October 21, 2006

It’s forty years to the day since 144 people (116 of them Children) died when a waste tip from the coal mines slipped down a mountain to engulf several houses and the local school.

It was the start of the day, children had only just arrived at Pantglas Junior School for the days lessons; it was the last day before the holidays. The images on the BBC web site convey the tragedy far more than words. An hour earlier, a day later and a generation would not have been lost. I have already blogged about the event in a wider context of the multiple tragedies imposed on children over the years by the mining industry.

Tragedies happen, but some are avoidable. The waste tip in this case had been built on a stream so the tragedy was foreseeable. The village had raised concerns many times prior to the tragedy. The National Coal Board (NCB) was adjudged guilty by a Tribunal but no one was prosecuted or lost their job.

Tragedies can also be compounded by crass stupidity. £1.75m was raised for the disaster fund but the Government demanded £150K contribution from the fund to meet the cost of removing other waste tips that were threatening the village. 30 years later that (by now paltry sum) was repaid, with interest it should have been more like £1.5m

Tragedies can be made worse by self-serving indifference. The NCB was ordered to pay compensation for each child, the value placed on each life was £500 but that was reduced by the money paid to each family from the disaster fund.

The indifference to the social consequences of the mining industry is evident from any reading of its history, anywhere in the world. The causal and callous indifference that followed Aberfan amplifies the tragedy but is regrettably all too common in the history.

That indifference of course is not evident in the community. Last night saw the opening match of the Heineken Cup between the Ospreys and Sale. The Ospreys draw much of their support from the mining communities of South Wales and a minutes silence was called in memory of the victims of Aberfan and it was absolute. As the camera panned the crowd the memories of that day were evident in the eyes and faces of the crowd, and awareness in those too young to have memories.

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