Monday, 30 April 2012

MR. MAY DAY - Fighting for the eight-hour working day

Mr. May Day, 1840, New Zealander Samuel Parnell

The USA, and many other countries claim they pioneered the 40 hour week, but an unsung New Zealander, Sam Parnell, should claim the title for in 1840 he won the right to a 40 hour week.

Labour Day or May Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

Above: Dunedin Labour Day parade, 1894.
Dunedin is my home town and I was brought up on heavy socialist/labour diet of 'better conditions for workers', and recall my Uncles and my Day recounting the oppression from successive liberal/conservative Government against workers in the the Depression of the 1930s when they were told by the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the Dunedin Town Hall, " If you are hungry, eat grass." They mobbed together after this discrimatory speech and broke into all the major food stores in Dunedin. Where did I get my radical streak from. then, when the whiskey came out, the spoke passionately of queueing up for food during the depression for food handouts for a family of 12, and all they got was rotten fish. My Dad, James William Godfrey McKerrow, quitely told me in old age," We didn't waste the rotten fish, we planted it under the apple tree."

Early Labour Day parades drew huge crowds in places such as Palmerston North and Napier as well as in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Unionists and supporters marched behind colourful banners and ornate floats, and the parades were followed by popular picnics and sports events.

These parades also had a political purpose. Although workers in some industries had long enjoyed an eight-hour day, it was not a legal entitlement. Other workers, including seamen, farm labourers, and hotel, restaurant and shop employees, still worked much longer hours. Many also endured unpleasant and sometimes dangerous working conditions. Unionists wanted the Liberals to pass legislation enforcing an eight-hour day for all workers, but the government was reluctant to antagonise the business community.

What the Liberals did do was make Labour Day a holiday. The Labour Day Act of 1899 created a statutory public holiday on the second Wednesday in October, first celebrated in 1900. The holiday was 'Mondayised' in 1910, and since then it has been held on the fourth Monday in October.

In the first decade of the 20th century industrial unrest reappeared. The Liberal government was in decline, prices were rising and the Arbitration Court was seen as reluctant to raise wages. The more militant labour movement that emerged from around 1908 rejected the Liberals' arbitration system and condemned the increasing commercialisation of Labour Day parades. Many floats advertised businesses as well as temperance organisations, theatres, circuses and patriotic causes. Some socialists promoted May Day (1 May) as an alternative celebration of workers' struggles. Although unionists and their supporters continued to hold popular gatherings and sports events, by the 1920s Labour Day had begun to decline as a public spectacle. For most New Zealanders, it was now just another holiday.

Khalil Dale, a few thoughts on a Red Cross colleague murdered.

What a brutal end to the life of a Red Cross colleague and friend. I struggle for words to describe one of the most callous acts of brutality I have read or seen on a harmless Red Cross (ICRC) worker in Quetta, a man providing health services to the poorest of the poor. When I worked in Afghanistan for the Red Cross (IFRC) between 1993 and 1996, I met with Khalil a few times and admired the outstanding health work he was doing with the ICRC. Professional, private, warm and dedicated is how I remember him.

His close friend Nick Harris wrote this moving piece about him.

I have been trying for much of the day, and failing, to write a proper tribute to Khalil Dale, my friend of 23 years, murdered in Pakistan.

We were at university together, shared a flat, played football (I persuaded him just the twice, he was even more rubbish than me), listened to the Stone Roses.

Some of the reports about his death have got details wrong. He wasn’t from Yemen, for example. He was a Manc. Many of his friends still know him as Ken; he converted to Islam decades ago and changed his name then.

We were both at the University of London (SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies), on the same course.

He was a mature student, late 30s at the time. He’d already spent years in war zones and famine regions: Iran, where he’d been tortured; Ethiopia; Kenya.

We were going to save the world, Khalil and me and Zia, who was the one who called me first thing this morning and said: ‘Nick, they’ve killed him.’

Khalil was working in Quetta in Pakistan for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) when he was taken off the street by unknown captors in January.

As soon as I heard of the kidnap, I called his mobile and left him a message, as if it might help.

I sent him another message on Facebook on the same day, 5 January. ‘Khalil man, call me when you escape. Rooting for you. N’.

We all hoped we’d hear from him. We couldn’t talk about him, for various reasons relating to the highly sensitive efforts to try to get him back alive.

I knew it might end badly. But I really didn’t expect it to be this brutal.

Khalil knew it could be. He’d been in some hairy scrapes before; Kalashnikov-toting bandits, Somali warlords, mujahideen.
You wouldn’t know if you met him that he had this inner steel. He was such a slight, gentle, compassionate, tolerant man. Unless you got him on the subject of Margaret Thatcher.

A short time ago the International Committee of the Red Cross has spoken of its attempts to free kidnapped UK aid worker Khalil Dale before he was murdered.

The 60-year-old was kidnapped in Quetta, Pakistan, in January. His body was found in the same town on Sunday.

ICRC spokesman Sean Maguire said it had been in touch with his abductors "a number of times".

Pakistan expert Professor Shaun Gregory said such a killing was "actually quite rare" in that country.

Mr Maguire also said the death of Mr Dale, who was a Muslim convert, would weigh heavily on his colleagues. "It's a complex political reality on the ground in Pakistan," he said. "We're certainly not identifying who we were in touch with.

"Often in these sorts of places people say they are something and it turns out that they're not quite what they say they are.

"So we have to sift through the information; we have and try to come to understand what has happened and take what lessons there are to be learnt.

"But his death will weigh heavily on colleagues working in Pakistan and colleagues working in headquarters who ultimately make the decisions about who goes where and who does what."

I was sitting by the swimming pool late yesterday afternoon and flicking throught twitter and I got this news on AFP.

 QUETTA, Pakistan - The body of a British Red Cross worker held captive in Pakistan since January was found in an orchard Sunday, his throat slit and a note attached to his body saying he was killed because no ransom was paid, police said.

Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, was managing a health program in the city of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan when armed men seized him from a street close to his office. The identities of his captors are unknown, but the region is home to separatist and Islamist militants who have kidnapped for ransom before.

The director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the "barbaric act."

"All of us at the ICRC and at the British Red Cross share the grief and outrage of Khalil's family and friends," said Yves Daccord.

Dale's throat had been slit, according to Safdar Hussain, a doctor who examined the body.

Quetta police chief Ahsan Mahboob said the note attached to it read: "This is the body of Khalil who we have slaughtered for not paying a ransom."

Militants and criminal gangs often kidnap wealthy Pakistanis and less commonly, foreigners.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned Dale's killing, and said "tireless efforts" had been under way to secure his release after he was kidnapped.

Khalil had worked for the Red Cross for years, carrying out assignments in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the group said.

Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, lies close to the Afghan border and for decades has hosted thousands of refugees from that country. The Red Cross operates clinics in the city that treat people wounded in the war in Afghanistan, including Taliban insurgents.

A Pakistani foreign office statement condemned the crime, promising to bring its perpetrators to justice. However, arrests for this type of crime are rare.

Much of Baluchistan and the tribal regions close to Afghanistan are out of Pakistani government control, and make good places to keep hostages. Large ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials in Quetta said they were investigating whether this could be the work of the Pakistani Taliban. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

There are at least four other foreigners being held in Pakistan.

Last August, a 70-year-old American humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qaida claimed to be holding the man, Warren Weinstein, and said in a video he would be released if the United States stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

In March, a Swiss couple held captive for eight months by the Taliban turned up at an army checkpoint close to the Afghan border. Insurgents have claimed a large ransom was paid to secure their freedom. That has not been confirmed by Pakistani or Swiss authorities, who are unlikely to acknowledge it even if they did.

The couple was kidnapped in Baluchistan.

Also Sunday, American missiles killed three suspected Islamist militants sheltering in an abandoned school in North Waziristan, said intelligence officials, who did not give their names because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Pakistan's government strongly condemned the attack. In a statement, it said such attacks violate international law and Pakistan's "territorial integrity and sovereignty."

The strike comes as the U.S. is trying to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan, which opposes the missile attacks and has demanded they stop. The frequency of the attacks, which critics say kill innocents and energize the insurgency, has dropped dramatically this year.

Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar in Peshawar contributed to this report

I put the news on facebook yesterday some of his friends put their comments on: .

John Roche: "an old colleague slained leaves me in shock."

Tony Maryon: "Very very sad news. Khalid was a member of my Federation team based in Baghdad in the mid nineties. Sincere condolences to his family." 

Bernd Schell " I remember well an assessment mission with him to Iraq, he was such a committed and gentle guy, so sad to get this news."

John LaPointe: "I'm just left speechless. My anger against people who would do such a thing knows no bounds. And neither does my sadness for his family, friends and colleagues"

Tragically, the Afghanistan and the Pakistan border area has seen the death of a number of Red Cross workers.  New Zealander Jock Sutherland was killed in late 1992 in Karabagh Pakistan, Icelandic Red Cross delegate Jon Karlsson working for the ICRC was killed in Maiden Shah on April 12, 1992  and Ricardo Munguia (39), ICRC water engineer, was shot dead in southern Afghanistan on 27 March 2003 when I was visiting from Delhi, and was in Kabul the day later to receive his body. During my time in Afghanistan 1993-96, at least five Afghan Red Crescent workers/volunteers were killed in the course of their work.

In addition, two colleagues I worked with in Afghanistan, Sheryl Thayer from New Zealand and , Reto Neuenschwander from Switzerland, were murdered in Chechnya and Congo in 1996, highlighting an alarming trend which started in the early 1990s.

I know the Quetta landscape well having travelled from Kandahar (one of the oldest settlements in the world) to Chaman and Quetta a number of times, and can imagine Khalil being quite happy until his abduction. The last 3 or so months must have been a traumatic trial for him.

After the death of colleagues there is a mixed feeling of grieving, sadness and often anger as you ask why? I found this article very helpful to understand the current terror and abduction that is going on in Pakistan.

Pakistan: Terror By Abduction – Analysis

By Ambreen Agha

Terrorist and extremist outfits in Pakistan have deepened their involvement in organised crimes, particularly including abduction-for-ransom and extortion, both to increase revenues and to push various illegitimate demands. A rampage of both high and low profile abductions across the country has provided the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, along with their various affiliates, with new ‘resources’ to fuel their politically and religiously motivated ‘jihad’, both within the country, and against the West and other ‘infidel’ states. According to information retrieved from slain al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, for instance, al Qaeda in Pakistan had turned to abduction-for-ransom to offset dwindling cash reserves.

Reports indicate that all of Pakistan’s provinces are now under attack from armed abductors, with women and children, becoming the easiest targets. A report published by the Human Rights Commission South Asia (HRCSA) on February 19, 2012, estimated that some 7,000 children had been abducted in 2011 and, of this total, the largest number belonged to Karachi (Sindh). The report noted that kidnappings noticeably increased in 2011.


The Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) has suggested military operations in militant strongholds have a trickledown effect, spurring abductions and extortion in other parts of the country, with particular focus on Karachi, one of Pakistan’s most volatile cities, owing to the sophisticated network of jihadi and criminal gangs in the country’s commercial capital. Similarly, Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) Director Amir Rana argues that Pakistan’s ‘military successes’ in tribal areas have “probably led to resources becoming closed for TTP, and smaller groups that affiliate themselves with the TTP and al Qaeda might be responsible for raising resources in cities across Pakistan, including Karachi.”

The problem, however, goes way beyond Karachi. A March 22, 2012, media report indicated a swift rise in the number of abductions-for-ransom in the Lahore District of Punjab Province. According to the figures available in the report, at least 400 cases of abduction had been registered in the District in 2012, till March 20. Some 2,954 abductions were reported in 2011, while 2010 saw 2,831 abductions. The CPLC categorised the abduction gangs in Lahore into two groups – those operating from southern Punjab and affiliated with various terrorist outfits and others gangs operating principally on criminal-financial motives.

Similarly, a fact finding report compiled by the Balochistan National Party-Awami (BNP-Awami), highlighting the plight of the Baloch people, released on March 22, 2012, alleged that as many as 1,047 people had been abducted in the Province over the preceding four years. Provincial Agriculture Minister Asadullah Baloch of BNP-Awami observed, “Abduction for ransom has become a lucrative business in Balochistan and people are joining this business en masse as Police and Law Enforcement Agencies have failed to book a single culprit.” There are also strong charges of political and establishment collusion in this rash of abductions and, on March 20, 2012, during the Balochistan Assembly session, provincial Ministers demanded that Home Minister Mir Zafarullah Zehri and the law enforcement agencies disclose the names of Ministers allegedly involved in abductions in the Province.

According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 664 persons were abducted between January 1, 2010, and April 8, 2012. 2010 recorded 242 abductions, 2011 and 2012 witnessed 328 and 94 respectively. During this period, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) witnessed the highest number of abductions (251) followed by Balochistan (183), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (179), Sindh (43) and Punjab (8). These figures are likely to be a sever under-estimate, as lesser incidents of abduction, involving low profile individuals and small numbers, have become quotidian occurrences, and often go unreported.

The state’s negligence and complicity have led the entrenchment of major criminal- militant combines and their lesser affiliates. A January 2012 report by journalist Zia-ur-Rehman noted that the enforcement agencies in Karachi had discovered that several previously unknown militant outfits operating in the city were linked to TTP, and these provided access to local level logistics and manpower support to Pakistan’s major domestic terrorism combine. The head of Karachi’s Anti-Extremism Cell (AEC) Chowdhry Aslam, disclosed that one such group, al Mukhtar, basically a splinter cell of TTP’s Badar Mansoor group, was specially deployed in Karachi to collect extortion funds, carry out bank heists and abductions-for-ransom, as well as for terrorist activities and attacks. Sources in CPLC noted that abduction for ransom had become an easiest way to collect large sums of money.

The terrorists have also found their targets among foreigners in the country, as well as across international borders, in Afghanistan. A huge ransom was paid in Pakistan, for instance, for the release of two French journalists, Herve Ghesquiere and Stephane Taponier, who were abducted on December 30, 2009, by the Qari Baryal Afghan Taliban faction in Afghanistan’s Kapisa Province. An Afghan Taliban militant close to the group’s central command revealed, on condition of anonymity, “A ransom was paid — an enormous amount — millions of dollars. The money was handed over in Pakistan.” Significantly, the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban work in close collaboration with TTP, both to launch terror attacks and in activities like abduction-for-ransom.

Similarly, on July 1, 2011, TTP abducted a Swiss couple, Olivier David Och and Daniela Widmar, coming from Dera Ghazi Khan District in Punjab towards Quetta, Balochistan’s provincial capital, in the Killi Nigah area in Loralai District. The couple was taken to the neighbouring South Waziristan Agency of FATA. TTP ‘deputy chief’ Waliur Rehman demanded they be exchanged for Pakistani scientist, Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in the US. On March 15, 2012, the Swiss couple was reported to have ‘escaped’ from captivity. However, a March 30, 2012, media report claimed that a massive ransom of PKR 1 billion was paid to the abductors for the release of the two Swiss tourists.

Several cases involving foreigners, moreover, remain currently unresolved. The most significant among these include:

January 19, 2012: Two Europeans, identified as Giovanni and Bernd, working with the Welthungerhilfe, a German International Non-Governmental Organisation for food rehabilitation, were abducted from Western Fort Colony of Qasim Bela area in Multan District of Punjab while returning from Kot Addu tehsil of Muzaffargarh District. The TTP claimed responsibility for the abduction and said that the two were being kept hostage near the Afghan border. Punjab Police Inspector General (IG) Javed Iqbal claimed that the aid workers were being held for ransom.

January 5, 2012: Unidentified militants abducted a British official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), identified as Doctor Khalil Ahmed Dale, from the Chaman Housing Society in Quetta. Later, the Police arrested up to 50 suspects for questioning in connection to the abduction, but to no avail.

August 13, 2011: An American aid expert, identified as Warren Weinstein, was abducted after unidentified assailants stormed through the backdoor of his house in the Model Town area of Lahore and overpowered his guards. On March 16, 2012, al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri declared, “He (Weinstein) will not return to his family, by the will of Allah, until our demands are met, which include the release of Aafia Siddiqui, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the family of Shaikh Osama bin Laden, and every single person arrested on allegations of links with al Qaeda and Taliban.”

Currently unresolved cases of abduction include two prominent Pakistanis as well.

August 26, 2011: Shahbaz Taseer, son of assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, was kidnapped in broad daylight by armed abductors from Lahore District. Accusing TTP of being behind the crime, his brother Sheryar Taseer told the media a day after the abduction, “Our family has been receiving threats from the Taliban and extremist groups.” On October 17, 2011, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the abductors were keeping Shahbaz Taseer in areas near the Pak-Afghan border and that he was alive. No demand letter has been received and his whereabouts are still not known. It is believed that Shahbaz Taseer is being held to force the family to accept a token financial compensation under Pakistan’s (Islamic) Diyyat law, so that the death sentence against his father’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, is not executed.

September 7, 2010: Doctor Ajmal Khan, the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University of Peshawar, was abducted by TTP. Several videos have been released over the long period of one and half years, including footage of the VC making appeals for an acceptance of Taliban demands for his release, the latest of which was released on March 7, 2012. In response, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain stated that the Government was ready to concede the “just demands” of the TTP, but could not accept “unjust demands”, adding that conceding at this point would only encourage abductors to ‘lift’ more people for ransom, or for the fulfillment of other demands.

Abduction with the motive of fulfilling demands, other than the payment of ransom, is another facet of the rising current trend. In one of the most prominent incidents of this nature, the TTP faction led by Maulana Faqir Muhammad abducted 30 children, on September 1, 2011, from the Mamoond tehsil of Bajaur Agency in FATA. The children were held against demands which included the release of women and children languishing in various Pakistani prisons, ending state instigation of tribesmen to form anti-TTP lashkars (tribal militia), and the disbanding of such lashkars and ‘peace committees’ in the Bajaur Agency of FATA. On October 30, 2011, two boys, identified as Amanullah and Abdullah, managed to escape and returned home more than 40 days after being abducted. Subsequently, after holding them captive for another three months, on January 4, 2012, TTP released 17 boys. Bajaur Administration official Islam Zeb noted, “Today, Taliban has released 17 of them; some 8-10 are yet in their custody.”

More worryingly, children have been abducted to create ‘a trained breed of jihadis’, and to serve as ‘live bombs’. The US State Department report, Trafficking in Persons, dated June 27, 2011, also noted that militant groups in Pakistan used children to act as spies, to fight and to carry out suicide bombings: “Non-state militant groups abduct children or coerce parents with fraudulent promises into giving away children as young as 12, to spy, fight, or die as suicide bombers in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The report also noted that militants often sexually and physically abuse the children and use psychological coercion to convince them that the acts they commit are justified. In one such case, on June 20, 2011, Police said that terrorists abducted a nine-year-old girl, Sohana Jawed, on her way to school and forced her to wear a suicide bomb vest. Quoting the rescued girl, the Police claimed that she managed to escape her captors when they directed her to attack a paramilitary checkpoint in Timergarah town of Lower Dir District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Abductions have also overlapped sectarian faultlines in Pakistan, and on March 25, 2011, for instance, at least 33 Shias belonging to the Turi tribe were abducted by TTP militants in an attack on a convoy of passenger vehicles in the Kurram Agency of FATA. Later on April 25, 2011, one of the abducted tribesmen, Haji Asghar Hussain Turi, was released after the militants received PKR 5.4 million as ransom. Three months later, on June 22, 2011, another 22 were released after paying a ransom of PKR 30 million. According to media reports, the remaining 10, who were in the custody of a local TTP commander ‘Noor’, had been killed and buried somewhere near the Pak-Afghan border. Their coffins, with the names of the dead inscribed on them, were sent to Parachinar two months later.

Adding to the growing threat of terrorism is the state’s negligence, collusion and consequent impunity with which the terrorists act. In one prominent case, a key al Qaeda operative and former Pakistan Army commando, Major Haroon Ashiq, accused in several cases of murder and of abduction-for-ransom, was set free from Rawalpindi Jail on March 21, 2012 because witnesses withdrew their testimonies for fear of reprisals, and the prosecution failed to furnish any further material evidence. According to media reports, Haroon is a close associate of Illyas Kashmiri, the founder of Brigade 313, later an operational arm of al Qaeda, and a member of the jihadist outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). With such coloured action, and the visible impotence or collusion of state agencies to act effectively against the perpetrators of the current and rising epidemic of abductions, as well as against the wider acts of terrorism that create its context, it is unlikely that the people of Pakistan – across all Provinces – will secure any early relief from this scourge.

Thanks to Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management for permission to run this article.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

My Red Cross mates meet UN Secretary General to discuss humanitarian needs in South Asia

Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, meeting with Dr. S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society, and Mr Azmat Ulla, Head of Delegation (South Asia), IFRC on Thursday 26 April 2012 in New Delhi.

Mr Ban Ki-moon reconnected with his roots on Thursday when he rrived in India this week.  Mr. Ban was a Red Cross youth volunteer himself and deeply appreciated the efforts the Red Cross in providing community based humanitarian services in South Asia.

Of course I was proud that Ban-Ki-moon met my protegee and dear friend Azma Ullat, who is head of our IFRC South Asia regional delegation who I have worked with closely during the past decade.

As part of his three day official visit to India, UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon held a meeting with Mr Azmat Ulla, Head of the IFRC’s South Asia regional delegation, who was accompanied by Prof. (Dr.) S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society. Dr. Agarwal is a good friend of mine and a tireless worker for Red Cross and Red Crescent in India, South Asia and globally as Chairman of the IFRC health and safety committee. The meeting offered the opportunity to discuss issues including climate change related disasters, community-based health, in particular women’s and children’s health, the role of young people as agents of change today and as humanitarian leaders of tomorrow, as well as how the Red Cross and UN agencies can be more effective in working together.

Mr Ban commended the crucial role played by the Red Cross in promoting humanitarian principles, observing that, “Indian Red Cross, with its outreach through volunteers all over India, is an ideal partner for the UN system to enhance its humanitarian and developmental activities.”

This region, comprising of nearly quarter of the world’s population has high vulnerability, especially to disasters. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies should work together with partners such as the agencies of the UN toward realizing the Millennium Development Goals,” shared Mr. Ulla following the meeting.

Prof. (Dr.) S.P Agarwal Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross said, “I am happy to learn that the UN recognizes our long and well established role in humanitarian and developmental areas in close cooperation and with the support of the government of India.”

I have worked in this region for a fair part of my adult life since the Indo Pak war in 1971-72, and am so pleased that SG of the UN is acknowledging the outstanding work done by Red Cross and red Crescent

Thanks to my good Irish mates John Roche, Head, IFRC India and Sephen Ryan, IFRC in New Delhi for the details and the great photo.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

ANZAC DAY. New Zealand's loss-of-innocence

The Homecoming from Gallipoli by Walter Armiger Bowring, 1916.

On the 15 July 1915 the SS Willochra arrived in Wellington loaded with the first wave of New Zealand wounded from the Gallipoli Peninsula. Bowring's The Homecoming from Gallipoli illustrates the poignant loss-of-innocence moment when civilian New Zealanders first confronted the grim reality of wounds, amputations, psychological trauma and death. The painting is dominated by a seemingly unending line of khaki and bandages zig-zagging down from the ship into the jostling throng of anxious civilians. The flag and coloured streamers all hang limply, suggesting that the families waiting at the dock had expected a victorious celebration but were met instead by parade of exhausted men

ANZAC day is a very poignant day for New Zealanders and Australians as many of us lost relatives in the First and Second World Wars.

I used to sit on my Grandfather's (Thomas Farrow McNatty) knee as a child and play with a medallion on his watch . After he died my brother was given the watch, medallion and chain and it had the year 1900 engraved on it and that his platoon had won a shooting competition in my home town Dunedin. When the 1st World War broke out my Grandfather was too old to go, but five of his brothers went to the war. He told me how his mother (Hannah) and his father (John) hearts were broken when they received news that their son Henry John McNatty had  died on 06 August 1915 at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, Turkey  and buried at Chunuk Bair.  Over two year later John and Hannah received word that another son, Walter Ernest McNatty died of wounds, in France, on 03 October 1917. The three other brothers - 4/2202 Sapper Charles Burton McNatty, 65117 Private Frank Kingsland McNatty, 59033 Private Robert McNatty - all survived and I recall vividly meeting two of them in the first 15 years of my life. Tomorrow, 25 April 2012, ANZAC day, would also like to honour Great Uncle Bert Hodgson, my Grandmother'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.

Then to my Father James William Godrey McKerrow who fought with New Zealand's 23rd Battalion in Egypt and later Italy during the Second World War. My Dad had a horrible war, but like many of his generation, seldom talked about it. But during all night long talks I had with him a few years before he died , he opened up and told me of the horrors he witnessed.

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, New Zealand.

The making of ANZAC day

Anzac Day, as we know it, began to take shape almost as soon as news reached New Zealand of the landing of soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April, 1915. Within a few years core elements of the day were set and the Anzac story and sacredness of the commemoration enshrined.
New Zealand soldiers bow their heads in prayer at an Anzac Day service at El Saff in Egypt, 25 April 1940.

1915: Gallipoli remembered
The first public recognition of the landings at Gallipoli occurred on 30 April 1915, after news of the dramatic event had reached New Zealand. A half-day holiday was declared for government offices, flags were flown, and patriotic meetings were held. People eagerly read descriptions of the landings and casualty lists – even if the latter made for grim news. Newspapers gushed about the heroism of the New Zealand soldiers. From the outset, public perceptions of the landings evoked national pride. The eventual failure of the Gallipoli operation enhanced its sanctity for many; there may have been no military victory, but there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice.
New Zealand soldiers at Sling Camp, England, created this cover for a publication in 1916. It illustrates how the Gallipoli campaign was celebrated as a source of national pride from the beginning.
New Zealand soldiers at Sling Camp, England, created this cover for a publication in 1916. It illustrates how the Gallipoli campaign was celebrated as a source of national pride from the beginning.

1916: a half-day holiday

Day Gazette notice New Zealanders soon demanded some form of remembrance on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. This became both a means of rallying support for the war effort and a public expression of grief – for no bodies were brought home. On 5 April 1916 a half-day holiday for 25 April was gazetted, and church services and recruiting meetings were proposed. Returned servicemen wanted something else: 'the boys don't want to be split up among twenty or thirty different churches on Anzac Day, and it is certain they don't want to go to a meeting to hear people who haven't been there [to war] spout and pass resolutions'. Instead, returned servicemen preferred a public service conducted by an army chaplain. Returned servicemen soon claimed ownership of the day's ceremonies. These included processions of returned and serving personnel, followed by church services and public meetings at town halls. Speeches extolled national unity, imperial loyalty, remembrance of the dead and the need for young men to volunteer at a time when conscription loomed. Large crowds attended the first commemorations in 1916. There were 2000 at the service in Rotorua, and in London, there was a procession of 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops and a service at Westminster Abbey. New Zealand soldiers in Egypt commemorated the day with a service and the playing of the last post, followed by a holiday and sports games. Only a year after the landings some people saw potential profits from using the term Anzac to promote their products. On 31 August 1916, after lobbying by returned soldiers, the use of the word Anzac was prohibited for trade or business purposes.

Patriotism and remembrance
New Zealand Returned Soldiers' (later Services') Association, in co-operation with local authorities, took a key role in the ceremony, organising processions of servicemen, church services and public meetings. The ceremony on 25 April was gradually standardised during and after the war. It became more explicitly a remembrance of the war dead and less a patriotic event once the war was over. The ceremony was conducted around a bier of wreaths and a serviceman's hat, and there was a firing party of servicemen men with their heads bowed and a chaplain who read the words from the military burial service. Three volleys were fired by the guard, and the last post was played. This was followed by a prayer, a hymn and a benediction.
Barbara McKerrow, my sister-in-law, visits the graves of New Zealand soldiers who died at Monte Cassino during WW II. My Father fought with the 23rd New Zealand Batallion in this war. Photo: Barry McKerrow


 Homecoming from Gallipoli

The word Anzac is part of the culture of New Zealanders and Australians. People talk about the 'spirit of Anzac'; there are Anzac biscuits, and rugby or rugby league teams from the two countries play an Anzac Day test. The word conjures up a shared heritage of two nations, but it also has a specific meaning.

Anzac is the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This corps was created early in the Great War of 1914–18. In December 1914 the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force stationed in Egypt were placed under the command of Lieutenant General William Birdwood. Initially the term Australasian Corps was suggested, but Australians and New Zealanders were reluctant to lose their separate identities completely.

No one knows who came up with the term Anzac. It is likely that Sergeant K.M. Little, a clerk at Birdwood's headquarters, thought of it for use on a rubber stamp: 'ANZAC' was convenient shorthand. Later the corps used it as their telegraph code word.

The Anzacs first saw action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. The small cove where the Australian and New Zealand troops landed was quickly dubbed Anzac Cove. Soon the word was being used to describe all Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Eventually, it came to mean any Australian or New Zealand soldier.

After Gallipoli

There were two Anzac corps on the Western Front from 1916, with the New Zealand Division serving in II Australian and New Zealand Army Corps until early 1918. During the Sinai–Palestine campaign the combined Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division was more commonly called the Anzac Mounted Division.

The term continued into other wars. A new Anzac corps was briefly formed during the campaign in Greece in 1941. During the Vietnam War, New Zealand and Australian infantry companies combined to form the Anzac Battalion.

A sacred holiday - Anzac Day

Anzac Day took on a new meaning in a time of peace. Most New Zealanders saw it as a time to express sorrow, not to glorify war. It became a sacred day, but one that was secular in tone and less like a mournful funeral.

A public holiday

The status of Anzac Day was not clear until the early 1920s. Peace was celebrated from 19 to 21 July 1919, but there was no official day of commemoration for the war. The government was prepared to move St George’s Day to 25 April and declare that day to be a government holiday. There was little support for this. Government holidays tended to be religious observances or patriotic occasions, and Dominion Day, the self-styled national day, possessed no emotional appeal.

Anzac Day had strong public appeal. In 1920 the government responded to Returned Services’ Association (RSA) lobbying for 25 April to be declared a holiday; the first was marked in 1921. Legislation making the day a holiday also closed hotels and banks and prohibited race meetings, but this did not meet RSA demands for the day to be ‘Sundayised’. In 1922 the government backed down, and 25 April became a full public holiday as if it were a Sunday.

Nationhood and peace

The features of Anzac Day evolved during the 1920s and 1930s. Public war memorials erected in the 1920s took the place of town halls or churches in the ceremony. In the process, the ceremony itself became less overtly religious. There were occasional protests from churches, but it was RSA leaders, servicemen and local politicians who increasingly made the speeches, rather than clergymen.

Gradually the service became less like a mournful funeral. The laying of wreaths became more central to the ceremony, and there were fewer speeches and hymns. Uniformed members of the armed forces became accepted in many places as participants in the march and service.

New Zealand’s Anzac Day services began to include new features taken, appropriately, from the Anzac partner. The dawn parade, commemorating both the time of the initial landings at Gallipoli and the routine dawn stand-to in the trenches, was an Australian idea. It was widely adopted in New Zealand from 1939 (although some centres, such as Whanganui, had included dawn parades in their commemorations for several years before this). The cold and darkness breaking into sunrise added to the symbolism of the occasion.

Common themes in the speeches were nationhood, national and imperial loyalty, sacrifice and peace. During the Depression, Anzac Day speeches mentioned the ideals of unity and selflessness. As the international situation deteriorated in the 1930s, Anzac Day speeches focused on the need for defence preparations and the importance of not forgetting past lessons. The number of marchers grew as returned servicemen became more interested in commemorating their war experiences through public ritual. Anzac Day began to take on the features of an annual reunion.

My thanks to New Zealand History on Line for permission to use extracts from their site.

Monday, 23 April 2012


With exceptionally heavy rains over most parts of Sri Lanka during the past two weeks, my thoughts go back to the dramtic and serious floods we had in Sr Lanka earlier year. Here is a clip I discovered the other day CNN.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Rugby school inspired founder of modern Olympic Games

Attendees look on as a picture of IOC founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin is displayed on a screen during the 13th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress in Copenhagen October 3, 2009.  Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse/Files

I am from a fanatical rugby playing nation and we are current world champions. Most New Zealanders are delighted that rugby will be introduced as a team sport in the 2016 Olympics as we were taught that Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, looked back to Olympia and the splendour of the ancient Greek Games, for spiritual inspiration. He was also greatly inspired by Rugby School and the game of rugby..

Across the channel, a less obvious source provided a more immediate influence for the diminutive French aristocrat with the impressive handlebar moustache.

At the age of 12 de Coubertin read a French translation of "Tom Brown's Schooldays", the classic tale of Rugby School and its renowned headmaster Thomas Arnold, first published in 1857.

From that day on, Rugby School and Arnold helped nuture a vision which was to culminate in the 1896 Athens Games and the foundation of the modern Olympic movement.

De Coubertin was an educationalist obsessed by what he regarded as the degeneracy of the French educational system after the humiliating defeat in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war.

Lord Coe plants an oak tree to celebrate the UK's role in the birth of the modern Olympic movement. Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Visits to a series of English schools convinced him of the value of organised games as a means of developing character, courage and self-reliance.

They also led him in 1890 to the Wenlock Olympian Games in the medieval Shropshire village of Much Wenlock, a multi-sports festival largely founded by another remarkable Victorian, the local doctor and philanthropist William Penny Brookes.

The Wenlock Games have been been called the bridge between the ancient and the modern Olympics and one of the London 2012 mascots is called Wenlock.

Arnold had been dead for more than 40 years when de Coubertin paid a visit to Rugby School in the 1880s and spent a night in the chapel holding vigil over his grave.

"My eyes fixed on the funeral slab on which, without epitaph, the great name of Thomas Arnold was inscribed," de Coubertin wrote. "I dreamed that I saw before me the cornerstone of the British Empire."


That cornerstone included sports which were in themselves influenced by the 19th century "muscular Christianity" movement which emphasised moral certainty and physical strength.

Thomas Hughes, author of "Tom Brown's Schooldays", was a proponent of muscular Christianity and his book was intended as as a moral tract rather than than a novel.

School-house match, a forerunner of the game named after the school, the cross-country run, the fight and the cricket game are the sporting highlights. Flashman, the bully expelled for drunkeness, was to become an acclaimed and libidinous anti-hero in a series of novels by George MacDonald Fraser.

Today the School Close, where Willian Webb Ellis reputedly started the game of rugby union when he ran with the ball in 1823, still hosts rugby and cricket matches. But in the year of the third London Olympics, the school is now co-educational and offers, in all, more than 30 sports.

"It's a very important counter-balance to cerebral activity as I'm sure Dr Thomas Arnold knew," languages master Jonathan Smith told Reuters amid the noise and bustle of a school sports afternoon on a dazzlingly bright, spring day.

"It's where you learn solidarity with your team mates and the importance of collaboration in competition with another team.

"It teaches them the impossibility of instant gratification. It's a combination of individual endeavour and team spirit and bringing those two virtues together. After all, we want excellence as much in games as as we do in games results, no team is going to want any player who doesn't play to the best of his ability and who is not playing to the top of his game.

"So it both encourages the individual to make the best of their talents and play, if not perish, for the team."

Rugby School libarian and archivist Rusty MacLean said Arnold's particular genius was to give the senior boys responsibility as well as power.


"He was very keen on physical exercise as a means to an end, to a higher purpose," MacLean explained in the hush of the school library.

"He also felt that he wanted to get rid of the barbaric pursuits of hunting and shooting and fishing. The daily life at the school, even up to the 20th century was largely run by the senior boys.

"You got organised games. You got games where the rule of fair play were very important. The boys owned these games. Rugby football was their creation. Although there were lots of different varieties, the distinctive features of the game came from here.

"This evolution from games to sports did not happen in isolation. It was happening in a much wider environment of innovation and change. These ideas, those beliefs, self-governance that were helping to create the foundation of the British Empire."

Arnold was a classical scholar at a time when education was strongly based on Greek mathematics and philosophy. Public interest in classical Greece had been fuelled by German explorations at Olympia and Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in north-east Turkey which convinced him he had found Homer's ancient Troy.

"The explorations that were going on, the rediscovery of classical civilisation had a great deal of influence, whether directly or indirectly," added MacLean.


A renewed interest in ancient Greece and the Olympic games was accompanied by a hunger for games generally which led to an extraordinary epoch in Victorian Britain during which most of the modern sports were either invented or formally codified.

Among them were three of the major sports to feature in the London Games starting on July 27. The British Amateur Swimming Association was founded in 1869 and the English Amateur Athletics Association formed in 1880, the same year as the British Amateur Boxing Association.

Amateur was a key word in British sport where the system was weighted in favour of wealthy aristocrats who could afford to play in their leisure time. Professionals were not welcome, particularly in rowing where the Leander club, extended the definition to tradesmen, artisans or labourers. A fierce and ultimately losing battle against professionalism in the Olympics was to be fought throughout much of the next century.

Coubertin, although a social reformer who as Olympic historian David Wallechinsky notes "was well aware of the inequities of the amateur system" used the structure of the Henley Royal Regatta stewards as a model for the first International Olympic Committee.

"He was...alert to the social prejudices of the day, aware that the presence on the sporting committee he was about to create, of titled noblemen would enhance credibility, much as it does in the present day with charitable organisations," wrote David Millar in his official history of the Olympic Games.

Only 14 countries attended the 1896 Games but its success was assured when Greek Spiridon Louis won the marathon, introduced to commemorate the legend of Pheidippides bringing the news of the victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490BC.

De Coubertin later left no doubts about the debt he owed to the British public schools and his admiration generally for a remarkable era in British history.

"Although we may criticise on many points the teaching which public schools afford in England, there can be no reasonable doubt about their providing a strong and vigorous education of body and character," he said.

"To the merits of this education we may ascribe a large share in the prodigious and powerful extension of the British Empire in Queen Victoria's reign."

In 2009, the chairman of the London 2012 organising committee Sebastian Coe, unveiled a plaque on the Doctor's Wall at Rugby School to commemorate Thomas Arnold. He has no doubts about the role the school played in influencing de Coubertin's magnificent obsession.

"Central, absolutely central. De Coubertin visited Britain primarily to understand the moral tenor and tone of people in this country," Coe told Reuters.

"He looked across the channel at what he though we were doing. A lot he thought he recognised as an ethos in schools. He wanted to understand more about it.

"De Coubertin is often referred to as the founding father of the Olympic movement and I think we accept that that is probably the case. But much of his thinking was heavily impacted by both Arnold and Penny

Thanks to John Mehaffey of Reuters for permission to use extracts of his article.

Pakistan's army chief calls for the demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier

Pakistan's army chief has made a rare call for the demilitarisation of the world's highest battlefield after touring the site of an avalanche that buried 129 Pakistani soldiers near the border with rival India.

General Ashfaq Kayani was speaking 11 days after a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Siachen Glacier in the disputed Kashmir region was engulfed.

Eleven civilians were also trapped.

The tragedy has revived criticism of the 28-year conflict over the glacier, which critics say is futile.

General Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, said the stand-off has been costly in many ways, from defence spending to the environmental impact of deployments in the area.

"I think this is one good enough reason that this area should not be militarised," he told reporters in the northern town of Skardu after viewing the avalanche site with Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari from a helicopter.

Rescue efforts are still under way for the buried soldiers and civilians near Siachen, with workers pushing through snow, mud and boulders using heavy machinery, life-detection equipment or even their gloved hands.

Brigadier Saqib Malik, the Siachen brigade commander, said a 61-metre deep mix of snow, ice, boulders and small rocks have covered the headquarters.

Highlighting the constant dangers of operating in the forbidding expanse, he instructed reporters to drop their equipment and run to a safe spot if avalanche warning whistles are heard.

The army has listed the names of the missing soldiers and civilians on its public relations website.

There have been no death announcements and the military says it will not abandon the search and rescue effort.

"We will continue to make all efforts. Whether it takes 10 days or 10 months or if it takes three years, we are not going to give up on this," General Kayani said.

"If we have to dig out this mountain, we'll dig it out."

General Kayani says the stand-off has been costly in many ways. (AFP: Aamir Qureshi)

Costly conflict

Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man's-land is 6,000 metres above sea level.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars

The disaster renewed questions about the worth of the inhospitable disputed territory

Indian and Pakistani troops in Siachen have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus-60 degrees Celsius.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

Although General Kayani stressed that it was the duty of Pakistani soldiers to defend their country no matter how harsh the conditions, he also said a political solution was needed to end disputes like Siachen.

"It is for the leadership of both countries to find a solution," he said.

"We hope and we wish that the issue is resolved, so that both countries do not have to pay this cost, pay this price."

Generals have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64-year history, through coups or from behind the scenes.

They set security and foreign policy, even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now. Military spending consumes just over 17 per cent of the state budget.

A tentative peace process is under way and ties between Islamabad and New Delhi are at their warmest in years, with recent high-level meetings.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Tsunami preparedness pays off | Sri Lanka | Natural Disasters

If you are interested in tsunami preparedness and early warning, this is worth reading. Many lessons are there to be learned.

IRIN Asia | SRI LANKA: Tsunami preparedness pays off | Sri Lanka | Natural Disasters

Residents evacuated by the Red Cross, wait in safer areas well away from the shore. Photo: Sri Lanka Red Cross

High Country Woman

New Zealand's high country farmers are a special breed. They farm in tough terrain, at high altitudes, in areas where extreme climate puts both man and animal to the test.  Iris Scott was one of the first female graduates of Massey University's veterinary science degree, and went on to take over the 100-year-old Rees Valley station at the head of Lake Wakatipu with her husband Graeme. Together they established high conservation and land guardianship standards. When she was widowed, with three children, in 1992 Iris Scott had to call on all her farming skill and inner strength to carry on as the runholder of the 150-year-old, 18,000-hectare Rees Valley Station at the head of Lake Wakatipu, near Glenorchy. Not only that, she had to run the station on her own and keep up her veterinary practice. High Country Woman is the engaging story of Iris Scott's love of our high country and her determination to farm it successfully while upholding high conservation and land-guardianship values. The book also covers the fascinating history of the area long known to locals as The Head of the Lake, the focus of William Rees' great sheep run, established not long after he and Nicolas von Tunzelman became the first Europeans to travel into the area in an epic exploration feat .

Over the years and especially during my very active mountaineering days I met a number of high country farming families such as the Aspinals who farmed up the Matukituki, the Ivy's at Glentanner and a number of West Coast families who farm the South Westland valleys and take stock high in the summer.

This book holds special interest for me as my Great Grandfather James McKerrow the Explorer Surveyor was the first surveyor to map the Rees and Dart valleys between 1861-63 and knew Rees and Tunzelman.

I took this from the head of Lake Wakatipu on New Year's day 2012 looking to the Rees valley slightly left of centre.
For those who may be interested in the area the Rees and the Dart River can be seen at the head of Lake Wakatipu. This is a map of my grandfather's exploration and survey bewteen 1861-63.

So I am delighted that High Country Woman has now been publish as the engaging story of Iris Scott's love of our high country fills a gap in our high country farming literature.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Eyewitness Voices: North Pole Expedition Team on Climate Change Impacts ...

In 1986 I was a member of an 8-person expedition to the North Pole using 49 dogs and sledges and we became the first confirmed unsupported expedition to reach the geographic North Pole.

Last year we met in Minnesota to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the event, and also to draw the world's attention to climate change.

Here is what the Will Steger Foundation website had to say about what each of us has observed in terms of climate change in our respective professions.
"We were impressed by the wealth of knowledge team members shared and their own eyewitness stories: Canadians Richard Weber and Brent Boddy talked about a loss of thick, old, multi-year ice, shortened dogsledding seasons and the loss of the summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean; wildlife biologist, Geoff Carroll provided his insight into impacts to Alaska's large land mammals he studies, like caribou and musk ox; New Zealand team member Bob McKerrow, who now works for the International Red Cross in Sri Lanka, talked about communities in the Bay of Bengal being squeezed out by rising water levels; and Bob Mantell talked about the impact of the BP oil spill on communities in New Orleans, where he lives. Paul Schurke joined Will with a call to action to address climate change; and Ann Bancroft acknowledged the impact the expedition had on her career and thanked the team and all of Minnesota for the gifts afforded her and the entire team."
 Visit   the Will Steger Foundation for more information.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Investment in tsunami mitigation & early warning pays off

People self evacuating from low-lying areas in Batticaloa. Photo: Sri Lanka Red Cross.

Have we improved tsunami preparedness and early warning since the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 ? Yesterday in Sri Lanka I was caught up in the middle of a tsunami warning as I was staying at the Bentota Beach Hotel, and I drove inland with my family for two hours until the tsunami warning was lifted. I wasn't that popular as my wife and mother-in-law questioned my judgement.

Here is my colleague Mahieash Johnneys' reflection on how things went yesterday.
Around 2.10 PM local Sri Lankan time, many throughout the island thought that they were experiencing an explosion or a construction demolitionin the vicinity they were in. Never did it cross most minds that this could be an earthquake, mainly because Sri Lanka does not fall into the seismic belt.

Within seconds of the first shake, people started to tune into televisions and radio and this time they had other powerful sources as well in the form of Social Media. People were on twitter & facebook trying to find information of what just happened.

Within seconds it was clear that an 8.9 has struck off the shores of Sumatra in Indonesia and soon after there was a tsunami watch. Within minutes many countries issued tsunami warnings.

This was merely not a miracle. Information flow has made us more resilient towards disasters. Knowledge is key in safeguarding one’s self and alerting everyone around. We certainly did learn from our past mistakes.

Alert aftermath in Sri Lanka

Following the 8.7 magnitude earthquake, which struck off the coast off Banda Aceh, Indonesia on the afternoon of one day prior to the Sinhala & Tamil New Year, local authorities took steps to evacuate people living in the coastal areas to safety.

Sri Lanka Red Cross Society’s Branch Disaster Response Teams (BDRT) were deployed within minutes of the first tremor in Eastern Sri Lanka to assess the situation and to be on standby to assist evacuation procedures.

“The systems were already in place. Everyone even to the grass root level knew their role in their respective communities” said Tissa Abeywickrama, Director General of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

“We have trained people time after time in order to face a situation like this. Our investment on mitigation & early warning certainly paid off”

Meanwhile the Metrological Department of Sri Lanka, which is the competent authority for tsunami alerts, urged the public to follow the instructions and not to panic.

Steps were immediately taken to open the Southern highway free of charge for the public to evacuate as the road is located more inland than the other main roads which runs parallel to the coast line.

Moreover, the Ceylon Electricity Board also shut down power to the whole of Eastern Sri Lanka as a precautionary measure.

The President of the SLRCS Jagath Abeysinghe also made a public announcement via all media outlets for all volunteers within the coastal areas to report to their respective branches so that they could assist the evacuation process set in motion by the Government.

Residents of all coastal areas were evacuated to pre identified safe location sports on selected paths.

Red Cross Response

In times of pre-tsunami period, once the competent authority has issued the relevant warnings, SLRCS deployed all BDRT personnel in the coastal areas to assess the situation and to help the public to reach higher grounds as per pre determined evacuation plans.

Teams were deployed in Colombo, Moratuwa, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Jaffna and Mannar.

The coordination was made through the National Headquarters where assessments were made in close coordination with government authorities. The Disaster Management Centre informs SLRCS of much needed services in all parts of the country, where steps were taken immediately to meet the needs on the ground.

Such request was made to help evacuate people in small islands in the Batticaloa district, where the Red Cross volunteers took the lead in the process.

“Not only did we have BDRT teams all over the country, but First Aid posts were erected in all evacuation centers to assist the people who need medical attention” said the Director General of SLRCS.

Early Warning Systems

After the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, the SLRCS clearly identifyed the needs of an early warning systebm that needs to be in place. The SLRCS supported by the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and other partner national societies, invested time and financial support to put in place the systems in coastal areas.

Over 1.2 million CHF (1.3 million USD / 160 million LKR) were invested to put these systems in place

The main objective was to establish effective community-based early warning mechanism and co-ordination and communication mechanism to disseminate the disaster early warnings to vulnerable communities during emergencies.

With mock drills, construction of community centers in safer locations, putting up sirens, identifying safe passageways, and equipping communities with needed support to survive a stay over in case a tragedy occurs.

Investments were also made to educate volunteers in these parts of the island to be better prepared in times of disasters.

“We are very concern of what would happen in the future. The trend seems to be mega disasters with no warning at all striking highly populated cities and countries. Our only defense against this is knowledge,” says the President of SLRCS Jagath Abeysinghe.

“That’s why we continue to invest in these areas. If our people in the grass root level have the knowledge and the capacity to face disasters, in the end precious lives can be saved”

He further elaborated on the tsunami warning that occurred yesterday (11th April 2012).

“How our volunteers and teams acted in this was remarkable. Everyone, including the communities knew what they should do. And everybody did just that. This is exactly what we wanted after investing so much on early warning and mitigation”

Thanks to By Mahieash Johnney – IFRC Communications & Information Manager in Sri Lanka

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Latest update on Pakistan/Kashmir avalanche

A Pakistan army helicopter (bottom) and soldiers are seen at the avalanche incident site in Siachen, in northern Pakistan where at least 135 people, most of them soldiers, have been buried.

I got a note overnight from Lydia Bradey who was the first woman to climb Mount Everest solo. Lydia has climbed extensively in Pakistan and knows the area well where the avalanche occured and wrote the following: " It was like that at the top of the Baltoro Glacier in the 80s... not much changes, super sad for their families. Thanks for posting..."

So many mountaineers can identify with this tragic event for we have seen friends die in avalanches and have survived them ourselves.

I found it encouraging that the US has sent a team of experts to help Pakistan search for 135 people buried a day earlier by a massive avalanche that engulfed a military complex in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border.

At least 240 Pakistani troops and civilians worked at the site of the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, said the army. But they struggled to dig through some 25 metres of snow, boulders and mud that slid down the mountain early Saturday morning.

Pakistani army spokesman General Athar Abbas said Sunday evening that it was unclear whether any of the people who were buried are still alive. At least 124 soldiers from the 6th Northern Light Infantry Battalion and 11 civilian contractors are missing.

"Miracles have been seen and trapped people were rescued after days ... so the nation shall pray for the trapped soldiers," Abbas said in an interview on Geo TV.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the site Sunday to supervise rescue operations.

The US sent a team of eight experts to Islamabad to provide technical assistance, said the Pakistani army. Pakistan will consult with the team to determine what help is needed to expedite the rescue operation.

The American assistance comes at a tense time between the two countries and could help improve relations following American airstrikes in November that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border.

Pakistan retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for Nato troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistani parliament is currently debating a new framework for relations with the US that Washington hopes will lead to the reopening of the supply line. But that outcome is uncertain given the level of anti-American sentiment in the country.

The avalanche in Siachen, which is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan, highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of soldiers from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been posted at elevations of up to 6700 metres and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield.

Abbas, the army spokesman, said the headquarters that was buried was located in an area previously believed to be safe. At an altitude of around 4500m, it is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to more remote outposts.

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.

Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78km-long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the cease-fire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Latest update of avalanche in Pakistan which kills 135 people.

Update: Sunday 0200 GMT.

The number of people feared dead in an avalanche in the disputed Kashmir region has risen to 135, the Pakistan army has said.

Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the BBC 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians were missing after 70ft (21m) of snow engulfed a military camp near the Siachen Glacier on Saturday.

The incident happened near the Siachen glacier in the eastern Karakoram branch of the Himalaya mountains.

Thousands of troops are deployed in the remote area, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India.
The avalanche struck the base in the Gayari district at about 06:00 local time (01:00 GMT).

They are from the Northern Light Infantry regiment.

The military says its "priority is to save lives", and helicopters, sniffer dogs and troops have been sent to the area to help with the rescue.

Weather conditions in the area are said to be good.

The Siachen glacier is in a remote mountain area claimed by both Pakistan and India Kashmir has been partitioned between India and Pakistan since 1947.

Failure to agree on the status of the territory by diplomatic means has brought India and Pakistan to war on a number of occasions.

The Siachen glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield, and soldiers have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700m (22,000 feet).

However, more soldiers have died from the harsh weather conditions there than in combat.

I have travelled extensively in the mountain regions of Pakistan and climbed in a number of areas, Just two days ago  I reread that well written book 'The Long road to Siachen, The Question Why' written by  Kunal verma and Rajiv Williams. This extensively researched book will answer a lot of questions for people wondering why so many soldiers live in the mountainous border region.

Here is a summary:

In the 60 years since Independence, entire generations of Indians have seen their country locked in conflict with both Pakistan and China, invariably over the so-called Kashmir problem.

The strategic significance of Kashmir (including Jammu and Ladakh) is not a modern day issue but dates back 200-odd years to the beginning of the Great Game whose ramifications were felt by England, Russia, France, Tibet, China and shaped events in the subcontinent.

'The Long Road to Siachen: The Question Why' is a recent book by Kunal Verma and Brigadier Rajiv Williams that takes the reader through an incredible journey that presents a comprehensive picture of the events through the ages.

Published by Rupa &Co. the major part of the book is authored by Kunal Verma who is well known for his path breaking documentaries on the Indian Air Force, the Kargil War, and the film on the National Defence Academy (Standard Bearers). Drawing on the vast exposure he has had with all three Services of the Armed Forces, he has adopted a unique style of telling the story; sometimes even writing in the first person which makes the narrative engaging.

The reader is drawn into the vagaries of the terrain in Jammu, Kashmir, Zanskar and Ladakh at the very onset as Verma talks of his early days as a trek manager with Tiger Tops Mountain Travel in the 1980s. His chance encounter with a French tourist after crossing Umasi La in 1981 that resulted in his obtaining USAF maps which depicted the entire region north and east of Tortuk as PAF overflying areas and the subsequent events makes the entire book part memoir, part history lesson, part analysis and his ability to take stunning photographs, part photo essay!

The narrative goes back and forth as present incidents are linked to the past to provide the reader with an appreciation of the entire chain of events. It indeed is a Long Road to Siachen as Kunal Verma traces the history of various exploratory expeditions launched in the region during the 'Great Game years' and then subsequently the post Partition and Independence era, when various mountaineering forays from the Pakistani side.

The Indian side of the story unfolds as Colonel Narendra 'Bull' Kumar's attempts are documented along with other major expeditions.

The subsequent race between India and Pakistan to be the first to establish their dominance over the region provides an exciting edge.

                              The mountains of Kashmir, scene of a violent territorial dispute

The intricacies of Geo-Politics, alas so rarely understood by Indian leaders, then unfold as Verma gets into the nitty-gritty of hard-core Military History, starting with the broad Indian canvas which narrows down on Kashmir. The emergence of the Sikh Confederacy under the legendary Ranjit Singh; Gulab Singh's establishing of the Dogra Empire and the role played by Hari Singh and the Congress Party are looked at minus the Anglo-Saxon spin on the events and personalities which we in India have generally inherited unquestioningly.

Hari Singh, the last ruler of Kashmir, for example, so often branded a villain for his dilly-dallying in 1947, comes across as a thoughtful personality who derailed the British plans during the Round Table Conference by giving voice to what at best can today be described as 'Indian ambitions'. The so-called heroes of India's freedom movement, more often than not oblivious of the larger strategic picture, often come across as unthinking puppets dancing to a preordained script written by the British. That Ambedkar first talked of dividing India on caste lines during the Round Table Conference even before the Muslim League got into the act of promoting the 'Two-Nation Theory' are important events which help unravel the complex jigsaw of the political machinations of those times.

The author also dwells at length on the creation of Pakistan, analyzing the deliberate strategy of the British to look after their own strategic interests post World War 2. The meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt that sealed the fate of British Colonialism, the relationship between Churchill and Jinnah, the evolution of Indian Military Intelligence agencies are important pegs in the book. Even the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48 is dealt with in some detail, especially the fighting in Poonch.

In the main, the book time and again brings out the disconnect between the early political leadership in India on the one hand and the military and strategic think-tanks on the other. The appointment of Baldev Singh, an industrialist, as India's first Defence Minister by Nehru for political expediency tells its own story.

This alarming situation continues to haunt us even with the Kargil War of 1999. Kunal Verma was involved in filming the conflict for the Indian Army and he puts forth his opinions and insights on the operations from the privileged ringside view that he had. Photographs pertaining to the war, especially those of General Budhwar (GOC 3 Division) and Brigadier Devinder Singh (Cdr 70 Brigade) have added significance in view of the Armed Forces Tribunal recently ordering a re-write of the official Kargil history.

There is an important chapter on two lesser known battles of the conflict: 27 Rajput at Tortuk and 14 Sikh at Chorbatla. Both these sectors were sandwiched between the Kargil and Siachen regions and consequently were beyond the reach of the media during the war. These are tales of great courage and valour which only the Indian Army could have managed. Imagine a battalion of Rajputs recruited from the Jodhpur area, men who had not seen anything higher than a sand dune before joining the Army, now being pushed by a Manipuri Commanding Officer to launch an almost vertical assault at an objective at 18,000 feet.

The entire book is richly illustrated by photos taken by the author over the years, plus other images obtained from various archives.

Photographs of the raider columns in 1947 as the Pakistanis pushed into Kashmir should forever bury the ghost of 'non-state actors', the smoke screen fine tuned and patented by the ISI for decades! There are maps and illustrations, all of which combine to make it an extremely readable tome. One can see the photos of the terrain and admire the cold remote beauty created by Nature. One marvels that an heaven on earth can become such a battlefield but it has.

Brigadier Williams as a young Company Commander watched from Sonam Post his battalion, the highly decorated 8 JAK LI, defend Bana Top as the Pakistani Army launched a major attack. His documentation of both OP RAJIV and OP QIADAT bring out in graphic detail the bitter, horrific fighting in 1984 that saw a post on the Glacier actually change hands. He then dwells on the logistics/supply lines involving IAF fixed wing transports and Army and Air Force helicopters which ensure a permanent link to the Glacier with the rest of the country.

To be honest, a book on Military History is hardly likely to be on the average reader's "must read" list. But the Long Road to Siachen has successfully traversed across that line by linking the past with the present in so many different ways. This is a much needed book which should be made compulsory reading for our people - the citizen and the policy maker alike!

Here is the latest BBC profile on Kashmir

The former princely state of Kashmir has been partitioned between India and Pakistan since 1947, to the satisfaction neither of the two countries nor the Kashmiris themselves.

Failure to agree on the status of the territory by diplomatic means has brought India and Pakistan to war on a number of occasions, and ignitied an insurgency that shows no signs of abating.


When India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule in 1947, the various princely rulers were able to choose which state to join.

The Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was the Hindu head of a majority Muslim state sandwiched between the two countries, and could not decide. He signed an interim "standstill" agreement to maintain transport and other services with Pakistan.

In October 1947 tribesmen from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, spurred by reports of attacks on Muslims and frustrated by Hari Singh's delaying tactics.The Maharaja asked for Indian military assistance.

India's governor-general, Lord Mountbatten, believed peace would best be served by Kashmir's joining India on a temporary basis, pending a vote on its ultimate status. Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession that month, ceding control over foreign and defence policy to India.

The mountains of Kashmir, scene of a violent territorial dispute Indian troops took two-thirds of the territory, and Pakistan seized the northern remainder. China occupied eastern parts of the state in the 1950s.


Whether the Instrument of Accession or the entry of Indian troops came first remains a major source of dispute between India and Pakistan. India insists that Hari Singh signed first, thereby legitimising the presence of their troops. Pakistan is adamant that the Maharaja could not have signed before the troops arrived, and that he and India had therefore ignored the "standstill" agreement with Pakistan.

Kashmir is renowned as a source for the fine wool known as cashmere Pakistan demands a referendum to decide the status of Kashmir, while Delhi argues that, by voting in successive Indian state and national elections, Kashmiris have confirmed their accesson to India. Pakistan cites numerous UN resolutions in favour of a UN-run referendum, while India says the Simla Agreement of 1972 binds the two countries to solve the problem on a state-to-state basis.

There has been no significant movement from these positions in decades. In addition, some Kashmiris seek a third option - independence - which neither India nor Pakistan is prepared to contemplate.

Line of Control

The two countries fought wars over Kashmir in 1947-48 and 1965. They formalised the original ceasefire line as the Line of Control in the Simla Agreement, but this did not prevent further clashes in 1999 on the Siachen Glacier, which is beyond the Line of Control. India and Pakistan came close to war again in 2002.

Furthermore an Islamist-led insurgency broke out in 1989 and remains significant. India gave the army additional authority to end the insurgency under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Pro-Pakistan and pro-independence public protests erupted in the Kashmir Valley in the summer of 2010, and clashes with Indian security forces left more than 100 people dead.

Given that India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons, the stakes in the dispute are high.

A thaw in relations after 2002, which saw some road and rail communications into Pakistan reopened, ended abruptly with the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. India blamed Pakistani and Kashmiri Islamists, in particular the Lashkar-e-Toiba group, for the attacks. Talks between the two countries on improving ties across the Kashmiri Line of Control did however resume in 2010.


The population of historic Kashmir is divided into about 10 million people in Indian-administrated Jammu and Kashmir and 4.5 million in Pakistani-run Azad Kashmir. There are a further 1.8 million people in the Gilgit-Baltistan autonomous territory, which Pakistan created from northern Kashmir and the two small princely states of Hunza and Nagar in 1970.

The government of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has often been led by the National Conference, a pro-Indian party led by the Abdullah political dynasty. Pakistan runs Azad Jammu and Kashmir as a self-governing state, in which the Muslim Conference has played a prominent role for decades.

Jammu and Kashmir is diverse in religion and culture. It consists of the heavily-populated and overwhelmingly Muslim Kashmir Valley, the mainly Hindu Jammu district, and Ladakh, which has a roughly even number of Buddhists and Shia Muslims.

The Hindus of Jammu and the Ladakhis back India in the dispute, although there is a campaign in the Leh District of Ladakh to be upgraded into a separate union territory in order to reflect its predominantly Buddhist identity. India gave the two districts of Ladakh some additional autonomy within Jammu and Kashmir in 1995.

Kashmir's economy is predominantly agrarian. The important tourism sector in Indian-administered Kashmir was hard-hit by the post-1989 insurgency, but has seen some recovery since 2009.

Jammu and Kashmir

Status: State of India

Area: 222,236 sq km (85,806 sq miles)

Population: 10.1 million

Azad Jammu and Kashmir

Status: Autonomous territory of Pakistan

Area: 13,297 sq km (5,134 sq miles)

Population: 4.5 million


Status: Autonomous territory of Pakistan

Area: 72,496 sq km (27,990 sq miles)

Population: 1.8 million