Thursday, 27 January 2011

Pakistan floods + six months

Six months after Pakistan's worst monsoon floods in 80 years, at least 170,000 people are still living in relief camps, and huge areas of land are covered by contaminated water, while the charity Oxfam says that more and more people are suffering from malnutrition.

The Pakistan government is due to halt most emergency relief this month, but only just over half of the £1.26bn that the UN wanted to raise to help rebuild the country has been secured.

Oxfam says it is helping nearly 2 million people, and that, with temperatures plummeting below zero, more than 200,000 people are ill with chest complaints. It has also warned that so many crops were ruined, and so many farmers unable to plant that food could run short.

Altogether about 1,750 people were drowned in the floods, while up to 1.2 million homes were destroyed. (See also my blogs of 23 Aug, 4 and & Sept, 2010.)

Monday, 24 January 2011

Brazil's worst ever natural disaster?

More than 800 people are known to have died in the floods and landslides that have been afflicting the south-east of Brazil, and 400 more are missing after torrential rain washed whole hillsides away. It is being described as the country’s worst ever natural disaster.

The worst hit town is Nova Friburgo, where more than 320 have been killed. According to one analysis of the figures, about a third of the victims are children and adolescents. Many communities can now be reached only by helicopter.

As with so many disasters, there are now fears that disease may follow in the wake of the initial catastrophe. A number of people are known to have contracted leptospirosis, an illness spread by water contaminated with rats’ urine.

The deadliest mudslide ever was probably the one that hit Venezuela’s coastal strip in December 1999, after 36 inches of rain fell in just a few days. An estimated 30,000 people died. (See also my blogs of April 17, Oct 10, Nov 12 and 19, 2009 and Feb 21 and Aug 12, 2010).

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Haiti one year on

It’s a year since the disastrous Haiti earthquake killed a quarter of a million people, and twelve months on, the pace of reconstruction has been disappointing, with at least 800,000 people still living in temporary shelters. This is a particular nightmare for the women and girls who live in the camps, as rape and sexual assault are daily occurrences.

With so many people finding it hard to get access to clean water, 3,500 have died of cholera over recent months, and political deadlock has made the situation worse. There were complaints of fraud and intimidation in November’s indecisive elections, and the second round has still not been held.

Last March, international donors promised more than £1.25 billion, but by the end of last month, nearly 40 per cent of that had still not been spent. Former US President, Bill Clinton, now a UN envoy to the country, admitted his frustration, but said he hoped the pace would now pick up.

*Now you can follow me on Facebook:-!/pages/Disaster-historian/166380310063983

Monday, 10 January 2011

Famous fire

On this day…..173 years ago, one of London’s most famous buildings, the Royal Exchange, was burned down. The building had no nightwatchman , so it was not until flames were bursting out of the windows that they were spotted from the Bank of England across the street.

January 10, 1838 was a very cold night, and when the firemen arrived they found that the plugs in the water mains from which they drew off supplies had frozen solid. This delayed their efforts considerably, and soon the whole of the front of the building was ablaze.

Porters hurled furniture and documents into the street to the cheers of the big crowd that had now gathered. They cheered even louder when a bag of gold sovereigns was thrown out. Inside firemen did their best but eventually they were driven back by the heat and smoke, and the building was virtually destroyed.

It was the second time the Royal Exchange had been burned down – the first being during the Great Fire of 1666. Once again, it was soon rebuilt. For the full story, see London’s Disasters: from Boudicca to the Banking Crisis.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Philippine floods

While the eyes of the world have been drawn to the floods in eastern Australia, those caused by heavy rain in the Philippines seem to have passed almost unnoticed, even though at least 18 people have lost their lives.

Nearly 90,000 families have been hit in 19 provinces, and there has been severe damage to crops. The rains have also caused mudslides in four regions, and five villages in Compostela Valley have been cut off.

With further heavy rain expected, the situation could get worse. Some observers see this extreme weather as another effect of global warming.

*Full house for my talk on London’s Disasters at Shoe Lane Library in the City of London on Tuesday! Thanks to all who came.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Indian cold + reminder

Every year, in India, hundreds of people die in summer from the extreme heat. Then in the winter, the poor and the homeless perish from the extreme cold. So far this winter, the toll is said to be at least two dozen.

Particularly badly hit have been Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, while in Delhi temperatures have gone down to almost -8C, and at Leh in Kashmir, the thermometer had dipped to -23. Homeless people have taken to gathering around street fires to keep warm, and night shelters for the poor are overflowing.

Last winter up to 100 people died from the cold, with most victims coming from Uttar Pradesh. (See my blog of Jan 4, 2010.)

*A reminder that I’m giving a free talk on London's Disasters at Shoe Lane Library, 1, Little New Street, London EC4A 3JR tomorrow (January 4) at 1230.