Monday, 11 February 2013

'Stampede' at Kumbh Mela?

So far at least 36 people have being killed and 31 injured in a crush at a railway station in Allahabad, India as pilgrims were returning from the Kumbh Mela Hindu festival. The BBC's on-line coverage of the tragedy doesn't used the word 'panic' to describe the tragedy (although Radio 4's Today programme did!), but still uses the term 'stampede' at least 5 times, which in my view is just as bad because of the animalistic and unthinking overtones that it implies.

However, the coverage also highlights what I think will emerge as a more likely cause of the tragedy- that of mismanagement of the crowd, and allowing dangerous overcrowding to occur. India's railway minister admits as much;
"There were too many people on the platforms. The station was overcrowded".

A previous post I wrote looked at how events reported as 'stampedes' rarely turn out to be supported by later evidence, and how terms such as 'panic' can serve to deflect blame onto the 'irrational' behaviour of those affected, when negligence on the part of those responsible for managing the event may be a more likely cause of the tragedy. I also worry that there can sometimes be a fatalistic belief that at mass gatherings of people (often religious festivals), deaths are almost inevitable, and that little can be done to prevent them. I remember doing a radio phone in for the BBC world service a few years ago about the annual Haj pilgrimmage in Saudi Arabia, where I was debating crowd safety issues with a representative from the Saudi interior ministry, and I came up against a similar kind of fatalism amongst him and other callers. The work of Keith Still who has advised the Saudi authorities in designing structures and crowd modelling issues to deal with the vast numbers of pilgrims who attend the Haj, has shown that such events can be managed safely, and that one need not accept that there will always be fatal incidents. Helping to facilitate the safe movement of crowds and trusting them to behave in a sensible way  (rather than blaming any tragedies on the behaviour of those affected), is necessary if the risk of such tragedies occurring in future is to be reduced.

No comments:

Post a Comment