Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A veteran of the Boer War, my Uncle Bert Hodgson

Recently Donald did an excellent posting on ANZAC Day and displayed photos of his Dad in World War Two. These men from Otago and Southland were hardy men of the land, who could ride horses well, live off the land, and shoot with great accuracy. I would like to honour Great Uncle Bert Hodgson, my Grand Mother's brother, who left his Southland farm in about 1898-99 to join the Third New Zealand Rough Rider Contingent, as a member of the No. 5 Company, that went to South Africa to join the British Forces against the Boers.
Here is a photo of Uncle Bert (second from the left, standing)  with the beard, in older age, out hunting with a group of younger men near Waikawa, Southland.

He was Number  618 and listed as Lance-Sergeant B. L Hodgson and his Father was Mr. T. Hodgson of Woodlands, Southland, New Zealand.

The South African War of 1899-1902, often called the Boer War (sometimes the Second Boer War), was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. Fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, it was the culmination of longstanding tensions in southern Africa.

Bound to the 'Mother-country' by the 'crimson tie' of Empire, Premier Richard Seddon made the offer of troops the Britain in late 1899, two weeks before conflict finally broke out. Hundreds of men applied to serve, and by the time war began on 11 October 1899, the first contingent were already preparing for departure. Within a few months, they would be engaging the Boers.

Montbard, G, A tight corner, a New Zealander c.1900.

War art was a feature of the South African War, and often featured soldiers in heroic poses, such as this member of the Rough Riders who takes aim while in full flight. Such images owed more to artistic licence than the actual events they depicted; the sword the soldier wears was not part of the Rough Riders' kit

By the time peace was concluded two and a half year later, ten contingents of volunteers, totalling nearly 6,500 men with 8,000 horses had sailed for Africa, along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of school teachers. Seventy New Zealanders died in the war as the result of action, with another 158 killed accidentally or dying by disease.

In many ways the South African war also set the pattern for New Zealand’s later involvement in the two world wars. Specially raised units, consisting mainly of volunteers, were despatched overseas to serve with forces from elsewhere in the British Empire. The success enjoyed by the New Zealand troops fostered the idea that New Zealanders were naturally good soldiers, who required only a modicum of training to perform creditably.

Mahatma Gandhi and his involvement in Boer War

Apart from my deep interest in the New Zealanders who fought in the Boer War, I discovered over 35 years a photograph in the Indian Red Cross archives in New Delhi, of a young M.K.Gandhi who later became the famous Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi urged Indians to support the British government at the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, and organized an ambulance corps of 1,100 Indian volunteers. He hoped that this proof of loyalty would result in better treatment of Indian South Africans. The Indian Red Cross claims he set up this Ambulance Corp under the aupices of Red Cross.

Although the British won the war, and established peace among white South Africans, still treatment of Indians worsened. Gandhi and his followers were beaten and jailed for opposing the 1906 Registration Act, under which Indian citizens had to register and carry ID cards at all times.
In 1914, 21 years after he arrived on a one-year contract, Gandhi left South Africa.

English: Gandhi with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps (red Cross)  during the Boer War, South-Africa.

Standing: H. Kitchen, L. Panday, R. Panday, J. Royeppen, R.K. Khan, L. Gabriel, M.K. Kotharee, E. Peters, D. Vinden, V. Madanjit.
Middle Row: W. Jonathan, V. Lawrence, M.H. Nazar, Dr. L.P. Booth, M.K. Gandhi, P.K. Naidoo, M. Royeppen.
Front Row: S. Shadrach, "Professor" Dhundee, S.D. Moddley, A. David, A.A. Gandhi.

 I received this very interesting comment on 1 May 2011 and it adds a lot to my posting on Southland and Otago Boer War veterans.


Hi Bob

Thanks for keeping this amazing history fresh and posting those amazing photographs. I arrived in New Zealand 58 years ago as a almost 4 year old speaking only my parents mother tongue. Our dear gentle retired neighbour in Otatara on the outskirts of Invercargill, Mr Ted Robertson, was the youngest NZer to have enlisted in the Boer War (he went at age 16 having lied abt his age. It isnt widely known but not surprising that the kiwis sent there had much more empathy and respect and in common for the Boers that they were supposed to be fighting than for the arrogant poms that they were supposed to be supporting. (The same class of Poms who caused us such grief at Gallipoli 16 years later). Anyway "Mr Robbie" liked the Boers so much and had so much contact with them that he could speak their language fluently and apart from a few words & pronunciations which had evolved in the century or two since the boer's forefathers had left Holland, Mr Robbie & I could converse spectacularly well. He was an amazing naturalist and took me under his wing and taught me all about native flora & fauna. I owe my interest in Natural History to this wonderful man who almost made it to 100.

Anyway the awful thing that he told me about was the ghastly concentration camps that the Poms set up to contain whole Boer communities. Some held over 20,000 innocent families and many starved to death or died of apalling infectious diseases. If you think the Nazis were cruel to the jews then what those Poms did to the Boers was even worse. In fact Hitler modelled several of his concentration camps and systems on our Colonial ones in South Africa.

Thats something we should not forget. After the Boer War Ted Robertson went on to farm in the Otapiri & Lora gorge in Southland. He married into the McRae family who were the consummate Hokonui whisky distillers. He used to tell me how they were able to conceal their stills etc in the bush and keep the police off their backs and he often showed me some bottles of the product that they went to such trouble to conceal.

Thanks for your site Bob. Ive got lots of other good stuff to share with you too in the fullness of time. Best regards Gilbert van Reenen

Monday, 25 April 2011

Royal Wedding Rehearsal

As the big day approaches final preparations are underway to ensure the smooth running of the royal wedding.

We are all so excited as the what the Royal Wedding will be like? Click on clip below to get a preview from the rehearsal.

The royal household is keen to emphasise that William and Kate have been the driving force behind the planning of the details of the ceremony.
But are the young couple really getting it all their own way, particularly with the guest list?  Read on!
As I great fan of Royal Weddings, this is a foretaste of what to expect. Click on this video below:

Check out this great MSN video: Royal Wedding Party Entrance

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Passion in Port Talbot Wales, led by Michael Sheen

The Passion

Last night I went to the Scottish Kirk in Colombo with my boy Mahdi (photo right) to the Good Friday service. Having read, heard and seen plays on the story of the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ many times before, I could not help be moved by hymns and the sermon given by the Minister the Rev. John Purves. But to think that a whole city in Wales, and leading actor Michael Sheen are putting on such a creative re-working of biblical passion plays, is quite remarkable. But then, think what other great actors came from Port Talbot? Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins. Why has this sea-side city got so much talent ?

Michael Sheen in one of the opening scenes of the weekend-long Passion, which started at Aberavon beach on Friday. An open-air play with a cast of more than 1,000 and a Hollywood star in a leading role is taking to the streets of Port Talbot, Wales,  for the next three days.

The Passion, a re-working of biblical passion plays, stars Michael Sheen, who has returned to his home town to direct the National Theatre Wales project.

It is not just set in the south Wales town, it also involves hundreds of its residents as well as numerous groups.

The production started on Good Friday at Aberavon seafront and ends on Monday.

Hundreds watched from the promenade and the beach as the first elements in the drama unfolded.

Organisers say it will run for 72-hours non-stop, with a series of public performances on each of the three days.

Passion plays developed to tell the story of the trial suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

Sheen pictured left, said it was a "privilege and honour" to work in his home town of Port Talbot

Sheen, known for his portrayals of public figures such as Tony Blair and David Frost, has said he was inspired by the community spirit of the passion plays he watched at Margam Park as a youngster.

In addition to co-directing The Passion, Sheen is also starring in the production, which has a core cast of 15 professionals who are from the town.

Port Talbot-born David Rees Talbot, 33, whose London-based acting career includes The Bill and Casualty, landed the role of Peter.

He said rehearsals with Sheen included jogging on the beach and two hours' exercise to ensure the cast had the stamina for the three-day production.

He said: "It has been brilliant fun. In my 20 years' as an actor this is the best job ever.

"It's been a brilliant opportunity to work with him. But because he's so down to earth, it's not been that strange. You have got used to his genius in the room."

He added: "The hardest part is coming back and staying with your mum all the time. We've all turned back into teenagers - nobody's been allowed out too late and everyone's clothes are nice and clean."

Sheen's character of a teacher is 'baptised' by a stranger, played by Nigel Barrett, as the sun rises over Port Talbot

But the bulk of the cast is made up of volunteers from Port Talbot itself, including choirs and youth theatres as well as voluntary groups.

More than 1,000 are set to take part in performances being held at locations including the seafront, Aberafan Shopping Centre, Seaside Social Club and the civic square.

The production, written by poet and novelist Owen Sheers, is the last and largest of a series of National Theatre Wales "moving productions" to promote its first year programme.

Artistic director John McGrath said: "About two years ago we asked Michael to be part of our launch year and he immediately came up with the idea reinventing the passion play in Port Talbot.

"It was one of his earliest theatrical memories.

"When he steps in to the role, the whole thing lights up because he has this extraordinary presence."



THE ARRIVAL Aberavon Seafront 1500 BST


Saturday (day)

THE RETURN Llewellyn Street 1200-1700 BST

THE RISING Underpass 1200-1700 BST

THE RESISTANCE Aberafan Shopping Centre noon-5pm

(NOTE: all day events start at the shopping centre)

Saturday (evening)

THE SUPPER Seaside Social Club 1930/2000 BST

THE GARDEN Abbeyville Court 2130 BST


THE TRIAL Civic Square 1400 BST

THE PROCESSION From Station Road 1700

THE CROSS Aberavon Seafront 2000

SOURCE: National Theatre Wales

Special thanks to the BBC for permission to use some text and photos.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Polar Time Capsule to be Unveiled

I am off to Minnesota next month to meet after 25 years with members of our 1986 North Pole expedition.
I just received this press release describing the expedition and the reunion.

Twenty five years ago this May, a team including Minnesotans Will Steger, Paul Schurke & Ann Bancroft, reached the North Pole after enduring 56 days and a thousand zig-zag miles across fractured, shifting sea ice in temps that dipped below -70 F. Their epic ski &; dogsled trek with an 8-member, 49-dog crew was a deliberate throwback to the days of the early explorers that captured the imagination and riveted the attention of people around the world. Their accomplishment, the first confirmed trek to reach the Pole without resupply, was deemed by National Geographic "a landmark in polar exploration."

To commemorate this achievement during this anniversary year, the Minnesota History Center and Will Steger Foundation in St. Paul are hosting two public events. These include an "Expedition Family Day" 12-4 pm, Sunday, May 15 with team members, a sled dog and arctic clothing & equipment (open to the public with museum admission), and at 7 pm Tuesday May 17, a "Team Member Reunion" slide/film presentation (reservations required 651-259-3015 or Most of the expedition members have been involved in climate change and environmental projects during their different lives since the expedition and this will be promoted. In addition to Will, Paul & Ann, team members attending the reunion include Richard Weber and Brent Boddy from Canada, Geoff Carroll from Alaska and Bob McKerrow from New Zealand.


LEFT: Forty-nine of our huskies piled into a plane that took us from Baffin Island to Eureka, a weather station on Ellesmere Island.

Many of their other stories involve their sled dogs on whose herculean efforts the expedition depended. Their team mascot Zap, distinctive with one blue eye and one black, was remarkably personable and worked the crowds at pre-trip fundraising events. As Paul recalled, "Folks would chant 'Zap to the Pole!' as he made his way up and down the aisles greeting everyone and as I attempted to give my speech. But I could just as well have been reading from the dictionary. No one would have noticed since Zap kept them completely engaged."

On one of the teams' fundraising trips to New York, US Air gave Zap his own first class airplane seat and hotel room. When the media spotted Will and Paul walking him in Times Square, a photo of Zap made the wire services titled "Publicity Hound Hits Broadway." On the way to the Pole, Zap sported a red velvet cape emblazoned with a big gold "Z" that team members draped over him on cold nights to supplement his thin coat.

LEFT: Paul Schurke feeding Sam, the first dog to reach both the north and south poles.

Another favorite was a dog named "Sam." A wild dog who'd taken up residence at a radar station in the Canadian Arctic, he followed along with the team when they sledded past there on a 1985 training trip. Team member Richard made it his mission to befriend the timid animal and when, just for fun, he slipped him in harness, he found to the team's amazement that Sam was a voice-command lead dog, probably a long-lost member of a Yukon trapper's team.

LEFT: Sam and the team at the North Pole

A year later Sam was on his way to the North Pole with the team and, in 1989, he was part of Will's South Pole expedition as well, thus making canine history as the one and only dog on expeditions to both ends of the earth.  See link to The Most Amazing Sled Dog in Polar History
Sadly, another one of the team's lead dogs, Critter, did not make it the Pole. He was the loyal companion of team member Bob Mantell and led Bob's team with power & precision. But Bob was one of two team member who sustained serious injury --frostbitten feet-- and was evacuated by airlift. (The other was Bob McKerrow whose ribs were broken when he got caught under a run-away sled.) Upon departing, Mantell opted to leave behind his dogteam in hopes they would help the team, and a part of him, reach the Pole. But in Bob's absence, Critter immediately went into a slump and soon was so despondent that team members cradled him in a dogsled as his rigor faded. His death, the team surmised, resulted from a broken heart.


Burying Critter behind an ice block seemed the darkest moment of the journey, but more difficulties followed. After a month on the trail, an inventory revealed the team had used up well over half their supplies but had covered only a third of the distance. "Desperation Camp," as the scene was referred to in their diaries, brought some tears, some prayers and some heated arguments about their options. In the end, they opted to lighten their loads by jettisoning every ounce of gear not necessary for survival. Out went extra jackets, camera tripods, covers off diaries, handles off tooth brushes and several of their sleeping bags which now weighed over 50 pounds with accumulated ice and frost. For the remainder of the trip some slept snuggled two or three together in the remaining drier bags.

In the early '80s during the team's training and preparation, public intrigue mounted rapidly for this home-spun project which was based from a sod-roofed log "homestead" near Ely and supported initially by sales of buttons & T-shirts. Then, during their two-month traverse of the Arctic Ocean in spring 1986, television and newspaper updates from sketchy radio communiqu├ęs kept Minnesotans appraised of their progress -- as well as their many setbacks which included Ann's plunge through thin ice, a tent fire triggered by a faulty stove, the devastating loss of a lead dog, a team breakdown over diminishing supplies and a malfunction of their sole navigation device just days from their goal.

Their ultimate success triggered a collective cheer across the state and resulted in a National Geographic cover story, a best-selling book and film both titled "North to the Pole," and commendations from President Reagan and the World Center for Exploration. Thousands greeted the team upon their return to Minnesota on a sunny spring day when the temperature was over 150 degrees warmer than most of their days spent on the Arctic Ocean. Hailed as a "triumph of the human spirit," their success reflected the conviction of Will's diary entry the day the journey began, "The faith that moves mountains would take us to the Pole."

The accolades were deeply gratifying for the team members. Now 25 years later, stories from this trip continues to be remembered and will be shared by team members at the upcoming Minnesota History Center anniversary events. They will also be unveiling the "Polar Time Capsule," a sealed container they'd left at the North Pole with mementos of their trip. They never expected to see it again, But against all odds it was found years later washed up on a beach in County Donegal by an Irish carpenter and is now on its way to Minnesota to be displayed at the May events (see story below

The lightened loads helped. Their pace quickened. They soon topped 20 miles a day and one day, traveling 'round the clock to make the most of clear weather, topped 40 miles. Momentum built so rapidly that they almost felt unstoppable. But just a few days from their destination their sextant, their only navigational device, malfunctioned and they were essentially lost at sea among millions of miles of drifting ice. With nerves frayed to near breaking point, team members disassembled the delicate scientific instrument with their only tool, a Swiss Army knife, and with incredible good fortune were able to get the sextant and their trip back on track.

Having departed Canada's northernmost shore on March 7 with 3 tons of supplies and equipment, they arrived at the Pole on May 1 with just a few pounds of food left. There they were rewarded with clear, calm weather and their one and only day above zero -- a balmy 8 degrees. A happy crew of 6 and happy, howling dogs posed for a team photo with the American flag, an iconic picture that later became a popular poster.


Their celebrations while awaiting the arrival of ski planes to airlift them home included the ceremonial tossing of a special plastic tube off into the sea ice. Dubbed the "Polar Time Capsule," it was a piece of plumbing pipe capped on both ends in which team members whimsically placed keepsakes including a Boy Scout scarf, a beaded Indian belt, a letter to Santa Claus from a school child and a small lace prayer circle. After the trip executives with DuPont Corporation, the expedition's main sponsor, hatched a plan to enhance international media coverage of the expedition. They announced a $5,000 reward for recovery of the time capsule. It was all meant 'tongue in cheek" and the media loved it. The story ran worldwide although no one expected anything to come of it.

But 3 years later a carpenter named Peader Gallagher was walking a beach near Dublin when he spotted an odd bit of flotsam. He took it home, cracked it open and found one identifiable item inside: a Polaroid picture the team had taken of themselves at the Pole that referenced "National Geographic." Perplexed but assuming his discovery might have some significance, he sent the photo to National Geographic in Washington D.C. Editors there were astonished to realize that, a year and a half after being deposited at the North Pole, the time capsule had been found. They alerted DuPont executives who in turn made plans to alert the man to the reward and surprise him with an all-expense-paid vacation to New York where they'd issue him his check on live network vacation. But the surprise was theirs because when they called him with the big news, he refused the invitation to New York, insisting that a trip to the "Big Apple" wasn't his 'cup of tea.' He never did come but they sent him his check and the time capsule captured worldwide media attention again with the story of its unlikely recovery. The capsule, which survived a 2,100-mile ocean journey to reach Ireland, now resides at the Explorers Club in New York City and will be displayed at the May 15 & 17 Minnesota History Center events.

LEFT: Will Steger, the expedition leader


The Sunday afternoon May 15 events at MNHS (open to the public with museum admission) include family activities, games, films and resource tables on the Arctic and team members will be present with a sled dog as well as an actual sled, camp gear, clothing from the expedition and the "Polar Time Capsule." At the Tuesday evening May 17 program (reservations required), team members will share stories, slides and film footage from the expedition. Will will share also the latest updates on climate change. Ironically, the Arctic Ocean is being impacted by global warming more dramatically than any other region of the globe and, as he will explain, this has huge implications for the entire planet. On Wednesday, May 18, team members will attend a public luncheon reception in Ely, Minnesota, where the trek was based.

The team members who are reuniting from around the world for the May events and whom the public will have a chance to meet at the Minnesota History Center include:

Will Steger, Ely & St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1989-90, he led the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica with a team of 7 from 7 countries, another milestone in his 45-year career of leading some of the most significant polar expeditions in history. He has become a formidable voice on arctic climate change and a global environmental leader through his "Global Warming 101" website and Will Steger Foundation. will steger

Paul Schurke, Ely, Minnesota. In 1989 he co-led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, a journey that Presidents Bush and Gorbachev credited with hastening the opening of the US-Soviet border following the 40-year Cold War. He and his wife Sue operate Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and founded Wintergreen Northern Wear, an outdoor apparel business based upon designs Sue developed for the 1986 North Pole trek. 

Ann Bancroft, Scandia, Minnesota. In 2001 she (with colleague Liv Arnesen) skied to the South Pole, securing Ann's place in history as the first woman to trek to both ends of the earth. Her Ann Bancroft Foundation promotes the potential and achievements of women and girls. Ann is planning another expedition to Antarctica in 2012.

Geoff Carroll, Pt. Barrow, Alaska. A wildlife biologist living in the northernmost community of the US, Geoff is an expert on arctic ecosystems and sea ice and maintains a dog team to enjoy life on the land.

Richard Weber, (photo right) Alcove, Quebec. Canada's top polar explorer, he has lead over 50 arctic expeditions, in 1995, he completed the first and only trek from Canada to the North Pole and back with no outside assistance, and with his wife, Josee operates an eco-lodge on Lancaster Sound in the Canadian High Arctic. weber

Brent Boddy, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Granted the Order of Canada award for his polar endeavors, Brent continues his love of arctic adventuring in his retirement from overseeing public works for a native village in Canada's western arctic.

Bob McKerrow, New Zealand. A mountain climber and polar explorer who was a member of one of his country's first teams to winter in Antarctica, he works with the International Red Cross. Since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Bob has been coordinating relief efforts and public health projects in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia.

Bob Mantell, ? "Ironman Bob," as he was called for his dogged perseverance and legendary stamina on the 1986 expedition, is the one crew member among the eight who the team has not been able to locate to invite to the May reunion events.

Friday, 15 April 2011

An earthquake in Sri Lanka 396 years ago today

On the evening of April 14th, 1615, a strong earthquake struck Sri Lanka unleashing widespread damage and casualties in western sections of the island, most notably in Colombo. It is thought that 200 houses collapsed. A part of the western city wall of the Colombo Fort collapsed destroyed. A bastion also collapsed and destroyed a neighbouring house killing 4 persons. A stone bridge was also destroyed in the earthquake. Deep fissures opened in the earth. According to a historical text (reproduced below), flames and sulphur are said to have been emitted from these fissures. It is thought that 2000 persons were killed in and around Colombo as a result of this earthquake. If the description of the damage described in this text is to be believed, this earthquake would most likely have a maximum intensity (MMI) of VIII or perhaps even IX.

Knowledge of this earthquake is derived from a 4 page pamphlet published in Lisbon in 1616, the contents of which were brought to light by late Fr. S.G. Pereira, SJ a pioneer historian, proficient in several languages, Prof. in Missionology Georgian University Rome, etc. The pamphlet is titled, " "Re acion Veradadera del Espantoso Terrempoto que el ano passado de 1615 se vio en la Isla de Ceilao en las Indias Orientales. Dase cuenta de los edifices q arruyno, y muerte de muchas personas, y assi mismo de los presagios y sena les que antes del se vieron por muchos dias, assi en el cielo, como em la tierra con otras muchas cosas del mismo proposito...Impresso com licenca em Lisboa por Jorge Rodrigues, e vendese en sua casa, Anno 1616."

"A true relation of the Terrible Earthquake that in the past year of 1615 took place in the Isle of Ceylon in the East Indies: giving an account of the buildings that were destroyed, and the deaths of many persons, as also of the portents and signs that precede it for many days both in the heavens and on earth, with many other things on the same subject...Printed with permission at Lisbon by Jorge Rodriguez and sold in his shop, in the year 1616."

Sadly the writer does not give specific details but wraps the incident in a number of inane reflections and general statements. Reproduced herewith is text from that document, which appeared in an article in the Sri Lankan newspaper, the Sunday Observer, on 4th June 2000.

"The Isle of Ceylon is one of the best in the East, as well for the fertility of its soil as for the cinnamon it produces, which is the best that comes from those parts. It enjoyed for many years past the greatest prosperity both in health and abundance of harvest, with the result that the inhabitants became so proud that they almost forgot that those gifts were distributed by the hands of one who was able to turn to chastisement if they did not give him thanks for them.

"At last one day, which was the 7th of March 1615, soon after prayers there appeared in the air a terrible comet, which continued for many days to the great wonder of many but to the amazement of none. The comet had three tails, the end of which were like the heads of arrows, and so fiery and red that they seemed to be emitting rays of fire threatening therewith the total destruction of that Island.

"This sign in the heavens ceased, God showed many others on land which being nearer to men might produce in them an effect which the other had not. There died animals on the fields and men in the city without any other cause of death than the infection of the atmosphere, without even time to confess their sins.

"There were thrown up from the sea numbers of dead fish, so poisonous that all who ate them died, which caused such terror to all that there was no one who ventured to the beach to give them burial: thus the putrefaction and bad odour so infected the air that not men but even the birds of the air fell dead.

"In this way the Island continued to be depopulated as some quitted it for fear and others gave themselves to the hands of death, but these signs and rigorous chastisements did not produce the amazement of those to whom they were sent. But God is a divine surgeon and as such he heals men who are sick in soul with mild remedies till, when a member is putrefied and cankered, he applies fire and the iron to amputate it, and so he acted with these folk for seeing that they were so hardened that they did not mend at sight of the signs in the heavens nor of the chastisements on land, he wished to cut them and destroy them by a terrible earthquake, which took place on the fourteenth of April in the following manner:

"On that day the sun set half an hour earlier than on other days, for it would seem that he even hastened the chastisement as if weary of the obstinacy of the inhabitants of the Island. It was seven in the evening when thunder shook the air with such force and the earth quaked so violently that, unable to remain in the houses people rushed out to the streets fearing to be buried under the falling ruins of the buildings. Then bolts of thunder fell from the heavens, whereupon the terrified people ran into the houses hoping to shelter themselves from the rigour and justice of God. The thunderbolts had their effect, destroying and laying low not only the most sumptuous edifices but also the meanest cottages levelling all, and the few that the fire had not consumed were destroyed by the earthquakes."

"Some of those who escaped declared that they heard many voices which sounded so terrible amidst the fire that when they reached the ears that they caused fear and panic in addition to that of imminent death in which they were, though the same seemed to others to be the cries of those who were perishing under the fire of heaven and the falling stones, which rolled from side to side like light feathers or as if some strong hand were moving and hurling them about. "This lasted till about morning, which dawned bright and serene, either to show that its Author had already received satisfaction for the offences of the inhabitants of that land or in order that the survivors may seem more clearly the calamities of the dead."

Fissures in the Earth "There were seen in many parts of the Island vast openings and fissures in the earth, some of which so deep that no one could find the bottom, nor were they closed up for a long time, from which there issued at certain times flames of fire as of sulphur, as terrible and awful that some people thought they were the mouths of hell and that God showed them open to engulf them if they did not reform. "The damage which this earthquake did was moreover general throughout the Island not only to fruits, trees and crops but also to cattle and other things necessary for human life. "Great grief was caused by the destruction of a large stone bridge, built at great cost and very necessary as it was the most important passage in that Island, the stones of which were afterwards found many leagues away. "They made up for it with boats and are already considering the re-erection of the bridge because of their need of it."

"There fell a good bit of the Western wall as well as the whole of the bastion, which was so strong that they thought that nothing could destroy it. "This building brought down with it a house which was near it and in which lived some of those Moors who lived in those parts in peace, killing four and there escaped only a boy of about six years of age, who was afterwards baptized for he said he was saved from death by a most beautiful lady, the same as the Christians have in their Churches, for so he called the Virgin Mary our Lady, for whom he had a great devotion."

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Japan and New Zealand earthquake and tsunami recovery operations

Mirissa, a cliff top paradise in Southern Sri lanka. Photo: Bob McKerrow 

It’s been a hectic year to date dealing with a recovery operation in the north of Sri Lanka for people displaced by the war, a flood relief to recovery operation for 1.2 million people where we are just starting the transfer of cash payments for house repairs and grants for livelihood, and in addition, our daily Red Cross work in organisational development and risk reduction.

Today we drove to a beautful place called Mirissa where we will see in the Sinhala and Tamil new years which start early on Thursday and it's good to get away from Colombo as everything shut for 5 days. Mirissa is on a cliff top overlooking the sea, which on Boxing Day 2004, a tsunami killed over 32,000 people in  Sri Lanka, many the villages I see below.

Naila drove the four hours to Mirissa which gave me time to think about events of the past few months. It’s just over one month since that cruel and destructive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and seven weeks ago, Christchurch was ravaged by the 2nd destructive quake in six months.As I drove south down the coastline I saw billions of dollars of tsunami recovery work.

Governments rise or fall on how they handle earthquake or tsunami recovery operations. Haiti is a very recent example as is Indonesia where the Government did an excellent job with tsunami and Yogyakarta quake recovery and the President swept back into power. What is clear from my experience is, give one Government Ministry full powers and set up a ‘one stop shop’ so the affected people, contractors, NGOs, insurance companies, other Government departments and other stakeholders, deal with one empowered authority.

I received an informal update today from my old colleague and friend, Naoki Kokawa that he sent out on behalf of the Japanese Red Cross. Kokawa and I worked during the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, Pakistan earthquake in 2005 and tsunami operation off and on during the first five years. I also read an interesting article today by John Sparrow, our IFRC communication man on the ground in the affected areas in Japan, another.old colleague. I have put his article at the end of this posting.. John has also been a major writer for the World Disaster Report over the years and it is good to have someone with his analytical skills on the ground.

Having friends and family caught in the middle of the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February this year, and then friends and colleagues involved in the earthquake in Japan on 11 March, I find I have got emotionally involved in both these tragedies.This is unusual, as I try to remain detached, or as much as possible, to keep necessary objectivity. Having been involved in 16 earthquake operations over a long career, I try to analise and dissect what is going on, and to learn from these two countries which have high earthquake building codes and strong enforcement mechanisms, combined with excellent rescue services and civil defence.

As Kokawa said, “ The situation in Japan is moving very hastily from relief into early recovery phase.Heavy machines and trucks are working all over the place to remove debris from the totally flatten towns and villages along the coast. Many big ships are still occupying space here and there, because they have to be removed by the responsibility of owners. Hundreds destroyed vehicles are collected and piled up in open spaces. Most of roads are cleared, and survivors have to their destroyed houses to seek for any memorable things from the remains.”

What I find fascinating is the speed in which Japan has got into construction in what appears to be a transitional type shelter or is it permanent? As reported by the local agency Kyodo, 36 temporary residences in the town of Rikuzen-takata, one of the areas most affected by earthquake and subsequent tsunami, have been built within a month. The first people moved in yesterday.
Japan’s Miyagi prefecture has begun building 1,110 temporary homes as regional authorities seek to resettle more than 243,000 people displaced by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Construction will begin in 13 cities and towns, including the prefectural capital Sendai, with the first phase taking about a month to build, said Masanori Takahashi, a spokesman at Miyagi’s department of public works. Building has already started in neighboring Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, which along with Miyagi were the hardest-hit by the disaster.
Christchurch before the earthquake

On the other side of the equator, down under, plans in Christchurch are well under way for thousands of Christchurch people to be housed in temporary accommodation while their quake-damaged homes are repaired. As early as Friday 18 March, the Department of Building and Housing sent a request for proposals to construction companies for up to 2500 modular homes which would likely be placed on public land such as the A&P showgrounds.
To me Christchurch is one of the most beautiful and strategically located cities in the world, and with the determination and resilience of its people and authorities, it will slowly, but steadily be restored to its former character and beauty. Photo: Colin Monteath

They would be available for people having their homes repaired, but temporary housing would also be needed for an out-of-town workforce arriving to help rebuild the city.
.A fleet of 350 campervans was unveiled on 6 April at Canterbury Agricultural Park to provide temporary housing for as many as 18,000 people left homeless by the Feb.22 earthquake.
Arrangements for portaloos to accommodate the camper village were also being arranged, according to a blog posted on the grassroots community website Rebuild Christchurch.
New Zealand has taken the bold step of setting up a Government department (CERA) or authority to run the earthquake recover operation. This is similar to what the Government in Indonesia did and it worked very well.

CERA will:
• have overall responsibility to manage the post-earthquake recovery of Christchurch and Canterbury
• make Christchurch better than before
• make the recovery as efficient as possible
• achieve recovery as soon as possible work with other authorities, NGOs, the community, and private sector

For those working in large recovery operations there are two reports I recommend that can be downloaded on the internet:

A ripple in development. Long term perspectives on the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami 2004 and the Tsunami Legacy - Innovation, breakthroughs and change.

Some of the best brains in the recovery business and millions of dollars have gone into these reports


A ripple in development. Long term perspectives on the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami 2004

A joint follow-up evaluation of the links between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD)
This report is a follow-up evaluation of linkages between immediate relief, rehabilitation (or reconstruction) and development (LRRD) related to the response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The first LRRD evaluation was carried as part of the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) set of evaluations in 2005-06.
The LRRD2 evaluation report covers experiences up to the end of 2008 in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, i.e. from the four years after the disaster. A number of organisations and government agencies have supported this evaluation in various ways, with the aim to provide conclusions and lessons learned that are useful for mitigating the consequences of possible future disasters.

One very helpful part of the report is the first Thematic Scope: This theme captures the process and the outcomes of return to normally functioning government and community functions which does not necessarily means a return to status quo ante. Also it covers the transitional nature of humanitarian agencies and NGOs and how they facilitate or disrupt return to a normal situation.

The tsunami legacy - Innovation, breakthroughs and change
With an operation of such unprecedented scope, a number of useful lessons have been learned across the recovery spectrum about what worked and what did not. To take stock of these collective and countryspecific findings, this report asks if those involved in this massive undertaking were able to achieve takes its cue from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's words - "it's not enough to pick up the pieces. We must draw on every lesson we can to avoid such catastrophes in the future" - and from the call of the UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, President Bill Clinton, to "build back better."

Build back better resonates with what the Governments of New Zealand and Japan are saying but eacg are taking slightly different paths.  I  am following with deep interest.

The other day  I was discussing with a friend about the  large owner driven housing programme we are working on in the north of Sri Lanka and I speculated whether Christchurch (CERA) should be looking at a part owner driven housing programmes with contractors working with owners. Or, the owner, or a family member being the builder's off-sider, the plumber's labourer, so owners have a say, and take ownership of their new houses. What I have learnt from six and a half years of working with the tsunami operation is that people should be at the centre, the affected people. Owner-driven housing programmes have on the whole, been very successful in many parts of Asia, and years quicker than solely contractor-driven houses.

 Now to the article I mentioned written by John Sparrow.

Missing home and the planting season, the Matsumotos wait for a government all-clear. John Sparrow, IFRC.

The other side of Fukushima: “Radiation? Oh, that.”

The old man sits on the crowded floor of the sports hall in Fukushima city and worries. He does little else and, at night, when the hubbub dies down in what is now an evacuation centre, when the coughing around him lessens and he finally drops off to sleep, he worries in his dreams.

Coming from a blighted place swept by an 18-metre tsunami and in the shadow of Japan’s crippled nuclear plant he has reason to. His world has fallen apart.

Tadao, 81, a retired farmer, worries first about his missing wife. Since the morning of 11 March, when he left her at home to make a routine visit to hospital, he hasn’t seen her. When a warning came of the approaching wave he found safety on the hospital’s roof but she is one of almost 15,000 people still missing. Although the death toll climbs higher and higher as the missing are found, this old man cannot accept that she will never return.

He worries about his granddaughter, who occupies the place next to him on the sports hall floor. Will she find a good high school away from their home area? How will she be able to cope away from her friends, in a school where she will be a stranger?

He worries too about the home that is no longer where he left it, picked up and dumped somewhere by an unstoppable tide of debris-strewn water. He worries about the land his family has farmed for generations and which is part of the 23,600 hectares of farmland engulfed by the tsunami in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. The tide removed the topsoil, left debris in its place, as well as sea salt that will seriously damage the farmers’ crops for a considerable time to come.

And radiation leaks from the nuclear plant? Does that worry him as well? He looks up, bemused. “What? Oh that. Mmm.”

Farming has ceased in his area until soil tests have been carried out, and the fear of radioactivity may affect the sale of what is grown. But the old man hasn’t thought too much about that yet. He has more important things on his mind.

A few metres away, farmer Shohei Matsumoto and his Filipino wife Mary have thought about radiation. It is why they are here. The tsunami did not reach their village of Katsuraomura, but it is within the outer circle of the exclusion zone set up around the nuclear plant.

Within 20 kilometres of the troubled reactors all but a few who refused to budge have been evacuated. But people living between 20 and 30 kilometres away had an option: stay if you will, the government said, but if you do stay, stay indoors. The Matsumotos chose to leave. They took the advice of the local mayor to evacuate, along with most of their fellow villagers.

Now they worry how long it will be before they can go home. Their house is still standing, their land is intact and the rice planting season is approaching. If they are to make the next rice harvest, farmers must start to prepare seedlings soon, but soil tests must first be completed.

Mary Matsumoto says, “We just want to go back. I miss it so much.” Her husband says calmly, “We will… when the government tells us it is safe.”

Like the Matsumotos, most of the 1,200 people camped out in this hall of a city sports park are from the exclusion zone’s outer circle, with maybe 20 per cent from the inner one. They include those from Minamisoma city, 25 kilometres from the power plant, which saw 50,000 of its 75,000 inhabitants flee within two weeks of the tsunami and the magnitude-9 earthquake that caused it.

How long they will stay depends on many factors; when asked to hazard a guess, Akira Watanabe, director of the park, will only say, “Until they are gone.” The numbers may even increase, he thinks, because many other evacuation centres are located in schools, and schools re-open in April after Japan’s spring break. “If other centres close, the people may come here,” he says.

Growing distress

In the meantime, Tadao will continue to worry, and he will not be alone. Japanese Red Cross Society medical teams running centre clinics, and mobile units serving smaller and more remote ones, report growing distress among the displaced, particularly among the elderly. This is just one more reason why the Red Cross continues to strengthen psychosocial support operations.

On their rounds through centres, staff are encountering more and more troubled people – people facing loss, fear and insecurity, even some left distraught by discrimination. If you come from deep within the exclusion zone, you can find yourself branded untouchable, turned down by landlords when you seek to rent an apartment, even shunned by hairdressers, because they wrongly, absurdly, fear you carry radiation.

But more often than not it is human loss that causes trauma. Red Cross nurse Noriko Maezawa tells of an 80-year-old woman she saw standing alone in a corner, staring at her. “She looked as if she wanted to talk to someone so I went up to her and said, ‘How are you feeling, mother? Are you well?’”

She said she was. Then there was a pause and she added, “But I found my cousin’s body yesterday. It had lain there all that time. It was black. If it hadn’t been for a birthmark I wouldn’t have recognized him…”

Such stories are commonplace in the centres, stories of mental pain and of unexpressed anguish because here, in the open of a sports hall’s crowded floor, on a thousand little territories staked out with Red Cross blankets and bundles of all that people still possess, there is no room for public grief, no time perhaps either, to consider much beyond tomorrow.

There, say the Red Cross medical teams, lies a long-term challenge. The wounds you cannot see take the longest time to heal.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

REFLECTIONS: Drought in Ethiopia 1977/1979

I stumbled across this article today of a difficult assignment in 1978-79 in Ethiopia. In those days, when one returned to Geneva, you were expected to write an article in the style of the day, about your mission. Here is the article I wrote  that I  have tried to liven up with a few photos, taken by my close friend Ato Tsehayou Tseyoum, with whom I travelled thousand of miles by Land Rover and fundred of miles on foot through the drought-stricken highlands of Ethiopia.

Left. Ato Yigrem from the Ethiopian Red Cross right, me to his left, talking to a doctor and a nurse in a remote clinic at 12,500 feet, a day's walk from the nearest road, on the high plateau above Dessie where many people were starving, or dying. Photo: Tsehayou Seyoum
(see comment from Tsehayou below)

Inside the Agencies : Disasters, Vol. 3, No. 2,pp. 131-133.

Pergamon Press Ltd., 1379. Printed in Great Britain.

Robert (Bob) McKerrow (New Zealand) is a Relief Officer for the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva. (Now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) This article was written upon the completion of a nine month assignment from July 1978 to March 1979, as a Delegate of the League in Ethiopia where he previously worked in I974 during the earlier drought.

The League of Red Cross Societies launched an international appeal in June 1978 to support the Ethiopian
Red Cross relief operation in the drought affected areas.

By March 1979, National Societies from 26 countries had given Sfr, 2,333,000 in cash and Sfr, 3,523,000 in kind to this operation. League recently produced a 20 minute documentary film on the opemtion.

Ato Yigrem (left) and I next to him, with local guides, conducting an assessment in 1978 in the highlands south of Dessie, Wollo. We walked for weeks on this assessment and found a worsening drought, with many people starving to death. Photo: Ato Tsehayou Seyoum


Much has been written about the tragic drought and famine which affected the Ethiopian provinces of Wollo and Tigray in 1973/1974 resulting in the death of an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people.

By contrast, the present drought affecting the highland region of Wollo, and to a lesser extent Tigray, Gonder and Northern Shoa, has received little publicity although initially it had the potential to reach the proportions of the 1973/1974 famine.

By the end of 1974 there was an improvement in the highlands of Ethiopia because the main rains were much
better than in previous years and the drought was thought to have been broken.

Right. An Ethiopean Red Cross volunteer on the left of the photo. Photo: Ato Tsehayou Seyoum.

While the Ogaden war of 1977-1978 was being fought, the highlands of Wollo, Tigray, Gonder and Shoa were again suffering from a shortage of rain. In 1977 the Belg, or small rains, which normally fell in February/May were inadequate and the farmers had to rely on the main rains, June to September. These were late in coming and continued 6 weeks longer than normal up to the end of October thus creating
favourable conditions for the spreading of a fungus borne disease -ergot -in addition to the premature germination of crops before they were harvested. Locusts and various crop pests also contributed to crop destruction and still remain a threat. As a result, 1977 saw a serious crop failure which soon produced famine conditions. By June 1978 these were rapidly becoming comparable to the period preceding the famine of 1973. The seriousness of the situation was confirmed by a helicopter survey conducted by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) Nutrition and Surveillance office in February 1978. Following the RRC began providing relief assistance to the affected population in the highlands, but on a limited scale because the Port of Assab was badly congested with accumulated cargo and only 10,000 tons of grain per month (half the normal figure) were moved from the port to the interior. In addition, because of hostilities, the ports of Massawa and Djibouti were closed to Ethiopian traffic. Therefore, it was only possible to ship a small quantity of relief food into the country, although the potential famine had been predicted by the government since October 1977.

Left: Bob Mckerrow, IFRC. examining one of thousands of badly malnourished children in the wollo highlands. Photo: Ato Tsehayou Seyoum

In early May the government formed a Natural Disaster Aid Co-ordinating Committee, designed to co-ordinate the drought relief operation and all international aid. Members were representatives from Government ministries, RRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross. This Committee had a regional committee based in Dessie. The only truly field-operational organisations were the Government’s RRC, the Ethiopian Red Cross and, in a limited area, Catholic Relief Services. All national and international aid is channelled through these bodies.

From April/May the port congestion improved and emergency commitments of grain and supplementary food, made available by WFP, UNICEF, EEC and USAID in 1977, were moved in larger quantities to the hinterlands, which gave the RRC the means to intensify its relief distributions in Western Wollo between May and early July, before the roads were closed by the rainy season. During this time 20,305 tons of locally produced and imported grain were distributed to about 600,000 beneficiaries by every means available private and military trucks, planes, helicoptersand pack animals.

In addition to the efforts of the RRC the Ethiopian Red  Cross Society began providing medical assistance,
supplementary food, blankets and clothing to all drought affected regions.

Often we walked for days up to 13,500 feet where people were trying to till the land for a living. An overnight stop in a tent. Photo: Bob McKerrow collection.

For the distribution of food in Western Wollo, the RRC set up 14 strategically located distribution centres. Two of these distribution centres are in the remotest part of Wollo, some one to two days’ walk from the nearest road. The policy is to bring food to the people and keep them in their villages to avoid the problems caused by roadside shelters which were set up in 1973/1974. Additionally when people remain in their villages they are able to participate in government food for work programmes which are designed to improve the land and local infrastructure. Attached to each distribution centre is a temporary clinic run by the Ethiopian Red Cross and supported by the Ministry of Health and RRC. These clinics provide medical assistance and a vaccination programme.

Each distribution centre and clinic has one nutritional worker sponsored by OXFAM/UNlCEF/SCF (Save the Children Fund) to record the nutritional status of people in the vulnerable groups, supervise the supplementary feeding programme and give nutritional education to mothers. Since
the revolution the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia has greatly improved the administrative infrastructure in the rural areas by forming farmers’ associations, each grouping about 2,000 heads of families with an elected Chairman who is responsible to a Chairman at district level.

                                                                      Map pf Ethiopia

Whereas previously the distribution of relief was difficult in Ethiopia, the advent of these farmers’ associations makes distribution easy as each Chairman has the numbers and names of those in his association. Each day of the week the affected population from the different farmers’ associations are requested to come to the distribution centre where an orderly distribution takes place. People are not permitted to camp around the centres.
In June a Multi-Donor Mission under the auspices of FA0 visited Ethiopia to determine the food requirements for the following 10 months. After its survey the mission was in agreement with the Government’s estimates and view that the 1978 harvest would probably not exceed the poor harvest of 1977. Apart from commercial imports the mission estimated that food aid grains -200,000 metric tonnes and
27,000 tonnes of rehabilitative food -were needed to feed two million people. On the basis of the Multi-Donor mission report the Director General of FA0 launched two appeals on 13 July 1978 to the international community as identified by the mission and UNDRO also launched an appeal. The League of Red Cross Societies launched an appeal to its members to support the relief operation of the Ethiopian Red Cross some
three weeks earlier.

By the end of the rainy season, September/October 1978, the situation in the highlands was extremely critical, as the food which was distributed in May/June had been consumed by the population. Furthermore, the figures of the drought affected populations had risen to 2,106,469 comprising Wollo
-1,109,869; Tigray -561,600; Gonder -300,000 Shoa -60,000; and Northern Harerge -75,000. Fortunately by mid- October WFP relief grain shipments arrived in Assab and were distributed quickly which averted a serious predicament.

An Emergency Transport Unit (ETU), a UNDP/ILO assisted project administered by the state-owned National Transporta- tion Corporation, was set up in 1978. It comprised a fleet of 163 trucks and truck/trailer combinations to move relief items from the ports to the interior.

In view of the succession of poor harvests due to the severely degraded land and associated environmental
problems, the Government of Ethiopia has decided to trans- locate 250,000 people from the drought affected highlands to more fertile and amenable parts of the country. Already 20,000 people have been translocated. The cost of this translocation programme is 7l,000,000 Ethiopian Birr of which the people of Ethiopia raised 45,000,000 by the end of February 1979.

Apart from the government’s plan to resettle 250,000 people, many other long term measures have started or are being planned for the highland regions. Following the WFP/ FA0 Evaluation mission, which visited Ethiopia in November 1978, the WFP has proposed the amalgamation of its soil conservation and reforestation projects into a single project, aiming at the rehabilitation of forest, grazing and agricultural
lands. This would run for 4 years at a total cost to WFP of U.S. $48,389,000. Under this project WFP will provide 180,289 metric tonnes of wheat and 7,212 metric tonnes of vegetable oil, which will be used to create incentives tG farmers’ associations to carry out measures to protect and conserve soil and water resources, natural vegetation, to undertake road building and to carry out an integrated forestation programme on a catchment by catchment basis.

In the Western escarpment /NW. Shoaw. Wollo/W.Tigray regions simple land use planning sub-projects will be started by analyzing 150,000 aerial photographs to define physiographic units and land evaluation. Aerial photography of the escarpment, coupled with ground survey work, will give updated population density and land use for planning. Proposals have been made to establish a specialised land use planning unit for disaster areas.

The proposals prepared by a British team for the rehabilitation of Tigray, which would cost an estimated 30
million US.$ to implement, will be examined and possibly implemented in pilot catchments using FA0 assistance.

The RRC rehabilitation for the N.E. escarpment has already started with the KOBO-Alamata Agricultural Development Programme. Phases 1 and 2 will be concentrated on extension development, reforestation and soil conservation.
The implementation of the Sirinka Catchment pilot project covering 40,000 ha has started. The main harvest (November/ December in the highlands) of 1978 has not exceeded the poor main harvest of 1977. Relief assistance will thus he required for 1979 until the main crop is harvested in approximately December 1979.

The author left Ethiopia mid-March 1979 and at that time infrastructures and the provision of well organised relief give the small rains (in the highlands) were insufficient and the definite hope for the drought affected highlands of Ethiopia. possibility of at least a partial crop failure looms large.
All hopes are now pinned on the main rains for 1979 which assuming they are adequate, will break the present drought.

Acknowledgernenrs -The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance provided by Peter Simkin, World Food Programme Adviser  in Ethiopia for the technical aspects of this article.

Comment from my companion on nearly all trips in 1978-79, Tsehayou Tseyoum (photo left)

Obviously, reading your article and seeing those pictures brought back memories of the time we had together on the highlands of Western Wollo. The horror we saw on the face of some of the starving kids was unbearable. To this day, I remember the face of the kid who flew with us by the military helicopter to the Children’s Hospital in Dessie. You might recall, we saw the same kid after a few months at a play ground of the hospital’s foster care, and he was back to being a normal kid. Thanks for posting this article.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New Zealand's greatest son.

Ophthalmologist Dr Howard Harper, a humanitarian Kiwi who spent 50 years of his life in Central Asia, and Rt Hon Lord Denman, an Englishman who is working to build global connections to support New Zealand businesses internationally, were honoured at last night's World Class New Zealand Awards.

HONOURED: World Class New Zealanders Dr Howard Harper and Lord Denman (photo:

The last thing he would want is publicity, but former New Zealander Howard Harper, is at last getting some publicity for being one of the most committed humanitarians I have ever known. From Kabul with Love is an utterly unique book – it follows the adventures of New Zealander Howard Harper, as he embarks as a medical worker into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last year I wrote an article on my blog about this amazing humanitarian. Here is the link:

The story is told through letters sent between Howard and Monika Harper, and Howard’s father, Auckland Pharmacist, Stan Harper.

Howard sets off as a young man in the 1950s first of all to Pakistan, and then to study medicine in England. In England he meets and marries a young nurse, Monika, before heading back to Pakistan – driving overland from England with a caravan in tow. Their adventures eventually take them to Afghanistan in the 1960s to work with the blind and provide relief aid.

What is remarkable about this book is the honesty of the letters. They reveal the human face of life in extremely challenging environments and of those at home in 1950s and 60s New Zealand.

Publication of this book coincided with Howard Harper being awarded the prestigious 2010 Augusta Award from Auckland Grammar School. Past winners have included many well-known New Zealanders, including Sir Ed Hillary.

So I was delighted that last night this great NZ huamnitarian was  presented by Kea New Zealand and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, this prestigous award which recognises extraordinary New Zealanders who have excelled at the highest levels in their chosen field.

Dr Harper, 80, was named the Supreme Winner at the awards ceremony at Auckland's Langham Hotel.

The Te Kuiti-born eye surgeon has spent his life restoring sight to tens of thousands of people in some of the most hostile countries in the world, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the former states of the USSR.

He has funded and built eye hospitals; seen one of them destroyed and rebuilt it, built schools and trained dozens of eye doctors.

His legacy includes the Noor Hospital in Afghanistan, a soon-to-be-completed eye clinic alongside it, 10 self-sustaining eye clinics throughout central Asia, some of them now operating for 30 or more years, and two schools.

Dr Harper is held in such high regard in Afghanistan that he was granted Afghan citizenship - one of only a few foreigners ever accorded this honour.

Kea co-founder and chair of judges Sir Stephen Tindall considers him one of New Zealand's greatest sons.

''Howard has dedicated his life to improving the lives of countless others, often risking his own safety in some of the world's most treacherous lands,'' he said.

Dr Harper said he was surprised to receive the award. ''I did not think about it personally and when I heard I said there must be someone more than myself who deserves it.''

He and his German-born wife of 50 years Monika, have three daughters; Naomi was born in New Zealand, Faith in Pakistan and Joy in the UK.

Lord Denman, who for 40 years has worked behind the scenes opening doors for some of New Zealand's biggest and most successful companies, sharing his networks and expertise in the Middle East and the United Kingdom, received the Friend of New Zealand Award.

Known to his friends as Charles, Lord Denman, was surprised to hear about being given the Friend of New Zealand award ''particularly in my later years, as I'm 94.''

But he sees his age as an advantage particularly in the Middle East. ''I just soldier on, determined to live my life and go on contributing as much as I can,'' he said.

Lord Denman served as a board member on National Mortgage & Agency Co. of New Zealand that financed farmers, and later merged with Wright Stephenson to form NMA Wright Stephenson Holdings, which later became Wrightson.

He also served as a director of Challenge, which later merged with Fletcher Holdings and Tasman Pulp and Paper to become Fletcher Challenge in 1981.

Lord Denman worked alongside some of New Zealand's most successful business leaders including Sir Ron Trotter and Malcolm McConnell.

He said New Zealand is ''a pretty unknown entity to any of the oil rich countries in the Middle East'' but has opportunities to develop businesses there.

One of the things he'd be doing is to bring a delegation of Middle East businesses to New Zealand early next year, he said.

Dr Michael Stedman, Michael Boustridge, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, Professor Bob Elliott, Sir George Fistonich, Sam Morgan and Dame Professor Anne Salmond, whose names were announced in February, were also honoured as category winners at the ceremony in Auckland.

It is so good to see two great and humble men being honoured, in different spheres, for life-long contributions to humanity and business. I salute you Howard Harped and Charles Denman for making this world a better place. Bob McKerrow

Thanks to Stuff NZ for permission to use selected text and one photo.