Thursday, 30 September 2010

West Sumatra earthquake one year on.

The main hotel that collapsed. It was a six story building compressed into one and a bit stories. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Virtually to the minute one year ago, on 30 September 2009, two major earthquakes struck West Sumatra in Indonesia, killing more than 1,400 people and damaging 250,000 homes. More than 4,000 people were displaced from their homes and the Red Cross provided emergency relief to over 345,000 people until December 2009. Working closely with the Indonesian Red Cross and other Red Cross partners, the IFRC has been actively engaged in reconstruction efforts and 12,745 transitional shelters have currently been completed across four of the worst-affected districts. A beneficiary communication programme supported the overall recovery effort. Regular programmes produced by the Indonesian Red Cross and broadcast on community radio and local TV helped communities to have a much clearer understanding of the programme and gave them the opportunity to be heard.

The haunting memories I have are the hundreds of people crushed to death in a six-storied hotel that collapsed to only one floor, Ramlan who cut of his leg to free himself, Colin Tuck the New Zealand helicopter pilot who helped us with the major survey, and countless Red Cross volunteers who rescued people, disposed of dead bodies with dignity, and counselled traumatised children. Here are a few photos and words:

Amid falling debris and trembling constructions as well as screams for help of thousands outside, a young man inside a building groaned with pain as the teeth of a saw sliced inch by inch his leg.

While dying of being trapped, Ramlan (18) was forced to saw off his own leg stuck under a piece of six-ton concrete rubble. He risked sawing his own leg to escape the greater peril of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake that devastated Padang city in Sumatra.
Losing his right leg from knee down had never crossed Ramlan`s mind when he left West Java`s Purwakarta a month earlier to eke out a living by working as a construction laborer in West Sumatra.
In his mind, jobs are hard to find nowadays. Working in a construction renovation project in Padang city, provincial capital of West Sumatra, was an inevitable choice for him to make both end meet. But fate tells him a different story. There, a quake `robbed` him of his right leg.

He was still lucky indeed for over 800 were killed by the earthquake. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at thousands as many could not be lifted out of the remains of collapsed buildings.

When the earthquake struck at 5.16 pm on September 30, 2009, Ramlan was working on the sixth floor of a Telkom building which was undergoing a renovation, in Jalan Khatib Sulaeman, Padang city.

Ramlan and his co-workers had no unusual feelings at all at that time. They were busy working in the renovation project. As the sun was slowly approaching the horizon while their tired faces had begun tenderly feeling a puff of evening zephyr, the earth trembled all of a sudden, palm trees gyrated, electric poles danced, buildings rocked and collapsed.

In the first trembler, people on the first floor of the Telkom building panicked and rushed out of the building. Within seconds, another strong tremor rocked the earth that was felt in all parts of the city. Cars in the parking lot swayed back and forth.

Ramlan and friends were in an unlucky storey on the sixth floor. A collapsed piece of concrete rubble almost buried Ramlan alive, but still, the piece, weighing about six tons and measuring 4x4 sq m, squeezed his right leg. He was stuck there, while his friends succeeded in running down the stairs.

"As I felt the second tremor, I tried to pull out but I can`t as my right leg was stuck under the rubble," Ramlan told RCTI television station on his bed in a hospital on Sunday.
What he had in mind was how to escape from the building and to survive the second tremor. But how, his leg was squeezed under the rubble. He looked around where he found a sand scoop and a hoe. The heroic young laborer reached them and decided to cut his leg off with the scoop.

Crying in pain under the rubble alone --as every body outside the building and everywhere in the city was also busy safeguarding him or herself--, Ramlan was trying to slice his leg with the scoop. It was too blunt. It did not work. Fresh blood continued to ooze out of his injured and crushed tiny leg. He took the hoe and chopped it up. He felt he was being stabbed with pain from head to toe. Still, he failed.

After half-an hour in the struggle, he found his cellular phone. "With the hoe I still can`t cut my leg. Then I found my cellular phone, I called my co-workers for help," he said.

His friends came up a moment later to help. They tried to lift the rubble. The heavy concrete slab even could not be shaken, let alone be removed. Amid their confusion, Ramlan asked for a saw and told them to saw his leg. But none of his friends was able to perform the job.

"I have no choice so that I did it myself. I felt some how a regret in my heart to cut my leg, but I have no other choice," he told online portal over the weekend.

While groaning in pain, Ramlan continued to saw his leg. The teeth of the saw sliced it inch by inch until he almost fell unconscious. Fresh blood rolled down on the floor. The ill-fated construction worker was unable to continue. Herman, one of his friends, forced himself to take over the job.

"I was surprised and sad to see him bathe in blood," Herman told He decided to accomplish the job as he could not stand to see Ramlan scream in pain. Ramlan`s request for Herman to cut off his leg forced him to act speedily.

"If we stay longer not to act, I am afraid Ramlan would lose his blood too much which could threaten his life," Herman said. After cutting off his leg, Herman carried poor Ramlan on his back and rushed him to the Selasih Hospital about 500 meters away from the Telkom building.

At the hospital, Ramlan did not immediately received medical treatment because the hospital was also heavily damaged by the earthquake, which also smashed hundred thousands of other buildings, including Ambacang hotel where hundreds of people were buried alive.

In the emergency condition, a doctor of the hospital gave Ramlan a first help. The wound on the tip of his cut-off leg was bandaged to avoid infection. He was admitted to the Dr M Djamil hospital before he was finally sent to the Yos Sudarso hospital for a proper medical treatment.

Now, Ramlan`s condition is gradually improving. But he was still traumatized with the nightmare when he remembered he sawed his own leg. Although he is now permanently invalid, he did not regret the event. He is resigned to his fate.

"What I want now is an artificial leg and to return home to met my mother immediately," he said.

The damage in Chinatown, Padang.

A Swiss rescue worker at the airport with his dog awaiting deployment.

A whole village wiped out by a mudslide, triggered by the earthquake.

Many house in the mountainous area collapsed totally.

Bob McKerrow left, and Colin Tuck ( from Fox Gkacier NZ)our daring Kiwi helicopter pilot. Thanks to Tucky working closeby, we were able to start on aerial assessment within 15 hours, identify people dying because of crush injurues, and fly in doctors.

The closer you get to the earthquake's epicentre the worse the damage gets.

First the road becomes blocked to vehicles. Then even motorbikes cannot get through, and soon you can only walk and clamber over the landslides to reach the communities perhaps hardest hit by this disaster.

Homes were just swallowed up here as the quake shook the land from the hillsides, tearing down everything, destroying houses and crushing hundreds of people below tonnes of earth.

The size of the landslides are astonishing - massive tears in the jungle where soil and trees have been ripped from the slopes and dumped into the valleys.

Dawianis Ardo is digging. Others are helping him - smashing concrete beams with the back of an axe, pulling at debris with wire cable and shifting bucket-loads of soil from the hole.

The patch of earth, trees and concrete is what is left of three homes. One was empty, but the two crushed into each other and buried with earth from the mountain which slipped off into the valley were not.

Inside were nine adults and seven children - some of them playing marbles just outside the house when the earthquake struck.

"We found two bodies yesterday - they had been crushed to death - we expect to find the other 14 bodies today," he said.

They were his cousins.

"If we don't find them today I will dig for another five days - that will be a week - and then I will leave them to God."

Crushed to death

A path has been trodden across the face of the landslide where the road used to be and people were carefully making their way across.

I just sat here and prayed

Earthquake survivor

The situation just worsened further along the track - more houses flattened, more landslides scarring the hillside and wider cracks in the road.

Zaimar sat outside her collapsed home as the men dug at the crushed wooden beams to big out their food supplies and possessions.

She described what it was like when the quake hit, kneeling down and showing us how she sat to stop herself falling as the shockwave threw everything and everybody around.

She began to cry - to sob - as she remembered those terrifying moments when she was convinced the world was going to end.

"I just sat here and prayed," she said, still crying uncontrollably.

Her family were all unhurt, but the shock has affected her deeply and her neighbours lost relatives in the rubble.

Waiting for help

At another landslide an ornately tiled porch stands now like a platform overlooking the valley below.

The home which was behind it is crushed and buried, along with it a family of 10 people.

Further along, the route is blocked by a house teetering on the edge of another gaping scar - the only way forward to the villages and communities ahead is through someone's front room.

One village is packed with people - all asking when the aid will come. A police helicopter circled overhead suggesting they have not been forgotten about.

But they feel abandoned and alone. They have rice and basic supplies, but with no electricity and a road it will take many weeks to repair, they are afraid of their new-found isolation, hoping help will come to them soon.

Three-thousand dead is what the government has estimated.

Here amid the destroyed homes, with so many stories of relatives being buried alive, it seems as though it could be even more.

Coordinations meetings. Our first coordination meeting.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Building houses in Kilinochichi - Sri Lanka

I have been travelling in the north of Sri Lanka for the past two days and visited Kilinochchi today, where the Sri Lanka Red Cross, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the German Red Cross, is assisting internally displaced people.. To date we have 600 houses under construction and have an initial  target of 2000. Unfortunately we have inadequate funding so I am appealing to all of you out there, to see if you can help us. The situation for some 200,000 families is quite desperate as the rainy season has just arrived and the villages are awash with waters, and when the sun came out as it did today, it was 38 degree celcius.. Not good conditions for people who have been traumatised by 25 plus years of conflict.

Vimala Raja is a 42 year old war widow with five children. She has lived the last year in a rough lean to shack, and will soon move into a new Red Cross house. In this photo she is with her two youngest children. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The few poles in the foreground are the remains of the house Vimala and her children lived in for almost a year. Her new Red Cross built house, made of reinforced concrete blocks, is in the background. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Arunasalam lost his son, house and his pottery wheel during the war, but the potter in Vivekanandanagar is throwing his pots on a new hand driven wheel he made himself. Photo: Bob McKerrow 

Arunasalem is the recepient of a new Red Cross house that should be completed in 2 weeks time. Photo: Bob McKerrow.

Arunasalam and his wife, who has recently been enrolled in the SLRCS Recovery Programme have worked hard to erect their owner-driven home. Arunasalam is busy making clay pots while he is telling about his still missing son. “I last saw him during the final days of the conflict in Mulaitivu when we were all running and hiding from the shelling and the bullets. That is when we got separated one afternoon. We have not seen or heard from him after.” Still living under tarpaulins many people like Mr. Arunasalam are struggling under difficult conditions but working hard to regain their lives.

It is good to see these owner driven houses nearing completion. Once they have the orange tiles for a roof, and the windows and doors in, they are very comfortable for a large family.Photo: Bob McKerrow
My travelling companions over the last few days, Alice Lai left and Dr. Mahesh Gunasekara. Guess what, they speak Mandarin together as Alice is from Hong Kong and Mahesh did his medical degree in China and is fluent in Mandarin. Alice is from our Asia and Pacific HQ is Kuala Lumpur. Nimal, from the Sri Lanka Red Cross, who is a livelihoods expert, also travelled with us. He and his team are a highly competent unit with almost six years of owner-driven housing experience gained during the Tsunami operation.

Here is some information from an information sheet we have just written:

The situation in the north of Sri Lanka is desperate for hundreds of thousands of old and new IDPs, who lack decent shelter, water, sanitation, access to adequate health, tools and seeds to plant, and other basic livelihoods. YOUR HELP IS NEEDED.

During the conflict in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) was at the forefront of humanitarian action, providing services to survivors and assisting vulnerable people in a coordinated operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The activities were supported by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Cross Red Crescent partners around the world. With the end of the military conflict the SLRCS has initiated a programme to rebuild communities and enhance the current low standard of living for marginalised people in Northern Province through an integrated recovery programme. In the initial stage we will construct up to 2000 houses, with water sanitation, access to health and livelihoods.

The owner-driven housing concept is where the owner receives advance payements through their bank accounts for each pahse. When foundations are finished and inspected, they receive the next payment. With a total of four installments a house can be finished in less than two months.

Our Programme Aims

• To support the return, resettlement and recovery of the population who were displaced by the conflict and, where

necessary, to provide temporary humanitarian support for those still displaced.

• To provide housing, water and sanitation, health facilities, livelihoods and counselling for traumatised people. •

• To restore civil society in areas directly affected by the conflict by re-establishing the Kilinochchi and Mulativu branches of SLRCS, and strengthening existing branches whcih will bring sustainable humanitarian services to communities.

Target Population

This programme is primarily in support of people who have been displaced due to the conflict in Sri Lanka and are either still displaced or in the process of resettlement. Secondly, the programme can provide support to host communities or those who have been displaced for longer periods, as is considered necessary on the grounds of equity or conflict sensitivity vis-à-vis the primary beneficiary group. The initial primary target area for the programme is Kilinochchi, and Mulativu districts.

Our action so far

Since recovery programme started in June based on German RC funding, the programme has scaled up capacities and emerged from it’s pilot phase to a well-established delivery mechanism. At the same time recovery programme is supporting and working with the newly re-established Kilinochchi branch. From its new Field Coordination Office in Vavuniya the SLRCS team, largely consisting of well experienced former tsunami recovery staff, now works with 2000 families and is at this point the single biggest reconstruction effort on-going by any humanitarian organisation in Killinochchi.

Sadly, the uncovered need remains huge with up to 260,000 destroyed homes to be reconstructed. Returnees are living under the most difficult conditions using basic type of make shift shelters made of tarps and tin sheets. Everyone you speak to has a tough and moving story to tell. . Post Conflict Recovery Programme is giving the most vulnerable of them hope and the basic support desperately needed. SLRCS hopes to expand programmes with bilateral support of German Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross, Norwegian Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross and the appeal funding to up to 2000 houses and 5000 families in the near future.
If you wish to make a donation please visit the following website which is safe and reliable:

Friday, 24 September 2010

Polar Bears face a new threat

An international meeting to try to prevent the Arctic becoming the next battleground over mineral wealth is taking place in Moscow. With one quarter of the world's resources of oil and gas are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Ocean, the battle is on to legalise claims and to start extracting them.

Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark and the United States have already laid claim to territory in the region.Although the summit is promoting dialogue, a Kremlin adviser said Russia would defend its national interests. So with hard line comments like this, spare a thought for the Polar Bear and all the other arctic flora and fauna, and the delicate biodiversity. This is my second posting on the Arctic Ocean since the Arctic Summit started in Moscow earlier in the week, and it is important environmentalists, politicians and oedinary people, monitor the outcomes closely.

I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive”

Lev Voronkov, Russian Arctic expert

Melting ice cap
The region's resources are rapidly becoming accessible due to the rapid shrinking of the polar ice cap.

Senior Norwegian adviser Olaf Orpheum told the conference that nowhere else had seen "such dramatic changes in the surface of the Earth".

The race for the Arctic centres on an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge.

In 2001, Moscow submitted a territorial claim to the United Nations which was rejected because of lack of evidence.

Three years ago, a Russian expedition planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic gesture of Moscow's ambitions.I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive”

With global warming seriously threatening the existence of the Polar Bear, oil and mineral exploration is likely to add polution and a permanent  human presence that will further harm the species. Phot: Bob McKerrow

Law of the Sea

As evidence of the gathering momentum in the race for mineral resources, Russia has announced it will spend $64m (£40m; 48m euros) on research aimed at proving its case.
The man behind the 2007 polar expedition, Artur Chilingarov, has announced that he will attempt to launch a drifting research station next month.

Kremlin climate change adviser Alexander Bedritsky told reporters that Russia had a "strong chance" to win approval when it submitted its data to the UN in 2012-13.

Last week, Canada's foreign minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow to discuss their competing claims.

Canada is likely to hand its file to the UN around 2013 and has said it is confident of its case.

From the Arctic Hare (right) to the Loon, the Ptarmagin to the Walrus, to the Arctic Sedge, Arctic flora and biodiversity will surely be affected.

Photo: Bob McKerrow

Denmark plans to put forward its details by the end of 2014.

For the states involved in the territorial dispute, the key lies in obtaining scientific proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is an underwater extension of their continental shelf.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal nation can claim exclusive economic rights to natural resources on or beneath the sea floor up to 200 nautical miles (370km) beyond their land territory.

But if the continental shelf extends beyond that distance, the country must provide evidence to a UN commission which will then make recommendations about establishing an outer limit.

Climate change and pollution is already seriously affecting the biodiversity of fragile plants and lichens that cling precariously to the Arctic coastline. The further exloitation of oil and minerals can only serve to push them to extinction. Left, Artic Sedge. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Last week, Russia signed a treaty with Norway, ending a 40-year dispute over their maritime borders in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.

Russian Arctic expert Lev Voronkov said the experience of the Cold War proved the need to work together.
"No one problem of contemporary Arctic can be resolved by one country alone. So that's why I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Nato's presence in the Arctic could raise additional problems.

The Musk Oxen's habitat is being threatened by Climate Change. Let's not add pollution from oil spills to this ever degrading situation. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The new cold war - The Arctic Ocean

A map showing claims to Arctic Ocean sea bed which will give the claimants mineral and exploration rights, probably to the detriment of Arctic Flora and Fauna. The multi-coloured area is likely to be the best areas but is also home to the Polar Bear.

In 1985 I did a 1,000 mile dog sled trip down the Mackenzie River delta, onto the Beaufort sea (Arctic Ocean) and then along the coastline of Canada. The first 200 miles were across pristine Arctic tundra, unspoilt coastline, until we hit Prudhoe Bay where there is a lot of off shore drilling, oil rigs and ugly pipelines. Then across the border at Demarcation Point into Alaska, USA where we discovered more ugly oil establishments and  associated pollution which continued off and on until we reached Point Barrow. With greenhouse emissions from fossil fuels contributing considerably to global warming, I was hoping that the oil-hungry world would learn from those countries who signed the Madrid Protocols, banning mining  and oil exporation in the Antarctic.

Caribou grazing the tundra near the border of Canada and Alaska, close to the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Bob McKerrow

There has never been any commercial mining in Antarctica, there are no current plans to mine Antarctica and mining is currently completely banned by the Antarctic Treaty. j
When the original Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, the exploitation of resources was not discussed at all for fear of jeopardizing the Treaty. In the 1980's the issues were raised again, and led eventually to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (an addition to the treaty).

The Madrid Protocol was signed in 1991 by the signatories to the Antarctic Treaty banning mining, this is up for review in 2041.

The Madrid Protocol became law in January 1998, it sets out the principles under which environmental protection in Antarctica is to be regulated. This includes a ban on all commercial mining for at least fifty years. Though it might sound like an impressive piece of regulatory legislation,

Therefore I was bitterly disappointed last night to hear the mood and plans on nations participating in an international meeting to try to prevent the Arctic becoming the next battleground over mineral wealth has begun in Moscow.

One quarter of the world's resources of oil and gas are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark and the United States have already laid claim to territory in the region.
Some 300 delegates will discuss co-operation but are also likely to push their claims to the Arctic's riches.
On the way to the North Pole by dog sledge in 1986. The Arctic Ocean is covered by sea ice, the home of the Polar Bear. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The region's resources are rapidly becoming accessible due to the dramatic shrinking of the polar ice cap.

The race for the Arctic centres on an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge.

In 2001, Moscow submitted a territorial claim to the United Nations which was rejected because of lack of evidence.
Three years ago, a Russian expedition planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic gesture of Moscow's ambitions.

Canada and Denmark are also planning to submit separate files to the UN.

\Russia made it's intentions clear when they place a flag on the sea-bed under the North Pole. Photo: Courtesy BBC.

“Melting ice opens exploitation potential As evidence of the gathering momentum in the race for mineral resources, Russia has announced it will spend $64m (£40m; 48m euros) on research aimed at proving its case.
Last week, Canada's foreign minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow to discuss their competing claims.

Canada said it was confident its case would prevail.

Two days earlier, Russia signed a treaty with Norway, ending a 40-year dispute over their maritime borders in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.

Moscow said the prospects for oil and gas exploration were significant either side of the border.

Most of the territory claimed by Russia, Denmark, the US and Canada, is home to the Polar Bear, which is facing a shrinking habitat and extinction, due to climate change. With oil exploration comes the risk of adding pollution to climate change, a deadly cocktail. Photo: Bob McKerrow

For the states involved in the territorial dispute, the key lies in obtaining scientific proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is an underwater extension of their continental shelf.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal nation can claim exclusive economic rights to natural resources on or beneath the sea floor up to 200 nautical miles (370km) beyond their land territory.
But if the continental shelf extends beyond that distance, the country must provide evidence to a UN commission which will then make recommendations about establishing an outer limit..

Left: A female Polar Bear and her cub, palying near Ward Hunt Island. Photo: Bob McKerrow

So I am watching intensely the discussions taking place at the Arctic Summit in Moscow and I hope environmentalists around the world will join together to make sure that the Arctic is protected against exploitation that could destroy the habitat of many spieces that are already threatened by climate change. For more information,. go to my good friend Will Steger's website. Will led our 1985 expedition to the Arctic and in 1986  led our successful North Pole expedition:

This is some back ground on the Will Steger Foundation

Mission: The Will Steger Foundation is dedicated to creating programs that foster international cooperation and leadership through environmental education and policy.

Vision: As eyewitness to the reality of global warming, and as an explorer taking on daunting challenges, the Will Steger Foundation inspires people to embrace the transition to a low-carbon economy: exploring the path forward, and leading the way through exciting education, citizen engagement and international cooperation.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

No gym for Colin Meads !

Meads' fitness - there has never been a fitter forward of his size - was due to his lifestyle and mental strength.

He didn't even step inside a modern gym until 1995, aged 59, although he occasionally tried weights training with his brother Stan (also an All Black lock). As for swimming, Meads would not be seen dead in a pool during the season. "It softened up and relaxed your muscles," he said. "If I was sore after a game, I'd go for a jog."

I am currently living in Colombo, Sri Lanka and happened to walk past the ground that Colin Meads played on in 1955 when he was a member of the New Zealand under 21 side which toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He played all eight matches, scored three tries and was recognised by the Rugby Almanack as one of the 1955 season's most promising players

As I walked past I thought of this brilliant player who  is widely considered as  one of the greatest players in history. Nicknamed 'Pinetree', he is an icon within New Zealand rugby, and was named the country's Player of the Century at the NZRFU Awards in 1999.

Meads is so gloriously the antithesis of the model preferred by modern-day rugby gurus, and so manifestly better than almost anybody playing in the new 'scientific' era, that perhaps we should pause to ponder who is right and who is wrong. He would be a megastar in the modern game - but in an anti-hero way, driving coaches and directors of rugby insane.

Rugby legend Sir Colin Meads arrives with the Meads Cup at the start of the Heartland Championship Meads Cup Final match between Mid Canterbury and Wanganui at Rugby Park on October 31, 2009 in Christchurch, New Zealand...

He didn't even step inside a modern gym until 1995, aged 59, although he occasionally tried weights training with his brother Stan (also an All Black lock). As for swimming, Meads would not be seen dead in a pool during the season. "It softened up and relaxed your muscles," he said. "If I was sore after a game, I'd go for a jog."
Meads never bothered with warm-ups. Indeed, an old superstition meant that he wouldn't change into his kit until half an hour before kick-off. "The haka was the only warm up I needed," he said.

"The greatest athletes and performers I saw were the local sheepshearers, people like Godfrey and Ivan Bowen, the world record holders, who could shear 400 ewes or more in a nine-hour shift," he explains. "They just rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in."

Energy drinks, electrolytes, water? "Hardly ever, maybe a quarter of orange at half-time if I was lucky. I am not convinced about the need to take liquids on board." It gets better with every question. Alcohol before a game? "Never on match day, but after most training sessions with the Blacks we liked to finish with two or three beers. That included the Friday lunchtime before a Saturday Test."

Meads' fitness - there has never been a fitter forward of his size - was due to his lifestyle and mental strength. He would flog himself at training, whether at Waitete RFC, King Country or the All Blacks.

The lifestyle on his Te Kuiti farm, meanwhile, was relentlessly rugged. The legend of him running up and down hills with a sheep under each arm is a false part of rugby mythology, but he would spend long days at the dipping pen

As a schoolboy, I saw him play on Crisbrook for the All Blacks against Australia in 1964, South ASfrica in 1965 and the British Isles in 1966. Unfortunately for us young school boys in 1959, when they played the British Isles and Don Clarke's boot gave us an undeserved win by 18 to 17, Colin Meads for some reason, didn't play.  I was stunned watching Meads play on Carisbrook, and on TV, for the way he used his strength, skill and courage to dominate forward play. We stood in awe of Colin Meads

On June 3 every year, a group of otherwise sane and respectable middle-aged men in Dunedin will gather after work in a downtown pub dressed in All Black No 5 shirts. Some will also be wearing retro leather scrum caps, circa 1965, while all will be clutching a dog-eared book with messianic fervour.

The fan club of the man they call 'Pinetree' have celebrated the occasion devotedly since 1979.

Harmless fun in a rugby-mad country, but not without social significance. The faithful meet not only to honour the greatest All Black - he gained the title in a nationwide poll in 1999 - but to celebrate a different era and different values.

Meads played his first game for King Country team in 1955, at the age of 19. Scoring a try, and even a drop-goal (an unusual feat for a lock), Meads impressed in his debut match.

In 1955 Meads was selected for the New Zealand under 21 side which toured Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He played all eight matches, scored three tries and was recognised by the Rugby Almanack as one of the 1955 season's most promising players. In 1956 Meads played in national trials and for the North Island, and in 1957 was selected for the tour of Australia. He played ten matches and made his test debut, playing both of the internationals against the Wallabies, scoring a try in the second. Although normally a lock, he played at flanker and number 8, and even wing (from where he scored a try), as the All Black team was strong on locks.

From 1957 until 1971 Meads was effectively an automatic All Black selection. The International Rugby Hall of Fame considers him to have been 'the most famous forward in world rugby throughout the 1960s'.[4] His strength and high threshold for pain became legendary — best illustrated when in a game against Eastern Transvaal in South Africa, in which he emerged from a particularly vicious ruck with his arm dangling horribly, with an obvious fracture, yet completed the match. When the doctor cut away his shirt and confirmed the break, Meads muttered, "At least we won the bloody game."

Meads had the reputation of being "an enforcer" and was involved in some controversial incidents. In 1967, he was sent off by Irish referee Kevin D. Kelleher for dangerous play against Scotland Murrayfield, and became only the second All Black suspended in a test match. The British Daily Telegraph newspaper said of the incident that 'For one with Meads' worldwide reputation for robust play, this was rather like sending a burglar to prison for a parking offence.' In Australia he is notorious for having ended the career of Ken Catchpole by pulling Catchpole's leg while he was pinned down, causing him serious injury.[6]

He captained the All Blacks a number of times - though never a regular captain, he holds the record[of longest period of captaincy (not consecutive games), from the first date (1960) he was appointed captain to the last match he captained (1971).

Colin Earl Meads was born to Vere Meads and Ida Meads (née Gray) on 3 June 1936, in the village of Cambridge in the Waikato region. His father Vere was a descendant of early settlers Joseph Meads and Ann Meads (née Coates), who emigrated to New Zealand from England in 1842. Vere’s grandfather Zachariah Meads was among the first British children to be born in Te Aro, Wellington, in 1843, and his grandmother Elizabeth Meads (née Lazare) was the daughter of an Irish minister who had educated freed slaves on the island of Mauritius before emigrating to Wanganui.

He and  his wife Vere raised their three children on a sheep farm near Te Kuiti. Meads credits the farming lifestyle for his strong physique and high level of fitness. Meads' brother Stanley Meads was also a noted rugby player, playing 30 matches as an All Black. In 11 matches Stanley and Colin locked the All Black scrum.

Last Saturday was "Old Timers" rugby reunion day inWellington and Barry Donovan told a great yarn about Colin "Pinetree" Meads, known in some more formal circles – but not in the King Country, I imagine – as Sir Colin.
The last time I spoke with Pinetree was at Melbourne Airport at the ridiculously early hour of 6.30am on the Sunday morning after the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies the night before. I thought I recognised the rugged head and torso sitting behind me in the cafe and, as I'd played against him in one memorable game, went across and said: "Excuse me, but aren't you Colin Meads?"

The tough old campaigner lifted his gaze and – fortunately, for he could have said a number of things after a celebratory night – replied: "Yeah." So I quickly responded:

"Colin Meads – you're a legend!"

The last time I'd exchanged a few words with the living legend was after a game between a Wellington XV and the Meads-led King Country at Taumarunui in the mid 60s. The King Country crew were very annoyed that Wellington had not sent its No1 side but had sent basically a side consisting of promising younger players and a few old stagers.

The fired-up home team ran away with the first half and it was only during the second half that Wellington regained some respectability, but still lost.

But my biggest single memory of the game was when Pinetree took off from a lineout in the move that the world's inside backs feared most – a stampeding Colin Meads with ball in hand heading straight for you.

What does an 11-stone first-five do, apart from pray for survival and deliverance from any rugby gods favouring little blokes? I decided that rushing at Pinetree's knees head-on would be completely suicidal so instead I dived at the ground in front of him hoping the big bugger would trip over me somehow.

And it worked! As Meads half stumbled over a prostrate Donovan the other Wellington backs all climbed aboard him and yes – just like a falling pinetree – the King Country icon staggered a few more yards and fell – crash.

I FELT a little foolish after the game but went and shook hands with the mighty man in his changing shed where he kindly said that they had the fastest loose forward around but he still hadn't been able to get a hand on me. Thanks, Sir Colin.

Moving on to Sunday, August 1 last month at Melbourne Airport, Colin Meads and I had an engaging chat about the previous night's test match, which had included the controversial sending off of Wallabies' winger Drew Mitchell, reducing the home team to the absurd position of playing one short against the best rugby team in the world.

Naturally I had to refer to the "man of the match", All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who had played yet another blinder and must be worth at least 10 points to his side through leadership by example alone. In some amazement, with a shaking of the head, Colin Meads replied that McCaw "just keeps getting faster".

Obviously there were memories of some of his 1960s comrades slowing down as time went by.

When talk turned to the unfortunate imbalance of 14 against 15, particularly in an international test match, and the regrettable rugby rule of a referee sending off a player for a second offence, my mind suddenly turned to another unforgettable rugby occasion where both Colin Meads and I had been involved.

It was late 1967 and the final UK test match against Scotland at Murrayfield. I was covering the game and providing a commentary for the newly established Dominion Sunday Times. Because of the time difference, I had to make a telephone call to Wellington at 2.30am, NZ time, and no later as the edition was ready to roll.

To make matters worse, all the phone lines in the Murrayfield press box had been taken up by the major British dailies and I had to arrange to make my call from a public box just outside the ground. The All Blacks established an early dominance and were never really threatened but the game was delayed occasionally and I was forced to head for the outside phone box with five minutes to go.

AS I approached the box a mighty roar went up from the Murrayfield crowd but I thought that even if Scotland had scored the All Blacks would still win. I rang straight through to Wellington and to my amazement the editor said: "What did Meads do? What did he do?"

"What did Meads do?" was my bewildered reply.

"Yeah, why did the ref send him off?"

Colin Meads was just the second All Black to be sent off in Britain after Cyril Brownlie in 1924 against England and I had been running to a bloody Scottish phone box and missed it! Good God!

A benevolent editor (Jack Kelleher) did accept my pathetic timing and public phone box excuse and allowed me to cover the All Blacks winning match against the Barbarians back in London which gave them the "grand slam" but it was one of those agonising newspaper reporting moments you definitely never want repeated.

Just as this unforgettable memory flashed through my mind, the Melbourne Airport waitress called out "two toasted sandwiches ready and waiting". Pinetree snapped to attention, mentioning that he was feeling slightly poorly after a big night, and some early morning tucker wouldn't go astray.

Standing up, the mighty Meads still looked as formidable as ever and you certainly wouldn't want to get between him and two toasted sandwiches. I forgot about Murrayfield, thanked him for his time, and left him to knock over breakfast.

Thanks to  Brendan Gallagher of the Telegrapgh, UK for some of his statitics and interviews he had with Colin and for the Dominion Post's permission to use excerpts from Barry Donovan's articl.

Friday, 17 September 2010


The smell of whitebait cooking in the pan has my mouth watering like no other food and the delicious taste turns a sane man into a gluitton. It has moved me so much that I have written two poems about this nobel fish that I would like to share with you today.  The highly regulated activity of whitebaiting has a particularly short season on the West Coast on New Zealand, where it has become part of the fabric of society.

By the end of August each year, the rest of New Zealand has had a couple of weeks to pursue the tiny fish that inhabit the lower reaches of the country’s rivers and coastal streams. On the west coast of the South Island however, whitebaiters have to wait until the first day of September before they can put their nets into the water. The regulations that control whitebaiting are essential for the fish’s conservation, and the periodically lean pickings of recent years have only served to highlight the need for strong measures.

The views you get of the Southern Alps while whitebaiting, are as delicate as the fish themselves. Here is Aoraki Mount Cook and Tasman just south of the Hokitika river mouth. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Whitebait is the collective name given to the juveniles of several species, by far the most common of which is the inanga (Galaxias maculatus). Having been swept downstream in the autumn as larvae to start maturing at sea, the young fish seek out a return to freshwater as the winter draws to a close. They will spend the summer in the inland waterways, before spawning in the vegetation of the stream and riverbanks and completing their lifecycle. Here is my first poem about whitebait.


Red-hatted Sue
How well I remember
Your beauty on opening day
Last September.

You hold your net
With such grace and poise
And scoop with a rhythm
Not a sound, not a noise.

When the ‘bait was running
A few weeks ago,
You showed no emotion
How my admiration grows.

Red-hatted Sue
I can never forget,
Watching kilos of whitebait
Running into your net.

My heart jumped with envy
For you and your style,
But I am still waiting
For that first smile.

I’m dying to ask you
How you cook your bait,
With egg or onion
Or do you eat them straight ?

I’ve got some good recipies
In my refurbished kitchen,
And would love to serve you
Inanga and pigeon.

So Red-Hatted Sue
I fantasise when I’m baiting,
Every day at the river mouth
While you are waiting

For you clearly
Are the best catch
There’s no net big enough,
No man that’s your match

I seriously think
I’m the one for you,
We could live in a baiters shack
Just me, and you
Red-Hatted Sue


Ribbon-like white
Streaks the high horizon,
Where the ice oozes
Vertical to green.

From timeless boles
Ancient spars signal time
In dark leaf-stained water
Ancient insect cavort.

Starfish swim in rock pools
Flecked with glacier dust
Rivers retreat from intruders
Slicing the scarred landscape

The rugged West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, the home of whitebait.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sri Lanka Red Cross launches new website for humanity

Today the Sri Lanka Red Cross relaunched its new website. which should become the leading humaniarian website in Sri Lanka. At a time 15 months after the cessation of 25 years of conflict in the country, humanitarian needs are large, especially in the north of the country, where over 300, 000 people were displaced during the war.

The newly revamped Sri Lanka Red Cross Society’ website was launched under the auspices of the President of the Society Mr. Jagath Abeysinghe.

The new website gives an in-depth look at the work done by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) and its affiliate partners and also for the first time will give donors locally and internationally to donate to SLRCS via the World Wide Web.

During the event the SLRCS President commended the work thus done so far by the all of the society and also thanked the International Federation of the Red Cross Society in its efforts in helping the national society in its quest to rebuild its image in the post tsunami period.

The website was launched at the event where the Sri Lanka Red Cross was launching its 180 day intensified capacity building programme which will aim at strengthening the branches and its ability to perform among the masses of the island.
The President of SLRCS Mr. Jagath Abeysinghe and Bob McKerrow, IFRC at the launching of the website. Photo: IFRC.

The President of SLRCS Mr. Jagath Abeysinghe, Vice President 1 Mr. Baratha Jonnikkuhewa, Vice President 2 Mr. Sunil Dissanayake, National Secretary Mr. Nimal Kumar, Finance Chairman Mr. Prasanna Dasannayake, The Acting Director General of SLRCS Mr. Tissa Abeywickrama, Head of Operations of SLRCS Mr. Surein Peiris, Head of Services Mr. Col. Madugalle, The Management Staff of the SLRCS, The Head of Delegation of IFRC Colombo Bob McKerrow and the Head of Delegation of ICRC Mr. Paul Castella was also present during the ceremony.

The site will also give an up to date record of the news and events of the SLRCS around the country, an in depth events calendar of branch activities and also to donate to selected programmes of the society.

According to the President of SLRCS Jagath Abeysinghe “the new site will boost the image of the national society and the enormous amount of work done by the Red Cross Movement in Sri Lanka.”

I am delighted the website has been launched because it enables people living in country, Sri Lankans living abroad, to give to programmes of their choice. I gave a donation today, as did Tissa Abbeywickrama, the Director General. I chose the IDP programme and he chose to put it into the general fund. It was a good exercise to check the website and we found it user friendly. This means we should get more donations for our IDP programme in the north, which is significantly underfunded. Here is a little about our programme in the north. But before I take you, here is the website link:

During the 2008-2009 phase of the conflict, the SLRCS in cooperation with ICRC provided services to the affected people from within the territory controlled by the LTTE. The SLRCS Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa branches, with support of several partner national societies and IFRC, responded in a coordinated manner as the crisis evolved.

As of yesterday, the SLRCS suported by German RC and IFRC, has 600 houses nearing completion. This integrated programme to support the return and recovery of people who have been displaced due to the conflict and are either still displaced or in the process of resettlement. Similarly to the post Tsunami Community Recovery and Reconstruction Partnership the so called Red Cross Post Conflict Recovery and Reconstruction Programme will support the peoples process of reconstructing their homes by providing cash grants (according to the GoSL run NHERP model), grants for reconstruction of community infrastructure, technical support and community mobilization in the areas of livelihood, health and care, disaster preparedness and dealing with people traumatised by the conflict.

As a first step it will assist up to 2,000 families including support to host families and communities.

The basis of primary target population for the programme is Kilinochchi, Mulativu and Mannar districts as well as conflict-affected areas of Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts.

Furthermore, it is acknowledged that some of those displaced are either displaced to or intend to return to other areas in Sri Lanka and therefore these populations too could be considered for support under the programme. It is also recognised that some of the returnees were affected by the 2005 tsunami that struck that region and were displaced by it as well as by the conflict. It is hoped the red Cross will increase it support from 2000 to 5000 families.

Meanwhile another project to provide health assistance to returnees who had been displaced by the conflict and the development of interethnic confidence for affected populations in Eastern Sri Lanka was also launched by the Red Cross.

The three year project is funded by EU with 2.989.530 Euro, with German Red Cross contribution.

The major activities of the program launched in September 2009 include the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of 7 health facilities, Mobile health clinic in Trincomalee district, Health awareness raising campaigns and Promotion of humanitarian values. The programme will be ending by end of August 2

I hope you have a look at the SLRCS new website:

Sunday, 12 September 2010


Waking up on a frosty morning at first light on Ang Tharkay's farm, south of Kathmandu, in 1975, is a memory that remains vivid in my mind. With a broad smile he poured me tea, made in the Sherpa manner with tea, sugar and milk boiled together. We had a breakfast of chapati and eggs from his farm. He had risen before day break and had milked cows and goats. Ang Tharkay was about 69 and I twenty seven.

Ang Tharkay (right) with Bob McKerrow (left) taken at Ang Tharkay's farm south of Kathmandu. at Simbhanjayang in 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow

We talked of the great climbers he went on expeditions with: Eric Shipton, Sir Edmund Hillary, Maurice Herzog, Gaston Rebuffat, Lionmel Lachnel, Lionel Terray, Cmdr. Kohli and others. You could see he had a soft spot for Shipton and the French expeditions he had been on.

Born and raised in Khumbu, later migrating to Darjeeling, Ang Tharkay’s first expedition was to Kangchenjunga in 1931. He was on Everest in 1933, 1935, and 1938, when he was cook and sirdar, having been formally made sirdar for the first time on Nanda Devi in 1934. He was exceptional as both climber and sirdar, and his character won high praise from all who knew him.

Photo left: Ang Tharkay at the age of 20 in Darjeeling. Photo. RGSS

Ang Tharkay, who died in Kathmandu on July 28th 1981, belonged to the first generation of elite climbing Sherpas. Born in 1908 in Khunde in the Year of the Monkey (according to the Tibetan calendar) Ang Tharkay went to Darjeeling at the age of twelve in search of work with expeditions

He accompanied Eric Shipton on eight of his pre-war expeditions in the Himalaya, including four on the northern route to Everest. Ang Tharkay had seen the days when high altitude porters were paid six annas compensation for each finger they lost by frost bite. And if the injury was really bad, and a porter could not walk back to Darjeeling, he was entitled by contract to receive a pony and one rupee compensation. Sherpas received blankets for high altitude camps, and sleeping bags were issued only during emergencies.

Mt. Everest and the west ridge, taken from Kallar Pattar 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow

When Nepal was opened to expeditions, and the first reconnaissance groups traveled up the Dudh Kosi to Solu Khumbu, Ang Tharkay was with them. He had shed his traditional Sherpa pigtail, and dressed in smart woolen breeches, "but had same, shy reticence and quite humour", that Shipton remembered. He joined Eric Shipton, and Edmund Hillary on their 1951 expedition in which they tackled the treacherous Khumbu ice fall, the gateway to the southern route to Everest, and paved the way for the first successful ascent two years later. The expedition then went on to explore the upper reaches of the Imja Valley, the Hongu Basin, and then crossed the Tesi Tapcha into Rolwa Jing. Shipton was impressed by Ang Tharkay, and was moved to remark that he regarded his chief Sherpa as "a man of outstanding character and ability".

Ang Tharkay also took part in another epoch making Himalaya climb, the French Expedition to Annapurna in 1950, lead by Maurice Herzog. He reached the top camp above the "Sickle" on the north face of the first eight-thousander to be climbed.

After this, he was sent for training in technical climbing in Switzerland by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. Although he was invited by Herzog to bring his wife along to France, it is indication of Ang Tharkey's forthrightness that he refused to take his wife to save his "Bara Sahib" extra expenses

Ama Dablam, taken on the march in to Everest base camp. 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In 1954, Ang Tharkay resigned from the HMI and set up his own business taking trekkers up to Kangchenjunga. In 1962, he became the oldest man to have climbed up to eight thousand meters, when he made it to the South Col with the Indian Everest Expedition. Although he then retired from active mountaineering,

The year I first met him. 1975, Ang Tharkay took a party up to the Annapurna Sanctuary , and sirdared the French Expedition to Dhaulagiri in 1978, at the age of 70.

I remember how active he was virtually running round his farm to do his daily work, always with a smile on his face.As a young mountaineer sitting at the foot of a Guru in every sense of the word, I learnt so much from him. Simplicity, mental toughness, simple diet, hard work, humour, family, friendship, and above all, humility. Here was the man he had introduced the famous Tenzing Norgay to mountainering expeditions: clearly the Father of the modern Sherpa mountain guide as we know him today.
At seventy three years young, Ang was still extremely fit, and many remember the cheerful waves he gave from his bicycle on Durbar Marg. (He never rode in cars if he could help it). Ang Tharkay was looking forward to a quiet retirement in his orchard and farm in Simbhanjayang, when he was suddenly hospitalized and died of cancer.

In Eric Shipton's classice, A Blank On the Map Shipton describes his exploration of the Karakoram's Shaksgam and  N side area of K2 in 1937. This was a very small expedition that consisted only of Shipton, H. W. Tilman, M. A. Spender, J. B. Auden, seven Sherpas (under Sirdar Ang Tharkay), and four Balti porters. This five-month expedition mapped 1,800 square miles of rugged, glaciated, uninhabited country containing many of the world's most spectacular mountains

Ang Tharkay and a young brother. Tilman commented that his stews and curries were masterpieces, but that cooking was only one of his abilities, as he was responsible for porters, gave advice and invariably carried the biggest loads highest. RGS.

In 1954 autobiography of Ang Thrace, Mémoires d'un Sherpa , it says that Ang Tharkay was Tenzing’s landlord in Darjeeling and also his mentor. Ang Tharkay accompanied Shipton on eight expeditions and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, led

He went to Annapurna with the French in 1950, to Everest in 1951, to Cho Oyu in 1952, to both Dhaulagiri and Nun in 1953, to Makalu in 1954, and finally to Everest with the Indians in 1962.

In 1955:he joined an  an Indian expedition from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling makes the second ascent of Kamet on July 6. Major Narendra D. Jayal led the party; Jayal, Ang Tharkay, Da Namgyal, Ang Temba, and Hlakpa Dorje comprised the summit team. Their route followed the ridge linking Abi Gamin and Kamet.

Crossing the Lumding La  (4520 m) with Neema Sherpa. This was a journey I did with Murray Jones and a Sherpani called Domalay in 1975, when we had an unsuccessful attempt on Kwangde. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I was first drawn to Ang Tharkay in my early teens when I saw a photo of diminutive Ang Tharkay, carrying a large, frost bitten French climber, Gaston Rebuffat, on his back down the mountainside from a high camp on Mt. Annapurna.

Having been born in the barren Solo Khumbu, (photo below) the lush green grass and trees of his farm in Simbhanjayang, south of Kathmandu, was an oasis. He was close enough to meet old climbing friends from abroad,  fellow Sherpa's from earlier climbs, yet beuing able to go to his farm when he wanted peace, quiet and self sufficviency.

The first time I visited Ang Tharkay was with his son Pemba who I had met in Kathmandu.
Later that year before I returned to Switzerland, Ang Tharkay was very distraught. The wife and daughter of his old climbing partner Ed Hillary, had died in a terrible plane crash in Kathmandu. He had made a special and swift visit into Kathmandu to comfort Sir Ed, Peter and Sarah. I remember that tragicday well as I was in Kathmandu and heard the plane crash and got the news an hour later. I joined a group of friends to give what support we could to a grieving Hillary family.

As a young man I had the privilige of meeting the two greatest early-era Sherpas,  Ang Tharkay and Tenzing Norgay. I met Tenzing in 1972 in The Mall in Darjeeling and we sat on a wall talking about his climbing career. Tenzing seemed a much more complex man than Ang Tharkay. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, I felt Tenzing had problems handling fame and status, whereas Ang Tharkay seemed totally unaffected by it, and found simple things like farming, cycling and being with family, more than satisfied his small needs. In my youthful mind, Ang Tharkay was the Father of the modern day climbing Sherpa

Two of my favourite Sherpa guides. Domalay (l) and Neema (r) who accompanied Murray Jones and I on a trip in 1975. They both worked for the Ed Hillary hospital in Kunde. Photo: Bob McKerrow