Monday 29 April 2013

Malaria - a pugnacious parasite

New drug-resistant strains of the parasite that causes malaria have been identified in western Cambodia.    There have been reports of drug resistance in the region since 2008, and the problem has now spread to other parts of South-east Asia.

Scientists investigating the new organism say that all the most effective drugs developed in the last few decades ‘have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance.’   They do not know why this part of Cambodia should be such a hotbed of resistance.

In 2010, there were more than 200 million cases of malaria and 600,000 deaths – 90 per cent of them in Africa.   The World Health Organisation has made preventing the spread of resistant strains a major objective.  

See also my blogs of 11 April, 30 May, and 24 Sept, 2009; 21 Oct, 2010; 23 Sept, 2011 and 23 May, 2012.

*I’ve just started to post a series of videos on Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters.   This is the first -

Sunday 28 April 2013

Bangladesh building collapse - owner arrested

The owner of the factory building that collapsed last Wednesday in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, killing hundreds of people, has been arrested by soldiers from the country’s Rapid Action Battalion at the border with India.

Five other people have also been detained - 3 owners of clothes factories that were housed in the Rana Plaza and 2 engineers.   Two more survivors have been pulled from the rubble today, but altogether about 360 people are known to have died.

Police said officials had ordered an evacuation of the block on Tuesday after cracks appeared, but that the factories ignored them, while municipal engineers are reported to have declared the building safe the day before it collapsed. 

Bangladesh has one of the biggest clothing industries in the world, providing cheap products for well-know Western retailers, but it has been widely criticised for low pay and dangerous conditions.     
Now available in paperback – Disaster! A History of Earthquakes, Floods, Plagues and Other Catastrophes.

Monday 15 April 2013

Flu - here we go again?

We’ve been here before.   The world is once again anxious about a strain of bird flu spreading through China.    This one is called H7N9. It has infected 60 people and caused 13 deaths.

The World Health Organisation says it is being spread by direct contact with infected birds, and that there is no evidence of direct human-to-human transmission.   Nor it seems are there yet any cases outside China.

Another strain of bird flu, H5N1, (viruses pictured above) has caused the deaths of more than 320 people in China and four other countries since 2003.     In 2009, the WHO declared a pandemic alert over H1N1 swine flu, which killed more than 18,000 people.  

So-called ‘Spanish flu’ caused one of the worst epidemics in history at the end of the First World War, carrying off up to 70 million people.    (See also my blogs of 5 Feb; 14, 30 April; 13 May; 6, 11, July; 24 Oct, 13 Dec, 2009.)  

Monday 8 April 2013

Indian building collapses

Nine people have been arrested in India in connection with the collapse of a high-rise block of flats in Mumbai last week.    74 people were killed.

The nine, who include builders, police officers and local officials, are alleged to have paid bribes to police and municipal officials so they could put up the building without official sanction.   They may face charges of culpable homicide and causing death by negligence.

Even though work is said to have started on the block just six weeks ago, seven floors had already been completed, and people had been moved into some apartments.    Most of the dead were poorly paid construction workers and their families.

India has suffered a number of deadly building collapses in recent years.   In November 2010, a 15 year old block of flats in New Delhi came down as an additional storey was being added.   At least 67 people, mostly poor migrants, died.

 *I am posting a series of videos on Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters.  This is the first.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Freak rain brings Argentina floods

In the UK, we have just had the coldest March in more than 50 years.  In Argentina, they are mourning their dead after the heaviest rainstorm in a century hit Buenos Aires and La Plata.

At least 48 people were killed by flooding in La Plata, where the provincial governor said the city had ‘never seen anything like it’, and half a dozen more in the capital.   More bodies are still being found.

Thousands of people have had to be moved from their homes, including the mother of the president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, while many others are sheltering on roofs or in trees.  In some places, people blocked roads to demand more help from the authorities.

These were probably the worst floods in Argentina since the city of Santa Fe was inundated in 2003 after heavy rain made river levels rise by six feet in just three hours.   More than 150 people died, and 100,000 had to be evacuated.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Deadly landslide in Tibet

Rescue workers have now recovered 66 bodies from the Tibet miners’ camp that was buried by a huge landslide last Friday.   Another 17 workers are still missing from the camp 45 miles east of the capital, Lhasa and 15,000 feet up,

The miners were employed by a gold mine owned by a subsidiary of the state-owned China National Gold Group, the country's biggest gold producer.   Most were ethnic Han Chinese, with only two reported to be Tibetan.

Rescue teams have had to battle freezing weather and altitude sickness, and efforts had to be suspended for a day because of the fear of further landslides.

In recent years, China has discovered extensive mineral resources in Tibet, including copper, lead, zinc, and iron ore, but the country is prone to landslides, and this danger could be exacerbated by mining.