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Religious festivals overtake sporting events as scenes of deadly crowd incidents

Religious festivals overtake sporting events as scenes of deadly crowd incidents
December 8, 2023

With crowd accidents on the rise globally, a recent study shows religious festivals are overtaking sporting events as scenes of deadly crowd incidents, with India and West Africa emerging as the key locations for dangerous crushes.

Published earlier this year in the journal Safety Science, the study Trends in crowd accidents based on an analysis of press reports, by lead author Project Associate Professor Claudio Feliciani from the University of Tokyo and Dr Milad Haghani from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), reveal that their frequency has increased over the past 120 years.

As reported by SBS Hindi, Dr Haghani, an expert in crowd safety, said that while crowd management incidents were few and far between in Australia, time, effort and research were needed to maintain this record.

Citing last year's Halloween crowd crush in South Korea that resulted in 150 deaths as an example of a tragic incident occurring in a country with an almost clean record in terms of crowd deaths in the years prior, Dr Haghani advised "we had several near misses during New Year celebrations last year and a number of other cases in Australia ... we are trying to learn from them and we do not want those incidents to turn into deadly disasters.”

Referring to international crowd incidents, Dr Haghani noted "Northern India, in particular, is a densely populated area with solid religious traditions leading people to gather in millions over a short period of time.”

He explained that almost 70% of the accidents which occurred in India between 2000 and 2019 were related to religious events, with many close to rivers or other bodies of water.

Referring to the 'Swiss cheese model' of crowd control as a possible solution, Dr Haghani stated "like Swiss cheese, there could be some holes but by raising awareness, it is possible to prevent life-threatening outcomes even when other layers of protection may fail."

Outlined in a feature in Australasian Leisure Management issue 158, the 'Swiss cheese model' of crowd control incorporates many safety protection layers, including regulations and policy-making, planning and risk assessment, operational control, community preparedness and incident response.

Dr Haghani, who addressed the Crowd Safety Summit Australia in May this year, went on to say “that was one of the very first events where we had the opportunity to have practitioners, safety professionals and academics as well as stakeholders of crowd safety, including government representatives, in the same room to exchange knowledge, experience, ideas and the latest research and practice.”

As Australia's fastest-growing migrant community, the surge in the Indian population has seen Indian cultural festivals becoming part of the Australian mainstream.

The festival of Diwali is now a significant celebration with numerous public celebrations held around the country.

Arun Sharma, Chairman of the not-for-profit community organisation Celebrate India, is the festival coordinator of one of the biggest Diwali celebrations in Australia.

With over 40,000 people attending the festival in October last year, Sharma said the need for crowd management was directly related to Victoria's population growth.

The study, Trends in crowd accidents based on an analysis of press reports, published in Volume 164 of the journal Safety Science, reviewed event date, country, location, number of fatalities, injuries, estimated crowd size, purpose of gathering and income level classification of the specific nation.

Click here to access the full report in the journal Safety Science.

Images: A crowd carrying Hindu God Ganesha during the Ganesha festival in the Indian city of Amravati (top, credit: Shutterstock), Dr Milad Haghani, Senior Lecturer at UNSW in Sydney (middle, credit: Milad Haghani) and Seoul's Itaewon subway station in the aftermath of the Halloween 2022 crowd crush in which more than 150 people died (below, credit: Shutterstock).

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