Friday 27 March 2009

Dam bursts

At least 58 people, and probably many more, have been drowned after a dam built of earth burst south-west of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The waters of the Situ Gintung lake rose because of heavy rain, then overwhelmed the dam, which gave way at two in the morning when most people were asleep. The waters swept away cars and brought down telephone lines. The dam was said to be up to 100 years old.

The world’s worst ever dam burst happened in China’s Henan province in 1975. As part of his “Great Leap Forward”, Chairman Mao had ordered villagers all over the country to build home-made, and home-designed, dams with whatever implements they could lay their hands on. After days of exceptionally heavy rain, more than sixty of them burst, and floods spread over 4,000 square miles.

Whole towns were washed away, and more than a million people were trapped by the waters, but the authorities tried to keep the disaster secret, and it was only in 1995 that the pressure group Human Rights Watch began to reveal its full magnitude. It was another decade before the Chinese authorities started to lift the veil of secrecy, saying that 26,000 people had been killed. Others believe the toll was much higher, with Human Rights Watch putting it at 85,000 in addition to the 145,000 who died from starvation and disease in the aftermath.

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