2013 Stampedes in India and Africa

india-africaOn January 1, 2013, in the capital city of Abijan, Ivory Coast, 61 people were killed and countless others injured as the result of a human stampede.  The rush occurred as people flooded out of the stadium following a celebratory New Years Eve fireworks display.  The stampede came as a result of a human trap when wooden barricades and tree trunks were strategically placed across the Boulevard de la Republique.  It has been speculated that gangs of thieves deliberately created the bottleneck in an attempt to pick pockets and steal cell phones.  An investigation is ongoing.

Human stampedes are usually blamed on mass panic.  But what people fail to comprehend is that there are legitimate reasons for that panic.  Massive crowds of individuals do not collectively just decide to spontaneously run for their lives.

The 2013 Ivory Coast stampede resonates because it demonstrates an insidious degree of malicious intent.  Assuming the accusations are true, the stampede itself could be described as a purposely designed, indiscriminate weapon.  At face value, this represents an ugly shift in generational warfare patterns.  The notion that you can orchestrate a mass killing without the use of conventional weaponry is an alarming precedent.  Whether or not it was their ultimate intention to kill innocent civilians, I believe it’s reasonable to classify the Ivory Coast stampede as an act of domestic terrorism.

A different kind of stampede occurred during the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela.  On February, 2013, 36 people were killed at a train station in Allahabad, India.  Initial reports claimed the panic ensued following the collapse of a railing on a footbridge.  It was further exacerbated by police charging the crowd with wooden sticks in a desperate attempt to control the rush.

However, a more thorough analysis indicates the stampede was the direct result of an announcement over the public address system.  Apparently, a scheduled departure was altered from platform 4 to platform 6.  When the verbal announcement was made, fearing they would miss their train, large numbers of people suddenly moved in the same direction with an overwhelming sense of urgency.

Assuming the statement regarding the platform change is accurate, this indicates a prime example of an information based, artificially generated stampede.  Its origins were likely accidental, or at the very least, unintentional.  Either way, it’s a marked contrast to the Ivory Coast stampede from a month earlier.

Stampedes in heavily populated nations are sometimes blamed on social mores.  It’s often incorrectly assumed that when a society engages in diminished personal boundaries and closer interaction, it could manifest itself in a greater susceptibility to human stampedes.  While it does make sense that hyper-populations have a greater frequency and number of stampedes, the notion that those cultures are more prone to panic is unsubstantiated and erroneous.  As a country, why would we be so naive to think it couldn’t happen here?