Friday, 19 December 2014

Attacks on schools



Tuesday’s murderous assault on a school at Peshawar in Pakistan by Muslim fanatics that cost the lives of 132 children and 9 staff has caused revulsion across the world, but between 2009 and 2013, there were nearly 10,000 attacks on schools in 70 countries.

Diya Nijhowne, director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, says murders and abductions of pupils and staff and the destruction of school buildings are seen by terrorists and criminal gangs as very effective ways of intimidating and undermining communities, and preventing them from becoming more prosperous.

Muslim fanatics, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, are often particularly resentful if girls are educated. The group kidnapped hundreds of female pupils in April. While in Pakistan, girls often have to be taught in secret by teachers who are risking their lives, to avoid the murderous attentions of the Taliban.


The deadliest ever terrorist attack on a school happened at Beslan in southern Russia in 2004, when Chechen terrorists massacred 334 people, including 186 children.  For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The shelling of Hartlepool + 100



100 years ago today…..German warships shelled a number of towns on England’s Yorkshire coast. The First World War had come home to Britain in an unforeseen way. Many had expected the first threat to civilians to come from air raids.

The first shells hit the important shipbuilding centre of Hartlepool at about a quarter past eight in the morning. Nine soldiers manning a battery and 7 sailors were killed, but most of the 100+ casualties were civilians – men, women and children.

The ships then moved on to Scarborough (pictured) where a church was hit during a Holy Communion service, while a shop that was damaged quickly put up one of those defiant signs saying ‘Business as usual’, which would become so familiar in both world wars. Whitby was hit too. The Times commented that there was ‘an entire absence of panic’, though many people fled to the countryside.


The attacks had one or two consequences the Germans may not have foreseen, with 22,000 Hartlepool men volunteering for the armed services and the town regularly winning prizes for the amount of money it raised for the war effort. For more on this story, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Islamic extremists for polio




Pakistan has recorded its highest number of new polio cases for 15 years, and is now one of only three countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. Health officials say the main reason is the killing of health workers carrying out immunisation programmes by Islamic extremists.

The extremists say the health workers are spies and that the immunisations are a Western plot to sterilise Muslims. They claim the US used a fake vaccination programme to track down and kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

The latest murder happened in the north-eastern city of Faisalabad where a 40 year old man was shot down by attackers on a motorcycle. Deaths among immunisation workers or police guarding them now number more than 60 over the last two years.


One result is that the World Health Organization has imposed travel restrictions, so that all Pakistanis must now carry proof of vaccination before going abroad. (See also by blogs of 24 February and 3 March.) 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Football hooliganism - Argentina's 15th death this year

33 year old Franco Nieto has just become the 15th person to die in football-related violence in Argentina this year. He was the captain of a regional club Tiro Federal, who had been playing Chacarita Juniors in the town of Aimogasta in the north-west of the country.
The match had been stopped 15 minutes from time after the referee sent off eight players for fighting. It is reported that afterwards Mr Nieto was going to his car with his wife and baby daughter, when he was attacked by three people, one of whom hit him on the head with a stone.
Police say three people have been arrested. Much football hooliganism in Argentina is blamed on so-called Barras Bravas, gangs who control the terraces and the streets around the stadiums.

The deadliest sporting riot in history came in Constantinople in 532 when rivalry between supporters of two chariot racing teams morphed into a full-scale rebellion in which perhaps 30,000 people were killed. (see also my blogs of 30 March, 2009; 2 January, 2010; 2 February and 11 May, 2012.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Bhopal + 30



On the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal explosion, hundreds of protesters have gathered outside the Indian factory which was the scene of the world’s deadliest industrial disaster. They burned effigies of the plant’s owners, held up banners, and shouted ‘We want justice!’

In the early hours of the morning, 30 years ago today, about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide factory owned by U.S. multinational Union Carbide and was carried by the wind into the surrounding slums.

The government’s official total of deaths is 5,295, but activists say the true figure is about 25,000 and that many people still suffer from cancer, blindness, respiratory problems and immune and neurological disorders, and that they have received inadequate compensation. They also complain that toxic waste around the plant is still contaminating water supplies for 50,000 people.

Union Carbide’s present owners, Dow Chemical has denied liability, saying it bought Union Carbide a decade after the firm settled its liabilities to the Indian government by paying $470 million. (see also my blogs of March 17, 2010 and Dec 3, 2012.) For more, see A Disastrous History of the World.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Crystal Palace fire + 78



On this day……………….78 years ago, London’s Crystal Palace burned down. It was an extraordinary place – more than 600 yards long and more than 120 feet high, containing more glass than had ever before been seen in a single building. Originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was then moved to Penge Common.

The fire began in a ladies’ lavatory while the general manager, Sir Henry Buckland, was walking in the grounds with his daughter named (what else?) Chrystal. Encouraged by a fierce wind and the acres of timber flooring, the flames took hold in no time, and when the fire brigade arrived, the cause was already lost, and the efforts of more than 400 firemen came to nothing.

An estimated 100,000 people turned out to watch one of the most spectacular fires in London’s history. It could be seen from 8 counties. In Streatham, they hired out binoculars at 2d a look, while the better heeled chartered aeroplanes from Croydon Aerodrome.


Controversy now surrounds a plan to rebuild the landmark as part of a major redevelopment of the area, with complaints that local people are being kept in the dark.  For the full story of the fire, see my book London’s Disasters.

Friday, 28 November 2014

'Flood: Nature and Culture" - new reviews




Two new reviews of my latest book: Flood: Nature and Culture (Reaktion Books)

http://www.geographical.co.uk/reviews/books/item/310-flood-nature-and-culture-by-john-withington

http://sites.psu.edu/emslibrary/