeria and Iran, are blaming the Saudis.

Iran has been particularly vocal, just as it was after the even more deadly Mecca stampede of 1990 in which more than 1,400 perished in a pedestrian tunnel. The then Saudi king, Fahd, said that those who died had been ‘martyrs’ and the accident ‘God’s will’, though he added that the pilgrims had disobeyed safety instructions. The Saudi health minister has made a similar claim this time.

The deadliest stampede in history may be the one that happened at a huge air raid shelter in the Chinese city of Chungking as Japanese aircraft attacked on 6 June 1941. The shelter’s ventilation system failed, and during an apparent lull in the bombing, hundreds rushed outside for a breath of air. Then the sirens sounded again, leading to a fatal crush that killed perhaps 4,000 as people still trying to get out collided with others frantic to return.

For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Another Hajj tragedy

All able-bodied Muslims who can afford it are supposed to go to Mecca during the week of the Hajj at least once in their lives, but this year the event has again been marred by tragedy, as 107 people were killed when a crane collapsed on top of worshippers gathering outside the Grand Mosque.

The crane was operated by the Saudi Binladin Group (some relation – it is run by Osama’s brother). The group has been hired on a 4 year contract worth $27 billion to expand the Grand Mosque.

The accident happened during high winds and heavy rain, and one of the company’s engineers said it was an ‘act of God’, but the Saudi government’s official mouthpiece said the Binladin Group had not ‘respected the rules of safety’, and the company’s directors have been ordered not to leave the country.

At the Hajj in 1990, more than 1,400 pilgrims were killed in a fatal crush in a tunnel. Four years later, at least 270 died in another stampede. A fire in 1997 killed 343, and further stampedes in 2004 and 2006 killed another 580.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Mumbai train bombers convicted

In India, 12 men have been convicted for their part in the co-ordinated bombings of Mumbai commuter trains in 2006 that killed 189 people and injured more than 800. One man was acquitted. Sentencing is due tomorrow.

The seven bombs went off during a 15 minute spell, and appeared to have targeted first class compartments as people were going home from jobs in the city’s financial district. Explosives were packed into pressure cookers, then put in bags.

Prosecutors said the attack was planned by Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI, and carried out by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba with help from the Students' Islamic Movement of India, a banned Indian group. Pakistan has rejected the allegations.

Mumbai has been hit by a number of terrorist attacks. In 2013, bombs killed 257 people, and bombers also struck in 2003 and 2011, killing a total of 70, while in 2008, gunmen attacked a number of places in the city, killing 165.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Pakistan's 9/11

On this day………….3 years ago, more than 280 people were killed in a fire at a clothing factory in Baldia Town, Karachi in what is believed to be the worst disaster of its kind in Pakistan’s history.

The Ali Enterprises factory exported clothes to Europe and the United States.  An inspection in 2007 had revealed deficiencies in fire precautions, but a few weeks before the blaze in 2012, the building passed a safety test.

But when fire raced through the factory, it was said that exit doors were locked and windows were covered with iron bars, trapping victims inside. It was reported that it took the fire brigade 75 minutes to reach the scene.

A judicial inquiry concluded that the fire was caused by an electrical fault, but then in February of this year came claims that the MQM, one of Karachi’s leading political parties, had been involved in starting it. Last month, it was reported that investigators had travelled to London to interview the factory’s owners.  

Monday, 7 September 2015

India's deadliest natural disaster - lightning

More than 30 people are reported to have been killed in lightning strikes in India - 23 in Andhra Pradesh and 9 in Orissa. Most were said to have been working in the fields during torrential monsoon rain storms.

Figures just released show that more than 2,500 people were killed by lightning in India last year, more than in any other kind of natural disaster. Next most disastrous was extreme heat with nearly 1,250 victims, though third came cold - killing more than 900.

India's National Crime Records Bureau says lightning is consistently the subcontinent's deadliest natural disaster, claiming at least 1,500 victims in every year since 2003.

In July 2011, 30 people were killed by lightning in Uganda, including 18 pupils and a teacher in a primary school (see my post of 1 July, 2011). Later that month, lightning caused a rail crash in China, when a train stalled after being struck, and another ran into its back. More than 40 people died. (see my post of 25 July, 2011)