Wednesday 24 November 2010

Haiti cholera gets worse

The cholera epidemic in Haiti (see my blog of Nov 12) is spreading even quicker than was feared. So far more than 1,400 people have died, and the UN’s co-ordinator for humanitarian relief, Nigel Fisher, is expecting to see 200,000 cases. He has called on aid agencies to send more medical staff.

As this is the first time the disease has struck Haiti in a century, there appears to be little natural immunity around. Last week, there were riots against UN peacekeepers from Nepal who were accused by some Haitians of having introduced cholera to the country. The UN says there is no evidence to support this accusation.

The first global cholera pandemic began in 1817 in India, and swept through much of Asia and East Africa over the next six years. The second started in Russia in 1830, reaching most of Europe before crossing the Atlantic to infect North and Central America. However, the disease may have been present in India as early as the fourth century BC.

*Here's a new article I’ve written on the worst disasters ever to afflict London.

For Spanish readers – an article about me:-

Tuesday 23 November 2010

The madness of crowds

At least 378 people have been killed, and more than 750 injured in a stampede at the end of a festival in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. A bridge across the Bassac river got overcrowded, and people panicked and began pushing from both ends.

More than two million people had been attending the festival, and the crush followed two of the highlights – a concert and a boat race. People were pushed to the ground and trampled. Some jumped in the river, while others climbed up and grabbed electric cables and got electrocuted. Many of the victims are believed to have been teenagers.

Fatal crushes have happened in many places, such as the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, where a late goal by Spartak Moscow in a UEFA Cup match with HFC Haarlem in 1982 caused some fans who had decided to leave to try and turn back. On an icy staircase, chaos ensued, and up to 340 people were killed.

At the Hajj in Mecca in 1990, a crush developed in a tunnel , and more than 1,400 pilgrims were killed, while perhaps the worst of all happened in an air raid shelter in Chungking in 1941. During a Japanese raid, the ventilation system broke down, so while there seemed to be a lull, many people slipped outside for a breath of fresh air. At that moment, the alarm sounded again, and up to 4,000 people were killed in the panic.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Good Queen Bess

On this day….441 years ago, a somewhat half-hearted uprising against Queen Elizabeth I began in the northern counties of England. This was a part of her realm she had never visited, and where attachment to Roman Catholicism remained strong.

On November 14, 1569, 300 armed horsemen rode into Durham. They entered the cathedral, ripped up English bibles and prayer books and declared that no more Protestant services would be held there. Then a huge crowd turned up to hear a Catholic mass.

All over the North, people began replacing communion tables with high altars and restoring Catholic services, while the rebels marched south, hoping to free the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, who was Elizabeth’s prisoner. But when they had got as far as Wetherby, their leaders lost their nerve, and told them to go home.

If the rebellion was half-hearted, the repression that followed it certainly wasn’t. The queen’s instructions were that rich rebels should be put on trial, while the poor were just to be summarily hanged. At one point, Elizabeth complained about how few executions there had been of the “meaner sort of rebels”, and in the end around 500 were put to death, while beggars became a common sight in the North, as many families were reduced to destitution.

Friday 12 November 2010

Cholera threatens to "overwhelm" Haiti

As had been feared (see my blog of Oct 23), cholera is now spreading rapidly through the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The disease broke out last month in the Artibonite River valley about 60 miles away, and it was hoped for a while that it might be prevented from reaching the capital where more than a million people are still living in tents after January’s earthquake.

Eighty Haitians have died of cholera in the last 24 hours, taking the total to more than 720, and there are about 11,000 cases, with 1,000 new ones each day. The head of infectious diseases at Port-au-Prince’s main public hospital has warned that if this goes on, they will be “overwhelmed”. The situation has been worsened by Hurricane Tomas, which caused widespread flooding last week, in addition to killing at least 20 people.

Cholera is spread by water and causes diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to severe dehydration. It can kill very quickly and horribly, but it can be easily treated through antibiotics and replacement of lost fluids and salts, so long as these are available. (For more details about cholera, see A Disastrous History of the World.)

The billions of dollars of aid promised by the rest of the world to Haiti after the earthquake has been slow in arriving, with only just over a third delivered so far.

*Yesterday was Remembrance Day. See

Tuesday 9 November 2010

London - 7.7 inquest

The inquest into the 7.7 tube and bus bombings in London – the worst terrorist outrage on British soil – heard yesterday from one of the most seriously injured survivors. Thirty-one year old Daniel Biddle lost both legs and an eye.

Mr Biddle’s presence on the train was down to a chapter of accidents. When he was waiting on the platform at Liverpool Street, he let the first train go because it was so crowded. Then he boarded the ill-fated service, meaning to get off at Baker Street, but missed his stop because he was texting, and so was still on the train when Mohammad Sidique Khan detonated his bomb at Edgware Road.

Mr Biddle said Khan was sitting about eight feet away from him. The bomber took a quick look up and down the carriage, then there was a rapid movement of his arm, and a “big, white flash”. The carriage expanded quickly, and then contracted just as fast, and Mr Biddle was blown off his feet and through the carriage doors into the tunnel. Adrian Heili, a trained first aider, clambered under the train to reach him, and freed him from under a carriage door.

Mr Biddle spent weeks in a coma. Seven people, including the bomber, died on the train. Another 50 people, including 3 more bombers, were killed in the 2005 attacks, and more than 700 were injured.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Pompeii - disaster history in danger

A week ago I was looking at paintings of the destruction of Pompeii. Today I’m reading bad news about the bits Vesuvius spared in AD79.

It seems that yesterday morning the Schola Armaturarum, the building that was used for training gladiators, was found in ruins. Italy’s president said it was an occasion for national shame, while the president of the country’s National Association of Archaeologists called the collapse "an irreparable wound to the world's most important archaeological site".

More than two years ago, the Italian government declared a state of emergency over the condition of the site. In many ways, it had been an archaeologist’s dream as the pumice and ash from the volcano preserved much of the town in miraculous detail.

*Want to know what are the worst disasters ever to overtake humanity and the worst things ever to happen to London? See me on youtube:-

Monday 1 November 2010

Volcanoes, eruptions and art

Visited a fascinating exhibition at Compton Verney Museum, near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, examining the way in which artists have portrayed volcanic eruptions. Vesuvius figures prominently, with a number of imaginative recreations of its devastation of Pompeii in AD79.

The 19th century British artist John Martin, some of whose wonderfully demented pictures of the Last Judgment are exhibited in the Tate Britain, has a suitably fiery painting included. While Andy Warhol has a typically Warholesque picture of Vesuvius going up in smoke in lurid primary colours.

Also featured are a series of paintings by another 19th century British artist, William Ascroft, who painted sketches of the psychedelic sunsets that we experienced in our skies after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, across the world in Indonesia. Volcanic eruptions made perfect subjects for perhaps the greatest of all British painters, J M W Turner, but like a number of artists represented in the show, he never saw one, and relied instead on written accounts and other people’s pictures.

Unfortunately, the exhibition is now over. I caught it on its last day.

*Latest about me on the internet:-