Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Deadly mudslides


At least 400 people have been killed by the mudslide that swept through Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, on Monday morning. Another 600 are still missing, as rescue workers desperately hunt for survivors.

Freetown is an overcrowded city of more than a million, many living in makeshift settlements which are easily washed away in frequent heavy rains and floods. A key objective at the moment is to avoid the disaster being made worse by water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.

Probably the deadliest mudslide ever was the one that hit Venezuela in the dying days of the last millennium in December 1999. It effortlessly swept away the shanty towns precariously perched on ridges around the capital Caracas.

But smart apartment blocks also found themselves buried under the mud. Most estimates put the number killed at around 30,000, with 140,000 left homeless, and more than 20,000 homes destroyed. For the story, see A Disastrous History of the World.


See also my post of 21 February 2010.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Brexitwatch. Hammond's surrender gives certainty. UK will be driven off a cliff


The last member of Theresa May’s cabinet who could give a passable imitation of having some grip on the reality of Brexit has caved in. Chancellor Philip Hammond, has surrendered to Brexit fanatic and disgraced former defence minister, Liam Fox.

After arguing for a meaningful transition phase after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 to spare us from the worst effects of Brexit, Hammond has now agreed that instead, we will jump off a cliff, leaving the Single Market and the customs union.

This is precisely what UK businesses feared and had been arguing against, but the modern day Tory party has little interest in jobs, the economy or prosperity. Many will see Hammond’s decision as the ‘certainty’ they have been asking for. Unfortunately for you and me, that ‘certainty’ will be that the UK is no longer a viable country in which to invest.

Fox and Hammond’s joint letter repeats the lie that in the referendum, voters voted to leave the Single Market. They did nothing of the kind, of course, and indeed a whole series of Leave campaigners promised we would stay in the Single Market. It is important that this lie is contradicted every time it is uttered.


This odd couple say we need the transitional arrangement so that goods can still cross borders, and businesses can still trade and recruit the staff they need. The corollary of that, of course, is that once the arrangement ends, these things will no longer be possible. What Liam Fox does not explain is why, if Brexit is as marvellous as he says, is it so important to delay its effects?

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Wars, ethnic rivalries and weather

Last year, nearly 102,000 people were killed in armed conflicts across the world according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Many of them died in civil wars, and since 1946, two-thirds of civil wars have been fought between rival ethnic groups.

But climate-related problems, like crop failures, also play a role. Research published last year found that between 1980 and 2010, 23% of civil wars coincided with climate-related disasters in countries with deep ethnic divides. And worryingly global warming may make this kind of disaster more common.

Delving back into history, another study discovered that outbreaks of violence against Jews often seemed to be linked with economic shocks. The authors examined more than 1,360 pogroms or expulsions in more than 930 cities between 1100 and 1800, and plotted them against falls in temperature big enough to reduce crop yields.

They found that a fall of just one third of a degree increased the danger of a pogrom or an exclusion by half over the next five years. As we have seen recently, in times of economic difficulty or disappointment, it is very tempting to blame people who are different in some way.


For more on the link between global warming and war, see my posts of 21 September and 25 November, 2009.