Monday 28 May 2012

Get a radio, stop a disaster

Simple lack of warning and information is often a factor in increasing casualties from a disaster.   Now Bangladesh, one of the poorest, most low-lying and most densely populated nations on earth is trying to harness the power of radio to improve things.

Six local community stations have started broadcasting, another 8 have been approved, and applications are in for 22 more.   Bazlur Rahman, chief executive officer of Bangladesh’s Network for Radio and Communication, says most people in the countryside are illiterate, but that they ‘can easily understand weather bulletins and other instructions' when they are broadcast in local dialects.

A local fisherman said crews are encouraged to carry radios with them, so they can return home quickly if there is any danger.   One community station plans to provide a free solar-powered radio to each cyclone shelter so people can receive safety instructions while they are sheltering there.

In 1970, Bangladesh fell victim to the most disastrous storm in history, which killed up to a million people.  Most had no warning of what was happening until huge waves crashed upon them.

*From those nice people at the MACE archive - a report I did on the death of Imperial Typewriters at Leicester in 1975.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Fakes undermine fight against malaria

Recent successes in the fight against malaria are being undermined by the way counterfeit drugs have penetrated the supply chain in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia.   American researchers examined 4,000 anti-malaria drug samples from 28 countries and found that a third were fake.

The problem is that not only do they fail to protect the people who take them, but they can also lead to resistant strains appearing, and the researchers think the problem may be even worse than their findings suggest.

Death rates from malaria have fallen by more than a quarter since 2000, but more than 3 billion people in 106 countries are still at risk, and up to 1.2 million die every year.

There has been concern in recent years over the emergence of resistance to the most effective drugs in western Cambodia.    (See also my blogs April 11, May 30, Sept 24, 2009 and Oct 21, 2010 and Sept 23, 2011.)

Sunday 20 May 2012

Transporting explosives

At least 20 workers have been killed in a blast as they were working on a new road tunnel in China’s Hunan province.    State media says the accident happened while explosives were being unloaded from a vehicle.    Another four workers were pulled out of the tunnel alive.

The country is often criticised for poor safety standards.    Last November, three vehicles carrying explosives caught fire and blew up in south-western China, killing at least seven people and injuring about 200.

Perhaps the deadliest ever incident involving the transporting of explosives happened at Cali in Colombia in 1956.      A convoy of seven army lorries loaded with dynamite had been parked outside a barracks on the night of August 6, and in the early hours of the next morning, an explosion ripped through them.

It flattened the barracks and eight blocks of buildings, killing at least 1,300 people.    The cause was never clearly established.   At first, the military government said it was sabotage, but others thought it was an accident perhaps caused by the trucks overheating.
* Here I am in 1974 on the front line of the social revolution, exposing sex discrimnation at a bus depot.

Friday 11 May 2012

The Bradford City fire

On this day….27 years ago, a fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade football ground claimed the lives of 56 spectators including 11 children and 19 pensioners.

The blaze swept through a wooden stand a few minutes before half time, the flames speeding along faster than supporters could run, feasting on debris that had been accumulating beneath the structure for decades.     Quite legally, there were no fire extinguishers in the stand, and doors through which people could have escaped to the street were locked.

Ironically, the match was meant to be a celebration, with the Bradford team parading the Third Division championship trophy they had already won, and work had been due to start on replacing the wooden roof of the stand the following Monday.

The government set up a judicial inquiry into the disaster, which came up with a host of recommendations for stadium safety including banning smoking in potentially dangerous areas, and ensuring that exits could be opened from inside in an emergency.   For the full story, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Friday 4 May 2012

Sierra Leone war crimes - call for 80 year sentence

Prosecutors at The Hague are demanding an 80 year prison sentence for former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, after his conviction last week for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

During the 1990’s, Taylor backed rebels from the country’s Revolutionary United Front, who killed tens of thousands of people, employing a strategy, say the prosecution, of  ‘murders, rapes, sexual slavery, looting’ and hacking off of limbs.  In return, he was given ‘blood diamonds’ collected by slaves. 

After his five year trial, Taylor became the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg trials following World War II.  He has the right to appeal against the verdict.

A former leader of the RUF, Issa Sesay, is in prison in Rwanda, serving 52 years for his part in the atrocities.  (See also my blogs of 4 March, 15 July and 26 Oct, 2009.)

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Ferry disasters

A search is still on for survivors from a ferry that capsized during a storm on the Brahmaputra river in India's Assam state.    At least 103 are believed to have been drowned, and another 100 are still missing.

Police said the ferry broke in two after capsizing, and many of the victims were swept away by the river’s strong currents.    One survivor said he managed to cling on to a log and was then rescued by local people.

Many ferries on the river are considered to have poor safety standards and accidents are common.    According to one police officer, the ferry was overloaded with people and goods, and it carried no lifeboats or life jackets.

Probably the worst ferry disaster, and the worst peacetime maritime disaster ever, was the sinking of the Dona Paz in the Philippines in 1987, in which up to 4,300 people drowned.  (See also my blogs of Aug 7, Sept 6 and 26, Nov 18 and Dec 30, 2009.)