Catalonia: The new threat to Belgium’s primacy of being the size of Belgium

Catalonia’s move towards independence from Spain has been making news for several weeks. If the campaign succeeds in creating a new nation, Catalonia (32,108 sq km) will be roughly the size of Belgium (30,528).

The world’s media has already used this comparison widely in their reports. For example RTE, France24, The Straits TimesTimes of Israel, Japan Times, to name just a few.

Historically Belgium has survived challenges from Lesotho and Armenia for the title of country closest to the size of Belgium.

Journalists’ “Copy”

In common usage the word “copy” means to replicate something. However in journalism it also refers to the main text of an article. Perhaps we can see the double meaning here…

Back in September this blog mentioned an error by the Washington Times in describing the Semipalatinsk Test Site as a vast region the size of Belgium, even though it is only 60% of Belgium’s size.

Now an item by Public Radio International makes the same curious mistake.  “They called this place, a vast testing site the size of Belgium, the Polygon.”

It seems odd that two journalists would independently make the same mistake.

Minkebe National Park is NOT the size of Belgium

There are some myths about the size of Belgium that keep recurring in various news outlets. One of these concerns the Minkebe National Park in Gabon, which already features in this blog on the Bloopers page.

The authority that manages Minkebe park (Parcs Gabon) gives the area as nearly 8000 square kilometres. That’s about one quarter of Belgium.

However The Atlantic website recently reported on the plight of elephants in the park in “Gabon’s Minkebe National Park—a huge protected area the size of Belgium“.

Why do these errors recur? Do journalists copy from each others’ work instead of getting the accurate date from the original source? Surely not!


Great Bear Lake

A reader of this blog alerted me to a New York Times article about Great Bear Lake in northern Canada.

“At just over 12,000 square miles, the lake is the eighth largest in the world. It is bigger than Belgium and deeper than Lake Superior”

At 12,028 square miles Great Bear Lake is only 2% larger than Belgium so it is one of the most accurate matches for Belgium that I have seen so far.

A Country the Size of Belgium

Most of the “things” that are described as being the size of Belgium are not countries, but there is one country that is almost a perfect match at 99.5% the size of Belgium. That country is Lesotho in southern Africa, and the similarity was noted by an article on this week.

“The Motul Roof of Africa off-road competition in Lesotho is considered as one of the toughest challenges a motocross rider can face. A three-day endurance race with an international line-up is about to start. 
It’s called ‘the mother of hard enduro’ for a reason. The Roof of Africa is being held in Lesotho, a small country with a similar size of Belgium that is surrounded by South Africa.”


The Size of Belgium Changed This Week!

Belgium and the Netherlands peacefully re-arranged their borders this week to resolve a problem dating from the 1960s when a change to the course of the River Meuse left two small parcels of Belgian land isolated on the Dutch side of the river, while a fragment of the Netherlands was on the Belgian side.

The stranded Belgian territory became notorious for unregulated drug and sex activity, because the Dutch police had no jurisdiction and the Belgian officials could only reach it by boat.

In 2012 matters were brought to a head (or more accurately a missing head) when a decapitated body was found on the land. The Belgian investigators required special permission to travel to the area and the administrative hurdles were particularly bothersome.

On Monday this week an agreement was finally signed that realigns the national border with the river course.  The land parcels Presqu’île de L’llal and Presqu’île d’Eijsden (totalling 25 hectares) were transferred to the Netherlands , while Belgium acquired Presqu’île Petit-Gravier (5 hectares).

Thus Belgium lost around 20 hectares.

Here’s an explanatory video (in Dutch but with English subtitles)

Strange Maths in The Guardian Equates Belgium to Nothing

The Guardian just reported on the Pantanal, a large swathe of mostly Brazilian wetlands.  The author stated “The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland territory. Located mostly in Brazil but also covering Bolivia and Paraguay, the wetlands cover an area of 170,500 sq km – equivalent to the combined size of Belgium, Holland, Portugal and Switzerland. “

But did the author do the maths? Let’s check.

Portugal = 92,010 sq km

Holland = 41,850 sq km

Switzerland = 41,284 sq km

Total so far = 175,144, greater than the 170,000 claimed by the author for the Pantanl.

So where does Belgium fit in to this equation?

Canadian business leaders reject Belgium-sized park

The NWT Chamber of Commerce has written a letter to the territory’s environment minister asking him to shelf the proposed Thaidene Nene park around the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake.

Thaidene Nene — originally proposed in the 1970s — covers almost 30,000 square kilometres of pristine waterways, forests and Canadian Shield near the community of Lutselk’e.

“It appears inconceivable to the business community that the GNWT would be a willing partner in such a reckless annexation of potentially productive land,” wrote Richard Morland, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce.

“You will therefore understand our alarm when we contemplate the annexation of a land area the size of Belgium, contained within the proposed Thaidene Nene [park].”



Financial Times 1 – 0 Indian Express

In news articles today, the Financial Times correctly measured Lebanon

“these technologies could ease hardships endured by refugees in Lebanon, a country one-third the size of Belgium hosting well over 1m displaced Syrians”

while the Indian Express was way off the mark in measuring the Wa State in Myanmar…

“The United Wa State Army (UWSA) boasts some 30,000 soldiers who control a secretive, China-dominated statelet the size of Belgium in the remote hills on Myanmar’s eastern border.”

At 17,000 sq km, is only slightly more than half the size of Belgium.