Twenty five years ago Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India leaked lethal methal isocyanate which mixed with water and caused massive poisonous clouds to descend upon the sleeping population of the city.
3,000 people died in agony that night and over the next few days. According to Indian government figures about ten times that number have died since and a further 60,000 are permanently injured with respiratory illnesses, blindness and all manner of other ailments. Hundreds of survivors still attend pain relief clinics.
Union Carbide’s boss of Indian operations fled the country and has never faced justice. The US courts forced Union Carbide to pay out $470 million (a paltry figure given the number of victims) as a “final” settlement, but even now the survivors are being ripped off.
As the victims still campaign for justice in India and the US, the least we can do is to remember and honour them – and remember the worst example example of industrial capitalism’s contempt for human life (especially in the “third world”) outside of war.
(Thanks to Rajwinder Sahota in the Morning Star).
PS: Indra Sinha has a powerful, harrowing piece in the Graun (G2) that puts the immediate death count at 8,000 with more than 10,000 still chronically ill. He goes into devastating detail about the cost-cutting and contempt for elementary health and safety that caused the distaster, the disgraceful treatment of survivors, and the mental torment, birth defects and sheer physical pain that people are still experiencing:
“A quarter of a century later, Union Carbide and its owner, the Dow Chemical Company, which acquired it in 2001, still refuse to publish the results of studies into the effects of MIC. With or without these studies, 25 years of suffering prove that mass exposure to MIC destroys bodies, minds, families and a whole society.
“Abdul Mansuri speaks for thousands. ‘My breathing problems started after the gas and got worse and worse. I can truthfully say that I have never had a day’s health, or a day without pain, since ‘that night’.’ For some the pain, physical, mental, emotional, has been too much.
“Kailash Pawar was a young man. ‘My body is the support of my life,’ he said. ‘When my breathing is normal I feel like living. But when it becomes heavy, thinking stops and absolute pain takes over. I have become worthless.’ He was still in his 20s when he doused himself in kerosene and struck a match.
“Today in Bhopal, more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill.
“The compensation paid by Union Carbide, meant to last the rest of their lives, averaged some £300 a head: taken over 25 years that works out at around 7p a day, enough perhaps for a cup of tea.”