Poor ventilation may be adding to nursing homes’ COVID-19 risks


Geoff Hanmer and Bruce Milthorpe, University of Technology Sydney

Over 2,000 active cases of COVID-19 and 245 resident deaths as of August 19 have been linked to aged care homes in Victoria, spread across over 120 facilities. The St Basil’s cluster alone now involves 191 cases. In New South Wales, 37 residents were infected at Newmarch House, leading to 17 deaths.

Why are so many aged care residents and staff becoming infected with COVID-19? New research suggests poor ventilation may be one of the factors. RMIT researchers are finding levels of carbon dioxide in some nursing homes that are more than three times the recommended level, which points to poor ventilation.

An examination of the design of Newmarch in Sydney and St Basil’s in Melbourne shows residents’ rooms are arranged on both sides of a wide central corridor.

The corridors need to be wide enough for beds to be wheeled in and out of rooms, but this means they enclose a large volume of air. Windows in the residents’ rooms only indirectly ventilate this large interior space. In addition, the wide corridors encourage socialising.

If the windows to residents’ rooms are shut or nearly shut in winter, these buildings are likely to have very low levels of ventilation, which may contribute to the spread of COVID-19. If anyone in the building is infected, the risk of cross-infection may be significant even if personal protective equipment protocols are followed and surfaces are cleaned regularly.

Why does ventilation matter?

Scientists now suspect the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted as an aerosol as well as by droplets. Airborne transmission means poor ventilation is likely to contribute to infections.

A recent article in the journal Nature outlines the state of research:

Converging lines of evidence indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols that waft through the air and accumulate over time. After months of debate about whether people can transmit the virus through exhaled air, there is growing concern among scientists about this transmission route.




Read more:
Is the airborne route a major source of coronavirus transmission?


Under the National Construction Code (NCC), a building can be either “naturally ventilated” or “mechanically ventilated”.

Natural ventilation requires only that ventilation openings, usually the openable portion of windows, must achieve a set percentage of the floor area. It does not require windows to be open, or even mandate the minimum openable area, or any other measures that would ensure effective ventilation. Air quality tests are not required before or after occupation for a naturally ventilated building.

Nearly all aged care homes are designed to be naturally ventilated with openable windows to each room. In winter most windows are shut to keep residents warm and reduce drafts. This reduces heating costs, so operators have a possible incentive to keep ventilation rates down.

From inspection, many areas of typical nursing homes, including corridors and large common spaces, are not directly ventilated or are very poorly ventilated. The odour sometimes associated with nursing homes, which is a concern for residents and their visitors, is probably linked to poor ventilation.

Carbon dioxide levels sound a warning

Carbon dioxide levels in a building are a close proxy for the effectiveness of ventilation because people breathe out CO₂. The National Construction Code mandates CO₂ levels of less than 850 parts per million (ppm) in the air inside a building averaged over eight hours. A well-ventilated room will be 800ppm or less – 600ppm is regarded as a best practice target. Outside air is just over 400ppm

An RMIT team led by Professor Priya Rajagopalan is researching air quality in Victorian aged care homes. He has provided preliminary data showing peaks of up to 2,000ppm in common areas of some aged care homes.

This figure indicates very poor ventilation. It’s more than twice the maximum permitted by the building code and more than three times the level of best practice.

Research from Europe also indicates ventilation in aged care homes is poor.

Good ventilation has been associated with reduced transmission of pathogens. In 2019, researchers in Taiwan linked a tuberculosis outbreak at a Taipei University with internal CO₂ levels of 3,000ppm. Improving ventilation to reduce CO₂ to 600ppm stopped the outbreak.




Read more:
How to use ventilation and air filtration to prevent the spread of coronavirus indoors


What can homes do to improve ventilation?

Nursing home operators can take simple steps to achieve adequate ventilation. An air quality detector that can reliably measure CO₂ levels costs about A$200.

If levels in an area are significantly above 600ppm over five to ten minutes, there would be a strong case to improve ventilation. At levels over 1,000ppm the need to improve ventilation would be urgent.

Most nursing homes are heated by reverse-cycle split-system air conditioners or warm air heating systems. The vast majority of these units do not introduce fresh air into the spaces they serve.

The first step should be to open windows as much as possible – even though this may make maintaining a comfortable temperature more difficult.




Read more:
Open windows to help stop the spread of coronavirus, advises architectural engineer


Creating a flow of warmed and filtered fresh air from central corridor spaces into rooms and out through windows would be ideal, but would probably require investment in mechanical ventilation.

Temporary solutions could include:

  1. industrial heating fans and flexible ventilation duct from an open window discharging into the central corridor spaces

  2. radiant heaters in rooms, instead of recirculating heat pump air conditioners, and windows opened far enough to lower CO₂ levels consistently below 850ppm in rooms and corridors.

The same type of advice applies to any naturally ventilated buildings, including schools, restaurants, pubs, clubs and small shops. The operators of these venues should ensure ventilation is good and be aware that many air-conditioning and heating units do not introduce fresh air.

People walking into venues might want to turn around and walk out if their nose tells them ventilation is inadequate. We have a highly developed sense of smell for many reasons, and avoiding badly ventilated spaces is one of them.The Conversation

Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Professor of Architecture and Bruce Milthorpe, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rich and poor don’t recover equally from epidemics. Rebuilding fairly will be a global challenge



http://www.shutterstock.com

Ilan Noy, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

Since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, disaster recovery plans are almost always framed with aspirational plans to “build back better”. It’s a fine sentiment – we all want to build better societies and economies. But, as the Cheshire Cat tells Alice when she is lost, where we ought to go depends very much on where we want to get to.

The ambition to build back better therefore needs to be made explicit and transparent as countries slowly re-emerge from their COVID-19 cocoons.

The Asian Development Bank attempted last year to define build-back-better aspirations more precisely and concretely. The bank described four criteria: build back safer, build back faster, build back potential and build back fairer.

The first three are obvious. We clearly want our economies to recover fast, be safer and be more sustainable into the future. It’s the last objective – fairness – that will inevitably be the most challenging long-term goal at both the national and international level.

Economic fallout from the pandemic is already being experienced disproportionately among poorer households, in poorer regions within countries, and in poorer countries in general.




Read more:
Recession hits Māori and Pasifika harder. They must be part of planning New Zealand’s COVID-19 recovery


Some governments are aware of this and are trying to ameliorate this brewing inequality. At the same time, it is seen as politically unpalatable to engage in redistribution during a global crisis. Most governments are opting for broad-brush policies aimed at everyone, lest they appear to be encouraging class warfare and division or, in the case of New Zealand, electioneering.

Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami: the impact of disaster is not felt equally by all.
http://www.shutterstock.com

In fact, politicians’ typical focus on the next election aligns well with the public appetite for a fast recovery. We know that speedier recoveries are more complete, as delays dampen investment and people move away from economically depressed places.

Speed is also linked to safety. As we know from other disasters, this recovery cannot be completed as long as the COVID-19 public health challenge is not resolved.

The failure to invest in safety, in prevention and mitigation, is now most apparent in the United States, which has less than 5% of the global population but a third of COVID-19 confirmed cases. Despite the pressure to “open up” the economy, recovery won’t progress without a lasting solution to the widespread presence of the virus.




Read more:
New Zealand’s pandemic budget is all about saving and creating jobs. Now the hard work begins


Economic potential also aligns with political aims and is therefore easier to imagine. A build-back-better recovery has to promise sustainable prosperity for all.

The emphasis on job generation in New Zealand’s recent budget was entirely the right primary focus. Employment is of paramount importance to voters, so it has been a logical focus in public stimulus packages everywhere.

Fairness, however, is more difficult to define and more challenging to achieve.

While a rising economic tide doesn’t always lift all boats – as the proponents of growth-at-any-cost sometimes argue – a low tide lifts none. Achieving fairness first depends on achieving the other three goals.

Under-prepared and under-resourced: the hospital ship Comfort arrives in New York during the COVID-19 crisis.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Economic prosperity is a necessary precondition for sustainable poverty reduction, but this virus is apparently selective in its deadliness. Already vulnerable segments of our societies – the elderly, the immuno-compromised and, according to some recent evidence, ethnic minorities – are more at risk. They are also more likely to already be economically disadvantaged.

As a general rule, epidemics lead to more income inequality, as households with lower incomes endure the economic pain more acutely.

This pattern of increased vulnerability to shocks in poorer households is not unique to epidemics, but we expect it to be the case even more this time. In the COVID-19 pandemic, economic devastation has been caused by the lockdown measures imposed and adopted voluntarily, not by the disease itself.

These measures have been more harmful for those on lower wages, those with part-time or temporary jobs, and those who cannot easily work from home.

Many low-wage workers also work in industries that will be experiencing longer-term declines associated with the structural changes generated by the pandemic: the collapse of international tourism, for example, or automation and robotics being used to shorten long and complicated supply chains.




Read more:
Defunding the WHO was a calculated decision, not an impromptu tweet


Poorer countries are in the worst position. The lockdowns hit their economies harder, but they do not have the resources for adequate public health measures, nor for assisting those most adversely affected.

In these places, even if the virus itself has not yet hit them much, the downturn will be experienced more deeply and for longer.

Worryingly, the international aid system that most poorer countries partially rely on to deal with disasters is not fit for dealing with pandemics. When all countries are adversely hit at the same time their focus inevitably becomes domestic.

Very few wealthy countries have announced any increases in international aid. If and when they have, the amounts were trivial – regrettably, this includes New Zealand. And the one international institution that should have led the charge, the World Health Organisation, is being defunded and attacked by its largest donor, the US.

Unlike after the 2004 tsunami, international rescue will be very slow to arrive. One would hope most wealthy countries will be able to help their most vulnerable members. But it looks increasingly unlikely this will happen on an international scale between countries.

Without global empathy and better global leadership, the poorest countries and poorest people will only be made poorer by this invisible enemy.The Conversation

Ilan Noy, Professor and Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Mumbai’s poorest neighbourhood is battling to keep coronavirus at bay



Aerial view of Shivaji Nagar.
Author provided

Ishita Chatterjee, University of Melbourne

Informal settlements are experiencing a greater surge in COVID-19 cases than other urban neighbourhoods in Mumbai, India. Their high density, narrow streets, tight internal spaces, poor access to water and sanitation leave residents highly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus.

One of Mumbai’s poorest and most underdeveloped neighbourhoods, Shivaji Nagar, is one of three informal settlements I have been studying. More than a month before the Indian government imposed a national lockdown, Shivaji Nagar residents, supported by the NGO Apnalaya, adopted their own measures to counter the pandemic.

Satellite image of Shivaji Nagar and neighbouring areas.
Google Earth

Here, 600,000 people, 11.5% of Mumbai’s informal settlement population, are crowded into an area of 1.37 square kilometres next to Asia’s largest dumping ground. There is one toilet for every 145 people and 60% of residents have to buy water. There is a severe lack of health facilities.

Unsurprisingly, residents’ health suffers. The settlement is a tuberculosis hotspot. Respiratory illness makes COVID-19 even more threatening for residents.

Left: COVID-19 hotspots in Mumbai as of April 14 2020. Right: COVID-19 health facilities in Mumbai as of May 18 2020.
Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Author provided

By April 13, Shivaji Nagar had 86 COVID-19 cases – an increase of 30 in two days – making it one of Mumbai’s hotspots. As the virus started spreading rapidly, COVID-19 data for individual areas became hard to get. The release of cumulative data for the entire city was much less useful for understanding the growth in cases.

Ward-level data was available until April 25 2020.
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation

The lockdown begins

On March 24, the Indian government announced a national lockdown. Barricades were installed on Shivaji Nagar’s main streets to curb people’s movement. TV and radio broadcasts urged residents to stay at home, practise good hygiene and regularly sanitise shared toilets and main streets.

Once the first few COVID-19 cases were detected in Shivaji Nagar, the government shifted patients and their families to isolation facilities outside the settlement. Fever camps were set up in parts of the settlement to screen people with symptoms. While the lockdown allowed essential services to continue, vegetable markets were shut down as cases increased.

After facing a backlash for not considering the impacts on the poor, the government eventually announced a nationwide relief package. Residents could receive free food by producing their ration cards.

Some measures worked while others created new problems. Quarantining people outside the settlement was effective (since home quarantine was not possible), as was setting up fever camps. However, the stigma and fear of being COVID-19-positive stopped many people from coming forward.

The sudden lockdown and market closures left most residents without food, water and medicines. Some 35% of Shivaji Nagar residents didn’t have the ration cards needed to get free food. Enforcing social distancing and stopping people from venturing out of their homes, by beating them, didn’t work either.

NGO fills the gap

The lack of official figures on case numbers and testing rates made it hard to track the spread of the virus in Shivaji Nagar. Volunteers working for Apnalaya kept track on the ground.

As early as the second week of February, before India’s borders closed, Apnalaya had decided to drastically reduce contact between the residents and outsiders. The aim was to minimise residents’ risk of contracting the virus.

Apnalaya enrolled 40-50 volunteers from the neighbourhood to distribute relief supplies instead of bringing in staff. It arranged a year’s health insurance for all volunteers. Elderly and pregnant women were encouraged to stay home and contact the volunteers for help with their daily needs.

Even before the government announced its relief package, Apnalaya was providing food and essentials to residents. Distribution began within the containment zones, but later extended to the entire settlement.

Funds for these activities were raised in several ways: a crowdfunding campaign, an alliance between multiple organisations and collaboration with the government.

A dashboard was used to document, plan and monitor the distribution of relief supplies. As the government’s relief scheme excluded one in three residents, Apnalaya’s door-to-door relief delivery ensured no family was left behind.

Volunteers from the settlement distribute relief.
Apnalaya

Apnalaya’s permanent staff members were now managing everything from outside. The telephone became a medium to reach families who didn’t have a TV or a radio and to monitor the situation. Staff regularly phoned residents to give advice on hygiene and how to get essentials and contact doctors for other ailments.

Not everyone was in their database, but this didn’t matter. The residents played their part too.

Community comes together

As residents, the volunteers were committed to their community even when facing extreme hardships. Relief distribution was particularly tricky in areas where drains had overflowed on streets and foundations built on garbage had slipped. Yet these volunteers reached all residents, knowing they relied on their efforts.

Narrow internal lanes in the settlement.

The community even found a temporary way to deal with the water shortage. Parts of the settlement with piped water shared it with neighbours who previously had to buy water from private suppliers. One supplier, a resident of the settlement, now provided water free of charge.

Lessons from Shivaji Nagar

Shivaji Nagar’s story offers some important lessons. While the government acted pre-emptively, it failed to consider local conditions and needs. Apnalaya filled the gaps.

But the NGO’s reach was limited, too, and the resident volunteers became the missing link. Acting as community leaders, they took stock of the situation on the ground and reported back to the NGO’s office.

Some of the strategies that have worked have been tailored to local conditions and adapted to the evolving crisis. But the shortage of health facilities and lack of data transparency pose a great challenge.

Mumbai’s M East Ward, which includes Shivaji Nagar, now has the highest COVID-19 death rate in Mumbai. At 9.7%, it’s more than double the city’s overall rate. Can Shivaji Nagar withstand the storm?The Conversation

Ishita Chatterjee, PhD Candidate, Informal Urbanism (InfUr-) Hub, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How does poor air quality from bushfire smoke affect our health?


Brian Oliver, University of Technology Sydney

New South Wales and Queensland are in the grip of a devastating bushfire emergency, which has tragically resulted in the loss of homes and lives.

But the smoke produced can affect many more people not immediately impacted by the fires – even people many kilometres from the fire. The smoke haze blanketing parts of NSW and Queensland has seen air quality indicators exceed national standards over recent days.

Studies have shown there is no safe level of air pollution, and as pollution levels increase, so too do the health risks. Air pollution caused nine million premature deaths globally in 2015. In many ways, airborne pollution is like cigarette smoking – causing respiratory disease, heart disease and stroke, lung infections, and even lung cancer.




Read more:
Firestorms and flaming tornadoes: how bushfires create their own ferocious weather systems


However, these are long-term studies looking at what happens over a person’s life with prolonged exposure to air pollution. With bushfire-related air pollution, air quality is reduced for relatively short periods.

But it’s still worth exercising caution if you live in an affected area, particularly if you have an existing health condition that might put you at higher risk.

Air quality standards

The exposure levels will vary widely from the site of the fire to 10 or 50 kilometres away from the source.

The national standard for clean air in Australia is less than 8 micrograms/m³ of ultrafine particles. This is among the lowest in the world, meaning the Australian government wants us to remain one of the least polluted countries there is.

8 micrograms/m³ refers to the weight of the particles in micrograms contained in one cubic meter of air. A typical grain of sand weighs 50 micrograms. When people talk about ultrafine particles the term PM, referring to particulate matter, is often used. The size of PM we worry the most about are the small particles of less than 2.5 micrometres which can penetrate deep into the lungs, called PM2.5.

People with pre-existing medical conditions are at highest risk.
From shutterstock.com

To put this in perspective, Randwick, a coastal suburb in Sydney which was more than 25km from any of the fires yesterday, had PM2.5 readings of around 40 micrograms/m³. Some suburbs which sit more inland had readings of around 50 micrograms/m³. Today, these levels have already reduced to around 20 micrograms/m³ across Sydney.

We’re seeing a similar effect in Queensland. Today’s PM2.5 readings at Cannon Hill, a suburb close to central Brisbane, are 21.5 micrograms/m³, compared with 4.7 micrograms/m³ one month ago.

A number of health alerts were issued for areas across NSW and Queensland earlier this week.

While these numbers may seem alarming compared to the 8 microgram/m³ threshold, the recent air pollution in India’s New Delhi caused by crop burning reached levels of 900 micrograms/m³. So what we’re experiencing here pales in comparison.

Bushfire smoke and our health

However, this doesn’t mean the levels in NSW and Queensland are without danger. Historically, when there are bushfires, emergency department presentations for respiratory and heart conditions increase, showing people with these conditions are most at risk of experiencing adverse health effects.

Preliminary analysis of emergency department data shows hospitals in the mid-north coast of NSW, where fires were at their worst, have had 68 presentations to emergency departments for asthma or breathing problems over the last week. This is almost double the usual number.




Read more:
After the firestorm: the health implications of returning to a bushfire zone


One study looked at the association between exposure to smoke events in Sydney and premature deaths, and found there was a 5% increase in mortality during bushfires from 1994 to 2007.

But it’s important to understand these deaths would have occurred in the people most vulnerable to the effects of smoke, such as people with pre-exsisiting lung and heart conditions, who tend to be older people.

For people who are otherwise healthy, the health risks are much lower.

But as the frequency of bushfires increases, many scientists in the field speculate these health effects may become more of a concern across the population.

How to protect yourself

If you’re in an affected area, it’s best to avoid smoke exposure where possible by staying indoors with the windows and doors closed and the air conditioner turned on.

If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, or just do not feel well, you should speak to your health care professional and in an emergency, go to hospital.




Read more:
How rising temperatures affect our health


Once the fires have been put out, depending upon the region, local weather conditions and the size of the fire, air quality can return to healthy levels within a few days.

In extreme situations, it might take weeks or months to return to normal. But we are fortunate to be living in a country with good air quality most of the time.The Conversation

Brian Oliver, Research Leader in Respiratory cellular and molecular biology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and Senior Lecturer, School of Medical & Molecular Biosciences, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Indians promised benefits of 100 smart cities, but the poor are sidelined again



File 20181216 185261 14z8ner.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Residents of slums like Kamla Nehru Nagar, a kilometre away from Patna Junction, have yet to share in the promised benefits of smart cities.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Jawaharlal Nehru University

India’s urban population is growing. More than 50% of the country’s population is forecast to be living in cities by 2030. This is a major challenge for government because the country’s cities lack the infrastructure (affordable housing, roads) and basic services (sanitation, water, health care) for existing inhabitants, let alone the influx of people over the next decade.

Globally, one in eight people live in slums where they face issues of durable housing, access to safe drinking water and toilets, and insecure tenure. In India, one in every six city residents lives in a slum.




Read more:
Will India’s experiment with smart cities tackle poverty – or make it worse?


Many Indian children are growing up in very disadvantaged circumstances. These two live in Mahmudi Chak slum next to Rajendra Nagar Railway Junction in Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

However, estimates of slum populations differ widely in many Indian cities due to differences in the counting criteria. For example, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, it’s estimated more than 50% of the population live in slums, but the 2011 Indian Census put the figures at 41.3% and 14.6% respectively.

Launching the national Smart Cities Mission in 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “… if anything has the potential to mitigate poverty it is our cities”. He said the mission, which has a target of 100 smart cities, aims to ensure access to basic services for the people. This includes houses for the urban poor.

The program aims to fulfil the aspirations and needs of the citizens through comprehensive development of institutional, physical, social and economic infrastructure. This comprehensive development would also ensure increased public participation, Modi said.

Villagers migrated to the Danapur Block slum after the Ganga river flooded.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Smart city plan has a dark side

In one of the 100 cities selected for the Smart City Mission, Patna (Bihar), I witnessed the flip side of the smart city. Patna, the state capital of Bihar, has a rich history, but 63% of its population lives in slums. And 93% of them are from the historically oppressed “scheduled castes” and “other backward castes” (based on data collected in 42 slums).

Demolished homes at Meena Bazar.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration often demolishes slums without following due process of law in order to seize the land in the name of beautification and development of Patna.

In slums like Meena Bazar (near the famous Nalanda Medical College Hospital) and Amu Kuda Basti (near Patna Airport) people have been living there for generations in houses often partially funded by government housing projects. These have been bulldozed.

Riot police are on hand when slum dwellers’ homes are demolished at Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

The city administration usually makes ad-hoc loudspeaker announcements before bulldozing these settlements. A massive police presence and riot vehicles are on hand in case residents protest the demolitions. They use derogatory language and forcefully enter houses and thrash male members, say women in Amu Kuda Basti.

The government could have given them more time or relocated them elsewhere in the city, rather than just bulldozing their houses, which they had built with hard-earned money, the slum dwellers said.

Residents of slums like Amu Kuda Basti say houses they built with their own hard-earned money are being demolished with little notice.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

There is apparently reason to smash these homes. There always is. The usual arguments for demolition include: beautification of the city, construction of a government building or enterprise, extension of the airport, crime locations, governance, illegality, encroachment etc. The state says demolitions of such slums are necessary for the development of the city.




Read more:
Smart or dumb? The real impact of India’s proposal to build 100 smart cities


In 2011, the state proposed a slum policy to relocate slum dwellers who had lived in the city for generations to the outskirts in a plan to develop Patna and make it a smart city, says Kishori Das, an advocate for the rights of slum dwellers for years. Faced with widespread protests, the state deferred the policy, but it is silently applying it on the ground, he said.

Who speaks for the marginalised poor?

These two leaders from Meena Bazar are among 84 community representatives, elected and non-elected, interviewed by the author.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Local and mainstream media are not reporting these demolitions and forced evictions, especially when it happens in non-metro cities like Patna. Civil society and advocacy NGOs also take little notice of these frequent demolitions, probably due to threats to life and, if not, then to co-option by the state. The roles of the ruling party and opposition are also dubious.

Bihar has been ruled by leaders who attracted votes by campaigning on issues of poverty, caste and social justice for the past three decades. In the early 1990s, the prominent leader Lalu Prasad Yadav mobilised the poor and the oppressed caste groups under the umbrella of “Vikas nahin, samman chahiye” (we want dignity, not development). The present chief minister, Nitish Kumar, also known as Sushaasan Babu (good governance man), adopted the slogan “Nyay ke saath vikas” (development with justice).

However, the frequent injustices suffered by the urban poor negate the political commitment. These actions are also in conflict with the motto of the Indian Constitution, which frames justice as a balancing wheel between the haves and have-nots.

Promises of social justice ring hollow for residents of bulldozed communities like Amu Kuda Basti.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

These challenges are not limited to one city. In the name of smart and developed cities, the government is not only taking over urban land where millions of the poor have lived for decades but is also acquiring fertile land and violating the constitutional rights of farmers, tribes and other indigenous groups in various cities.

These reports of struggle and forced evictions contradict the statements by Modi when he said smart cities development would strictly follow large-scale public participation in preparing these plans.

Such demolitions reveal a dark side to making Indian cities smart and cast serious doubt on claimed government commitment to the urban poor. These actions hardly live up to the idea of the rights of the poor. It became more challenging when the head of the biggest democracy in the world denounces those who speak up for the poor, oppressed and voiceless as “urban Naxals”.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. For India, this means the urban poor need help both from political parties and civil society so that their voice finds expression and their demands and concerns are heard and considered in public policy. The Conversation

Children sleep out in the open in a slum area in Harding Park, Patna.
Sujeet Kumar, Author provided

Sujeet Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vietnam’s typhoon disaster highlights the plight of its poorest people


Chinh Luu, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle

Six people lost their lives when Typhoon Doksuri smashed into central Vietnam on September 16, the most powerful storm in a decade to hit the country.

Although widespread evacuations prevented a higher death toll, the impact on the region’s most vulnerable people will be extensive and lasting.


Read more: Typhoon Haiyan: a perfect storm of corruption and neglect.


Government sources report that more than 193,000 properties have been damaged, including 11,000 that were flooded. The storm also caused widespread damage to farmland, roads, and water and electricity infrastructure. Quang Binh and Ha Tinh provinces bore the brunt of the damage.

Central Vietnam is often in the path of tropical storms and depressions that form in the East Sea, which can intensify to form tropical cyclones known as typhoons (the Pacific equivalent of an Atlantic hurricane).

Typhoon Doksuri developed and tracked exactly as forecast, meaning that evacuations were relatively effective in saving lives. What’s more, the storm moved quickly over the affected area, delivering only 200-300 mm of rainfall and sparing the region the severe flooding now being experienced in Thailand.

Doksuri is just one of a spate of severe tropical cyclones that have formed in recent weeks, in both the Pacific and Atlantic regions. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and, most recently, Maria have attracted global media coverage, much of it focused on rarely considered angles such as urban planning, poverty, poor development, politics, the media coverage of disasters – as well as the perennial question of climate change.

Disasters are finally being talked about as part of a discourse of systemic oppression – and this is a great step forward.

Vietnam’s vulnerability

In Vietnam, the root causes of disasters exist below the surface. The focus remains on the natural hazards that trigger disasters, rather than on the vulnerable conditions in which many people are forced to live.

Unfortunately, the limited national disaster data in Vietnam does not allow an extensive analysis of risk. Our research in central Vietnam is working towards filling this gap and the development of more comprehensive flood mitigation measures.

Central Vietnam has a long and exposed coastline. It consists of 14 coastal provinces and five provinces in the Central Highlands. The Truong Son mountain range rises to the west and the plains that stretch to the coast are fragmented and narrow. River systems are dense, short and steep, with rapid flows.

These physical characteristics often combine with widespread human vulnerability, to deadly effect. We can see this in the impact of Typhoon Doksuri, but also to a lesser extent in the region’s annual floods.

Flood risk map by province using Multi-Criteria Decision-Making method and the national disaster database.
Author provided

Rapid population growth, industrial development and agricultural expansion have all increased flood risk, especially in Vietnam’s riverine and coastal areas. Socially marginalised people often have to live in the most flood-prone places, sometimes as a result of forced displacement.

Floods and storms therefore have a disproportionately large effect on poorer communities. Most people in central Vietnam depend on their natural environment for their livelihood, and a disaster like Doksuri can bring lasting suffering to a region where 30-50% of people are already in poverty.

When disaster does strike, marginalised groups face even more difficulty because they typically lack access to public resources such as emergency relief and insurance.

The rural poor will be particularly vulnerable after this storm. Affected households have received limited financial support from the local government, and many will depend entirely on charity for their recovery.

Better research, less bureaucracy

This is not to say that Vietnam’s government did not mount a significant effect to prepare and respond to Typhoon Doksuri. But typically for Vietnam, where only the highest levels of government are trusted with important decisions, the response was bureaucratic and centralised.

This approach can overlook the input of qualified experts, and lead to decisions being taken without enough data about disaster risk.

Our research has generated a more detailed picture of disaster risk (focused on flood hazard) in the region. We have looked beyond historical loss statistics and collected data on hazards, exposure and vulnerability in Quang Nam province.

Left: flooding hazard map for Quang Nam province. Right: risk of flooding impacts on residents, calculated on the basis of flood hazards from the left map, plus people’s exposure and vulnerability.
Author provided

Our findings show that much more accurate, sensitive and targeted flood protection is possible. The challenge is to provide it on a much wider scale, particularly in poor regions of the world.

Reduce risk, and avoid creating new risk

An effective risk management approach can help to reduce the impacts of flooding in central Vietnam. Before a disaster ever materialises, we can work to reduce risk – and avoid activities that exacerbate it – for example land grabbing for development, displacing the poor, environmental degradation, discrimination against minorities.


Read more: Irma and Harvey: very different storms, but both affected by climate change.


It is critical that subject experts, particularly scientists, are involved in decisions about disaster risk – in Vietnam and around the world. There must be a shift to more proactive approaches, guided by deep knowledge both of the local context and of the latest scientific advances.

Our maps will help planners and politicians to recognise high-risk areas, prepare flood risk plans, and set priorities for both flood defences and responses to vulnerability. The maps are also valuable tools for communication.

The ConversationBut at the same time as emphasising data-driven decisions, we also need to advocate for a humanising approach in dealing with some of the most oppressed, marginalised, poor and disadvantaged members of the global community.

Chinh Luu, PhD candidate in Disaster Management, University of Newcastle and Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cricket: Ashes Report – 20 July 2013


The first two days of the Ashes second test at Lords are over and it would appear that England are on track for a 5 nil whitewash of the series. Australia are terrible – poor bowling at times and abominable batting. It is difficult to see how Australia can compete in this Ashes series, let alone this test match.




Australia: Western Australia – Labor Hit Hard in Election


The link below is to an article reporting on the poor showing of Labor in the Western Australian state election.

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/national/federal-woes-hurt-labor-in-the-west-20130310-2ftn0.html

Facebook: Email Outrage


  1. Facebook just doesn’t learn. If there’s something that Facebook should know by now it’s that the social network’s users don’t like things being forced upon them and having their settings changed without notification and permission. Yet despite this, Facebook has done it again and changed everyone’s default email setting to that of a Facebook email address. Poor form Facebook, poor form. It really annoyed me to find it so today, but thankfully I have processes in place that should warn be of such Facebook ineptness before too much harm is done. Not so for all, so hopefully this story will bring awareness to others, as well as providing information as to how it can be corrected.