Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It's been 25 years since the night of Dec 2/3 when a Union Carbide pesticide plant near the city of Bhopal India released a toxic mixture of gases into the area, exposing up to 500,000 people to methyl isocyanate and other chemicals. The state of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed 3,787 immediate deaths while others have estimated a death toll of up to 10,000 within the first 72 hours. Another 20,000 have died in subsequent years of causes directly linked to the accident. It was the worst industrial accident in human history. For full details see the Wikipedia article on the subject.
Since then the site gas remained toxic, survivors have battled many chronic health problems and new generations have been born with congenital problems sue to the continued contamination. There has been little progress in either decontaminating the area nor in bringing company officials responsible for the disaster to justice. Amnesty International Canada is asking that you write the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, demanding that the victims be properly compensated and that the area be cleaning up. Here is their appeal.
INDIA: Bhopal 25 years on: It’s time to keep the promises!:
It was almost midnight on 2-3 December 1984 in Bhopal, India. Union Carbide’s pesticide factory began spewing gas, waking people in nearby homes. They fled with burning eyes and unable to breathe. Half a million people were exposed that night. More than 7,000 died within days. Another 20,000 have died in the intervening 25 years as a direct result of the massive leak of toxic chemicals.

Today 100,000 survivors continue to suffer from and succumb to gas-related health problems. They lack adequate medical care and still await adequate compensation.

The factory is located in the middle of poor neighbourhoods. The leak has driven almost everyone deeper into poverty. Thousands lost their jobs or got too sick to work. Many who died were the main wage earner in the family. Some families also lost their animals, a key source of income.

The Bhopal disaster is an example of extreme negligence by a company. Years earlier, the company had been warned that the plant was dangerously unsafe. The plant stored huge quantities of methyl isocyanate, a highly reactive and dangerous chemical. Union Carbide denied that methyl isocyanate is toxic. It has yet to name the all the reactive products that leaked with it, leaving medical professionals unable to treat people properly.

Union Carbide left India, abandoning the plant and its barrels of chemicals. This created a second disaster. Chemicals seeped into the ground, polluting the groundwater. Thousands more now have debilitating illnesses. Many did not even live in Bhopal during the 1984 disaster. Medical conditions include twisted limbs, fused fingers, cleft palates and severe brain disorders. Reproductive problems include stillbirths and gynaecological disorders. Girls start menstruating late and women enter menopause early. Boys experience delayed growth. Young men often reject a “Bhopal bride”. They fear future health problems or birth defects in children. This affects the social and economic security of young women.

In 1989, the Indian government settled with Union Carbide for $470 million but without consulting the survivors. The amount is not sufficient for the number of people affected, nor for the seriousness and duration of their medical, economic, and social problems. In addition, the settlement covers the people directly affected by the gas leak of December 1984 but not the people who were later recognized to be suffering from the water contamination that resulted.

Legal action has so far proved unsuccessful, but Bhopalis are not giving up their fight for justice. A civil case at a U.S. federal court has just reopened. The case seeks a thorough cleanup of the contaminated site, as well as compensation and medical monitoring for the water-affected survivors. The criminal case began on 7 December 1984 in India with the arrest of Union Carbide’s CEO, Warren Anderson. When authorities freed him on bail, he immediately fled India. Despite several orders to show up for trial, he has never returned. A Bhopal court issued a warrant for his extradition from the US in 2002, and again in August 2009 but so far the Indian government has not activated it.

In both 2006 and 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to the survivors’ demands after they marched 800 kilometres from Bhopal to Delhi. He promised that his government would create an Empowered Commission to ensure that they receive clean water, and adequate medical, social and economic rehabilitation. He has yet to keep this promise.
Please write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
1)Describe who you are.
2)Ask him to create the promised Empowered Commission to provide adequate medical, social and economic rehabilitation to Bhopal survivors and their children.
3)Insist that his government take urgent and effective action to
*clean up the factory site and
*make sure that those responsible face justice.
Write your letter to:
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
Room No. 148 B, South Block
New Delhi 110 00
Start your letter:
Your Excellency

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