Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
December 3rd is both Pesticide Action Network's International Day of No Pesticides and the 18th anniversary of the explosion of the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. The Day of No Pesticides is held to commemorate the thousands who died immediately following and the tens of thousands who still suffer and die from effects of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, as well as the millions of people who suffer from pesticide poisonings every year from the manufacture and use of chemical pesticides.
Although Union Carbide Corporation accepted "moral responsibility" for the accident, and eventually paid US$470 million to the Indian government, much of it never reached those affected, and most victims remain unable to pay their medical bills. Individual settlements have been in the range of US$3,300 for the loss of life and US$800 for permanent disability. Union Carbide abandoned the Bhopal plant without cleaning up the polluted soil and water. Criminal cases against Union Carbide are still pending in the Bhopal district court, but are difficult to enforce because Union Carbide no longer has assets in India.
Meanwhile, in 1999 the Dow Chemical Company acquired the Union Carbide Corporation. Dow's US$10 billion acquisition of Union Carbide opened the possibility of enforcing criminal liability against the corporation as Dow has four subsidiaries and substantial assets in India. An intensified campaign by the Bhopal survivors and their international supporters to hold Dow liable for cleanup has been underway since early this year.
On December 3, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal delivered more than 4000 brooms collected from Bhopal, Chennai and Trivandrum to Dow Chemical and told the company to clean up Bhopal and address all pending liabilities without further delay. Last week, more than 50 people were arrested at the Bhopal factory site and accused of attempting to seal the toxic substances abandoned there. A spokesperson for the Bhopal disaster victim's organizations said "Dow Chemical has made a serious mistake if it thinks that the disappearance of the Union Carbide name will bring the Bhopal issue to a close. Dow will inherit all of Union Carbide's liabilities and responsibilities. Dow needs to know that Bhopal gas victims will never give up their fight for justice and fair compensation."]
Activities in observance of December 3rd around the world are:
PAN Germany circulated a sign-on letter to United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan in support of compensation for families in the village of Tauccamarca, Peru where 48 children died after eating a school lunch accidentally poisoned with pesticides. The organophosphate pesticide methyl parathion was distributed in packages similar to powered milk and labeled in Spanish, despite the fact that it was marketed to Quechua-speaking farmers. A Peruvian Congressional committee has found Bayer criminally negligent and Tauccamarca families have taken their appeal to the United Nations.
PAN Latin America--In Santiago, Chile student workshops, press conferences, and municipal workshops are being held in support of compensation for Tauccamarca families and for a ban of highly toxic pesticides responsible for most poisonings and environmental damage in the region.
PAN UK is releasing a new book, Silent Invaders: Pesticides, Livelihoods and Women's Health, documenting the effects of pesticides on farming communities and agricultural workers in developing countries. Agriculture forms the basis of the economy in many of these countries, where women produce 60-80% of the food.
PAN Asia Pacific, and Tenaganita, a workers organization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, will hold a workshop for community-based organizations on paraquat poisoning. The organizations won a recent ban on paraquat in Malaysia and are now campaigning for a worldwide ban. Tenaganita works with women pesticide sprayers who face the greatest risk of pesticide exposure.
Nepal--The All Nepal Peasant Association will hold a workshop on Awareness Building Against Agrochemicals.
Bangladesh--UBINIG (Policy Research Centre for Development Alternatives) has organized a picket by farmers and activists with the message "No More Pesticides." UBINIG has said, "Pesticides are killers. It is genocide without bloodshed. We have no option but to resist the use of such killing." UBINIG also coordinates a large farmers' group who practice sustainable agriculture.
New Zealand--A rally was held in front of Parliament in Adelaide to protest ongoing pesticide spraying by the city of Auckland. In Auckland, 140,000 people are sprayed with Foray 48B every three weeks to eradicate the Painted Apple Moth. About 100 families have become ill. The government has not revealed he contents of the spray, and the community is calling for "right-to-know" legislation. The spraying is being done to prevent the moth from damaging private pine plantations. As Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network, New Zealand states, "It is not acceptable that people's health should be sacrificed on the altar of commercial profit through mass spraying of pesticides. We learn nothing from the tragedy of Bhopal until we learn to treat people with respect and find a different way to manage our pests."
India--Aerial spraying of the insecticide endosulfan on cashew plantations in the state of Kerala has been responsible for disease, deaths and birth defects. Usha S. Jayakumar of Thanal Conservation Action and Information Network reports that the group "has asked the industry to withdraw endosulfan and the government to ban it altogether." Thanal is holding a cultural performance on pesticide dangers for farmers and distributing pamphlets in the area's local language. The village of Warangal is also holding a rally for a ban on endosulfan.
Also in India, the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in Thiruvananthapuram are presenting a seminar on "Invisible Violence on Women--Chemical Pesticides--Silent Actors" and a larger a public meeting for fisher folks and the local population. A poster advocating a ban on endosulfan and a booklet on pesticides and health in the Malayalam language will also commemorate the day. In Tamilnadu, the PREPARE Network is demonstrating with the theme "No Pesticides" and holding a seminar on "Globalization--Food Security and Profiting from Poisonous Pesticides and Health."
U.S.--Students at the University of Michigan are holding a rally and re-enactment of the chemical disaster in Bhopal and activists from around the state joined the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign for a candlelight vigil outside the Midland residence of Dow Chemical CEO Michael Parker. Sshivani Anil Patel, with the Association for India's Development said, "Thousands of Bhopal survivors continue to suffer as a result of Dow and Mr. Parker's refusal to clean up the contaminated soil and groundwater around the Bhopal plant."
Sources: Bhopal Medical Appeal Press Release, July 17, 2002; PAN A/P Press Release, December 3, 2002; Activists Demand Dow Take Responsibility for Toxic Contamination in Bhopal, Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Press Release, December 3, 2002, http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/bhopal.