Bhopal Anniversary

By Allison Bloch, Intern 

Bhopal, a city in central India, still suffers from a horrific gas leak that occurred twenty years ago. December 3 marks the anniversary for those suffering from breathing troubles and other effects of the deadly methyl isocyanate that seeped out silently into the city late one night. Although the initial death toll was 3,500, more people have died since the leak, and the government and locals are in disagreement over the final amount.

Official records state that 15,000 people were killed, while residents double that number. Amnesty International reports that 22,000 to 25,000 people were killed. Human rights and environmental advocates say there has been little justice or solace for the 800,000 or so people left with injuries from the leak.

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20 Years Later … Poverty, Ill Health




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The anniversary of the leak brought a flood of reaction, opinion and protest.

A spokesman for Union Carbide, the corporate owner of the leaking pesticide plant, said the company has accepted “moral responsibility” for what happened.

But activists decry what they consider a lack of attention to the needs of the victims, and the environment. Students from Austin, TX and Newark, NJ, to Delhi, India, have held protests commemorating the event. Survivors describe “truckloads” of bodies being removed from the scene, and some have toured the U.S. and staged photo exhibitions of the catastrophe.

In India and Australia, editorialists turned their pens against “boardroom bullies” and politicians who make “grand announcements.”

“Bhopal victims still weep, while others move on”
Associated Press, November 27, 2004

“Students worldwide demand justice for Bhopal victims”
India News, December 2, 2004

“Bhopal a reminder of boardroom bullies”
The Australian, November 30, 2004

“Beyond the hue and cry”
The Statesman, December 2, 2004

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Twenty years on, many of the gas leak victims still live hard lives, struggling with poverty and lasting health effects. Many survivors say they have little hope that justice will ever come to them. Victims say they still suffer from the deadly effects from the leak, including miscarriages, dizzy spells, cysts, blindness and stunted growth.

Activists also say the Indian government stopped researching the gas’s effects a decade ago, but has given no explanation as to why.

“Second tragedy at Bhopal: Lapierre”
Rediff India, December 2, 2004

“Bhopal still suffering, 20 years on”
Mail & Guardian, December 2, 2004

“Twenty years gone, but Bhopal gas victims still lead a suffocated life”
India News, December 2, 2004

“Revisiting the Bhopal disaster”
Globe and Mail, December 2, 2004

“Victims of Bhopal gas leak still struggling to mend their lives”
Agence France Press, November 29, 2004

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Activists and residents of Bhopal say there has been a lack of aid to mend environmental damage from the leak. They say other countries need to help India, but few are stepping up to the plate to give a helping hand.

India continues to pursue criminal charges against former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, who now lives in the U.S.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International released a scathing report that found persistent environmental damage and widespread government neglect.

“U.S. accused of ‘environmental racism’ for Bhopal gas tragedy”
Agence France-Presse, December 2, 2004

“20 years later, Bhopal victims say they’re still seeking justice”
Associated Press, November 29, 2004

“Bhopal victims still struggling”
Reuters, December 2, 2004

“Bhopal survivors gain allies in 20-year quest for justice”
OneWorld US, December 2, 2004

“Amnesty slams world community over Bhopal gas tragedy”
India News, November 29, 2004

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The process of getting compensation for the victims has been difficult. Activists say little money has been provided to help repair the damage caused by the gas leak. They complain that the settlement money of $470 million paid to the Indian government is inadequate, and has not been properly distributed. Corporations got an object lesson in civic responsibility, and have taken steps to behave more conscientiously. But critics say they’re often more concerned with public relations than changing their ways.

“Bhopal receives 20th anniversary cash boost from co-operative bank”
Itnews, December 1, 2004

“Economy: Bhopal — when foreign direct investment goes wrong”
Daily Times, December 2, 2004

“Bhopal gave corporations a financial incentive to be responsible”
Associated Press, November 27, 2004

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Despite Bhopal’s tragic loss of life, laws to prevent its recurrence are scarce. Some legislation has emerged that would hold companies responsible for deaths resulting from their actions, but some feel that is not enough.

“No disaster law, even 20 years after Bhopal gas tragedy!”
Indo-Asian News Service, December 1, 2004

“MSPs back new laws on corporate killing”
The Herald, December 2, 2004

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