Friday, 31 October 2008

Ice is the canary in the coal mine for global warming

Antarctic Ice with the Terra Nova Peak in the background. Ice is the canary in the coal mine for global warming. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As a young boy I used to enjoy listening to Radio New Zealand’s programme Antarctica Calling on a Sunday evening when all the New Zealander’s at Scott Base could talk to their families . Why was I so interested? Cherrie Martin was in my class at High Street School in Dunedin and she was the most beautiful girl in my class. And to elevate her status even higher, her Father was part of the New Zealand (IGY) International geophysical Year team and wintered over at Scott Base with none other than Sir Edmund Hillary, the leader in 1957-58. These were my heroes.
No one talked of global warming in those days.

Mountains that the New Zealand IGY team mapped and climbed some of the prominent peaks. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (IGY) was highly successful.
Successes credited to IGY include the discoveries of the Van Allen radiation belts that surround the Earth, and the launch of Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, IGY was also said to be fundamental in establishing the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement that designated the region as a continent for peace and science.

Eleven years later I was in Antarctica as a Scientific Technician carrying on the work the scientists of IGY started. I wintered over at Vanda station in the Wright Valley in 1970 with three other people doing scientific work; mainly meteorology, ice measurements on Lake Vanda, seismology and geomagnetics.

Gary Lewis assisting me to drill through the ice covering Lake Vanda in 1970, as part of a project. Photo: Bob McKerrow

 I spent 13 months in Antarctica between Oct 1969 and Nove 1979 and the work we started. showed that changes were occuring in Antarctica's temperatures and the ice on Lake Vanda was ablating at an alarming rate. Also we witnessed the largest river in Antartica, the Onyx, which flowed into Lake Vanda, increasing in flow over two summers. We probably were some of the first to measure the beginning of global climate change.

In 1986 I joined Will Steger's International Polar Expedition. Here we are guiding sledge dogs across open leads on the Arctic Ocean en route to the North Pole. It was clear on our two Arctic expeditions in 1985 and 1986 we were seeing dramatic changes to the Arctic environment, but we didn't quite understand the full extent of it. Today Will Steger is one of the leading advocates for global warming in the Polar regions. Photo: Will Steger.

The head of the Wright valley looking across the expanse of Polar Plateau. Taken in 1970. Today, this glacier has shrunk dramatically as climate change takes its toll. Photo: Bob McKerrow

For the last two years, one of the largest international research programmes for 50 years has been focusing on the world's most remote regions - the Antarctic and Arctic.
IPY was officially launched in Paris on 1 March 2007, and will run until March 2009.
The International Polar Year (IPY) brings together thousands of scientists, from more than 60 nations, to participate in more than 200 projects.
And the issue at the top of the agenda is climate change.
"This is going to raise the profile of the issue of global warming among the international community," said Sir David King, the UK government's chief scientist at the opening.
"We know that what is happening to ice on the planet is a very clear indication of what is going to happen to the rest of us.
The first IPY, held in 1882-83, saw the world's first co-ordinated international expeditions to the polar regions.

Wildlife is under threat in both the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In 1932-33, the second IPY led to 40 permanent observation stations being established in the Arctic.
Royal Society president Lord Rees, speaking to reporters, said the fourth IPY would build on scientists' current knowledge.
"Polar regions are clearly the focus of even more interest than they were 50 years ago when those of an older generation remember the previous International Geophysical Year.
"That is because of a number of reasons," Lord Rees explained. "They are the most pristine and least explored parts of the planet.
"Climate change is also more manifest here than anywhere else, and some of the best data on the climate comes from what we get from the ice cores."

                                                 Adele Penquin. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Cynan Ellis-Evans, head of the UK's IPY national committee, "The IPY is going to be taking this large number of nations and work together," he said. "One classic example is the Census of Antarctic Marine Life, involving 18 nations."
The project will investigate the distribution and abundance of marine biodiversity in the region, and aims to provide a benchmark against which future changes, including climatic shifts, can be measured.
"The whole of the Southern Ocean is going to be covered, and this sort of activity would never have been possible outside of the IPY," Dr Ellis-Evans added.

Walruses , Ellesmere Island. Photo: Bob McKerrowUnanswered questions

At the beginning of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a summary of its Fourth Assessment Report, which showed that human activity was "very likely" to be causing climate change.
But it added that uncertainties still surrounded some of the projected impacts, such as sea level rise caused by melting ice-sheets.
One of the speakers at the launch in London said that the IPY would address these issues.
Eric Wolff, principal investigator for the British Antarctic Survey, used a musical analogy to make his point.
"Scientists study these things all the time but the way I like to think of it is that individual musicians sound interesting to listen to," Dr Wolff said.
"But it is only when you put them all together with a conductor in an orchestra that you start to hear something fantastic.
"And that is what the IPY is going to do; it will allow us to look at the whole in one go and get a snapshot."

Caribou on Baffin Island are under threat as their habitat is being drastically affected by changing climate. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Stirling University experts are currently working in the Arctic on a fact-finding mission to aid the fight against climate change.
Concerns have been raised that the high amount of carbon found in Arctic soils could be released into the atmosphere.
The University's Dr Philip Wookey, leading the Arctic team, is investigating the decomposition of organic matter in soil and how the process is affected by environmental change.

                                           The Arctic Hare: Photo: Bob McKerrow

Dr Wookey said: "The polar regions are predicted to undergo the most rapid climatic changes as a result of the greenhouse effect, and the organisms that inhabit them may also be especially vulnerable to change.
"Another frequently ignored issue is that the Arctic stores enormous amounts of carbon in soils.
"There are real concerns that much of this carbon could end up in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which are both powerful greenhouse gases."
The International Polar Year has been launched by scientists across the world to address environmental concerns affecting the polar regions.

Polar bear numbers diminish as the ice cover on Arctic Ocean shrinks in size.
The loss of polar bears to be a "canary in the coal mine" signaling the need for stronger action on mitigating global warming.

This week has been an inspirational one for me.
Currently we have over 2000 Red Cross volunteers camped in West Java, Indonesia. Most of them are from Indonesia, with smaller numbers from China, Germany, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Malaysia. It is a camp to learn and improve skills.
Apart from disaster response and first aid training, a lot of emphasis is being put on Climate Change which is becoming an integrated part of Red Cross programmes in many parts of the world.

                             Traveling by dogs on the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Red Cross has its own Climate Centre in the Netherlands.
Disaster risk reduction tends to be cheaper and more efficient than emergency relief. Unfortunately, the lack of dramatic images causes disaster risk reduction to receive less media attention than disasters which require immediate relief, and thus disaster risk reduction programs attracts fewer sponsors. The resulting absence of funds seriously halts the development of local and regional disaster risk reduction programs, particularly in developing countries. Since there are few humanitarian organisations which prioritise disaster risk reduction to the extent the Red Cross/Red Crescent does, it is up to the Red Cross/Red Crescent to advocate the importance of disaster risk reduction to both the general public and policy-makers. The necessity of being prepared for climate change and extreme weather events constitutes an important additional argument in favour of this campaign.

How can you help the fight against global warming in the Polar regions, and the rest of the world ?

The RC/RC Climate Centre is part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Climate Centre is not a government agency, but depends on donations to carry out its work.
You may donate either to the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in your country or to the RC/RC Climate Centre.

To make a contribution to your National Society, please contact them directly. Addresses and web sites can be found at Red Cross

My good friend of two polar expeditions, Will Steger, is one of the leading advocates on climate change in the Polar Regions (click here to read more).

The Will Steger Foundation has seen firsthand the dramatic effects of climate change on both the environment and the human condition through the efforts of its founder, Will Steger, who has explored the Polar Regions for 45 years. With that knowledge, WSF is leading humanity to slow climate change.
The Foundation seeks to inspire and be a catalyst for international environmental leadership to stop global warming through exploration, education and action.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The grave digger of Kabul.

Rahimullah, the grave digger of Kabul

It was a cold winter’s day in early 1994 when I first met Rahimullah, grave digger and caretaker of the British Cemetery in Kabul. He looked poor in tattered Shalwah Kamez and a shawl wrapped round his shoulders to keep out the biting cold. The headstones and graves were dusted with snow. In the distance the Hindu Kush range stood high above Koh Daman, the hills that skirt Kabul. Rahimullah looked about 50 then. Since the Soviets withdrew from Kabul in 1989 he hadn’t been paid. I knew that Aurel Stein, the famous Hungarian born British Archaeologist was buried here in 1943. I didn’t know that this would to prove to be the most interesting grave yard I had ever seen. Its oldest residents are British soldiers from the Anglo-Afghan wars. Like the 29 members of the 67th Foot (South Hampshire Regiment), buried in a mass grave after a failed attempt to climb a hill south of Kabul on the 13th December 1879.

The heavy wooden gate opens into the Kabul Christian or British Cemetery

All that really remains of them is part of their grave stone, stuck along one side of the cemetery wall with other fragments of history. Long lists that tell no stories other than the staccato military details of name, rank, regiment and date. In between are assorted ranks of other visitors who never made it home. Explorers, journalists, hippies who lost the trail, engineers and aid workers; Italians and Germans and Canadians and Polish and many from other countries. Their headstones tell a snippet of Afghanistan’s rich history.

More recent headstones

Raimullah hadn’t been paid for four years when I first met him and I was so impressed that he still kept the grave yard tidy after 3 years of heavy fighting that I got a few friends together and we paid him a monthly salary for the next few years. He knew every grave and the history behind it and over a period of almost 3 years, we became good friends. I often used to sit on a grave and he would tell me about his life, his thoughts on Islam, why he tended the graves of Infidels.

I had almost forgotten about old Rahimullah, when I saw the tragic news on the BBC news on Monday night, 27 October about Gayle Williams, 34, who worked with disabled children for the charity Serve Afghanistan, was gunned down by two men on a motorbike as she made her way to work on Oct 20.

Gayle Williams

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying that she had been targeted because she was "preaching Christianity" -a charge rejected by her colleagues.
Her mother Pat and sister Karen were among around 50 expatriate colleagues, friends and diplomats who gathered to mourn Gayle Williams at the Afghan capital's historic British cemetery.
Rose petals were scattered on her coffin, which was decked with flowers, as she was buried. Miss Williams had asked to be buried in Afghanistan should she die in the country.
The ceremony was protected by a cordon of police, with roadblocks set up to prevent a possible attack.
Her relatives then met President Hamid Karzai at his palace afterwards.
I am sure Rahimullah was there. He would have carefully dug the grave and tenderly tended her plot after the family and crowds departed.
Gayle William’s burial must have been one of the biggest ever to grace that famous green plot, excepting that of Aurel Stein.

The headstone of Aurel Stein's grave in Kabul. Taken 1994. Photo: Bob McKerrow

“ On a dry, dusty morning in late October 1943, a procession moved slowly along the road from the diplomatic quarter of Kabul to the Christian cemetery, on the eastern outskirts of the city. The route had been specially watered for the distinguished company, among who were representatives of the King of Afghanistan, and his Foreign Minister, the British, American and Iraqi Ministers, the Iranian Ambassador and the Soviet Charge d’Affaires…. Sir Aurel Stein, archaeologist, explorer and scholar had finally reached the country five weeks before his eighty-first birthday and several decades after first applying for permission to visit its ancient sites.” (from Aurel Stein - Pioneer of the Silk Route by Annabel Walker)

The rich dust of those infidels has fertilized a rare green space under Rahimullah’s care and he will lovingly care for them as long as he can.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Gibbons, houses, nursing colleges, hospitals, schools, TRIAMS and lessons learned.

I finally have a few hours to write after a frantic last 10 days. I am flying from Bangkok to Jakarta and we are presently over the Gulf of Thailand, and in the distance, I can see the city of Hat Yai. This time a month ago, I was travelling from Bangkok to Penang in Malaysia by train and passed through Hat Yai. It looks so different from the air.

Ten days ago I flew to Aceh which was the scene of enormous destruction during the Indian Ocean tsunami, with over 250,000 people killed or missing.

A hospital on Pulau Wei built by the German Red Cross. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I visited the Island of Pulau Wei, saw the houses, a wonderful hospital and a busy school constructed by the German Red Cross, and a nursing college build by the Norwegian Red Cross.
The nursing college runs a three year course and produces top quality nurses, something there is a shortage of in Indonesia. Later I visited houses constructed by the Netherlands Red Cross.

Johannes Richert, Director of Operations, German Red Cross, speaks to the owner of the the house and her child on Pulau Wei. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Ferry from Banda Aceh to Pulau Wei. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Then on the following day,I accompanied my German Red Cross colleagues to the opening of a large secondary school in Banda Aceh, which caters for 700 plus pupils. here we spent time with the pupils and saw a high standard of education be given by dedicated teachers. We also saw an innovative German Red Cross programme which uses smashed furniture and other pieces of debris washed up by the Tsunami, to make furnture for the school and other public buildings. Nothing is wasted in Aceh.

The next day, Sunday 19 October, I travelled down the spectacular coastline from Banda Aceh, to Lamno, Calang and Teunom with Martin Hahn, from the German Red Cross HQ in Berlin. We stopped for a break near Lamno and I bought a coke. As I was drinking it a large Gibbon swung through the jungle, sat on the table, swiped my Coke, and gulped it down.

The Gibbon stealing our drinks. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Next, he picked up Martin’s drink and downed that too. He didn’t appear aggressive so I engaged in a conversation with him but he didn’t reply to my questions, but looked quizzically at me.
We passed many of the 20,000 sturdy transitional shelters built by the Red Cross to tide people over until permanent shelters were built. We have completed 16,000 of the 20,000 permanent houses houses now and the transitional shelters are attached to the rear of the new house and either become an sxtra bedroom, kitchen, or houses someone from the extended family. En route I saw houses built by the Indonesian, Chinese, Canadian, British and German Red Cross, with many of them with top class water and sanitation facilities.

Along the road side we saw 1800 houses built by the Canadian Red Cross some pictured above. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Most of the water and sanitation has been done by the American Red Cross including a massive municipal water supply in the city of Calang. My role as Head of Delegation of the International Federation is to coordinate the programmes done by our members Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and to represent them at senior level with government, provincial governors, the UN and other agencies. I also have a role in monitoring and evaluation. Field trips are an essential part of my work.

Last Sunday as we drove to Calang, it started raining heavily. By nightfall we had torrential rain and we had to evacuate 28 of our Canadian Red Cross colleagues from their flooded compound to ours. While this wsa going on, my fears were for the people living in the houses we had built and I went to bed thinking, "will they be dry, safe and sound tonight?" The next day we had wide spread flooding in Calang and Teunom, the worst in years, and even the main road which is many metres above the surrounding land, was flooded. I need not have worried about the houses the Red Cross built. Not are the earthquake resistent, they are flood proof too.

Highly resilient houses built by the German Red Cross in Teunom. Photo Bob McKerrow
More houses built by the British Red Cross high above the flood level. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I was so proud of the housing designs of the Canadian, British and German Red Cross, as the houses were well above the rising flood waters. I spoke to a women in one house and she said she felt so safe in her Red Cross house. It is hard workers Heike Kemper, an architect and leader of the German Red Cross team in Teunom, who has worked tirelessly for years ensuring that the houses were built to the most stringent standards.

After inspecting a few houses I joined Martin Hahn and the German Red Cross team for a handover ceremony for 690 houses midst flood waters and pouring rain.

From l to r. Martin Hahn, Bob McKerrow, Dirk Schuemeister, and Heike Kemper at the handover ceremony for 690 houses.

Few people understand the enormity the work the Red Cross has done in Indonesia. We have spent over a billion US dollars and have built 40,000 houses, hundreds of schools, medical facilities, water and sanitation systems, markets, community centres, nursing colleges, mental institutions, bridges, dykes and mangrove plantations to protect land against rising sea levels, ice plants for fisher people to export their fish and lobsters to the more lucrative markets, plus many other livelihood programmes. We also conduct long term community programmes such as disaster preparedness, community based first aid, psycho social counselling and other risk reduction programmes. Most of our work is done in support of the Indonesian Red Cross to build the capcity of this outstanding society that has almost a million volunteers nation-wide.

At the housing handover ceremonies, the village people celebrated this important event by putting on traditional dances, which varies from district to district. Photo: Bob Mckerrow

Since the Tsunami operation, began in late 2004, the economy of the province has improved dramatically. Small airlines like Susi Air provide transport from remote areas like Simeulue and Nias. Islands and Calang to Medan. Air transport enables lobster fishermen to get doluble the price of the catch now.

The scenery along the coast of Aceh is spectacular. Two photos above taken near Lamno. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Last Wednesday I flew to Bangkok for a Tsunami Lessons learned Project Meeting of Country Programme Leaders and Champions. Representatives came from the Governments and UN system in India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Jerry Talbot and I represented the Red Cross Movement. With so much money having been so generously given by ordinary people from around the world, transparency. quality and accountability are essential elements and this is where Governments have put strong anti-corruption mechanism in place to ensure that all funding is correctly spent. We support this through approaches such as TRIAMS—the tsunami recovery impact assessment and monitoring system. The purpose of the TRIAMS initiative is to assist governments, aid agencies and affected populations in assessing and monitoring the rate and direction of the post-tsunami recovery throughout its duration. In the process, the system helps governments, aid agencies and donors to be accountable for the end results of their efforts. Is the recovery effort achieving the desired results? Are the results distributed equitably? Where are the priority gaps? These are some of the questions TRIAMS seeks to answer. My colleague Robert Ondrusek who is based in Bangkok, is running the TRIAMS programme and was also at the meeting.

So the meeting in Bangkok was the first of its kind to capture the lessons learned to share with all organisations and donors to record what went well, what needs to be improved, and mistakes we should never repeat. We also plan to come up with a practitioners’ manual for future mega-disasters so that operations managers and administrators from all around the world can have the best information at their fingertips when disasters strike. It was a moving experience to hear presentations from each country and to note the selfless service given by so many dedicated volunteers and professionals, some of whom I wrote about in my second to last posting, such as the 73 year old Indonesian grandmother who is a volunteer for the Indonesian Red Cross. The regional Tsunami meeting also discussed the proposed one hour Discovery Channel documentary which is underway. This documentary is designed to show the world how their money was spent and to hear the stories of the Tsunami affected people.

Two of the best Tsunami Champions: Kuntoro Mangkasubroto,(right) Minister for Tsunami, Indonesia. Dr. Kuntoro led the world's best relief and recovery process ever, by setting up an unparalled coordination mechanism through a one-stop-shop approach where international players working in Indonesia engaged with one government agency which included Immigration, Customs, Foreign Affairs, Finance and all other Govt. departments, to ensure international aid reached the people quickly. And,right,Jerry Talbot, Special rep. to the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Jerry worked three years in the Maldives before taking on his current position.

Some of the leaders in the Tsunami:Janet Wong, UNIFEM, Bangkok, Ms. Sirisupa Kulthanan, Thailand, Jerry Talbot. Head of Tsunami Unit, IFRC, Kuntoro Mangkasubroto, Minister for Tsunami, Indonesia. Satya Tripathi, UN Recovery Coordinator, Aceh. Photo: Bob McKrrow

I was delighted my boss from Geneva, Jerry Talbot from Onga Onga in the Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was at the meeting. Jerry and I first worked together in Bangladesh after the war between Pakistan and India when Bangladesh gained its independence. We also worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan and in Maldives in the early days of the Tsunami. Jerry has been my boss thrice and I his, once. Such is the swing of the managenment pendulum in our organisation. Thank God we have fairly flat structure in the Red Cross where we have a team approach to our work, and where situational leadership is encouraged.

I am rambling on. My batteries in my computer are almost exhausted and also my own batteries, as we begin the descent to Jakarta. Its late Saturday morning so I look forward to a relaxing weekend with my family, Naila, and boys Ablai and Mahdi.

Bob. Saturday 26 October 2008.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Last great expedition

Landing at the head of the Robert Scott Glacier about 100 km from the South Pole. Photo: Bob McKerrow
When I landed at the Robert Scott Glacier in 1970, I recall thinking, "what is under the thousands of feet ice I am standing on."
Thirty-eight years later I have an answer. At this very moment, perhaps the last great Antarctic expedition - to find an explanation for why there is a great mountain range buried under the White Continent.

The Gamburtsevs match the Alps in scale but no-one has ever seen them because they are covered by up to 4km of ice.

Geologists struggle to understand how such a massif could have formed and persisted in the middle of Antarctica.

Now, an international team is setting out on a deep-field survey to try to get some answers.

The group comprises scientists, engineers, pilots and support staff from the UK, the US, Germany, Australia, China and Japan. It's rather like being an archaeologist and opening up a tomb in a pyramid and finding an astronaut sitting inside. It shouldn't be there

Dr Robin Bell, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The ambitious nature of the project - working in Antarctica's far interior - has required an exceptional level of co-ordination and co-operation.

"You can almost think about it as exploring another planet - but on Earth," said Dr Fausto Ferraccioli from the British Antarctic Survey.

"This region is a complete enigma. It's in the middle of the continent. Most mountain ranges are on the edges of continents, and we really can't understand what these mountains are doing in the centre."

The AGAP (Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province) project will establish two camps from where the team will map the subglacial range using surface and airborne instruments.


1. Aircraft will use radar to detect ice thickness and layering, and to map the shape of the deeply buried bedrock
2. The planes will also conduct gravity and magnetic surveys to glean more information about the mountains' structure
3. By listeni
ng to seismic waves passing through the range, scientists can probe rock properties deep in the Earth.

Dr Fausto Ferraccioli describes the equipment onboard the aircraft

The Gamburtsevs were discovered by a Soviet team making a traverse across the ice in the late 1950s. The rocky prominence was totally unexpected; scientists thought the interior of the continent would be relatively flat.

"There are two easy ways to make mountains," explained Dr Robin Bell, from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who is a lead US researcher on the expedition.

"One is colliding continents, but after they collide they tend to erode; and the last collision was 500-million-plus years ago. They shouldn't be there.

Dr Robin Bell says the team will perform an x-ray of the ice sheet
"The other way is a hotspot, [with volcanoes punching through the crust] like in Hawaii; but there's no good evidence for underneath the ice sheet being that hot.

"I like to say it's rather like being an archaeologist and opening up a tomb in a pyramid and finding an astronaut sitting inside. It shouldn't be there."

The mountains are believed to have been a key nucleation point for the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

It is thought that as Earth's climate cooled just over 30 million years ago, the snows that fell on the mountains produced mighty glaciers, which then merged to form one giant spreading ice-mass.

A better understanding of these events could give clues as to how Antarctica might evolve in the coming centuries if, as expected, the Earth continues its current warming trend.

The aerogeophysical survey of Antarctica's Gamburtsev Province (AGAP) is a flagship endeavour of International Polar Year - the global science community's concerted push to try to answer the big questions about the Earth's northern and southern extremes.

The challenging nature of the expedition has required that expertise be drawn from across polar community. Supplying such remote camps is a major logistical exercise; working in them - at temperatures 30-40 degrees below zero Celsius - is bound to be physically demanding.

Two survey aircraft will sweep back and forth across the ice to map the shape of the mountains. The planes will be equipped with ice-penetrating radar and instruments to measure the local gravitational and magnetic fields.
Air bubbles trapped in old ices record environmental conditions

Information on the deeper structure of the Gamburtsevs will come from a network of seismometers that will listen to earthquake signals passing through the rock from the other side of the globe.

"We'll map everything from the detailed ripples on the surface of the ice sheet down to the temperature structure hundreds of kilometres in the Earth, so we'll have everything from the layering in the ice to what the nature of the rocks are," said Dr Bell.

Another important aim of the project is to find a place to drill for ancient ices. By examining bubbles of air trapped in compacted snow, it is possible for researchers to glean details about past environmental conditions.

Not only can they see concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane - the two principal human-produced gases now blamed for global warming - but they can also gauge past temperatures from the samples.

Somewhere in the Gamburtsev region there could be a location were it is possible to drill down to ices that are more than a million years old. This is at least 200,000 years older than the most ancient ices currently in the possession of scientists.

The expedition will take some two-and-a-half months to complete.

So 38 years on, this aging Antarctic explorer will have his curiousity satisfied when the results of th eexpedition are made public.

Below are some photos I took in the good old days when we travelled by dogs.

Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds.

Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.

Thanks to Jonathan Amos for permission to use some of his data.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tsunami heroes - Indonesia

The province of Aceh - Indonesia

I am currently travelling in the northern most part of Indonesia, Pulau Weh ( the small island in the top left-hand corner) and the province of Aceh, which was devastated by the 26 December 2004, Tsunami which killed 127,000 people and the bodies of another 116,000 have never been found. A quarter of a million poeple killed in seconds. In my travels where I talk and motivate the volunteers and staff, inspect projects and plan for future programmes, I hear so many gut-wrenching stories and the work of unsung heroes, many of them Red Cross volunteers.

Here are two stories of Nuraini a Grandmother and Nasir, orphaned by the tsunami.


Despite having experienced profound tragedy, Red Cross Red Crescent volunteer Nuraini (left) is determined to help others.

After losing four children, 11 grandchildren and her home to the 2004 tsunami, 72-year-old Nuraini and her husband used their pension to build a kindergarten in Merduati village, Banda Aceh. “Children should begin their education early, which is why we started this kindergarten,” she says.

When she is not running after the children at her school, Nuraini teaches cooking and traditional handicrafts to other women in her village as a community facilitator for a psychological support programme (PSP) run by the American Red Cross and Indonesian Red Cross.

“It is important to share your knowledge and skills with others, so that they can grow and learn too,” she says, adding that many women use these new skills to earn additional income for their families. Nuraini also sheepishly admits that she has a hard time sitting still and is constantly looking for new projects to keep her busy.

Nuraini is one of 1,260 community and school PSP facilitators in the 137 communities and 154 schools in Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar and Aceh Jaya targeted by the programme. Nuraini and her fellow volunteer facilitators play a critical role in helping their communities to recover from the emotional toll of the tsunami.

The volunteers identify psychosocial needs in their communities, and design and implement activities to meet these needs. These often include informal schooling and tree planting to help re-establish a sense of place in damaged or resettled communities. Facilitators receive extensive training in project planning and technical skills, such as psychosocial first aid, to help them carry out their roles.

“Facilitators in Banda Aceh began to provide support to their communities right after the tsunami hit, even though many of them had lost family members and their homes,” said Amin Khoja, the American Red Cross PSP programme manager. “Their contribution to this programme and to their community is noble and deserves appreciation.”

As the PSP programme comes to an end in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar, the American Red Cross and PMI are working with the facilitators to enable them to continue to provide psychosocial support to those in need. The Red Cross Red Crescent is now expanding its PSP activities into new communities in Aceh Jaya.


Nasir (left) found himself in the media spotlight in December 2007, when he became the recipient of the 100,000th house built in Aceh province three years after the tsunami had left around half a million people homeless.

The 14-year-old orphan was interviewed on local television at the ceremony to hand over the keys to his new pale green home in Tanoh Manyang village in the Teunom region of western Aceh.

He may be the star of the community but, a few months on, the media circus has moved on and he’s still facing life without his parents, who died in the disaster.


“After the earthquake, I went closer to the beach. Then I saw a big wave that dragged me away. Although I was only half conscious, I was able to swim, but I never saw my parents again,” he explains haltingly.

Nasir now lives with his older sister in a settlement of 140 houses, which were constructed from scratch by the British Red Cross for tsunami survivors who lost their land in the disaster. Some of them had previously inhabited a tiny island in the middle of an estuary, which was swallowed by up the waves.

Today there is a lively coffee shop and brightly-coloured flowers grow in the front yards lining the main street. People are slowly furnishing their new homes, although few have enough money to replace everything they lost in the disaster.


Nasir must wait until he reaches the age of 17 before he becomes the legal owner of his house. Until then, his financial affairs will be managed by Nourdin, his uncle, who has been declared Nasir’s official guardian by the local sharia court.

There, Nourdin signed a declaration confirming his responsibility to manage the assets given to his nephew by the British Red Cross until Nasir becomes an adult. The same process was repeated for the 348 orphans who received homes and cash grants under the Red Cross policy of providing extra support to groups left particularly vulnerable by the tsunami.

Nasir recently received a lump sum payment of around 520 Swiss francs to help with his education. Some of the money has been spent on books, pens and other stationery, and he has also enjoyed a bit of extra pocket money.

Thanks to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for use of photos and information above.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The poor getting poorer - highly motivated and depressed.

Myanmar Red Cross volunteers distribute containers to cyclone survivors to collect safe drinking water. (Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)

I got considerable feedback on my last posting written about the impact the current global recession is likely to have on poverty.

According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death."

Having lived in Afghanistan 1993-96, Central Asia from 1996-1998,Bangladesh 1999-2000, India 2001 -2006 and since September 2006 Indonesia, it has been 15 years of working with disasters and poverty. Before that another 20 years in Africa and Asia. It is a scourge, it is a shame, it is a responsibility we all have to share.

I have just returned from a Asia Pacific meeting in Kuala Lumpur where our heads of delegations and Asia and Pacific got together to share experiences and plan our programmes for the coming year. I was so moved to hear first hand from Bridget, who ran the huge cyclone operation in Myanmar, speak of the thousands who died, and the work of the Myanmar Red Cross volunteers. Many of them lost their homes, some family members, but they continued to work 18 hours a day for months while they distributed tents, food, clothing and bedding, and others provided life saving medical care. The media hardly reported this but rather focused on politics.

Then Carl spoke of the sense of helplessness he felt when the massive earthquake struck China some months back and he asked our regional logistics unit in Kuala Lumpur to provide 100,000 tents. It took 70 charted 747s, Jumbo jets to get them into the effected area. Igor and his team in KL worked night and day while the Chinese Red Cross volunteers worked on rescue, medical help and distribution of relief goods.

Damage caused by the Sichuan earthquake in China

The first hand stories from Bridget, Carl and Igor motivated me even more to reach out for those who are the most vulnerable. Yesterday I met the Chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross, Mar'ie Muhammad and he said " Bob, there are millions of people in Indonesia being affected by the rising fuel prices, rising food prices, and now it is being compounded by the current economic recession." We have to reach out to these people and do something immediately. "
So the Indonesian Red Cross is now doing an assessment and based on that, we will target the worst affected. But I believe the problem will be massive. It is an honour to work with a man of courage and commitment like Mar'ie Muhammad, who is a former Minister of Finance. I have travelled with him in the Tsunami affected area, through the streets of Jakarta during severe flooding, and the manner in which he stops and talks to Mothers who have lost their homes, children who are grieving is to witness a man who cares about his people, and his country. Leading the Indonesian Red Cross with its million volunteers, Mar'ie Muhammad, millions of vulnerable people are being assisted to improve their lives annually throughout Indonesia.

But what depresses me deeply, is when I read the BBC website this morning and saw the worsening economic crisis, and how it will have a dramatic people on the poor people in Indonesia who struggle to exist.

In a few minutes I will be leaving Jakarta airport to Aceh, which bore the brunt of the Tsunami on that fateful day in December 2004. 127,000 bodies were found and another 116,000 bodies were never located. Our work in rebuilding the lives of the 1 million affected people continues and for the next four days I will be inspecting the outstanding work done by the German Red Cross in building 1000 houses, restoring livelihoods, water and sanitation, ambulance services and community preparedness programme. The Red Cross has built 40,000 houses and has spent approximately 1 billion US dollars on relief, recovery and rehabilitation. In Aceh, the Government, the Red Cross, the UN and many other NGOs have built back better and life in Aceh has returned to normal, but the scars are still there.

Sometimes emotion needs to followed up with action which we are doing in Indonesia, but it is also useful to look at poverty statistics and facts. I thank Anup Shah for allowing me to use his well researched figures.

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.Source 1

More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.Source 2

The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.Source 3

According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”Source 4

Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.Source 5

Based on enrolment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers.Source 6

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.Source 7

Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.Source 8

Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.Source 9

Water problems affect half of humanity:

Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.
More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.
Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)
Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea
The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.
Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
Millions of women spending several hours a day collecting water.
To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit.… The costs associated with health spending, productivity losses and labour diversions … are greatest in some of the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003.Source 10

Number of children in the world
2.2 billion
Number in poverty
1 billion (every second child)
Shelter, safe water and health
For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)
400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)
270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)
Children out of education worldwide
121 million
Survival for children

10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)
1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation
Health of children

2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized
15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom)
Source 11

Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 a day and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin.Source 12

Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions.Source 13

In developing countries some 2.5 billion people are forced to rely on biomass—fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung—to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China.Source 14

Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis.Source 15

In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%:

The poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption:

Source 16

1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity:

Breaking that down further:

Number of people living without electricity Region Millions without electricity
South Asia 706
Sub-Saharan Africa 547
East Asia 224
Other 101

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.Source 18

World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006.

The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%).
The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).
Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%)
Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%).Source 19
The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exports Source 20

The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.”

In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004.Source 21

For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.Source 22

51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations.Source 23

The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.Source 24

The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money.Source 25

In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much.Source 26

An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:

3 to 1 in 1820
11 to 1 in 1913
35 to 1 in 1950
44 to 1 in 1973
72 to 1 in 1992Source 27
“Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.”Source 28

For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980 - 2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960 - 1980]. For each indicator, countries were divided into five roughly equal groups, according to what level the countries had achieved by the start of the period (1960 or 1980). Among the findings:

Growth: The fall in economic growth rates was most pronounced and across the board for all groups or countries.
Life Expectancy: Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of the 5 groups of countries, with the exception of the highest group (life expectancy 69-76 years).
Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the period of globalization (1980-1998) than over the previous two decades.
Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the period of globalization.Source 29
A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.Source 30

Consider the global priorities in spending in 1998

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Cosmetics in the United States 8
Ice cream in Europe 11
Perfumes in Europe and the United States 12
Pet foods in Europe and the United States 17
Business entertainment in Japan 35
Cigarettes in Europe 50
Alcoholic drinks in Europe 105
Narcotics drugs in the world 400
Military spending in the world 780

And compare that to what was estimated as additional costs to achieve universal access to basic social services in all developing countries:

Global Priority $U.S. Billions
Basic education for all 6
Water and sanitation for all 9
Reproductive health for all women 12
Basic health and nutrition 13

Source 31

Notes and Sources

Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, The developing world is poorer than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty, World Bank, August 2008
For the 95% on $10 a day, see Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen and Prem Sangraula, Dollar a day revisited, World Bank, May 2008. They note that 95% of developing country population lived on less than $10 a day. Using 2005 population numbers, this is equivalent to just under 79.7% of world population, and does not include populations living on less than $10 a day from industrialized nations.
This figure is based on purchasing power parity (PPP), which basically suggests that prices of goods in countries tend to equate under floating exchange rates and therefore people would be able to purchase the same quantity of goods in any country for a given sum of money. That is, the notion that a dollar should buy the same amount in all countries. Hence if a poor person in a poor country living on a dollar a day moved to the U.S. with no changes to their income, they would still be living on a dollar a day.

The new poverty line of $1.25 a day was recently announced by the World Bank (in 2008). For many years before that it had been $1 a day. But the $1 a day used then would be $1.45 a day now if just inflation was accounted for.

The new figures from the World Bank therefore confirm concerns that poverty has not been reduced by as much as was hoped, although it certainly has dropped since 1981.

However, it appears that much of the poverty reduction in the last couple of decades almost exclusively comes from China:

China’s poverty rate fell from 85% to 15.9%, or by over 600 million people
China accounts for nearly all the world’s reduction in poverty
Excluding China, poverty fell only by around 10%

The use of the poverty line of $1 a day had long come under criticism for seeming arbitrary and using poor quality and limited data thus risking an underestimate of poverty. The $1.25 a day level is accompanied with some additional explanations and reasoning, including that it is a common level found amongst the poorest countries, and that $2.50 represents a typical poverty level amongst many more developing countries.

The $10 dollar a day figure above is close to poverty levels in the US, so is provided here to give a more global perspective to these numbers, although the World Bank has felt it is not a meaningful number for the poorest because they are unfortunately unlikely to reach that level any time soon.

For further details on this (as well as some additional charts), see Poverty Around The World on this web site. back

2007 Human Development Report (HDR), United Nations Development Program, November 27, 2007, p.25. back


See Today, over 26,500 children died around the world from this web site. (Note that the statistic cited uses children as those under the age of five. If it was say 6, or 7, the numbers would be even higher.)back

See the following:
2007 Human Development Report (HDR), United Nations Development Program, November 27, 2007, p.25. (The report also notes that although India is rising economically, “the bad news is that this has not been translated into accelerated progress in cutting under-nutrition. One-half of all rural children [in India] are underweight for their age—roughly the same proportion as in 1992.”)
Millennium Development Goals Report 2007

Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 . The report importantly notes that “As high as this number seems, surveys show that it underestimates the actual number of children who, though enrolled, are not attending school. Moreover, neither enrolment nor attendance figures reflect children who do not attend school regularly. To make matters worse, official data are not usually available from countries in conflict or post-conflict situations. If data from these countries were reflected in global estimates, the enrolment picture would be even less optimistic.”back

The State of the World’s Children, 1999, UNICEFback

State of the World, Issue 287 - Feb 1997, New Internationalistback

2007 Human Development Report (HDR), United Nations Development Program, November 27, 2007, p.25. back

2006 United Nations Human Development Report, pp.6, 7, 35 back

State of the World’s Children, 2005, UNICEFback

2007 Human Development Report (HDR), United Nations Development Program, November 27, 2007, p.25. back

Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 back

Ibid, p.45 back

Ibid, p.45 back

World Development Indicators 2008, World Bank, August 2008 back

Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 , p.44 back

See the following:
World Bank Key Development Data & Statistics, World Bank, accessed March 3, 2008
Luisa Kroll and Allison Fass, The World’s Richest People, Forbes, March 3, 2007
World Bank’s list of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (41 countries), accessed March 3, 2008

See the following:
World Bank Key Development Data & Statistics, World Bank, accessed March 3, 2008
Luisa Kroll and Allison Fass, The World’s Richest People, Forbes, March 3, 2007

Trade Data, World Bank Data & Statistics, accessed March 3, 2008 back

Eileen Alt Powell, Some 600,000 join millionaire ranks in 2004, Associate Press, June 9, 2005 back

Based on World Bank data (accessed March 3, 2008) as follows:
Total debts of the developing world in 2006: $2.7 trillion
Total official development assistance in 2006: $106 billion

See the following:
Holding Transnationals Accountable, IPS, August 11, 1998
Top 200: The Rise of Corporate Global Power, by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies, November 2000

Log cabin to White House? Not any more, The Observer, April 28, 2002back

Debt - The facts, Issue 312 - May 1999, New Internationalistback

1999 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programmeback


World Resources Institute Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems, February 2001, (in the Food Feed and Fiber section). Note, that despite the food production rate being better than population growth rate, there is still so much hunger around the world.back

The Scorecard on Globalization 1980-2000: Twenty Years of Diminished Progress, by Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker, Egor Kraev and Judy Chen, Center for Economic Policy and Research, August 2001.back

Maude Barlow, Water as Commodity - The Wrong Prescription, The Institute for Food and Development Policy, Backgrounder, Summer 2001, Vol. 7, No. 3back

Consumerism, Volunteer Now! (undated) back

Friday, 10 October 2008

For whom the bell tolls ? Global economic recession will kill more children.

A victim of poverty. One of at least 20,000 children dying a day of malnutrition.

Someone passes wind in the US, and the rest of the world is feeling the economic blast from of the summits of Pamir mountains to the shores of the Maldive Islands.

Reliable statistics are now predicting that the 20,000 to 30,000 children dying a day from malnutrition and disease will increase rapidly as the global recession bites.

An island off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Photo: Bob McKerrow

After another day of gut-wrenching drops on world markets, finance chiefs of the world's major economies have pledged to take decisive action and work together to stem the escalating financial crisis.Reeling from the loss of trillions of dollars of wealth, investors worldwide had pinned their hopes on decisive action from the Group of Seven major industrialized nations.

The summits of the Pamir mountains. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Robb wrote some time ago, "I battle with myself, and have fought many battles within myself, yet I return here to be reminded of my relative comforts in life from part of your writings, and entertained and enriched by others."

I too battle with tensions, constraints and problems facing the world which have been enhanced by the worsening global economic crisis.

I am sitting in the relative comfort of my Hotel room in Kuala Lumpur reflecting on the last few weeks of hectic travelling. Outside my room the Twin Towers and other tall building drape the skyline. There were other Twin Towers that are no more.

The view from my window in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Bob McKerrow

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is part of the main ... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne

The financial crisis is hurting so many, especially the most vulnerable people with rising fuel and food prices, pressure on escalating accomodation rentals. Many will move from rented appartmets to shacks, shacks to cardboard and bamboo huts, or in Bangladesh and India, the millions of pavement dwellers will grow.

John Donne, the 17th century English poet who wrote no man is an island entire of itself was gravely ill at the time. It is a theme borrowed by John Steinbeck. I believe he was saying that we are all equal as human beings. The closer you get to dying the closer you get to living.

I have seen a lot of islands and people lately in my travels and in my work and I have come to realise that against the shallow world of rationalism, the person is ever an affirmation of mystery.

We have no way to know in advance the contributions of a person’s potential. No one is useless! Just as there is a mystery about what the future holds, there is a mystery about what the future contributions of any one person may be.

Children living life on the edge of starvation.

I recently came across a book called Night, which restored my faith in humanity.

Elie Wiesel's powerful story tells of pain and suffering experienced by a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust. The story befits John Donne's famous quote, "No man is an island . . . Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee," in that the sharing of a common culture and the subsequent feeling of belonging helped the prisoners to survive the horror of the concentration camps - the Holocaust.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well
as if a promontory were... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." by John Donne applies to the book. This sense that everyone is a part of the whole is reflected in Night, in the following ways: the sense of belonging together, their common religious beliefs, and unity among the Jewish people. All of these show how no man is in fact an island, and that each person, no matter who he/she is, is important.

Clearly the notion that "no man is an island," is supported by the fact that Elie and the other characters in the novel, such as Mr. Wiesel and Stein of Antwerp, survive by having a sense of belonging. In New Zealand, the Maori have "Turangawaiwai", a place to belong, a place to stand tall. That sense of being Jewish with others who share a common culture is a strong binding feeling. It was this feeling of strength and belonging that helped Elie and the other prisoners survive the terrifying horror of the camps; as Elie says, "Our fear and anguish were at an end. We were living among Jews, among brothers...". No man is an island was evident even to the point of risking ones life for another. This is shown when the French girl goes out of her way to give Elie some bread after being beaten; "Saying those few words to you was risky, but I knew you wouldn't give me away..."(Wiesel 51). This shows the sense of belonging, because she had forged papers that proved that she was Aryan, though she was really Jewish, and if the authorities were to find out that she was really Jewish, she would have been killed. This is an example of the belonging between people during the Holocaust, because there was trust between them even though they didn't know each other.
Without a doubt, their religious beliefs also played an important part in every man being a piece of the whole..".every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...." This quote is shown throughout the book when the prisoners come together to pray, "The service ended with the Kaddish. Everyone recited the Kaddish over his parents, over his children, over his brothers, and over himself."(Wiesel 65). The previous passage also reflects "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never seek to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This is when they pray for all the losses of lives and themselves. Even though they don't know all the people who died, the fact that people of their own faith were killed, diminishes them. There are times throughout the book when the elders tell the prisoners to never lose faith, thus giving them hope to survive. This shows how the very religious beliefs of the Holocaust victims in Night applies to the quote by John Donne.
Certainly, the sense of being unified gave them strength, for there is more strength in numbers. This feeling of unity even though the atrocities were so hard, was a strengthening feeling that helped them survive the camps. An example of this unity is when the prisoners were running through the snow during a forced march. They had already covered forty two miles, the officer finally gave the order to rest. After having run as one body, Elie stated "We sank down as one man in the snow" (Wiesel 82), although literally they were thousands of people, Elie says that they sat down as one man. This re-states the idea that."..every man is a piece of the continent...."
Finally showing that unity contributes to the idea that no man is an island to oneself, but a part of something bigger than themselves
In conclusion, the book Night is a powerful story that tells of pain and suffering, and in the midst of all this, the prisoners find each other as support through this atrocity. People are connected to something bigger than themselves as John Donne states: "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." and this becomes clear throughout the novel in the sense of belonging, religious beliefs and the sense of being unified. Elie's hope in writing this book was to enlighten and unite mankind in a hope that this would never happen again.

It's a crying shame the owners of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had no sense of history beyond their own complacency and greed.

Nias island. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I look out the window at the Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and think of Elie's sense of unity and compassion that the world needs at this point in history. Like the jetty on Nias island, Indonesia, above, most of us are wondering where it will lead too. Some of us will lose value on our houses, drop a few thousand dollars on investments, but try to think of ways of helping those who will be living on the pavements because of greed and mismanagement on Wall Street. The bell is tolling for you to do something now, for none of us are islands unto ourselves.