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Remembering Bhopal disaster

BY DANIEL VALENTIN | NOVEMBER 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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University of Iowa graduate student Astha Singhal was an infant when a pesticide plant experienced a major gas leak, causing the Bhopal gas disaster in India two miles from her home.

“My mother told me there were mothers in the streets with multiple children,” she said. “They were faced with having to decide which children to pick up in their arms and which to leave behind.”

The disaster 30 years ago killed 3,000 instantly, 16,000 eventually, and injured 558,125 people, making it the world’s worst industrial accident.

Since Dec. 2, 1984, the people of Bhopal, India have been suffering because of exposure to toxic waste containing methyl isocyanate that entered the local communities from the gas leak at a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant.

Singhal said she was not among those directly in contact with the poisonous gas, so she did not end up having to deal with the long-term effects of exposure.

“I’m not a typical survivor,” she said. “My mom told me there had appeared to be a burning sensation on my upper lip due to the exposure.”

Now, 30 years after the disaster, the UI branch of the Association of Indian Development hosted an event to recognize the disaster. The event included a presentation and screening of the film A Prayer For Rain, a documentary depicting the events leading up to the Bhopal gas disaster.

Renu Pariyadath, community outreach coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, helped organize and spoke at the event.

Pariyadath said the Indian government has not provided health care nor adequate compensation for those affected by the tragedy.

The Indian government tried to contain the toxic waste with a layer of polyethylene, or plastic, she said, but the material has deteriorated, possibly causing the death of 29,000 Hindus and Muslims during the last 30 years.

“There needs to be more regulations in the market to prevent this sort of corruption,” she said.

Pariyadath said there are five survivor groups in the United States that will fast for 30 hours on Dec. 2, campaigning for support of the rights of those affected.

“There is a lot of support this year since it’s the 30th anniversary,” she said. “But there will be less on the 31st because it’s not as special a year, so we are really going to push the effort.”

Alice Dahle, a co-head of the Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group of Amnesty International USA, said many women have been made “breadwinners” because their husbands have all died from burns, disabilities, and even cancer caused by the gas leak.

“Women in this area are overlooked because they have no power or money,” she said. “These women are ignored, and they are the biggest victims of this disaster.”

Dahle said the Indian government has recently increased the amount of compensation after pursuing a court case against the Union Carbide, but it is still not full compensation for the victims of the disaster.

“The important thing is that Carbide and the government have acknowledged compensation,” she said. “Hopefully, these people will get the help they need to recover and survive.”

UI student Akash Bhalerao, who is from the city of Pune from the state of Maharashtra, India, is in Iowa to study environmental science.

He said the schools in India brought the Bhopal disaster into their curricula in order to bring awareness to the subject.

Bhalerao said he thinks this incident was a result of a lack of care in industry, and the solution is to increase security measures and safety regulations.

“Accidents like these cause a lot of damage,” he said. “We must learn from lessons given by the Bhopal disaster and take charge of safety in our industries.”


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