Tag Archives: man-made disasters

Shanghai Metro Crash Crumples Confidence In Dash For Growth

The Shanghai Metro crash, which injured 270 passengers, shares a couple of things in common with the deadly Wenzhou high-speed train crash in July: signal failure followed by human operational failure; and public anger at the accident from people who are increasingly coming to see that too many corners have been cut in the infrastructure projects that are underpinning China’s dash for growth. The trust and respect in government’s ability to keep citizens safe and healthy, on which the Party’s legitimacy to monopoly rule in part rests, is already fragile, and gets evermore so with every rail accident (and there have been many), toxic spill and corrupt local land deal.

Footnote: The signalling system that failed on the Shanghai Metro came from Casco, a JV between China Railway Signal & Communication Corp. (CRSC) and France’s Alstom. The same company was the general contractor for the signalling systems at Wenzhou though different systems were used. We should also note that in the case of the Shanghai accident it is unclear at this stage whether a signal component failed or the system lost power because of an electrical outage. Also, Alstom and Casco have both formally denied that their equipment was “the root cause” of the Wenzhou crash, although another CRSC subsidiary has said it would accept responsibility.

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Filed under Politics & Society, Transport

A Disastrous Half Year

With the death toll in Tibet from the recent northern Indian earthquake reaching seven, it is timely to remember that it has been a horrible year for disasters, and earthquakes in particular. Those in Japan and New Zealand were especially tragic and costly. Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, has completed its half yearly preliminary estimate of the cost of natural and manmade disasters worldwide. January to June saw economic losses of $278 billion, up from $166 billion in the same period of 2010. The Japanese quake and tsunami accounted for three quarters of the losses in the first half this year. Insured losses were $70 billion, up from $29 billion a year earlier. It was the second worse first half of the year since Sigma started keeping track.

Despite the severe drought and flooding in various parts of China in the first half of this year (and continuing into the second half, with the death toll topping 100 and more flooding possible as southern coasts brace  for Typhoons Nesat and Haitang), the country escaped the worst wrath of the weather. No Chinese event made the list of the five costliest disasters of the first half. However, one does in terms of the heaviest cost of all, life. The floods and landslides in June killed 305 people, which is fourth on Sigma’s list after the Japanese earthquake (20,362 victims), January’s floods and earthquakes in Brazil (>900) and the severe storms and tornadoes in the U.S. in April (354).

At this point, Swiss Re’s tally does not include what it calls “the full humanitarian and economic consequences of severe drought that caused wildfires and crop losses” in several parts of the world, including China. The full year report will likely make for grim reading.

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