The Importance of Communication

(of the honest kind)

The Aberfan disaster showed in several ways how important it is to communicate the right information, in a timely manner.  Many people had expressed concerns, but were either given wrong answers, or simply dismissed.

On that fateful day, it had been noticed there were serious irregularities with the tip, but warnings could not be relayed to the people down in the valley, in time. The mobile or cell phone had not been invented.

This critical stumbling block of being unable to relay information in time, is not unique to the Aberfan tragedy.

In 1953 on the night of 31 January / 1 February, the North Sea invaded many coastal areas of land.  2,551 people died, mostly in The Netherlands.  The United Kingdom and Belgium were also affected.

In 1962 a less serious North Sea flood occurred on the night of 16-17 February, resulting in 315 deaths in Hamburg, Germany.

The peak of these floods occurred at night, when communication was at a minimum.  Since then, many warning systems have been put in place.  Flood defences and the science of forecasting weather are now greatly improved.

9 October 1963 - the Vajont / Vaiont dam tragedy in Northern Italy.  Part of the Monte Toc mountain fell into the reservoir created by the dam.  This displaced a huge amount of water which projected over the top of the dam, killing 1900-2500 people in the villages and towns below.  1 metre or so at the top of the dam wall collapsed, otherwise the dam remained intact.

The dam was not high enough to stop the airborne 'tsunami'.  During the construction of the dam, many concerns were expressed about the stability of the surrounding terrain, but these and other warnings were ignored or kept secret.  The Italian government had sued the few journalists reporting the problems for "undermining the social order" !!  Monte Toc was nicknamed the walking mountain by locals, due to its tendency to create landslides.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajont_Dam 

June 2013 – Northern India.  Unprecedented heavy rain caused disastrous floods and landslides.  Nearly 6,000 are expected to have died.  The Indian Meteorological Department has been criticised for not issuing a clear enough advance warning.  Deforestation has been identified as being partly to blame for the landslides.  Similar to Aberfan, the soil was denied the root system from trees etc, which had held the earth together.

Praful Bidwai in The Guardian reports: "Such a massive loss of life could have been greatly reduced if an early warning system, effective evacuation plans and a responsive disaster management system were in place.  They weren't.  In fact, as the comptroller and auditor general pointed out in April, the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority, formed in October 2007, has never met or formulated “rules, regulations, polices or guidelines”.  Modestly priced radar-based technology to forecast cloudbursts would have saved lives.  But it wasn't installed.  Nor were emergency evacuation plans drawn up."  See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/28/india-floods-man-made-disaster

The lessons of Aberfan have not been learned world-wide.  See - http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/10/21/lessons-of-aberfan-still-not-learned-worldwide-45-years-on-says-leading-safety-expert-91466-29633773/

20 December 2015 - Shenzhen, Southern China.  A 20 storey of man-made mountain of mud and construction waste stored on a hillside, slid down, destroying 33 buildings and covering an area greater than ten hectares (25 acres) in the Hengtaiyu Industrial Park.  69 deaths, people still missing.  Warnings were ignored.  Another example of profit before people's safety. 

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The message from this page is that warnings need to be made in a timely manner, requiring adequate investment with communication systems.