Monsoon flooding causes chaos in Pakistan, India

Monsoon flooding causes chaos in Pakistan, India. Seven killed as police open fire on protestors in Tamil Nadu. Blast at French nuclear plant sparks fears of leak. At least 75 killed in Nairobi pipeline explosion. Troops sent to quell Indonesia clashes. All necessary measures authorised to stop Jos violence. All this and more in today’s security briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
12 September 2011

Major monsoon flooding has hit Pakistan’s Sindh province for the second year running, killing around 200 people in recent weeks as the area still struggles to recover from the calamitous flooding of 2010.  

One million houses have been damaged or destroyed, and 4.2 million acres of farmland have been flooded since late August, according to UNOCHA. Zafar Qadir, the country’s disaster management chief, said that over five million people have been affected by the monsoon rains so far this year.

The floods are expected  to wreak havoc on the country’s agriculture, particularly on sugar cane and cotton, two vital cash crops. Officials estimate that flooding in Sindh has already wiped out two million cotton bales – or around 13% of Pakistan’s annual crop. Meteorologists predict further rain in the region over the coming days, which will only deepen the misery of thousands of people who have lost their homes.   

The floods are a further headache for Islamabad, which is also battling Taliban militants in the northwest and a wave of violence in Karachi, not to mention its struggle to provide the country with power and basic services.

Aid agencies estimate that 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter after the 2010 floods, which killed 2,000 people and left 11 million homeless. The government’s slow response last year did much to undermine its already flagging reputation. However, Islamabad has again been criticised for a delay in authorising aid agencies to begin distributing aid to flood-affected communities, even as the flood waters rose. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday appealed to the international community for assistance. China has already pledged $4.7m, and the World Food Programme has started distributing food to 500,000 people in Sindh.

Across the border in India, 300 people have been killed since the rains began in June. Nine million are reported as ‘affected’ by the rains, according to the Indian Red Cross. In Orissa state, more than one million people have been displaced and 2600 villages submerged as the army and navy have been called in.

Seven killed as police open fire on protestors in Tamil Nadu

Seven protestors have been killed and almost thirty injured after police in Tamil Nadu state opened fire on a demonstrating crowd in Paramakudi, Ramanathapuram district yesterday. Members of the Dalit community (formerly referred to as untouchables) were protesting after local politician, John Pandian, was arrested on suspicion of inciting communal tensions. Pandian, founder of  Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil Progressive Federation), a local political party, was arrested on his way to a program commemorating the death of Dalit leader Immanuel Serkan.

Local reports suggest that the protestors threw stones and set vehicles alight, leaving up to thirty police injured and triggering a tough police response. Anumber of political leaders have been quick to call for an enquiry into the killings. Chief Minister J Jayalialithaa set up a commission to look into the deaths, and announced compensation of 100,000 Rupees for the families of those killed. The situation in Paramakudi remains tense but under control, according to local officials.

Blast at French nuclear plant sparks fears of leak 

An explosion at a nuclear waste treatment facility in southern France at around 10.30am (GMT) this morning briefly sparked fears of a radioactive leak.

The blast, which happened in a furnace used to melt radioactive waste, killed one person and left four others injured. France’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and the plant’s operators were quick to stress that there was no contamination outside of the site, which is around 30km from the major town of Avignon. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had sent requests for information to French nuclear authorities. No local quarantine measures have been established.

The blast follows the sensitive debate on the future of nuclear power taking place around the world after a tsunami in Japan earlier this year caused disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Until now, France has remained aloof of this debate. As the world’s most nuclear-dependent country with 59 reactors, and one of the biggest exporters of nuclear energy, nuclear power plays a critical role in the French economy. 78% of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and Areva, the state-owned nuclear giant, is one of France’s most powerful companies.

President Nicholas Sarkozy in June pledged to invest $1.37bn in new nuclear reactors, and given the relatively low profile of today’s explosion, it is unlikely that this will have much impact on French public sentiment towards nuclear power. 

At least 75 killed in Nairobi pipeline explosion

At least 75 people have been killed and over a hundred left injured in an explosion on a petrol pipeline in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi this morning.

The blast, caused by a pipeline leak, hit the city’s densely populated Sinai Lunga Lunga slum area, starting fires that authorities battled to control. Local reports suggest that the leak from a local depot travelled through storm drains that run through the slum, and attracted many people keen to collect fuel. Initial reports indicate that a dropped cigarette butt caused the collected fuel to ignite. Locals report that the explosion blew of manhole covers and sent a river of fire snaking through the Sinai slum.

Body parts littered the remains of burning shacks for 300m around the site of the explosion, report locals. The explosion and ensuing fire burned an area the width of a football pitch and almost a kilometre long.

The Kenya Pipeline Company said in a statement that fuel had leaked into a drain from the Nairobi-Mombasa pipeline. Its operatives apparently shut down the pipeline after the leak was reported.

Kenyan PM Raila Odinga described the explosion as “one of the worst disasters that has happened here in this country in the oil sector.” However, this was not the first fuel leak disaster to have claimed lives in Kenya: more than 100 were killed in Molo in 2009 after a fire on an overturned tanker. Energy Minister Kiraitu Mutungi said that “some people have squatted on the area reserved for the pipeline. We have tried to move them, but so far we have been unsuccessful.” Residents reportedly refused to move, saying they had nowhere else to go.

Pipeline explosions mainly occur in developing countries, often in similar circumstances as local residents try to siphon fuel from poorly concealed pipelines. Whereas in most developed countries, companies are required by law to bury or protect pipelines by law, and to replace them when they get too old, similar regulations are often unenforced or absent in countries like Kenya. Theft from exposed pipelines is understandably common, especially where these pipes run through very poor communities. Shell reports that millions of gallons of crude oil are stolen from its pipes in the Niger delta every year.

Troops sent to quell Indonesia clashes

Sectarian clashes that left five dead and eighty injured in the Indonesian city of Ambon over the weekend have prompted the Jakarta government to deploy additional security forces to the city.

The clashes are said to have been sparked by rumours that a Muslim moto-taxi driver was killed by Christians. Although police report that Darvin Saiman was killed in a road traffic accident, text messages claiming he was killed by Christians began to circulate shortly after his death. At Saiman’s funeral on Sunday, the rumours turned into outright clashes between Muslims and Christians, with both sides throwing rocks and setting fire to houses an cards.

Ambon, the provincial capital of the Maluku islands, has a history of sectarian violence. In the decade to 2002, more than 5,000 were killed and 500,000 were displaced by inter-faith conflict.

The Indonesian security minister told journalists that life in the city was returning to normal after 400 additional police officers were sent in. President Susilo Bambang Udhoyono instructed his government to “quickly explain what really happened so that the public does not receive erroneous information that could make matters worse.”

All necessary measures authorised to stop Jos violence

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has ordered his defence chief to take “all necessary actions” to quell ethnic violence in central Plateau state, after two explosions ripped through Jos yesterday.

The explosions hit a crowded restaurant on Sunday night, injuring at least one person. This is the latest episode in two weeks of violence that began with attacks on Muslims celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, the religious festival marking the end of Ramadan. Over fifty people had been killed in the nine days to Saturday. The conflict in Plateau state has claimed over 1,000 lives in the past two years, with state capital Jos often bearing the brunt of violence.

Jonathan’s move will see security powers transferred from state to federal hands. During this morning’s meeting, which took place at the presidential villa in Abuja, Jonathan also directed the National Emergency Management Agency to take prompt action to help those who have been displaced by the Jos violence. 

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