France’s heatwave

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2003

The latest figures from France suggest that there were up to 10,000 excess deaths in France’s recent heatwave. Chirac has called an emergency cabinet meeting and there will be an inquiry into the state of France’s medical services. As always, some kinds of people died more than others:

bq. Half the victims are believed to have died in old people’s homes, many operating with fewer staff during the August holidays. Many hospitals had closed complete wards for the month and were unable to offer sophisticated, or sometimes even basic, treatment to victims. About 2,000 people are thought to have died in their homes from the effects of dehydration and other heat- related problems while neighbours and relatives were away.

I’m a bit surprised that no-one covering this in the media has yet called on Eric Klinenberg whose analysis of the Chicago heatwave 1995 – in his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago – showed that what was at first thought of as a natural disaster had complex social causes. (UPDATE – thanks to Chris K for the link – big media in the form of today’s IHT have a piece by Klinenberg )

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Internal liquidation

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2003

John Kay has a good column (from yesterday’s Financial Times) arguing that the crisis on Britain’s railways and in the US electricity supply industry exemplify a more widespread failing affecting both public and private sectors: boosting revenues whilst neglecting the underlying assets

bq. … modern business depends on intangible factors that, for good reasons, are not measured on the balance sheet. Security of supply is one. But the loyalty of employees, the trust of customers and the quality of service are also assets that require investment and depreciate if not well maintained. Reducing these investments enhances earnings. Media companies could focus on producing clones of already successful works – and it would be a few years before their bored audiences turned away. Financial institutions could replace their customer service staff by sales people and call centres. And drug companies could reduce costs and obtain synergies through mergers – and today find their pipelines of new drugs narrower than they have ever been.